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Banner Biz: Tips on how to sell to Corporate America

Fred McKinney
Banner Biz: Tips on how to sell to Corporate America

One of the most common questions I receive from Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) is: “Who do I know at such and such corporation?” I believe the most important question an MBE should ask is “What does my company need to do in order to be successful with that company?” Success in business ultimately means selling to a customer at a profitable price, one that the buyer believes provides more value than the money paid to consummate the transaction. This is what economists call mutually beneficial exchange. Both parties win.

So how should MBEs profitably sell to Corporate America? There are many books, websites, seminars and consultants who earn their money helping their customers become more successful at selling. I do not plan to enter this already crowded field; however, I do want to share some thoughts and observations on the subject. My recommendation is for MBEs to do their homework.

Do your homework

Most entrepreneurs love their products and services. They have fire in the belly for their success and the success of their business. They spend a great deal of time thinking about their business, its strengths and weaknesses. This is necessary, but not sufficient to be a successful marketer to Corporate America. The business world assumes if you are playing in this league you have the basic “blocking and tackling” down. In order to be successful with corporate clients, the same zeal that entrepreneurs have put into their own businesses has to be refocused on the potential client’s business. This outward focus starts with knowledge of the customer.

Information about Corporate America is widely available. Corporate websites, SEC reports, Hoovers and other private business information sources, articles in news, books, press releases, blogs and other sources of information are often inexpensive and easily accessed. However, MBEs need more than what is available to anyone and everyone. Companies and their buyers assume you know how their company makes its money. They assume you know some basics about the competitive, legal and regulatory pressures all businesses face. The successful entrepreneur processes all of the commonly available information about a corporation and combines that with specific information that is not likely to be covered in the media.

It is also critical to know about your competitors whose business with the client you are trying to acquire. This should be discovered before you have a serious sales call with the buyer of your product. This is information MBEs should seek out from supplier diversity managers within corporations. MBEs spend too much time “selling” to supplier diversity managers when they should be using supplier diversity managers as their sources of market intelligence. Take this information a step further by understanding clearly the advantages your product or service has over what the company is currently using. This is absolutely critical.

Understand the corporate data

Corporate America is data driven. If you can present your product or service in a scientific way that specifically addresses the corporate prospects own metrics, you will have a much better chance of being successful. Companies are constantly struggling to improve quality, reduce time to market, squeeze out cost, expand markets, raise awareness. Does your product do any of these things for the company you are marketing to? Your product or service might be the best thing since sliced bread, but the corporate client you are speaking with might have no interest in it because of a difference in strategic direction. This creates a situation where you have wasted your time and theirs. The information you present should be focused on their methods and tools for measuring success, not yours.

Understanding the challenges facing the corporate prospect is an important aspect of doing your homework. Every corporation has challenges. Not all of these challenges are related to what your company sells, but you need to be aware of them because they are significant priorities of management. If your company sells a commodity that is not strategic or critical, your chances of getting the attention of senior management are minimal. But if your services are strategically important your chances of long term success improve.

Knowledge is power. MBEs that have done their homework prior to meeting with the buying decision maker can make that meeting more productive with a better chance of closing the deal.

Fred McKinney, Ph.D., is president and CEO, Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council.