Delivering Important Work for Fortune 500 Companies

Everything was going according to plan. Our business was just 18 months old; we’d landed a major client and were helping manage on a $60Million project for them. We’d done everything right to get to this place – building relationships, demonstrating credibility and outworking our competition to win the business. It was our first big Fortune 500 engagement and we were heavily invested (both financially and emotionally) in its success. Smooth sailing never taught anyone anything though…

Our engagement was slated to last more than a year. But early warning indicators were turning yellow. Although the work we were delivering was top notch, the chemistry between our consultant and client wasn’t quite right. And the situation was putting everyone’s success at risk. Of course we tried desperately to fix it. There were meetings, plans, brainstorming sessions and calls to advisors. But after much hand wringing, we realized we needed to take our consultant off the engagement. It was a very expensive proposition and we weren’t sure of its long-term implications.

Fast forward another 18 months. That company is now our largest client, and we’re working with two other Fortune 500 accounts. None of it has been easy, but we were lucky enough to learn a key lesson early on –when working with large clients, you have to take the long view. That means saying no when you can’t do something well, waiting patiently for the right opportunities and sometimes making expensive decisions to protect your clients and your relationships once you’ve been engaged.

But how do you even earn the right to play in the big leagues in the first place? For young, entrepreneurial companies, working with Fortune 500 firms can seem out of reach. And it truly does take talent, hard work, a little luck and lots of patience to get there.

What you may not know though, is that large companies want to work with smaller organizations. They recognize the advantages of working with small companies: creativity and innovation, speed, value, diversity of thought and economic impact. In fact, many large companies have programs to encourage purchases with small and diverse businesses. That said, there are rigorous standards to manage risk. Often there are thresholds for number of years in business, revenues and insurance coverage. Additional requirements may include audited financials, cyber security plans, disaster recovery and more. But once you’ve made the cut, the rewards can be substantial.

Interested in taking the plunge? Here are a few tips to get started:

• Identify a best-fit large company for your business. Conduct extensive research on their business, competitors, issues, strategies, key initiatives and culture. Meet everyone you can in that organization to learn more. Define a very specific value proposition for that company and vet it with various folks within the company. Decide how you will offer something new, different or better than what they have today.
• Take advantage of any programs they have to work with small or diverse businesses. If you are a woman-owned business, go through the certification process with WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise Council). Leverage representatives in these programs to provide strategic coaching for you and help you navigate the business.
• Define your strategic entry point. Be sure to start small, where you know you can be successful. Consider offering a free pilot to demonstrate your capabilities.
• When you get your opportunity, bring your A Game! Ask for constant feedback, fix anything that needs attention and stay personally involved. Once you’ve gotten your first success under your belt, ask for testimonials and references.
• Deepen your relationships and expand your footprint across the business. Leverage your success to create make success.

Entrepreneurs are not known for their patience. But taking the long view with large accounts pays significant dividends and is well worth the wait. Build your credibility, protect your relationships and do good work and you’ll get lots of at bats in the big leagues.

About Your Columnist

Sondra Kiss is a featured columnist for Women Taking Charge, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence, where she covers best practices to overcome business challenges. Sondra is a senior partner at The Kissinger Group, which provides consulting expertise and project leadership to help organizations meet business challenges and seize new opportunities. Clients include several Fortune 500 companies.

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