Closing Your First Fortune 500 Customer
By: Bob Marsh, CEO & Founder, LevelEleven
Winning the first big customer is a pivotal moment for any company. It provides validation that the company has created something meaningful, demonstrates to both employees and the market that you’re capable of getting it done, and creates momentum to go win more big customers. And as a startup founder, it’s nice validation that maybe your idea isn’t so crazy after all.
At LevelEleven, we’ve had early success with clients including Comcast, HP Enterprise, Staples, and Symantec. Some of the largest Fortune 500 companies depend on our Sales Activity Management system to keep their salespeople focused on revenue generating activities, while empowering sales managers to be more effective coaches. That concept matters to all companies, but to a large company – it matters even more.
Your price tag for a big customer is going to be higher, but so is the ROI. In our case, if we can get each salesperson to have 10 more new business meetings/month, the downstream effect could be $150,000 more annual sales/salesperson. With 10 salespeople that’s $1.5 million. With 1,000 salespeople, that’s $150 million. It will be the same with your business – the bigger the client, the bigger the ROI.
Want to close a Fortune 500 customer? Here are four quick tips on how you can:
Get Some Swagger
Remember that you’re an expert. You know your business idea and use case better than anyone because it’s what you obsess about and work on all day long. While you can’t be arrogant, and you need to be a good listener to understand the client, don’t be intimidated. If you come off as uncertain or uncomfortable, they’ll smell it, which will make the prospect uncertain and uncomfortable too.
Map the Players, Work the System
In small companies, it’s easy to find the champion who can just decide and buy. Big companies have politics and multiple stakeholders you’ll need to navigate. There could be 10-12 people you have to sell to and get on board. For us this is a senior sales leader, divisional sales managers, a sales enablement team, sales operations, and finance. We lose deal momentum and get significant pushback if we try to sell each on our own, which means we have to work the system.
We recently spent time coaching our sales operations contacts at a Fortune 500 prospect on how to explain the value of LevelEleven to their superiors. By the time the senior executive meeting came around, the sales operations team was selling our product for us, using our messaging, and leveraging us to validate and course correct. You must use the multiple roles in the customer’s organization to your advantage.
Be Patient and Plan
Anyone who has worked at a large company knows there are thousands of processes. It’s not in their nature to rush, or at least their definition of “fast” will be wildly different than yours. You’ll get a “yes”, which means they’ll sign the contract months from now, but you still need to create a plan. Be a strategic seller and build a joint timeline with the customer so that you both understand the steps from your initial conversation through to a successful rollout.
Ride on the Shoulders of Giants
This is a phrase I learned from one of our top advisors at LevelEleven, Tim Kopp – former CMO of ExactTarget. “As a smaller company, one of the best ways to build credibility is forming a partnership with a large and respected enterprise.” In our case, this is Salesforce. When a big prospect knows that we’ve partnered with Salesforce, built our product on the Salesforce platform, and are listed on the AppExchange with great reviews, it creates instant credibility. So think about your own industry and which company you could partner with to bring that same level of authority. It is a difference maker in getting your foot in the door and closing that first deal.
Selling into a large Fortune 500 company takes careful planning pre-sale and tight execution post sale. By thinking through all of these steps ahead of time, it will give you the confidence you need and show them that you’re ready to handle their business.