After sealing three deals with players in the local trucking industry, Tucker Robeson said he knew that in order to scale CDL Helpers, an employee retention and management consulting firm focused on truck drivers, he’d have to make inroads with a larger firm.
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Robeson, the company’s co-founder and CEO, used his alumni network to convince Lawrence Transportation Company to agree to a 90-day trial.
“We focused on making our target company better and the lives of the people who run it easier,” said Robeson.
Finding a way into a major corporation can seem daunting. However, through persistence, strategy and bargaining the path to partnering with big business will have fewer roadblocks.
Ilana Eberson, president of The NYC Business Networking Group, recommended that entrepreneurs make relationships on the lower levels and have a list of benefits that they can provide the company.
“I always go in with a give instead of a take,” advised Eberson.
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For CDL Helpers the give was pricing.
“At the 30-day strategy meeting the CEO said ‘you guarantee me this price for all of 2012 and I’ll sign today,’” said Robeson, “We gave them a big discount because they were so close to home and we wanted to not just have them as a client, but to partner with them to get better feedback.”
Before landing a deal with Macy’s, True Fit co-founder Romney Evans said he made sure his company’s fit personalization software would integrate seamlessly into Macy’s’ system.
“Often times asking a customer to change operations to accommodate new technology can kill a young start-up’s chances of getting into one of these companies,” said Evans. “We were answering a need and we didn’t ask the retailer to change their operations or processes.”
Of course, persistence also helps. Leadership consultant Corliss McGinty said she secured a contract with Ralph Lauren through diligent follow-up.
“I got in after almost 6 months of trying….sending letters, cards, voicemails and even chocolate. I felt I was stalking, but I finally got to talk to the VP of operations at the distribution center,” said McGinty, president of Soft Solutions Consulting.
The process of partnering with big business does not end once a deal gets signed.
“The people who make or break the success with the relationship are usually different than the people who you sign the deal with,” said Lilia Shirman, managing director of The Shirman Group, which develops growth strategies for B2B technology vendors. “Beyond signing the deal you need to understand who in the company can be your champion and how to build the relationship with them.”
McGinty built on her relationship with Ralph Lauren by sending her contacts “articles of interest and making them aware of local events that may benefit them.”
While landing a contract with a major player offers small businesses great opportunities to grow, entrepreneurs need to proceed cautiously.
“All too often clients are elated that they land these big contracts and they accept them blindly,” warns Richard Gertler, founding partner at Thaler Gertler, LLP. “Just because a small business has the ability to make a deal with a larger company, it may be better to walk away. The headaches, cost of compliance and profit margin may not be worth it.”