Selling to Big Business

…Lifetime Value for your Services Business…

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?




Major Accounts: What Difference a Word Makes

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Feb• 19•13


Major accounts can seem like another species.

I have learned that words are neuropathways to the heart.

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.  The audience was the training group in 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.  The learning leader, who had started her career as a scientist replied, 

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

Immediately, I substituted “KOL” for “customer” in all my client’s materials and conversations.  We continued to pursue business within the pharma/biotech industry.

Changing our language may be the reason this manufacturer has agreed to consider my client’s solution in 4 of their therapeutic groups.

How to bag a trophy client |

Written By: Catherine McQuaid - Apr• 01•14

175-tiger_hug1Wouldn’t it be great to NOT spend an average of 30% of billings acquiring that trophy? 

The story usually sounds like this:


“When a large trade association asked Chris LaBossiere and his team to make a presentation overseas on four days’ notice, it finally dawned on him just how much effort can go into winning a giant client.

The CEO of Yardstick Software Inc., an Edmonton-based provider of web-based employee testing and training services, was almost 18 months into a campaign to ink a major deal with the large international industry association. After making four trips and more than 100 phone calls to the association’s Montreal headquarters, pitching his case to multiple decision-makers at escalating stages in the procurement process and accruing about $100,000 in sales expenses—a major sum for a company with revenue of $6 million—he believed he was on the brink of a deal. He had successfully convinced the association of Yardstick’s competence and quelled concerns about his 16-person firm’s capacity to handle the project, which involved automating an international testing process.

So, when LaBossiere received the unanticipated request on a Thursday to present to the organization’s board of directors in Switzerland the following Tuesday, the frustrated CEO’s first instinct was to ask whether the association would at least cover the cost of the flight. Dead silence. Some of the people on the call were scarcely familiar with Yardstick, much less the effort it had already expended up to that point. So, LaBossiere gritted his teeth and booked a flight, vowing to himself that it would be the last trip made in pursuit of this business.

“It was a huge risk,” LaBossiere explains. “There was never any assurance we were going to get anything, and the higher our proposal got in their organization, the harder it was for us to convince them they should do business with a small company like ours.”

“In general, a smaller company can be much more adroit at adapting to meet a big company’s specific needs,” explains Greg Gulyas, Toronto-based chairman of the Centre for Outsourcing Research & Education (CORE).

Talk to any entrepreneur who has pursued a deal with a large client and you’re likely to hear variations on LaBossiere’s story. Given the complexity of large firms, SMEs often have to exert great effort to capture the interest of the right people or comply with a series of rigorous rules and bureaucratic burdens that increasingly comprise today’s procurement processes. And the size disparity can feel like a significant disadvantage when facing a team of corporate decision-makers in the boardroom or at the negotiation table.

It’s unfamiliar turf to those accustomed to making deals on a handshake, but it’s worth getting to know the territory; if you want to reap the rewards of having megaclients, you have to learn to play by their rules.

“The scales have tipped”

Perhaps the most daunting part of selling to giants is figuring out where to start. Large companies often present as monoliths; it’s hard to get the name and contact information of any decision-maker, much less the one in your area. And the choice may come down not only to the purchasing department, but also legal, logistics and accounting. In some cases, the process is formal, with decision-makers grouped into a project team to manage a structured tendering process and provide guidelines for how to proceed. In others, you’ll have to chase down and pitch to multiple stakeholders within the organization who may or may not be in communication with one another. It’s in your best interest to understand how any giant on your prospect list likes vendors to pitch.

Formal tendering processes used to be favoured only by government entities. No longer. 

While these processes can benefit potential suppliers, in that they explain the particulars of the buyer’s need and how to tender a bid, they can tax a small company’s resources. A potential supplier may have to respond to calls for expressions of interest, requests for proposals (RFPs) and several rounds of presentations before they’re considered for a coveted spot on a preferred vendor list—or just a one-off deal.

Catherine McQuaid on Hunting Big Game