One of the biggest questions I get asked all the time by consultants, coaches and service providers who work in the business-to-business or B2B space selling into organisations is how can I get corporate clients or corporate contracts.
And it’s an interesting question that nearly always needs a bit of a reframe because it so depends on the specific bottleneck in the process and opening up an intuitive path to connecting with the right people.
If you’re working in the B2B space and want to get corporate clients, the strategy is less about creating funnels and much more about creating connections that lead to securing a contract.
But when you’re selling into organisations, there isn’t just one person you have to convince that what you got is what they need, it’s a whole different ball game if you have to go through multiple decision makers or procurement procedures.
So if you’re B2B and stuck on how to get corporate clients, I’m going to talk about the process in terms of an intuitive pathway so you can see the steps and start solving for where you’re hitting resistance.
When you’re asking how can I get corporate clients, there are really five questions you need to be asking and whether you need to ask all of them depends on where you’re stuck.
Question 1 is how can I get in front of the right people?
Question 2 is how do I get corporate decision makers to want to talk to me?
Question 3 is how to know the best timing to approach prospective B2B clients?
Question 4 is how can I position my offer to appeal to organisations?
And then, assuming you are speaking with the decision maker, and there’s a good fit between what they need and what you do, a key way to make sure you’re not leaking clients and leaving revenue on the table is to solve this question:
So the 5th question is how can I make it easier for clients to get started working with me (and now not later)?
Why Landing Big Corporate Clients is Not Just About Being Networked
First off, to address question 1 how can I get in front of the right people, in true ideal client avatar terms, you need to identify your target organisation – type, size, location, industry, and so on.
Related to this and to address question 2 how do I get the decision makers to want to talk to me, you want to consider which roles inside those organisations are best placed for an initial discussion. I talked about discovery calls in episode 23 /article here and that’s what this step is all about.
Particularly in the Business to Business (B2B) space, not only are the roles and responsibilities often quite varied depending on the type of organisation, but there are gatekeepers to push through too.
So in this episode/article, I’m going to tackle both these questions head on by solving the different parts of what’s needed here. I’m going to focus on how to reach corporate decision makers, but to be fair many of the principles actually apply even in B2C prospecting where you’re targeting individuals.
Just for background, these questions tie in with the 2nd and 3rd dimensions in the iSuccess framework – targeting and positioning. Back in January, episodes 13 and episode 14, I outlined all about the iSuccess 7-Dimensions Model and 14 critical elements.
In each dimension, I call out two elements that provide critical levers for improving business performance. I explain the 7 dimensions and all 14 elements in detail in my book Leveraged Consulting in the Digital Age and how they drive the key leverage points for the engage-educate-enrol process of client acquisition and business growth. So I’m not covering those here.
These first two questions of how to get in front of the right people and how to reach corporate decision makers are all about getting the targeting and positioning dimensions clarified and reaching out to the key roles for what you do. Say it’s leadership development, you probably want to be talking to the HR director or Talent manager. If it’s IT, you’ll want to speak to the Head of IT, or Head of Operations.
There are two elements in the Targeting dimension that will help you with question 1, getting in front of the right people. These are making sure that your outreach is targeted, doing your research for which types or size of organisations you want to work with, and making a list of specific companies you’ll contact.
The other element is being niche-specific. And that’s more about making sure your background and experience ties strongly into one kind of industry or sector, and one kind of function within that industry or sector.
There are also two elements in the Positioning dimension to get corporate clients. These are more focused on being unique (or differentiated at least) and being networked (akin to moving in the right circles).
Only one of the four elements is about who you know and your sphere of influence. It’s pretty critical but it’s not the only thing.
With questions like how to get in front of the right people and reach decision makers in corporate B2B organisations, it’s easy to assume it’s all about building networks, but as I outline it here, that’s only one element in the four is about networks. The other three you need to focus on too.
Because there’s little use having a great network if your offer doesn’t land with the right people or that those organisations are not profitable for you in terms of what they spend money on.
Certainly, it’s important to have a good network because you need numbers. You need to have enough decision makers to talk to. But in the first instance, you need to test that they will want to talk with you.
And you get way more interest and enthusiasm if you’re correctly targeted and positioned in terms of having the right offer, one that is very niche-specific and one that is unique in terms of your approach to solving a problem they’re experiencing or getting the results they want.
Those are the crossover points for how you can leverage other people’s networks and spheres of influence to build your own, particularly if what they do is complementary to what you do.
