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In recent weeks a theme has emerged from my networking activities.  Several sources have asked, what is it like inside the mind of a large corporate buyer? (of goods or services). The GOV.UK is putting a lot of investment into SMEs because of their belief in their potential high growth in both financial terms and in jobs.

In dealing with their big and hairy corporate clients, say at least FTSE250, SMEs can feel somehow secondary or inferior.  I am here to tell you that, yes, the Big Cos are populated by… wait for it…Human Beings.

I have spent a career as a Corporate buyer in some shape or form.  And it’s true there are some similarities and differences.  But, be assured, they are people with the same fundamental hopes, wishes and concerns as the small guy.  It’s just a question of scale, and  I hope this short piece will give you some insights, advice and tips in dealing with your Big Corporates.

What is Different?

Yes, it’s partly scale.  Of course it may be difficult to know who you are dealing with – which SBU of whichever division?  There will be more layers of management, because of the scale and complexity that comes with a Big Co.  They will have functions you need to deal with like, EH&S, HR and Procurement as well as Operations or Engineering.  So, get to know how they are structured, who you are dealing with and what their (personal) objectives and pressures are.

Now, does that really sound any different to you as a person in your own company?

Secondly, big corporates may be populated by certain types – there will be a corporate culture/type they hire to. Because of the scale of a corporate they may have specialists they can afford to hire who know their stuff very deeply.

So, if this is important, find your own.  Spend a little time and some money building up your own A Team;  Plenty of ex corporates out their spending their retirement consulting. Also, Big Cos as well as having experts, have many generalists.  In the valley of the blind, the one eyed man is King.  Know that little bit more…

Third, know what they are motivated by –  their compensation will likely be linked to personal or business unit performance.  Their big projects could be as important to them as your whole business is to you.  They will want to get on and up the greasy pole of corporate advancement – so help them do that, by providing excellent, trouble free service that adds value to their lives and careers.

Think Win-win.  Taking a leaf from Steven Covey’s principle, you do not want to be playing win-lose, or you will be taken to the cleaner.  Negotiate as equals, find your areas of overlap and negotiate there.

Next, add value – know your product better than they do.  Big companies have a habit of breeding corporate arrogance.  This can be quickly dismantled by knowing something they don’t or helping with a deep need, that only you can provide.  One company I dealt with knew they had us over a barrel – their product was unique. We needed it so much; it was the one dryer that was versatile enough to win our order.  Also, listen to the buyer;  the Big Co engineers love to tell you how good they are and leak information constantly.  So, watch for and listen carefully.

Know your contract inside out and use it when you need to and choose to.

Tell them something they don’t know.  Can you get to know more about their process or service  to avoid being just a transaction?  Can you become invaluable? Can you shift the balance of power to having a much needed service?  A friend of mine developed a software system that interrogates big clients data bases.  He has managed to move to a position where he manages the key business data and is now integral to the operation of clients business – can you imagine the cost of substitution?  It’s nearly infinite.

So, don’t be intimidated by title or qualification.  They also live on the planet Earth.


System Growth Consulting helps leaders of high-value businesses, where science matters, grow through delivering products processes and services.  This article was written by Director of Innovation and Founder, Rob Munro who writes about innovation, leadership and performance.  We invite you to sign-up for updates.

Rob Munro

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