How To Get Corporate Clients: The Ultimate Guide

Selling to Corporates: the Best Approaches for Enrolling Clients


CONTENTS

Introduction to Winning Corporate Clients

Critical Success Factors for Winning Corporate Clients

How to Target the Best and Most Valuable Corporate Clients for You

4 Powerful Lead Generation Strategies for Corporate Clients

Follow-Up Techniques to Win More Corporate Clients

Selling to Corporates: the Best Approaches for Enrolling Clients

Resources for Winning Corporate Clients


The final step in the process of winning corporate clients is where you take all that great work you've done on generating leads and building relationships and convert it into paying clients.

There are three primary scenarios where you can end up in sales discussions with potential corporate clients:
  • A High Value Briefing - usually initiated by you early on in your relationship with them where you offer to meet with them to share valuable information and insight. The primary objective of the meeting is to share ideas - but it can often lead to discussing how you could help them implement those ideas.
  • A traditional Sales Meeting - where the explicit agenda of the meeting is to discuss a problem the client has or explore opportunities for you to help them.
  • A response to a formal Tender or Request for Proposals - where the client has entered their formal procurement process and is in discussion with a number of potential suppliers. 
Each one needs a different strategy to succeed and to maximise your chances of winning a client.

High Value Briefings to win Corporate Clients

In the lead generation section we talked about using an Authority Research Project to create unique and valuable insights, and then present them back to the research participants and other potential clients.
 
A High Value Briefing is essentially the second part of that process - offering to present valuable insights and ideas on a key topic to potential clients.

Those insights could be the result of a research project - or they could simply be based on your accumulated expertise or an exercise to capture learnings from client projects.


As long has you have valuable information and ideas to share with potential clients, a high value briefing is a great way of getting deeper engagement, building your credibility, and beginning to talk about potential opportunities for working together.


High value briefings work best early on in the buying process of corporate clients while they're still discovering and learning about their problems and goals or beginning to look at potential solutions. In this phase they're open to hearing new and useful ideas. They allow you to get face to face (live or virtually) with potential clients who wouldn't otherwise consider a meeting with a supplier.


The primary goal of a high value briefing is to give them tremendous value and in the process to strengthen credibility and trust. But very often the insights you share lead to reach from potential clients to ask about how you might be able to help them in those areas.


You can then either discuss those opportunities immediately, or arrange to come back for a follow up meeting focused on talking about working together.

 

As with a research project, the topics for high value briefings that corporate clients are most likely to be interested in are:

  • What their customers are thinking and doing
  • What their competitors are thinking and doing (e.g. best practices/benchmarking)
  • Big external trends that will affect them (e.g. technology, legal, economic, societal, etc)

The structure of a high value briefing is in four phases:

  • Share an overview of your insights/research
  • Ask them which of the areas covered is the biggest priority for them to discuss 
  • Share more in-depth information on the areas they identified - make it an interactive discussion where you ask them more details about what they're currently doing in the priority area and share relevant ideas
  • Summarise what you've shared and ask if they'd like to discuss their options for addressing the priority areas and how you might be able to help
By the end of the briefing you'll ideally have set up a follow up discussion about working together. But even in the worst case where they're not ready to move ahead, you'll have given them tremendous value, identified which areas are priorities for them and built your credibility in those areas to position you as the person to turn to when the time is right.

Traditional Sales Meetings to win Corporate Clients

By "traditional sales meeting" I mean a discussion with a potential client where the overt agenda is to discuss one or more problems or goals they have with a view to exploring how you might be able to help them address it.  

These meetings are naturally going to take place later in the client's buying process after they've explored their issues and potential solutions and are looked at how someone might be able to help them. So ideally you'll already have built a solid relationship with them by the time they get to this step and they're open to working with you.
There's a wealth of material you can get on effective sales meetings for large sales (more details in the resources section). But in essence, the key to effective sales meetings is:
  • Establishing rapport so that your potential client opens up about the real issues facing them (your previous relationship building steps will help here of course)
  • Smart questioning to diagnose the real issues or underlying root causes and barriers - and to highlight potential options the client hadn't considered themselves
  • Exploring the true impact of their issues so that the business case for change is clear
  • Setting clear, agreed next steps that involve the client making commitments too
For corporate clients there's an additional key factor over and above what you might see in a sales meeting with an individual or small business - and that's the complexity of the decision making in corporates.