Identifying Your Perfect Timing in Your Client’s Experience of the Problem
Question 3 was about how to know the best timing to approach prospective B2B clients? This is another really critical piece of the puzzle to get corporate clients and secure contracts – identifying the perfect timing.
There are two aspects involved here. First, is the timing in relation to your client’s experience of the problem. And second, is perfect timing in relation to the client’s budget planning and buying cycle.
Making a connection and inviting a conversation can come at the exact right time and get picked up or it can land on deaf ears. So, you need to ensure you’re having the right conversation at the right time in the process for your potential client.
And to answer this, I’ll give you an example. I’m working with a client who’s moving from done-for-you project management services to IT consulting – it’s more profitable. We identified that a really good niche for him is in project planning support to companies doing technology implementation projects.
This aligns with his purpose of helping projects run effectively and preventing project failure. It also builds on his strength and many years’ experience in both IT implementation and project management training.
But the challenge is where in the process of project planning is he best placed to help with? The answer to this one question will determine his whole messaging and the timing for when he is best to reach corporate decision makers with his offer of support.
And it has a lot to do with understanding that process – there’s the project design stage, the planning piece, day-to-day project management, project monitoring and evaluation. All very different components of running effective projects that require different skills.
While my client could help with ALL of these, his UNIQUE differentiator is helping companies see their blind spots – to understand the success factors and know how to smooth the road ahead.
So what stage of a project is he better placed to help with? At the start of the project, yes definitely – then the project will be planned optimally and stands the best chance of success.
However, many teams think they have it all in hand – so the project manager isn’t going to hold his hand up and say he’s unsure what he’s doing. He’s not going to get someone in, effectively, to “check his work”. After all, that’s his area of expertise, right? That’s what he’s paid for, to run the project and do a good job.
In this scenario, as the bottleneck / risk assessment specialist, if you want to reach corporate decision makers, it’s the project manager’s BOSS you need to target, not the project manager. He’s the one running around with the worry and risk of having the project go awry or worse if it fails.
What about in the middle of the project when things are in full swing and everyone’s super busy? What about struggling projects?
Here the problem is no longer in a blind spot, in fact it’s blindingly obvious they’re in a tight spot.
If you can reach corporate decision makers with saving grace kind of messaging, your invitation to a conversation is likely to hit home. Because it comes at a critical time – the project is going down the tube and you the go-to-person to turn things around.
Imagine how delighted that decision maker is going to be to have your solution land in his in-tray or if he sees someone like you asking to connect.
What about at the end when the company is facing a failed project? Well, in most cases, then it’s too late. You could market to help with future projects, but it’s a tough market because the confidence and commitment may have taken a beating. Plus they might not have the funds to back another project.
Question 3 how to know the right timing, is however, also about the annual planning and financial budgeting cycle. You’re more likely to get corporate client contracts at the start of their annual planning than after the budget has been set.
You may also find there are more opportunities to get a ‘yes’ at the end of the budget year, when there may be an underspend and your offer fits with priorities they haven’t been able to meet yet.
So part of the research when you’re having your outreach discovery conversations is to find out how decisions are made around your area of provision, when budgets are set, and what their procurement or proposal process is.
Also you can be a bit savvy about your pricing. Sometimes an organisation or company may have a threshold cost for proposals – that is, they can make decisions easily and quickly or use discretionary funds if the cost is under a certain amount.
In the non-profit sector, this can be around £5-10k or up to £50k depending on their size. Usually, it’s a compliance requirement for fair trade and risk management. In the private sector, it’s usually set by the Board and again will depend on the size and turnover of the company or the norms in the sector.
All in all, you’re best to research this as much as you can in advance of deciding on your pricing structure and putting a proposal forward. Do lots of searches online for industry standards, make sure you don’t come across as not understanding procurement policies, and ask the questions as part of your discovery calls.
Leveraging Your Spheres of Influence to Position Your Offer
Question 4 is how can I position my offer to appeal to organisations?
If you’ve ever attempted to call corporate decision makers – even if you know the right role in the organisation to approach – you’ll know it’s nigh-on impossible to get a foot in the door.
Many organisations or companies already have a trusted “inner circle” of colleagues, professional associations, industry networks who they will turn to if they need to ‘get someone in’.
With B2B, you often have to use back doors and side doors. It’s not always fruitful to try to reach corporate decision makers directly. To get corporate clients, you need to think about how you can reach the inner circle, or people you directly know in the industry, even the company, who can get you an introduction. This can end up giving you a “back stage pass” so to speak.
Think about how you can leverage your own sphere of influence AND other people’s networks and spheres of influence.
