Selling to Big Business

…Lifetime Value for your Services Business…

Key Accounts: Where Should You Hunt?

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Aug• 14•14

Since you are a specialized business services firm, becoming a preferred provider to a few key accounts may make the difference between a stable income and “drought” periods.  Before you pull on your jodpurs, you’ll probably need to know:

1. Are you hunting water or tree-dwellers?

2. Where do they prefer to eat?

3. Do they travel in herds or are they loners?


Knowing the habitat and habits of the entity you are tracking means you have a greater chance of not scaring them away before they spend a little time to check you out.




Before deciding which kind of entity would best suit your business, look for clues in your successes… (and failures) in the past.

1. In what industry or sector(s) can you demonstrate competence?

2. Is the business challenge your company solves unique to that industry?

3. Can you demonstrate relevance to other sectors or industries?

If not, should you pursue work in the sector where you’ve had success or go to other sectors?


4. How might you demonstrate relevant credibility to other sectors without becoming a generic offering?

If your only credibility story is in a cyclical industry and that industry is in the trough of its cycle, they may not have the means to purchase at this time. 

If that is the case, you’re best to find new territory in which to hunt. Wait until the sector where your relevance is most apparent recovers and is nearing the top of the industry’s cycle.  Companies in that sector will have more ability to buy from you when their industry is robust and profitable.

HuntNewBiz  647 213 1217

Major Accounts: What a Difference a Word Makes

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Aug• 04•14


Large companies can seem like another species, with their own language and view of the world.

When developing ways to engage senior people within multinational firms, I have learned that words are neuropathways to the heart.  Using a firm’s language is one way of winning hearts and minds at the early stages of relationship-building.


Let’s say you’re a service provider to the pharma/biotech industry. Would you talk about “customers”  or “KOLs”  (Key Opinion Leaders)?

I was having a discovery conversation on behalf of a client. It was a Biotech firm.

They taught me a valuable lesson.  If you are  using the language of your audience, your chances of building credibility increase.


This is what happened:  I asked about their customers. She responded:

“I suppose you could call them customers but they’re KOL’s.  Key Opinion Leaders.”

Immediately, I substituted “KOL” for “customer” in all my client’s materials and conversations.  

Using their language may be one of the reasons they agreed to further discussions in one of their therapeutic groups.


 By the way, the term “KOL”  is an indication of the way in  which highly specialized business services firms collaborate with their distributors or clients at both the development and sales stage.

Therefore, there’s a good chance that  intellectual property-based companies, delivering intangible “products”  would use KOL rather than “customer”.


Let me know if using their language helps win their hearts.


David in the Jungle (without Goliath)

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - May• 14•14

Pursuing a key account which is outside an easy drive, if you are a smaller firm,  can lead to rethinking how you deliver services.  Advisory and professional services firms prefer to do on-site business development.  Many executives have told me that being face-to-face is the most effective way of establishing relationships.

Might winning a big company as a new client mean you have to deliver services to locations outside of North America?  Might your ability to deliver across their entire network one of their conditions for approving you as a new supplier?

This was the case when a Fortune 500-sized global company was negotiating a service-level agreement with my client.

The company wanted to retain them but they felt person-to-person contact would take too long to roll out internationally if on-site service was their only delivery model.

My client agreed to explore an alternative to in-situ service delivery.


The outcome? Within 6 months, the #5 company in the industry approved a proof of concept project.

My client realized a 24% return  on their investment in my fees.





Key Accounts: Do you Know YOUR Jungle?

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Mar• 29•14

A couple of key accounts can make all the difference for a smaller business and professional services firms.

Big Game HuntingPredictable revenue and year-over-year growth in a project-based environment is the holy grail of small business.

Pressure to follow trends rather than collecting one’s own information and analysis can be alluring.

“Me-too” strategies can be flawed. Unfortunately, those flaws appear often only in hindsight.

Rather than copying what your most established competitors are doing, look to the periphery for innovative ideas. Look outside your own industry.

A lesson I learned from my dad, a farmer:

Cross-pollination strengthens resilience.



Tracking Major Accounts: How Long is Too Long?

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Jan• 03•14

major-account-customerWinning a major account is not for the faint of heart.

Four years ago, on a client assignment, I initated contact with a senior executive of a firm ranked in the top 10 of their industry..

When this leader took a  position in another company, I was back in touch.  Still no business was won.

Shouldn’t I have stopped tracking and gone on to greener pastures?

