Book Digest: Selling to Big Companies

In Selling to Big Companies, Jill Konrath argues that success in closing large accounts is not a matter of making more outreach attempts to more companies or creating more persuasive pitches about your unique features. Instead, she argues that success requires a laser focus on the small number of customers that best fit your offering and making yourself an expert on their business problems.

This expertise allows the salesperson to add value with every attempt to contact a prospect, giving the prospect a reason to respond. The salesperson adds this value by sharing useful information about the prospect’s business rather than merely about the salesperson’s product. This approach carries through to sales conversations, in which Konrath recommends discussing the prospect’s business problems and the measurable business results the product can provide rather than focusing on the product’s features. Konrath argues that salespeople should use this expertise driven approach to gain a small toehold in a large company and expand from there.


  • Part I: Accepting the Challenge
    • Break large companies and your offering into bite sized chunks to get in the door
  • Part II: Build the Foundation
    • Target only the companies where you have the highest chance of success
    • Research companies to uncover information that advances sales efforts and creates points of entry
  • Part III: Launch the Campaign
    • Craft a multi-touch campaign that gets you in the door by adding value with every touch
    • Deliver enticing voice mails that get attention
    • Develop customer attracting letters and emails that stand out
  • Part IV: Break Through the Barriers
    • Have effective business conversations with prospects
    • Turn gatekeepers into allies
  • Part V: Advance the Sale
    • Articulate the business results of using your service

Part I: Accepting the Challenge

1. Why Nobody Calls You Back

  • Technology gives them ways to filter you out
    • They’re bombarded by communications
  • Stop sounding like a self-serving salesperson
    • Prospecting is dreaded and ineffective
    • Successful salespeople spend time analyzing their customer and preparing for the sales call

2. Doing Business with Big(er) Companies

  • Big companies are always looking to improve their operations
  • Once you’re in, there are many places to go to sell your service
  • Break companies into bite sized chunks
    • Big companies are really a combination of many small organizations
    • Pick one functional unit to start with
    • Determine the decision maker and implement a customized strategy for getting in touch with them
  • Foot in-the-door strategy
    • Find a single immediate need, even if it’s not a huge contract
    • Don’t pitch the breadth of your services, just focus on one thing
    • After solving that one problem, then discuss the breadth of your services
    • Alternatively, make a big decision/contract smaller. Only ask for approval for Phase 1 of your service.

3. Understand Corporate Decision Makers

  • Corporations are continuously re-engineering themselves
    • They do more and more outsourcing
  • They face crushing and competing demands
    • They get 200 emails a day
    • They have to appear active to avoid being downsized
    • They’re risk-averse and don’t want to be blamed for a mistake and fired. As a result, they bring in committees on decisions so they won’t be solely responsible for a problem.
  • They feel that most products and services are really just commodities rather than differentiated solutions
  • They haven’t got time to fix their pains or explore solutions. They end up with a hodge podge of temporary fixes.
  • Your biggest competitor is the status quo. The decision maker has to protect his time and leaving things as they are is the short-term answer to that.
  • They have alternative uses for their funds, so you need to show why your solution is the best use.
  • Don’t waste their time
    • Provide value in every meeting even if they don’t buy
    • Don’t try to be their friend. They don’t want to chitchat with a stranger.
    • Learn basic information about their business before meeting with them, don’t ask them basic questions about their operations during the sales call. Show that you’ve invested the time in doing the research on them before the meeting.
  • Don’t use adjectives. They seem self-serving.
  • Don’t expect them to infer the value of your product

4. It’s All About Making a Difference

  • People don’t like being sold and don’t like self-serving salespeople
  • The best salespeople focus on improving their customer’s operations
    • Concentrate on improving an underserved area of the customer’s business
    • Create value with every interaction by being a knowledgeable expert
    • You personally need to be an asset to your customer’s business
  • Approach customers with:
    • Quantifiable business impacts
    • Personalized communications that refer to your knowledge about their business or industry
    • Provocative new ideas
    • Knowledge about how others in the industry are doing things
    • A no-nonsense attitude. You don’t need to kiss ass but you do need to be an expert.
    • Talk about their business not your solution

