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How a Small Business Can Attract a Big Corporate Client

A common question that growing small businesses face is “How can I sell my products and services to large corporate customers?”

That was the topic of a panel discussion at the Supplier Diversity Exchange hosted by Allstate Insurance Company last fall. Attended by 35 different companies, the exchange offered small businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender community a forum for guidance, networking, and personal one-on-one time with Allstate professionals involved in purchasing services and supplies.

Whether it’s for Allstate or any other corporation, here are the recommendations underscored at the exchange—solid tips that just might help you land your first big client:

Be Prepared.

Preparation was touched on time and time again at the Allstate exchange. Before meeting with a potential customer, you need to do a good amount of intelligence work. Do you understand the culture of the organization? Its pain points? Do you have a product or service it actually needs? Are you up against an incumbent? To get the information you need, try joining professional organizations, networking, and, of course, doing research on the company’s website and social media channels.

Differentiate.

Panelists at the Allstate exchange explained that a well-constructed pitch to a potential corporate customer should explain the benefit your specific organization will bring. Point out where you can add value and how you’ll help the company meet its goals. Are you fast? Nimble? Many large corporations aren’t. Does your small size mean that you can provide more customized service? Make note of that. Your point of differentiation can even be something as simple as the way you invoice. Just don’t oversell your product, services or capabilities. A seasoned professional can see right through that, panelists said.

Build a Relationship.

Being persistent and following up is a good strategy, but being too pushy and confident can also be a turn-off. Panelists at the Allstate exchange suggested that you try to set a time-frame for appropriate check-ins (if your contact is unwilling or, worse yet, not responding to your inquiries, it might not be a good sign). When you do circle back, take it as an opportunity to share thoughts on what’s occurring in the industry, what’s happening with competitors, and to mention a recent award or accomplishment. Even if your products or services are not what a corporation is looking for at the present time, it doesn’t mean that will also be the case in the future. By simply engaging in a collaborative discussion with a corporation, you may be setting yourself up for future success.

Launched in 2008, Allstate’s Supplier Diversity Exchange has resulted in more than 100 suppliers competing for a bid, with over 60 having won business. Since the launch of the exchange of 2008, $1.5 billion has been spent with diverse suppliers, $425 million of that with exchange attendees. If you’re a small business owner, consider attending Allstate’s 2013 Supplier Diversity Exchange (Oct. 5, 2013).

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