You may already have sussed that this is indeed how much of LinkedIn operates. If you haven’t already, listen to my podcast interview a couple of episodes ago with Sophie Lechner, which was all about leveraging LinkedIn to build connections and get corporate clients in ways that are organic, intuitive and authentic.
Try to build connections and sell directly and you’re often met with disdain. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked for a connection then immediately messaged with a sales pitch. It’s not how you get new business, no way, not ever.
Building good quality connections and authentic networks takes time. It’s like dating, you don’t ask someone to marry you on a first date, you nurture the relationship, you see if things click, if you move in similar circles, if you hold the same values and interests.
To reach corporate decision makers, you need dialogue with people in their existing trusted inner circle. The question then becomes: How can I partner with a key person of influence – the title of Daniel Priestley’s book which is great for solo practitioners by the way.
And here, we’re back to being niche and goal specific. Here’s three ideas:
- Aim for a big vision that mirrors the state of play in the sector.
- Go for something of a unique angle and make sure that’s reflected in your thought leadership and content marketing and so you can become better networked in those spheres of interaction.
- Think about the untapped opportunity for the organisation, something that would potentially give them a competitive advantage to stay ahead of the curve.
There are many ways to reach corporate decision makers if you get on their radar indirectly, they may in fact reach out to you first. Wouldn’t that be awesome – being the hunted not the hunter – it’s always the position you want to be in. This is why your content strategy is so vital to the long term positioning for attracting corporate clients.
This has always been my strategy. I’ve never advertised and don’t post much on Linkedin, but my profile on there and my website are very aligned, targeted and positioned for who I want to attract. I’m very niche-specific and quite unique in blending education sector experience, e-learning and evaluation with business process improvement. So I land invitations to do high-end assignments in curriculum planning, process review and change programme evaluation.
However, I’ve also been in the industry a fair few decades and have experienced both sides of the procurement process in both corporate world and non-profit spaces. I’m in the inner circles of influence for my target market. I get introduced to decision makers; other people give me a back stage pass to new contacts.
In fact, some of the highest paid consultants don’t even have a website and they certainly don’t spend hours (even outsourced hours) on social media or creating content. Like me, they don’t have a marketing funnel as such for generating consulting work, they work through having a clear offer, building a pipeline and networking.
For my online customer-focused businesses, it’s a completely different story and content marketing and audience building strategies are crucial. And because I work across both the consulting and coaching space, nowadays I use a bit of a blend – small list, lots of content, high-end core programmes, middle market and small businesses.
But if you’re newer or just starting out, there are many ways you can get more networked and show up on people’s radar. You don’t need a funnel and you don’t need a mega busy content plan – a few key regular thought leadership pieces and partnerships work really well.
The main ones I know in the consulting, executive coaching or agency circles are all high engagement mechanisms: being part of summits, roundtables, briefing sessions and panel discussions. It’s a kind of virtual joint venture partnership. You can also reverse engineer it and offer a free webinar to other people’s audiences.
The reason getting in front of other people’s audiences works so well is the high degree of value, engagement and authenticity. They can quickly get to know, like and trust you, especially if you’re introduced by an existing trusted partner.
How to Differentiate Your Offer in a Crowded Marketplace
The next big part of answering the question of how to ensure your offer appeals to organisations goes back to the who and what of your targeting and positioning.
Let’s say you get in front of the right people and they are the key decision makers for what you do – it lands in their department so to speak – it’s likely that even if they say yes to your offer and really want to work with you or hire you, they will have to go and talk to their head of finance or CEO to get final approval. So you need to help them make the case.
For B2B, you need to think about more than just the people you work directly with, as participants of your course or program. You’re selling to the organisation not their employees.
If you’re speaking to the decision maker in the organisation, your message needs to be about organisational benefits, of which the staff you work with are not the only beneficiaries. What does your work with those staff mean to the organisation – is it about performance, wellbeing or something else. Be specific.
You need to home in on what you deliver in terms of both short term outcomes and long term benefits and impact, such that you can relate your contribution to the company or institution strategic priorities and needs.
What’s the ‘so what’ in what you do?
Be goal orientated and use active performance related verbs that articulate impact, such as grow, accelerate, optimise, boost and raise or eliminate, minimise, shorten, shrink. You get the idea …
Who are the right people is co-dependent on what you offer. So make sure you’re super clear on your offer first and then test it out, rinse and repeat.
Just like in the example I talked through earlier – think about where in the process your ideal client needs help the most and what kinds of topics help them see what may be hiding in a blind spot.