According to the Conference Executive Board in 2018, the average number of customer stakeholders involved in a business to business purchasing decision was 6.8.

You don't necessarily need to meet or get all those stakeholder on side. But you do need to persuade the key influencers in the decision.

So a crucial part of your sales meetings is not only talking to the person in front of you about their perspective on the issue, it's finding out from them about who else is involved in the decision and how the decision making process works.

This is why partnering with your potential clients to help them solve an important problem for them rather selling at them is so crucial. And it's why the time you spend in the follow up phase building your relationship and generating trust by adding value is so important too.

If they're strongly motivated to solve their problem and they see you as a key ally who has their best interests at heart they'll share details about the decision making process and help you navigate through it. If they see you as just a salesperson trying to get them to buy from you they won't.

Formal Tenders and Requests for Proposals

For many purchases in corporates, particularly large or complex projects, they'll want (or be required) to go through a procurement or tender process involving sending out a request for proposals and formally evaluating the responses.

Often this will involve you sending an initial proposal, then if shortlisted, doing a live presentation.  
The first thing to say about formal tender and request for proposal processes is that they take a significant amount of time. Even the proposal stage requires you to conform to the client's format and usually involves answering lots of detailed questions on a variety of topics unrelated to the actual project: from health and safety to diversity to insurance cover and other company policies.

This adds a significant overhead for small businesses trying to win the project. Unless you're regularly taking part in these processes you're going to have to create these answers from scratch. Large companies with dedicated proposal writing teams have libraries of boilerplate they can draw on from previous proposals which saves them a significant amount of time and rework.

The odds are also stacked against small firms in formal purchasing processes because inevitably the size of the small supplier and the perceived risk of working with them will be a factor. An individual buyer in a corporate may decide they want to work with a small firm because of the value and specific expertise they bring. But the moment procurement teams get involved, a "safety first" mindset takes over.

For these reasons, my advice is to focus your resources and only get involved in a small number of formal tenders every year (if any). And if you do, only take part if you've already built a relationship with the key influencers involved in buying and if you believe you have a significant advantage over other potential suppliers.

In particular, if the first time you get to hear of a project is when the tender or request for proposals is announced, then the chances of you winning are close to zero. Stay away.

Winning Formal Tenders and Requests for Proposals

The first step in winning in a formal procurement process is to be ruthlessly selective. You're far better investing your time in making a brilliant job of two proposals than an OK job of ten.

Once you've focused on a "winnable" project, your next job is to make sure you don't get screened out.

The first phase of most procurement processes where proposals are submitted is essentially a screening process to narrow the field to the most likely contenders. 
It's staggering how many providers get thrown out at this stage simply by not complying with the rules of process. Missing answers to questions, answering in the wrong order, not having the right level of insurance or the right policies in place, not supplying the references asked for.

No matter how great you'd be at doing the work, if you don't provide all the answers the request for proposals asks for, you won't make it through to the next round to show them.

Once you've got through the hoops on the initial proposal, you now need to show that you’d be the very best person for them to work with.

Practically every bid will be evaluated using a system of ranked criteria, with some criteria carrying more weight than others.

Sometimes the criteria are published as part of the process. Sometimes they can be inferred from the questions in the request for proposals. And if not, you can get a sense for what they are by asking your contacts in the client organisation.

If you can't establish what the selection criteria are, your chances of winning are very low and you should consider not bidding. At least one of your competitors will know what the criteria are and will be making sure they score highly while you shoot in the dark.

When you have an idea of what the criteria are your strategy then depends on where you're currently positioned vs your competitors.
  • If you believe you rank very strongly on the criteria being used then your strategy should be to reinforce this by providing strong evidence for your ranking. You should also try to give the client confidence they are using the right criteria in order to counteract the second strategy. 
  • If you're a significant underdog based on the criteria you believe the client is using then your best bet is to try to change the criteria. Either to introduce new ideas or to change the wighting of the criteria. Of course, this is not an easy task and it's a high risk strategy as if the client doesn't agree it can lower your ranking. But since you weren't going to win anyway based on the criteria, it may be a risk worth taking.

Next step

Resources for Winning Corporate Clients

A guide to the best books and other resources for understanding and mastering the art of winning corporate clients.


Tweet
Share
Share