Part II: Build the Foundation

5. Targeting: It’s not a Numbers Game

  • Narrowing your focus increases sales and profits by a lot
  • Walk away from potential opportunities that aren’t a fit
  • Defining your target market narrowly increases your knowledge of the customer’s business and lets you tailor your message to them
  • Defining your ideal customer
    • Demographics: Industry and company size
    • Psychographics: Vision/values/style/strategy
    • Enabling conditions: A pressing challenge, event, or initiative that makes them primed to buy
    • Your niche might be just ten companies. Be that choosy.

6. Is Your Value Proposition Strong Enough

  • Good value propositions:
    • Define how you can help
    • State what difference you make
    • Are financially oriented
    • Are quantitatively expressed
    • Outline opportunity costs/benefits
    • May include a user/customer story as illustration
  • Nobody cares why you’re unique until you’ve first convinced them to buy something rather than stay with the status quo
  • Example: One customer in your industry saw an X % increase in sales. Clients typically see Y-Z% increase.

7. Strengthen Your Value Proposition

  • Talk to your existing customers
    • What did you do before?
    • What made you decide to buy?
  • Capitalize on your collective wisdom
  • Capitalize on existing industry statistics, perhaps to prove that the problem you’re solving exists

8. Knowing Enough to Get In

  • Immerse yourself in their business before you attempt to get in
    • Industry trends
    • Business changes
    • High priority initiatives
    • Key customers
    • Financial drivers
  • Always go for fit rather than play a numbers game
  • Watch for trigger events

9. Leverage Your Network

  • Most networking is a waste of time
    • Decision makers aren’t at normal networking events
    • Most people you meet at networking events aren’t likely to refer you to anyone because they hardly know you
  • To network effectively, go where there are people who can help you enter and understand large customers, such as industry specific events
  • Hone your elevator pitch
    • Problem centered: I help X companies who are feeling Y pain with Z issue you solve
    • Benefit centered: I work with X companies who want to do Y better
  • Go to networking events knowing exactly who you want to meet and try to use your current contacts to set meetings with them
  • Create strategic alliances, a partnership with another professional you respect who compliments your skills and network. Start with one small project to see if the partnership works.

Part III: Launch the Campaign

10. Identify Key Decision Makers

  • Check out online databases
  • Call their main line and ask for contact information
  • Contact a salesperson in the division you want to reach out to. They empathize and may be able to help.
  • Piggyback off the names you acquire. Call them and ask for their help explicitly.
  • In voice mails, include the referrer’s name and pique their interest. Piquing their interest could be as simple as saying: “I hear you’re the go to person and I need your help.”

11. Stop Waiting for Decision Makers to Call You Back

  • Plan an account entry campaign
    • Design a sequence of seven to ten contacts including calls, emails, and mailings
    • It strategically shows your value over multiple contacts
    • Each contact is different and shares a different valuable item, like information
    • The contacts themselves provide value, they’re not directed toward an immediate sale
    • They build your credibility as an expert
  • The campaign tool kit
    • Success stories
    • White papers
    • Tips booklets
    • Relevant articles
    • Webinars
    • Books

12. Create Enticing Voice Mail Messages

  • Content they care about
    • Business results
    • Success stories
    • Industry trends
    • News about new technologies
  • Anatomy of an effective voice mail message
    • Establish credibility
    • Cite referrals
    • Cite your research
    • Cite a trigger event
    • Communicate your value proposition
  • Goal is to communicate that they’ll get immediate value if they meet with you
  • You’ll need three to five different voice mails as part of your contact campaign

13. Get Ready for Prime Time

  • Eliminate self serving verbiage like adjectives and adverbs
  • You can be a little teasing: “It’s me, for the third time.”

