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Sell to Giant Enterprises

Five steps to getting orders from the richest companies.

Getting orders from small companies is nice, but netting wealthy whales like Apple, Amazon, and AT&T can change your life. How can you do it?

1. Research, research, research.
Catching whales starts with finding them. Big companies make big news, so read industry news sites like Packaging Digest or PlasticsToday. Some sites even publish lists of large organizations.

Once you've sighted some whales, "[look] for people who are in leadership positions," says Barbara Weaver Smith, co-author of Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company. To find them, hunt for their names in:

  • The whales' websites
  • The whales' social media pages, especially LinkedIn
  • News reports (Google Alerts can notify you when the whales make news)

Don't stop at just a few leaders, Smith adds. According to the sales company Challenger, whales' purchasing decisions involve an average of 6.8 stakeholders.

2. Make friends who have friends.
Once you know who to meet, how can you meet them?

"Have introductions made by people already in your network," says an American Express study on corporate procurement. "A warm introduction is much more effective than a cold call."

To build your network, use social media and in-person encounters, says another AmEx survey.

Source: American Express Survey of Small and Midsize Business Suppliers, 2019

3. Make your company impressive.
"Whales demand much higher levels of process, documentation, and rigor than most small companies have experienced," says Smith. Before making a purchase, a big firm may examine everything from your product quality to your financial stability. Smith says, "Anticipate how a bureaucracy will do business, and prepare to meet [its] expectations."

At the same time, create smart content. "Write a book, host a podcast, start a user conference, own industry events — look for ways you can stand out in the crowd," says Drew Beechler, marketing director at B2B venture studio High Alpha. "Provide insight and value that your competitors simply can't provide."

4. Don’t sell. Ask and help.
"Most experts work too hard trying to convince their prospect that they need what they're selling," says sales trainer Jeanine Blackwell. "It's much easier to ask great questions." If you ask questions like "What problems are you trying to solve?" and "Are you working with anyone to solve the problems?", you'll learn if the whale needs your product or service.

If so, offer it — but don't push. "I truly believe in what [sales maestro] Zig Ziglar said, which is that you can have everything in life if you will just help other people," says Jon Ferrara, founder of the customer relations software company Nimble. "The number one key to selling to large enterprises is not to sell but rather find ways how you can help."

5. Adapt to their ways.
"Large companies have certain ways of working, and they generally won't be receptive to the idea of upending their processes for the sake of a small, new supplier," according to business journalist Andrew Blackman. "You'll be the one who has to adapt."

One whale-friendly way to adapt: "Don't make potential clients jump through hoops," says the website SmallBusinessSense. "A large client can easily take its business somewhere else. Make it as easy as possible to get what they need."

You should also adapt to the whale's schedule. "Selling into Fortune 500 companies is a long, strenuous process that can last twice as long (or more) than your typical sales process," says HubSpot strategist Aja Frost.

Hunting whales isn't easy. But if you land one, the potential for high earnings is as big as — well, as big as a whale.

So grab your harpoon, and ride the high seas.