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5 Principles For SMEs To Sell To Big Companies

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

Many startups and SMEs want to sell to big companies to win pilots that will deliver credible testimonials, publicity in order to raise funds and attract yet more customers of the same caliber. Account Based Marketing (ABM) is a proven technique based on 5 pillars that will deliver results.

The 5 principles of the ABM approach are presented below.

1. Choose a market segment, a company size and list target accounts

Selling to a big company versus a small company can be quite different. When selling to a big company, you will likely need to go through a longer and more formal process. It is also likely that you will be dealing with a large team of decision makers and a complex process. When selling to a small company, you have the opportunity to have more direct contact with the decision makers and establish a deeper relationship with them. Additionally, the process may not be as long and formal as it is with a big company. However, small companies may have limited resources and budgets, so you need to keep that in mind when setting prices and expectations.

If your SaaS sells to SMEs (also called SMBs in the USA) AND to mid-sized businesses AND corporates at the same time with the same approach, it is what AdvanceB2B call it the carpet bomb mission of the go-to-market battle ground. The buying process between small and large businesses differs so much that my first tip is to focus on one or two types of segments - for instance a group of companies of the same size - where go-to-market tactics are similar. You might choose other market segment criteria too.

SalesHacker illustrates nicely the differences in the buying process:

  • The Small Business Process starts with a demo sign up on your website, followed by some (partially automated) email nurturing, site revisits, adding key members and then closing.

  • The Enterprise Sales Process include various customer discovery meeting(s) or a video conferences, a demo, technical Q&As, commercial conversations, closure in the best case.

After choosing a specific segment, it is crucial to start the research process about the company and its decision makers.

2. Research companies and decision makers

The best way to start is to consider the company's size, industry, and geographical location. Once you have that information, you can begin to look at the company's website, annual report, and any other publicly available information.

You may use online research tools (for a fee) to collect data on the company and their customers e.g. MarketLine company reports contain a snapshot of each large company with a very valuable SWOT analysis that you can use to develop your marketing messages. Interviewing industry experts who have worked with the company and have knowledge of the business can provide more recent insights into the company practices and culture. Additionally, you can look at the company's customer base and analyse their market share and customer demographics. The above sources will allow you to list key decision makers, your "ideal client" or "ideal clients", as they might be many, also called "persona" in marketing.

Knowing your "ideal client" industry, supply chain, and above all their needs, and their buying habits will help you understand how to best approach them and how to tailor your product or service. A marketing plan - including marketing and sales content - can only be built once the persona(s) has/have been identified.

3. Develop marketing and sales content

Selling to enterprises is famous for having a long sales cycle, so you should be prepared with a range of tools for a few months.

Content for corporate clients - also called "assets" in marketing jargon - include your website, blog posts, and digital or physical case studies, white papers, thought leadership pieces, presentations, and much more, to showcase your products or services. It is essential that they highlight the value proposition that you wish to test to attract your "ideal clients".

In other words, to demonstrate how certain benefits and features help your account decision maker achieve their goals and solve their challenges.

SMEs can easily produce high quality assets these days using modern marketing tools such as insights found in corporate literature or on Linkedin, ChapGPT to draft copy fast that you can adapt or to layout fast like a pro using templates.

Case studies are particularly useful to illustrate how a complex innovation could look like in real life. They can be used at many stages of the sales cycle. Story telling in thought leadership pieces is also very handy to help corporate client visualise what the solution might look like in their environment, with messaging using their words (captured through meetings and interviews), and documenting hard and soft benefits. Webinars are often overlooked as a very cost-effective way for SMEs to stage interactions with specific segments of the market.

Finally, do not under estimate the opportunity of content recycling, on the fly, just to help you move forward a sales lead. You may for instance recycle a conference presentation into a white paper.

4. Personalise message to address client needs

Personalising your sales and marketing message will make it relevant and timely for customers. Linkedin Sales Navigator can prove useful to spot themes and subjects that your target decision-markers is interested in, but if you are on a low budget, you could exploit free public data to the same end.

5. Work across your business functions and with your client

Collaboration between sales and marketing sounds obvious. Well, do not overlook how other team members could help you enter or nurture accounts.

For example, based on Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares in their book "Traction: a startup guide to getting customers", you could team up with your software team to develop an automated tool that will simulate the value of your product, even before the client buys. One of my clients did this targeting pharmaceutical company CFOs and demonstrated the potential cost savings if they were to adopt their solution.

Another way to improve ABM efficiency - based on approach highlighted by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler in "Predictable Revenue" - is to map the sales and marketing process, split the process by activities and group activities in stages handled first by a Prospecting Representative who opens doors and then, by an "Account Executive"*. In practice, for a startup, these 2 roles might be performed by a high-net-worth individual you pay a commission to who open doors for you on the one hand and the CEO, on the other, until you extend your team, or the Business Development Director if you have upscaled already.

*a role also called the "Customer Success Manager" these days.

Discipline, cadence and patience pays off with ABM

My last word of advice is, don’t give up too early: selling to big companies takes time and patience is essential, even with cashflow. Don’t get discouraged if the process takes longer than you’d like, especially when your client's legal department gets involved. For example, one of my blockchain clients sell their solution within 3 months and another takes 3 years to sell their innovation to the chemical industry.

Keep putting in the effort and nurturing at a regular cadence, encouraged by your business coach, and you will get one or more pilots with an enterprise account that will be an excellent reference allowing you to win other big names or attract investors.

I would love to discuss how you currently sell to large accounts and how you could improve your performance using the ABM methodology, which I practice since 2010, and other tactics that I learnt through my experience as an Account Director of Apple, Analog Devices, IBM, Severn Trent, Texas Instruments. Feel free to reach out.

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