This leader now heads up the #6-ranked firm in the industry. Will this leader remember something about my client from previous contact?

Probably not. She is more likely ro refer me to one of her direct reports.

A referral will mean a triple win:

1. By referring us to someone on her team, she signals that the business problem our client addresses is a concern. (If it weren’t she would have declined)

2. Since it has come from their boss, the referral will almost certainly look closely at my client’s solution.

3. A merger has taken place, so the referral will most likely put together a new team. From here on, we are inside and will meet members of the herd through referrals.

Most trackers give up too early.  647 213 1217

Teddy Roosevelt & Ernest Hemmingway on Safari

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Dec• 09•13

Creating demand for big-ticket business services inside the C-suite requires much more than contact with that executive.

If your service will impact a couple of  business units,  there may be 25-30 stakeholders who have a point of view about your company. Knowing their interests and needs before proposal time, increases your odds of winning  an assignment.

Assignments leading to approved vendor status can have cycle times of +24 months.

This may explain why the cost-of-sales in business services firms is upwards of 40% of revenues.

High lifetime-value clients rather than one-time assignments can challenge even the most optimistic Big Game hunter.  However, becoming an approved vendor enterprise-wide means sustainable revenue growth.
In the process of client acquisition, Big Game Hunting delivers 4 transferrable business assets to a company:

1. A systematic business development process; everyone within the company becomes fluent in the system

2. Personalized access to “wish list” companies within an identified industry, including stakeholders surrounding an engagement

3. “Green Light” or referrals from senior leadership to members of their team.

Offering a context for the initial contact, or having an “ice-breaker”  can double an executive’s receptivity.

An ice-breaker might be a conference where the executive you want to reach has presented, an article where the individual was quoted or, best of all, an industry award.

4.  Exposure within each business unit of “wish list” companies increases the odds of winning an assignment.

Winning a major account can bring to mind images of Teddy Roosevelt or Ernest Hemmingway on safari.

Just a note: they went on safari with trackers and  jungle  guides to increase their chances of bringing home the trophy.  647 213 1217

Moving from One Herd to Another

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Jun• 06•13

acquire-key-accountIf you want to be a Big Game Hunter, you need to know where big companies prefer to hunt, what they eat and who their predators are.

If your client roster is limited to one industry and you wish to win business in another sector, how do you make the business problems you have solved relevant to that industry you want to enter?

Often an industry perceives its challenges as unique to their particular circumstances. You may see your relevance more broadly. However, relevance, like beauty, may be  in the eye of the beholder.

For example, if you have helped with customer retention in consumer finance, you would be able to demonstrate credibility in other industries where equipment leasing, retail lay-away plans or insurance are offered.

I helped migrate the  experience a client had in consumer finance to 2 other industries: capital finance and automotive. By connecting the dots about buyer behaviour in credit cards and financial planning, I was able to help win new buiness in 2 adjacent sectors.

Knowing the landscape you are tracking means knowing your prey’s challenges. Read their industry journals. Follow their thought and opinion leaders. Know which conferences they meet and speak at.

A cursory survey of the topics at important conferences and journals can give you clues to the challenges they are facing and how to position your offering in front of those challenges.

Challenger selling

Selling your Company? Fatten Your EBITDA

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Apr• 11•13

key-accountsEBITDA: Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Deductions and Allowances”  is why you want  to have big companies as clients. 

When I was retained by an early-stage services company, they needed stable, predictable revenue. Friends and family had been promised they would have their investment back within 3 years.

Therefore, the company had to be sold for a profit. Their existing clientbase was in a cyclical, declining industry, which meant that they suffered monthy swings in revenue as their clients dodged threats in their market.

Since this was a services company with no intellectual capital, I had to secure long-term contracts in a stable, growth industry.

My strategy was to pursue high-margin, high-volume service contracts with market leaders in the consumer credit cards. Not only were these open-ended, long-term contracts, but a broad product range represented growth opportunities for my client.

However, be warned:  even if they are big, a major account will only fatten your company’s EBITDA  if the industry itself is in growth.









Watching the Herd: Tracking a Major Account

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Mar• 04•13

large-accountsWinning a new key account takes more than sales skills.  In fact, taking a sales approach, which expects a yes/no outcome from every contact can hurt you if you’re going after major accounts.


When pursuing a key account, much more time is spent with influencers, ie. those who may have an indirect interest in your services.


