Are You Really Ready for a Large Interiorscape Client? What You Should Know
Working with large interiorscape clients can be a huge boost to your business, but it can also be a bit of a challenge. Dealing with large clients can feel a bit foreign when you are operating a small business. If you are aware of the challenges ahead of time, you can be bettered equipped to successfully handle them and land those big accounts.
Here are a few things you can do prior to courting a large interiorscape client that will help boost your confidence, prove your credibility, and differentiate yourself from competitors.
If you have not worked with a large interiorscape client before, it is easy to be intimidated by the magnitude of the business. Remember that you are a professional business person with a valuable service to offer.
- Boost your confidence when you are meeting with a potential client by doing your research ahead of time. Have plenty of background information about their business and offer ideas that are specific to their organizational style or physical location. Tell them how your services and the addition of plants will benefit them. For some ideas on what to talk about, check out our post on The Health and Work Benefits of Plants.
- Expect them to do some research on you and your company as well. Make sure your website is current, showcases your completed projects, and highlights key customer testimonials. Over 70% of Americans admit to looking at testimonials and reviews prior to making a purchase decision.
- Indirectly relieve any concerns about working with a smaller business by emphasize your flexibility, personal approach, and ability to tailor your living plant services to their needs. One of the biggest mistakes a small business can make is to try to compete directly with their larger competitors. Instead, look for ways to differentiate yourself. This can be achieved, for example, through offering customer service that really goes above and beyond or specializing in something that your larger competitors have neglected.
- Come ready to answer questions regarding operations, pricing, contracts, terms, etc. If you become stumped by a question, it is always better to inform them that you will get back to them with an answer than make a statement that isn’t true or a promise you can’t keep.
Understand how Big Business works
Large corporations have complex needs and complex processes. They can have long flow charts of who is in charge of what. You may find that 5 people need to sign off on a simple project just to get started. With different people having different amounts of authority in different departments, it can be easy to get lost in the mix when it is time to send an invoice, discuss changes in services, or handle concerns. Before you get started on a new account, find out exactly who within the company will handle what. Get direct phone numbers to these people and others who have the authority to make decisions about the account. You may find it valuable to assign a relationship manager to large accounts. Having multi-level management within your own company will let your larger clients know that there is a dispute resolution escalation process if any issues surface.
Request for Proposals (RFPs)
Prior to signing contacts for services, large companies often times require a Request for Proposal (RFP) process where you will be competing with 3-5 other vendors at a minimum. A RFP is a document that describes the needs of a project and requests proposed solutions from vendors. Small companies attempting to work with a significantly larger company are almost always at a disadvantage when a RFP is required. Here is why:
- Not only is it hard to differentiate yourself in a RFP because you are bidding on a predetermined project, you are also forced to cut your margins to compete apples-to-apples with larger companies.
- Sometimes RFPs are performed for the sake of appearance rather than actual use. It is not rare that the decision maker has already forged a strong relationship with another interiorscape company and you are being asked to participate for no other reason than so they can say one was conducted.
- If you do manage to win the bid, the same process that forced your client to administer the RFP to begin with will come back full circle. Towards the end of your contract, you will once again be forced into the same RFP process but this time it will be to retain your current client’s business.
While it can be tempting to participate in a RFP, it can be incredibly time consuming for smaller companies whose resources are limited. It not only requires you to spend an exorbitant amount of hours on a contract you most likely won’t land, it also forces you to give away your ideas for free.
Analyze your business capabilities
While business growth is the ultimate goal, growing too fast can bring about its own set of challenges. Landing a large contract is just the beginning. Interiorscaping for a large client can require a great deal of work and resources.
- You must have the capital or the borrowing power to purchase the plants, containers, and other equipment you may need. It is normal for a large company to request 60 to 90 day payment terms. This can constrict cash flow if not managed properly.
- If you provide maintenance services, you must have enough employees to service a large account without neglecting your other smaller clients. This may require that you hire new employees. It may be necessary to work a “ramp up period” into the contract. This is a specific time frame dedicated to hiring and training adequate employees to fully manage the account.
- Don’t offer quotes that are too low in order to win a bid. A large account will require a considerable amount of time and investment. If you want this client for the long term, they need to have a realistic understanding of what your services will cost. Don’t get stuck spending all of your time providing plants and services for an account that doesn’t bring in any profit just to have a large client in your portfolio.
Small business owners need to be realistic when deciding what size of clients they pursue. Knowing where your business is limited and whether or not you are capable of taking on a large interiorscape account without compromising your current customer service is key. Being able to differentiate when to compete and when to walk away is crucial.
Beesley, Caron. “How to Up the Ante and Start Selling to Big, Corporate Clients” SBA.gov
Parker, Tim. “Expert Advice on Working with Big Businesses”
Barnum, P.T. “How to Create Captivating Customer Testimonials” Helpscout.net
Warrillow, John. “Death by RFP; 7 Reasons Not to Respond” Inc.com
Featured image courtesy of http://www.tapja.com/
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