Selling to big business

Winning a contract to sell to a big company can be just what you need to grow your business, but getting your foot in the door can be nigh on impossible. Tom Whitney finds out what steps you can take.

Whether you are an independent food manufacturer trying to win an initial order from a supermarket or a small IT firm pitching to supply a major banking group, securing your first big order can be a real turning point.

As well as the obvious financial rewards, doing business with a large firm will bring you credibility and the confidence to grow quickly. Once you have sold to one large organisation, it becomes easier to get a foot in the door with the next one.

However, meeting the needs of a "big fish" can place an enormous strain on your business. You need to ensure you can supply what they want, when they want. You might have to spend much more time liaising with the client.

Pitching to retailers

Setting up meetings with corporate decision-makers can be difficult. Ideally, you or one of your sales team should be able to pick up the phone, talk to a senior buyer and fix up an appointment to pitch your product or service. However, buyers are busy people, so be persistent and be prepared for knock-backs.

Make sure you research the business you're pitching to, so when you get the opportunity to speak to a buyer you can be clear why your offer will appeal to them. Be concise and demonstrate how your product or service can help them.

Give them the information they need to decide whether or not to buy from you. This includes information about your business, customers, supply capacity and the product or service.

The details of your pitch will depend on the nature of the sale. For example, retail buyers are only going to give your product shelf space if they feel it will sell better than the products they have already, or if they think it will open up a new market.

Doing the deal

According to the Institute of Grocery Distributions (IGD) while small firms can find it hard to get their products into retail chains and supermarkets, they do have some advantages over big businesses.

As well as dealing with large suppliers, supermarkets are keen to find niche, innovative or local products that they believe will attract customers to their stores. If your product is right for that supermarket — and you can deliver at the right price — there is a good chance they will buy from you.

Large companies can be in a strong position when it comes to negotiating on price with small firms. However, don't be tempted to sell at a lower price than you can afford just to get that first big order.

A major sale will put pressure on your business to meet the extra volumes. If margins are tight, you could find yourself losing money once you've factored in the extra investment you need to fulfil orders. Be clear about your value, and illustrate your worth to the firm to which you are selling.

For more information on selling to retailers, see: