How small businesses can find, keep big business clients
By Jim Kendall
This column originally appeared in the October 5, 2015 Daily Herald
Especially as they start up, many entrepreneurs cast covetous eyes on Fortune-list companies.
Getting past the gatekeepers at Big Company Inc. isn’t easy, although it can be done. And, yes, it helps to have connections. Far more important, however, is the reality that your business’ performance must at least match its promise.
Here’s how two suburban small businesses find – and keep – big business clients.
* Magellan Associates LLC provides CXO-level advisory services to companies that can be found on most lists of the biggest and best. With a staff of 20 or so advisors, how does the Buffalo Grove company land its mostly technology-focused blue chip clients?
“Most of our advisors (staff) come from large companies,” says Bob Perrin, Magellan founder and CEO. “We understand who they are and how they operate. We understand the challenges they have.”
In fact, it helps immeasurably that Magellan’s advisors are big business veterans. “Some of those C-suite people now work for us,” Perrin says. “We have sat in their chairs and been accountable. That brings credibility.”
So does performance.
In addition to contacts made when advisors worked for the big players, Magellan documents its procedures, using its intellectual property to establish reputation. “We’ve written books” documenting processes, Perrin says.
* With seven full-time salaried employees (including, so you know, my son-in-law), Utopia Solutions Inc. meets every definition of a small company. However, the Naperville software testing firm has an impressive list of big company clients.
In its early days, Utopia Solutions “was walked into some of the biggest companies in the world” by Mercury Interactive (later absorbed by Hewlett-Packard), says Lee Barnes, Utopia founder and chief technology officer. “We developed a reputation, and, as people switched employers, we’d be introduced to different companies.”
Utopia Solutions’ reputation, and the willingness of users to bring the company to new employers, is based on performance. Results count.
“We have not had a lot of questions asked about our size,” Barnes says. “We’re very focused. We’re not a mile wide and an inch deep. We’re an inch wide and a mile deep.
“When a company’s hair is on fire because it has spent tens of millions of dollars on software that’s having rollout problems, they call us.”
* Suppose that your small business doesn’t have a staff of former Fortune-list executives or a company that once provided introductions. Can you crack the big business market?
“We don’t have an army of people making phone calls,” Barnes says. “We do go to conferences. We accept speaking engagements and write articles. We write posts and blogs.”
What Barnes and his people do well is “understand the software problems” bigger companies face. “We take the time to understand how they operate – at least in the areas where we might be involved – and make certain our solutions fit the way they want to work.”