14. Provocative Written Communications

  • Pique their interest by opening in a customized fashion that hooks the reader
  • The body highlights outcomes
  • The close promises value

15. Leverage Email Strategies to Get In

  • Every email needs to be personalized, including something very specific about their business, not about your product
  • Invite a non-threatening response
  • Mostly the same as letters but be shorter

Part IV: Break Through the Barriers

16. Become Irresistible to Decision Makers

  • Pressure free approach that focuses on making a difference to their business
  • Create conversations, not pitches
    • Ask if they have a sec
    • I’ll be brief
    • Can you help me out
  • The Business to Business Conversation
    • Establish credibility
    • Pique curiosity
    • Engage in dialogue
  • Extend the discussion
    • Learn more about what they’ve tried to do to solve the problem
    • Understand what they think the impact of the problem is on their business
    • Determine the priority status of the issue
    • “It sounds like we could help. Why don’t we set up a time to explore this in more depth. Is there anyone else who you think should be included in the conversation?”

17. Overcome Obstacles, Eliminate Objections

  • Stop creating objections
    • Don’t lead with your offering, lead with a discussion of the problem
  • We’re happy with our current vendor
    • Get one small piece of their business
    • Offer a new idea
  • Send me a brochure
    • Be upfront: “With such a complex issue, brochures would be meaningless. In my experience, the only way to know if there’s a fit is to investigate with a call.”
  • We’re too busy right now
    • Be upfront: “You know as well as I do that you’ll be just as busy six months from now. You still have problem X, that’s why we should talk sooner rather than later.”
  • You’re too high priced
    • “Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.”
    • “Compared to what?”
  • There’s no money in the budget
    • “No one ever has money in the budget. But as I mentioned, we will increase your revenue by millions.”
  • We have a long term contract with our supplier
    • Wait for expiration or pursue a foot in the door strategy
  • We only work with an approved vendor list
    • “Everyone on the approved vendor list is on that list because they had a sponsor inside the company who liked their solution. That’s why I’m calling you, so you can evaluate the solution.”

18. Turn Gatekeepers into Gate Openers

  • Convince the gatekeeper to let you through without talking about your product, service, or solutions
  • Gain credibility through your references, trigger events, and valuable information
  • If they ask if their boss knows you, say “No, that’s why I’m calling.”
  • Treat the gatekeeper as a colleague

19. Keep the Campaign Alive

  • It takes 8-12 contacts before you register
  • Make 1-2 contacts per week
  • Stay fresh the whole time by always having a new, value-adding reason to call
    • A new aspect of your value proposition
    • A new reference story
    • A new fact or useful idea
    • Do not call for a third time to see if they got that letter you sent
  • Don’t try to work 200 names at a time, you’ll become mechanical
  • If a prospect calls you and you can’t remember who they are, ask for their number and say you need to call them back in five minutes
  • When you talk to them, reference your last communication to them

Part V: Advance the Sale

20. Plan an Awesome First Meeting

  • Discuss business results
    • How your customers used to do things
    • Problems your customers encountered
    • The business ramifications of the problems your customers used to face
    • The value and outcomes your customers have realized
  • Position your solution as a possibility to explore, not the only possible solution
    • Start by noting your research into their company
    • Note how they seem to be in a similar position to other companies you’ve worked with
    • Therefore, it’s worth further discussion to see if that’s right
  • Bring ten questions to ask at the outset of the meeting
    • Current situation in general
    • Problems
    • Barriers/bottlenecks to improvement
    • Troubles, dissatisfactions, changes, frustrations
    • The ripple effect on the whole organization of the pains you’re finding
    • The value of change/solving the problem

21. Develop and Unstoppable Momentum

  • Know what next step you’re after before you enter the meeting
  • Use a call planning guide
    • Opening the conversation
      • Identify participants and their roles in the issue
    • Lead the discussion
      • As noted in #20 above
    • Advance the process
      • Summarize your understanding of their issues and value of resolving them. Don’t emphasize your solution.
      • Discuss the logical next step

22. The Mindset of Success

  • Experiment with every sales process
  • Debrief after every sales call