How to Sell to Fortune 500 Companies
- Identify your target contacts by responsibility rather than job title
- Map the decision-making process
- Expect an extended sales cycle
- Provide value
- Establish credibility
Fortune 500 companies are in their own league. Not only will successfully selling to them give your business a significant revenue stream and huge credibility boost, it can also lead to lucrative referrals. Not to mention, you may be able to consistently grow your partnership over time by expanding into different departments, regions, and/or subsidiaries.
Unsurprisingly, you can’t show up with a barely modified version of your standard pitch. Fortune 500 companies aren’t your typical prospects, which means you’ll need to adjust your strategy.
1) Identify your target contacts
One of the advantages of selling to SMBs? You can normally home in on a specific person as your primary influencer or contact. To give you an idea, you may always reach out to the startup’s head of sales.
However, roles at Fortune 500 companies aren’t always consistent with those at SMBs, or across other Fortune 500s. The vice president of marketing at one Fortune 500 could have a completely different role than her counterpart at another. Titles may vary as well for identical jobs.
To be successful, you can’t think in terms of title -- you have to think in terms of function. Use LinkedIn, company bios, and personal websites to determine the best people to connect with based on responsibilities, KPIs, and relative authority.
If you end up getting in contact with the wrong person, but they’re open to a conversation, use them as a resource and advocate to get connected to the right person.
And don’t limit yourself to just these initial contacts. Ask them for introductions to the other stakeholders; forging multiple relationships means you’re less vulnerable if one of your contacts finds a new job, loses influence, or decides to focus on different priorities.
2) Map out the decision-making process
The larger the company, the more complex their decision-making process usually is. You’re likely dealing with a buying committee of three to five people -- who will need sign-off from the executives, board, Procurement, and/or Legal before the deal officially closes.
While this might seem intimidating, it’s actually a great opportunity. You can set yourself apart from other salespeople by helping your prospect navigate the buying process. Not only will you earn their trust and gratitude, but eliminating friction means you’ll get the contract in less time.
According to research published in HBR from Nicholas Toman, Brent Adamson, and Cristina Gomez, those who make the buying process easy are 62% likelier to win a high-value deal.
Wondering how you’re supposed to figure out a corporation’s decision making process on their behalf? First, ask if they’ve ever purchased a similar product.
Let’s say you sell VR employee training software. Since VR is an emerging technology, it’s unlikely your prospect has bought a VR solution before. But employee training isn’t new -- so you might ask, “Have you invested in a training tool before?”
Your follow-up questions would include:
- “How did the approval process work?”
- “Who was involved? What was their role (i.e. researcher, budget authority, etc.)?”
- “When did they get involved?”
- “Approximately how long did the entire process take?”
- “Which departments and/or teams were involved?”
Chances are, this process will be pretty similar. Use your prospect’s answers to make recommendations and volunteer your own resources. For example, if they say, “Our head of People Ops got involved when we’d narrowed down the list to two vendors,” you’d respond, “Great -- she’ll probably want to see some customer references, so I’ll work on pulling those for you.”
You should also ask your champion or main contact for access to Procurement relatively early in the process. Ask the Procurement team the following questions:
- “What do you look for in vendors?”
- “Do you have an SOA (standard operating agreement)? If yes, can we please have a copy?”
- “If we win the proposal, which information will you need?”
- “How does the approval process typically work, and what’s the general timeline?”
As you work with larger companies and become better-versed in their processes, develop a customer buying map. This map should outline the five to 10 steps your customers take to decide on a specific vendor, the obstacles they face at each stage, and the proactive ways you can help.
3) Expect a longer sales cycle
Selling into Fortune 500 companies is a long, strenuous process that can last twice as long (or more) than your typical sales process. In an SMB, you often work with just one person or a small team to close a deal. But because the Fortune 500 decision-making process includes more stakeholders, the time it takes to negotiate and close a deal with one will take you much longer. Your ability to navigate and stay focused is that much more important, so forecast extra time for negotiations and for the purchase to be processed.
Spend time refining your content nurturing process for brands. Content serves a dual purpose: To educate, and to move prospects down your sales funnel to the point where they’re deciding -- on their own -- to use your product or service. This is especially important for Fortune 500 companies. Make sure you have reasons to reach out, and double down on providing useful resources.
4) Provide immediate value
Fortune 500 companies are constantly plied with sales pitches, which means giving your standard value proposition and presentation won’t be enough. To differentiate yourself, look for creative ways to add value upfront.
Your help doesn’t have to be related to your product or service. For example, HubSpot channel sales manager Greg Fung once landed the second-largest deal in HubSpot history by connecting his prospect with a customer who had experience with mergers in the right industry. Because his prospect’s organization had just gone through a huge merge, this introduction was incredibly timely and useful. Does HubSpot’s software have anything to do with mergers? No. Yet this move made Fung into a trusted advisor.
“Due to our network and publication relationships, we’re able to connect influencers with organizations in their industries,” writes Boomn co-founder and managing partner Ryan O’Connell. “For example, Gina McDuffie, chief marketing officer at VER (formerly at GES), was looking for great organizations to join, so my team connected her to the incredible community at The CMO Club. She went to the first event and loved it. Soon after, GES became a client of ours and has been wonderful to work with. Helping other prospects in ways like this has helped us gain trust early on because it shows we truly care about being a resource to companies.”
5) Establish your credibility
Although Fortune 500 companies have huge budgets, they tend to be more risk-averse. Why? Leaders don’t want to do anything that could reflect badly on their department -- or worse, hurt share values -- so they stick to the status quo. In addition, big corporations attract less experimental employees. And internal promotions are the norm, which means many of the people at the top have been with the company for a long time and are relatively unwilling to try out new ideas.
The net result: To win a Fortune 500 contract, you have to prove you’re a safe bet. Leverage case studies, testimonials, press clips, and references. Show your influencer your product has a record of success. And use risk-reversal language, such as:
- “It’s easy to cancel if the product isn’t working.”
- “Setup takes just a few hours and is almost painless.”
- “We guarantee X level of service.”
- “If you’re not satisfied, we’ll refund your purchase.”
- “In 20 years of business, only one customer has ever asked for their money back.”
Gong’s research shows these disclaimers can increase win rates by 32%.
To build your personal credibility, try blogging. Nothing tells a prospect you’re knowledgeable about the industry like well-written, relevant content. If you’re not confident in your writing skills, you can achieve the same effect by finding content tailored to their specific challenges, goals, and position, and sending it with an explanation of why you thought it would be helpful and how it's relevant to their situation.
Fortune 500s can be tough sells, but landing just one account could transform your business. Understanding the differences between pitching a major brand and a smaller company is the first step toward nailing the sale and moving your own organization to the next level.
Editor’s note: Ryan O’Connell contributed to a previous version of this article.