How Can My Business Win Bigger Customers?

How Can My Business Win Bigger Customers?


by Mary D. Lewis, COP

The anonymous sage who advised “It’s not what you know, but who you know” got it only half right. Rather, it’s who knows you that makes the difference between getting your foot in the door and having it unceremoniously shut.

Large companies represent a lot of opportunities for small firms, but the challenges of getting through the door—and to the right person—can be daunting.

Here are five tips to help you navigate the corporate labyrinth.

Establish—Then Build—the Relationship

“This sounds obvious,” emphasizes Flora Mayer, former supplier diversity manager at Sprint, “but you’d be surprised how many companies don’t make the effort to maintain contact.”

Even firms that are successful in connecting with the decision-maker should continually nurture the relationship to keep the seeds of opportunity growing. The person making the decisions today may move on and be replaced by someone unfamiliar with your company. Relationships that extend beyond a single individual have a greater chance of surviving personnel turnover.

Look for an opportunity to reestablish a connection by scheduling a brief meeting to introduce yourself and share information about an enhanced product, a new service capability or a more efficient ordering process.

Network, Network, Network!

Quick introductions, followed by a hasty exchange of business cards, are frequently mistaken for networking. Even if the encounter was positive, don’t expect your phone to ring when you return to the office.

Make sure your business card and collateral describe what business you’re in and include a key differentiator. Put contact information on everything.

Find out who else might be interested in your products or services and ask if you can follow up to get contact information of other connections. Subsequent emails that indicate you’re reaching out as requested may jog the recipient’s memory and stand a better chance of getting a response.

Find the Influencer(s)

Executives typically rely on assistants who act as gatekeepers. Securing a coveted appointment is difficult, even for direct reports, so expect admins to first validate with their boss that he or she has, in fact, met you and requested a follow-up.

“People need to appreciate that executives are incredibly busy, and their schedules are packed,” advises an executive assistant to three corporate executives who frequently travel. “Sometimes I direct callers to the manager of staff operations or see who else might be appropriate in a particular department.”

The assistant keeps track of all solicitors in a business opportunities folder. “I know who calls and when,” she said, “so multiple attempts to set up an appointment don’t necessarily increase your chances of landing a meeting.”

Make It Easier for Others to Reply to Your Emails

Keep your message focused and your intent clear. Send emails that have descriptive subject lines and can be easily read on a smartphone.

Emails should be short—about three to five sentences. It shouldn’t take any longer than 20 to 30 seconds for the reader to know who you are, why they’re receiving your email, what you’re asking for and what they have to provide.

Make it easy to reply. Next steps must be clearly spelled out: a meeting, a referral, the right point of contact.

Keep the email professional and opt for links to information, rather than bulky attachments.

Above all, make sure you proofread! Business correspondence rife with grammar and spelling errors reflects negatively on you as well as your firm.

Know—and Practice—Business Etiquette

“Be reasonable in your request,” advised one executive assistant at Sprint. “Don’t expect an immediate response.” If necessary, put a “read receipt” on emails and allow at least five to 10 days for a response before sending out a follow-up note.

Resist the urge to cold call in person, even if you’re “in the area.” This approach is a turn-off and may sabotage your attempt at connecting with a decision-maker.

If you want to drop off brochures or promotional items, please remember that it’s difficult to share tangible collateral with remote associates. Instead, look for ways to leverage technology that facilitates sharing and passing on information about your firm.

If you are fortunate enough to secure a meeting, keep it focused and brief (20 to 30 minutes). Agree on an agenda in advance, describe the purpose of the session, and identify the attendees.

Finally, if you get a polite “no,” try to find out if it means “never” or “not right now.” You’ll need to discern if the issue is a supplier mismatch or if other considerations, such as contractual obligations, customer restrictions or technical standards might be the cause. Regardless, your best bet is to ensure your company and contact information is complete and up to date in your prospect’s supplier registration database. This will make it easier for them to connect with you when they are ready to take the next step.

This article first appeared in Thinking Bigger magazine, November 1, 2015

The views expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and not Sprint’s. Sprint makes no representation of any kind concerning the content herein.

Author’s Bio: Mary D. Lewis, COP is a procurement professional formerly with Sprint Corporation. She speaks nationally on sourcing, negotiating, contracting, disputes, and supply chain sustainability topics and is a contributor to various publications. 


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