The problem with much of the digital marketing advice out there today is it’s focused primarily on selling to individuals not selling to organisations. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to have this whole huge social media content plan. I certainly don’t.
Picking the right market is key to a leveraged business – work in a niche that’s profitable and where you can offer a unique contribution.
When you specialise, it’s way easier to pick the right topic and avoid being a generalist.
Part of the answer to how to reach corporate decision makers starts with who are your ideal “corporate” clients to work with. Sometimes we’re so busy connecting with a so-called “industry” like IT or Manufacturing or Fortune 500 companies, we forget there is this huge middle market, and a huge massive number of small to medium sized enterprises, what we call SMEs in the UK.
My prime clientele are all non-profit organisations like education, social housing, charities, health, or SMEs (small to medium sized enterprises with less than 250 employees). These all have their own networks and professional associations, their own events (now including virtual events) and their own speaker groups.
Look at your past spheres of influence, your personal contacts, your local industry – people can’t hire you or buy your programme if they don’t know about you. So don’t hide your light, leverage these networks, ask for support.
Being of service, helping and contributing is a normal part of professional practice – it’s not selling, you’re looking to find connection and where you can add value. Try to identify where you fit. Some overlap is inevitable, but aim to find the gaps, the areas that are between the lines. This is where you can differentiate and offer value.
I talk about this in more depth in episode 23 how to use consultative sales to enrol clients with ease and grace or you can read the article on my blog on how to set yourself up for effective sales calls.
How to Make Sure It’s Easy for Corporate Clients to Buy From You
So let’s now tackle the 5th question – how can I make it easier for clients to get started working with me (and now not later)?
First, let me circle back to two points I made earlier when you’re aiming to get corporate clients, one about understanding the organisation’s hiring, buying, procurement, purchasing procedures. This is often part of their financial regulations and they are audited on it. So with experience, you’ll know what to ask or at least know what’s coming.
And the other point is knowing who you’re speaking to in terms of how you position the key deliverables or outcomes of your service or program or course. Stay at the high-level benefits and strategic impact, or at least point out how the work you do with their employee(s) produces a team or organisational gain, or some kind of competitive advantage.
Of course, a company employee, particularly in senior roles may well come across your content or book or LinkedIn and think what you do or the program you run would be just what they need and fit their professional development planned needs. But unless they’re going to pay for it out of their own pocket, usually they’d have to make some kind of case to their line manager or HR to fund their place.
Now in terms of getting the gig, what needs to happen is a PROCESS. So make sure you have the necessary bits at your end ready.
Here’s a quick checklist for what you might want to create:
- A template proposal with all your key information, that you can customise to suit the specific target organisation or industry. This should include your core offer, business case, your proprietary framework, methodology or model, team members as appropriate, references or testimonials.
- A media bio, particularly if you’re a speaker or author or often in the news.
- A pricing structure with a standard program and optional add-ons or upsells.
- A clear scope – whether it’s a training programme or a project proposal, be specific what the engagement includes and doesn’t include.
- And if you can, include a piece on the measurable return on investment. so they can more easily evaluate ‘value for money’ of what you deliver.
- Case studies, showing situation, solution, success metrics.
- Proposed schedule for delivery, project plan or other time-based agreement.
My approach is to use the exploratory call, presentation and/or a follow up process to co-create the proposal. That way, it feels familiar and trustworthy.
And always have a next steps clarified, what needs to happen next, who’s doing what. If possible, you should aim to have your next meeting scheduled so you keep things moving forward and don’t end up chasing around for a follow up call.
Learning the Intuitive B2B Pathway
Outreach directly or indirectly provides the high-touch interaction that companies need to invest in a high-end solution. The engage-educate-enrol path still works really well if you take into account the elongated timing and follow up you need to penetrate the decision making hierarchies across an organisation. However, the methods you use are vastly different for the B2B market.
Outreach may feel uncomfortable, which is why leveraging other people’s networks and getting invites to speak can seem easier back doors than approaching potential clients directly. But both do work. I know you can do it, because I did it and I’ve helped many other consultants, coaches and entrepreneurs to do it too.
And if you can use digital channels to position yourself as the expert specialist in your chosen niche and have a core signature programme in your back pocket, you know what to do when the right people come after you or you reach corporate decision makers – you can more easily and elegantly make the offer.
There’s more in depth insights into the principles, practices and pathways in my book Leveraged Consulting in the Digital Age – best-seller on Amazon in paperback, kindle and audiobook.