I call these types of conversations “discovery” conversations because you don’t spend your time “telling” or “selling”.

Strategic questions sound like this:


“The last quarterly report said…about shareholder value…how is this impacting your business unit?”

“I’m guessing from the CEO’s comments…your unit’s mandate for next quarter is….?”

“Knowing that the…market segment is under-performing, are resources being re-allocated?”


Tactical questions sound like this:

“Who makes the decision?”

“How much do you spend on…?”


Tactical questions will lead you to operations and purchasing!

key-accounts-customersThis is where Request for Proposals, annual budgets and purchasing departments happen.  In my opinion, this is the hardest way for a new supplier to get a foothold.


Becoming a preferred vendor company-wide requires access to and influence with EVERYONE who would be impacted if your firm were to be hired. I have learned the hard way that there is never just one right person to talk to.


Influencers, champions, implementers and user groups each  have different needs and will perceive your offering differently.  

Each group will want different  things from you and will see the value of what your firm offers quite differently.


Major Account Myth # 3: Get to the “right” Person

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Mar• 01•13

Discussions about how to win major accounts usually involves the “get to the right person” myth.

The bigger the dollar value of the service you offer, the broader the impact of your service and the more stakeholders it affects, the more people will be involved in the decision before you are hired.

As a rule of thumb, you should plan to have discovery” conversations with all 3 roles  before starting discussions about a specific solution  (cheque signer, influencer & implementer).

I’ll give you an example from a specialty business services client:

 I had been reaching out to executives in targeted companies for 9 months.  All my development metrics were being achieved but no project had been identified.

major-accounts-5One of the influencers inside the company asked my client to come to an internal conference. 

We thought it was going to be a “beauty pagent” but it turned out that the subject matter experts among the implementation group (who had told us they had “no budget this year”) had been told by the head of the business line, where we had started, that if they could get buy-in from the field, a pilot could be given the green light.

 Had we gone away when we were told “there’s no budget”, or stopped asking for meetings with other business lines, we might never have nudged the project into existence.

Because we had covered all the roles in the decision in 6 different lines of business (each having discretionary budgets) and because, as we argued, my client’s solution would have a cumulative effect if implemented enterprise-wide, the contract was awarded.


Why hunt big game?




Using “social” to reduce person-to-person sales costs

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Oct• 03•14

Winning new business with a big company can reduce profits if face-to-face selling  means a high cost of acquisition.

Business services firms would expect to spend 30-40% of project billings on the costs of acquiring a new client.

A smaller company’s online presence can help reduce the travel and entertainment costs of new customer acquisition.

Here are some things to remember: 

1. Effective vs. busy: Is marketing  time online spent communicating directly with constituents, answering questions or giving suggestions? Posting profiles and expecting followers to turn into buyers is wishful thinking.

2. What were the benchmarks for the program? If service improvement was an objective, for instance, what was the service level when you started, and has customer satisfaction changed since then?

3. Indirect monetization can be calculated. If you have a following of 5,000 people, for example, and it would cost $2 per person for a direct mail campaign, then the indirect value of your online reach would be $10,000 (5,000 times $2).

Social channels, if you use them to distribute your company’s promotional messages, are a lot like running an ad in the Yellow Pages. It’s not the size of that publication’s circulation that counts; it’s how many people find you, take action and build relationships with your company that gives you a return on invested time.

key-accounts-2You may be asking how to use social media to meet business goals. The four objectives it can achieve are:

1. Improve search-engine rankings: Be found by potential audiences—and not just in searches for your company’s name or website, but in the words a buyer would use. High-traffic specialty sites may be where your audience does research. If you knew that to be the case, you might not post content on sites such as YouTube and Facebook.

2. Get better business intelligence. Integrating social-behaviour data collection with your own database will yield insight on your audience’s preferences around content and platform (public vs. industry sites, for example). You’ll be better informed about how to get your audience to take action. Social clues that show interest from users include commenting, sharing material or opening a link.

3. Cross-reference content to the “take action” point of your website. For example, if you have a coupon offer posted on an industry blog, include a link back to the redemption point so you can capture the incoming URL for your lead-nurturing activities.

4. Take a “test-lab” approach to using social media. Test responses to a variety of messages or calls to action. Sharing and link open rates, for instance, will give you clues as to which messages or calls to action are more effective. The data will start indicating what does and does not work so you can convert busy time into effective time.

Catherine McQuaid  647 213 1217