When someone who has never done business with large companies considers starting to do business with them , they have a preconceived idea of what the business process will be like.
And this idea almost always follows one of two patterns: the “optimist” and the “realist”.
What does the “optimist” think the trading process will be like with a big account?
The optimist thinks that the process will not be that different from that of a smaller company and that it will follow, more or less, these steps:
- An executive from a large company becomes interested in a product or service and, in one way or another, ends up on your website.
- After researching and seeing what you do, they get in touch to do a test and gather more information.
- If the test fits them, they start paying a lot of money to hire them.
Being an optimist is great, but I’m afraid that when it comes to selling to large companies, they are totally wrong.
What does the “realist” think the commercial process with a large account will be like?
It is clear to this profile that it is not going to be that easy and that they will have to put more flesh on the bones:
- With advertising, marketing and recommendations, they reach the ears of an executive of a large company.
- This executive does some more research and starts convincing other members of the team to test with that company.
- Several customised tests are carried out until the key is found.
- The big company starts paying big money for the services.
Perhaps the “realist” is a little closer to reality than the optimist, but still light years away from the truth.
What are business processes with big companies really like?
The truth is that business processes with large companies are often very complex, very long and very particular. And this is mainly due to 3 of the most important differences between selling to SMEs and selling to large companies that we framed in the first article of this course:
So, if you stay and read this lesson you will move away from the fuzzy picture of the optimists and the “realists” and learn how to navigate the sales processes of any large company in any sector.
Separating the buyer’s phases and the seller’s phases
When starting out in selling to large companies it is tempting to draw a sales funnel similar to the one used in selling to SMEs to summarise both the sales process of your company and the buying process of your leads.
These funnels reduced to the classic stages of awareness, consideration, purchase intent and purchase may work for smaller sales, but when it comes to large companies, they do not capture the reality.
In the words of Brent Adamson co-author of “The Challenger Sale”, one of the most recognised sales books of the last decade, these funnels only represent the sale of the supplier’s solution.
“We call these funnels ‘the customer’s buy-us-from-us journey’, because it is completely focused on the supplier’s process and offering. In that model, if we had to ask:
- Whose awareness?
The answer would be: “from us, the supplier”.
- Whose consideration?
“From us, the supplier”. And so on and so forth at all stages. The problem is that the obstacles faced by customers often have nothing to do with the supplier.
Thus, this approach fails to highlight many of the customer’s obstacles and is relatively unhelpful.
However, such a funnel is still useful to describe the stages that a salesperson has to go through to close deals.
The solution is simple. On the one hand, we separate the commercial process that you must follow as a seller and, on the other hand, the commercial process that large companies follow as buyers:
The buying process of a large company
At the beginning of the article we talked about the 3 differences between large and small companies that are key in the commercial process:
- Buying cycle
Let’s break them down one at a time.
Personalisation in the buying process of a large company
This is the first big key. Just as you are going to have to adapt and personalise the service you offer, in each negotiation you will have to personalise how you approach the purchasing process.
Personalisation has to be based on how far along that customer is in their particular buying process. In order not to restrict, it is best to define 3 phases: early, intermediate and late.
- In the early phase the customer is gathering information about their problem and possible solutions. In this phase, the challenges are about extracting the wheat from the chaff among so much information.
- In the middle phase, the client is validating the different options with his or her people, and therein lie the problems: differences in criteria, needs and opinions.
- In the late phase, the information is clear and people are in agreement, but you still have to decide between different suppliers and clarify the implementation plan for each possible solution.
When you start working with a potential customer to sell your product to, it is absolutely key that you find out quickly where they are in these three phases, because your approach will be different.
- If you do this in the early phase , you will need to guide them to ensure that they ask the right questions about their problem and solutions.
- If you do it in the middle phase , you should facilitate the alignment of the interests of the different people involved.
- If you do it in the late phase , you should try to bring them back to an earlier point and captain the process from there, or you may not have much to do against the suppliers who have accompanied them through the process.
With these three phases as a framework, you should be able to customise the process for each customer. If you want to know more about how to do this, we will expand on this in lesson 6. If you leave your email here I will send it to you as soon as it comes out.
Understanding the buying cycle of a large company
Apart from solving the problems and objections that have to do exclusively with your service or product, in large companies there is a phenomenon that is not at all common in small companies:
- Legal requirements.
- Technical requirements.
- Financial requirements.
- In short, lots of requirements.
And although these requirements have little to do with what you offer, they must be satisfied in order to close the deal.
