B2B tips for working with big companies

Small Business Guides

7 min read

Landing your first big client is an exciting milestone, and worth celebrating. But now what? Large business-to-business (B2B) clients can be demanding. How do you make the transition to serving accounts like that?

Big companies could come knocking

In today’s rapidly changing landscape, businesses of all shapes and sizes are working together. It’s no longer the case that big companies only do business with other big companies.

The democratization of technology, better access to lending and a global market for talent mean that your business can find clients anytime and anywhere. So you’ve every chance of landing a big client. This can provide your business with many advantages. 

Big B2B can take you to the next level

  • Revenue and cash flow
    Bigger clients often come with bigger budgets. And while they can be slow to pay, you know they eventually will. It generally equates to more money in the bank.

  • Enabling business development
    The extra revenue from a big client can help fund the resources you need to go after more new business.

  • Simplicity and efficiency
    Bigger organizations often have systems and people in place to make your job as a supplier easier. Plus their bigger projects should give you economies of scale.

  • Advertising and credibility
    There’s nothing like landing a marquee client to make other businesses notice you. A prominent client can dramatically raise your profile.

  • Staff engagement and retention
    Working on a high-profile client account can boost morale and make your employees feel more fulfilled by their work.

  • Plug into bigger networks
    Once you start working for big companies, you’ll get access to a different network. You can sell to other divisions within their business or form relationships with fellow suppliers who could send work your way.

Use your small size to your advantage

Working with big companies has obvious upsides for your business. But don’t assume the benefits flow just one way. There are many reasons big businesses like to work with smaller ones. Make these qualities part of your pitch.

  • Nimble
    Small businesses are generally more responsive. There’s less bureaucracy and people are often quicker to answer emails or phone calls.

  • Creative
    Smaller businesses can be better at letting talented people do good work. Ideas are sometimes watered down by groupthink and risk aversion at bigger companies.

  • Personal
    Clients get jaded with the corporate gloss and rhetoric they see every day. Your honesty and personal touch can be refreshing.

Be aware of the challenges and risks

While big clients bring many benefits to your business, no list of B2B tips would be complete without a discussions of the challenges as well:

  • They can leave a big hole
    If you lose a major client – and this can happen without warning – it can take a long time to replace all the revenue.

  • They can be very demanding
    With big budgets come big expectations. Plus large clients generally have a lot of process and approval requirements. In short, they're going to chew up a lot of time.

  • Price negotiation can be one-sided
    If you become too reliant on a big client, you won’t have much bargaining power when renegotiating fees or retainer arrangements.

  • Payment can take time
    Perhaps the most painful B2B tip for working with big companies – they may take a long time to pay your invoices. That will almost certainly create cash flow issues, especially if you’re carrying third-party costs.

  • They can be slow to move
    Big clients often have complex decision-making processes, which makes them slow to approve new work.

  • They can cost you money
    You’ll probably need to hire extra staff or subcontractors to meet the demand of a big project. Be careful those costs don’t get out of control.

  • Stress levels may go up
    Meeting the expectations of a demanding client who’s just spent a lot of money with you can change workplace dynamics. The pressure levels will go up.

It’s also worth asking any of your small-business peers for their B2B tips. They’ll each have different experiences and they’ll all have valuable advice.

There are many reasons big businesses like to work with smaller ones. Make these qualities part of your pitch.

11 B2B tips for what to expect and how to be prepared

If you’re about to start working with a larger company keep these B2B tips in mind.

1. Don’t over-promise

Many small businesses are tempted to go beyond their core competencies to win a big contract. Avoid that if you can. Focus on delivering only the things you do really well. If a prospective client asks you for related products or services that would overextend you, suggest they bring in additional vendors.

2. Be prepared to adopt their systems

You’ll probably need to change the way you work to fit with your client’s internal systems. This can take many different forms. For example, you may have to:

  • adopt a house style for writing and formatting documents

  • use specific types of software

  • layout your invoices in a certain way

Be flexible.

3. Know who your client’s key people are

Big B2B companies have a lot of people. Some of them will help you and others will hinder you. It’s important to know:

  • the decision makers

  • your advocates

  • the road-blockers

Try drawing them on a chart so you have a general idea of how they all relate to one another, and to you. Use LinkedIn to help you. Or you may be able to ask your client for an org chart. You don’t want to play their corporate politics, but you should be aware of them.

4. Aim for quarterly projects

Retainer agreements are great for security and cash flow. They’ll give you the confidence to make permanent hires and genuinely grow your business. But you might want to start off by pitching short-term projects. This will make it easier for your client to get sign-off from their managers. Once you’re in the system, you’ll see other things you could do for their business and you can pitch extra pieces of work.

5. Present yourself in force

When meeting with prospective or new clients, consider bringing additional members of your team along. This shows that your company is more than a one-person organization. It may seem contrived but the headcount can be reassuring. Just don’t overdo it.

6. Communicate regularly and thoughtfully

Regular communication is an important B2B tip for all your clients. Find out what works best for them. Do they want details about everything or a short overview of current work? Being a proactive communicator shows you’re committed to the project, and their success. This can also be your opportunity to think outside the scope of your current project and offer fresh ideas for new work.

7. Monitor your financials

Make sure you have your financial information at your fingertips. Your big clients will probably have to do due diligence before hiring you, so there may be credit checks or questions around your liquidity. They’ll want to make sure you can keep delivering when things get busy.

8. Keep your branding and communications consistent

People in big corporations generally see polished presentations, marketing collateral and stationery. Your materials don’t have to be quite as slick as that, but make sure they’re tidy, consistent and professional.

9. Get ready to be scrutinized

Even though you’re a small business, you should understand the big business mentality. Be prepared for:

  • a lot of people to be involved in reviewing and approving your work

  • longer decision-making processes

  • more formal ways of meeting and discussing work

  • constant evaluation and re-evaluation of the projects you’re working on

10. Think about your cash flow

Payment terms are a big B2B issue that often gets overlooked. While the revenue of a big contract promises all sorts of financial security, there may be short-term pain. Big companies will probably ignore your payment terms and settle bills in their own good time. It can take a while. Your cash flow will suffer when you first start working for them. Consider exploring finance options for the first few months, until you’ve adjusted to the payment cycle.

Your large clients may also have very specific requirements as to how you format invoices, what details you include, and who they’re delivered to. Spend the time to get these details right because, if your invoice is rejected, it may delay payment by weeks.

11. Never forget the clients that got you here

A big B2B client can soak up a lot of your resources but don’t neglect your bread-and-butter accounts. They still deserve your loyalty. You might have to spend some money on overtime or part-time help to meet all your obligations at the beginning. Be prepared for plenty of hard work. 

Working with big companies is a natural part of growing your business

Landing a big new client can bring in a significant amount of revenue but it can also cause a lot of upheaval. You’ll probably need extra resources to service the account, so your spend will go up. Meanwhile, you’ll have to wait longer to get paid. Plus the speed at which you can work will initially go down, as you adjust to your client’s processes. It’s not an easy transition but there’s a reason so many small businesses want to land big clients.

Consider these B2B tips for working with big companies, stay flexible, and you could take your business places.

And whatever you do, remember that your clients – big and small – picked your business for a reason. Be confident in what you can do. Hold onto your small business roots. Be honest, upfront and give them the personal touch they simply don’t get from big corporates.