For Santiago Torre, trainer and sales manager with almost 30 years’ experience and host of the Business Leadership podcast, you need to dig into these aspects very early on: “You have to know the purchasing requirements of a potential customer the earlier the better. One thing that is often effective is, once you have made your first (very brief, please) introduction, to ask how they buy such products or services from your company.
Normally, they will start to give you clues about their process:
- Who buys.
- How to decide.
- Time frame.
If they don’t tell you much, ask for everything you need -without going overboard- and, above all, if you think there might be something that prevents you from doing business completely, the sooner you know about it, the better, the more time you will have to try to correct it.
It has happened to me as a buyer: not being able to work with a supplier I was very interested in, because their framework contract was incompatible with our internal rules.
This is not the time to polish or discuss or agree on anything, but it is the time to know what their purchasing process is. You have your sales process and he has his purchasing process, ask him about it”
For his part, Alan Berrospi former IBM and current Regional Services Sales Manager at Xertica, makes it even more concrete when the time comes to investigate: “It is a very common mistake in this type of sales to inquire about this topic when the conversation is too advanced. My recommendation is to try to be clear about the prospect’s buying process from the first or second meeting. As soon as I notice that the intention to buy or the need is real, I bring up the subject.”
Although it is a difficult topic to tackle, as you see, you have to do it early to avoid dead ends.
Locate all decision-makers in the purchase
When selling to small companies we only need to convince one person, almost always the CEO.
In the case of large companies, it is less clear how many people will have a say in the decision and who they are. This is especially important because often, while your solution fixes a problem in one department, others will be inconvenienced or have extra work to do and will not be so keen.
And it is normal for both to have a voice. So the first thing you need to do is to locate all these profiles. Iñaki Alcaraz it is clear to you that this process needs to be approached with time and energy: “Getting several people to agree takes more time… and a lot more patience! You have to multiply the conversations with each interlocutor and often they can’t even agree among themselves.
That is why it is advisable to thoroughly research each company you want to approach beforehand in order to identify these profiles.
Each company is different, so using platforms such as LinkedIn allows you to find them, if you know how to use it with expertise”
It goes without saying that identifying them is only the first part of the equation. Then you have to add them to your cause.
“By default, there will always be someone for whom what you are selling does not solve a problem and creates discomfort, more work or difficulties Identify these profiles and try to win them over by providing something that benefits them, otherwise they will “torpedo” the sale.
You have to do some internal work: Write down which people in your buying organisation will be affected by your product and how.
It is important to know that some of them will not benefit no matter how you paint it. You have to make a written chart to identify them. This work is very extensive because we will have to analyse:
- If they have to buy my product yes or yes and then what they decide is to whom (e.g. annual audit if they are obliged to).
- If buying my product is an alternative and they can decide not to do it or to cover the need internally (for example, a productive improvement).
- If they are already buying it (therefore they have a supplier) or it is the first time they are doing it.
Depending on all of them, the interveners and possible “torpedoes” would be different and their effect would be different. You must have all these aspects very clear and for this you need paper, pen and time for reflection and analysis”
Once you are clear on these 3 points….
- At what stage of purchasing is your customer.
- What are their technical, legal and financial requirements to close the purchase.
- What are the key profiles and how are they affected.
… you are well placed to adapt to any lead you get. And to define how you are going to get these leads and how you are going to make them go from meeting you to buying from you, we have to talk about your sales process:
The sales process for big companies
In this case, a funnel like the ones that are usually painted in other types of sales does make sense.
However, many novices start with very complex funnels with lots of steps that, in the end, make it more difficult for the sales person to map the customer journey than to help them navigate it.
Our recommendation is to start with a simple 4-step funnel:
- First contact.
- Initial qualification.
- Working on a solution.
- Closing the sale.
In this phase you simply have to recognise those companies that might be interested in your product or service and get in touch with a key member of that company to acquire your service. In order to achieve this, we choose two ways:
- Inbound marketing.
- Outbound marketing.
These topics will be dealt with in depth in the following 2 lessons: 3 and 4.
Once you have made contact with a key person in a company who might be interested in your product you have to:
- Find out what their needs and problems are.
- Generate confidence in them.
- Understand their buying process.
- Confirm that your company could be of interest to them.
This process will be covered in depth in lesson 5.
Work on a solution
At this point you have confirmed that the interest is real and the other company could become a customer.
Now it is time to help you find the best possible solution and negotiate all aspects of the deal. This process will be covered in lessons 6 and 7.
Closing the sale
Once a final agreement has been reached, the only thing left to do is to confirm it with a rubric and start the implementation. This process will be covered in lesson 8.
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