February 2017 – One of the most important lessons I learned as a young sales professional was that it took nearly as much effort to win a small, less strategic order than it did to win a larger, more strategically important order. As I entered the field, my relationship-building skills and technical knowledge weren’t where they needed to be, so I gravitated to those smaller, less intimidating and notable opportunities.

As my skills improved, I began to develop a meaningful portfolio of smaller clients. I was busy. I was managing a multitude of client service issues, taking orders and sometimes even making deliveries to emphasize my service commitment. The days seemed to be getting shorter and shorter. Frustratingly, even with all my hard work, I was not hitting my sales goals.  Was this the way it was going to be for me? What was I doing wrong?

In my territory, there was a very large custom machine design firm that caught my attention about a year into my outside sales career. One day, I mustered the courage to go through the front door to see what I could do. I dropped my business card and line card with the receptionist. I asked who the best person would be to speak to about pneumatic and hydraulic component purchases. I noted the name and returned to my car with a bit of a hop in my step.

Then I called the purchasing agent to arrange a time for us to introduce ourselves… for months. One day I received a call back; she was interested in meeting. After a week of preparation, we met. It was a productive meeting. I learned more about what they did, how they used fluid power, and who their suppliers were. Before I excused myself, I spent a few moments talking about my organization and my products. We agreed to follow up soon on a real opportunity.

I called her to schedule our follow up… for months. One day I received a call back; she and the owner wanted to meet with me. I was invited into the owner’s office, where the purchasing agent and the owner, Horst, awaited my arrival. I sat down as they started to tell their story. They were about to initiate a complete redesign of their fluid power systems and they wanted to discuss details of our products, as well as the breadth of the lines we carried and support, if they were to purchase from me. It was one of the more meaningful meetings in my young sales career.

I left that company a few years later, after three years of record territory sales. During my time there, I also pursued and won one of the largest manufacturers of oil tools in the United States. Also, a billion dollar OEM of automation machines for the micro-chip industry.

In retrospect, the few, important relationships that I’d developed were taking a fraction of the time I spent serving scores of smaller clients. Strategically, the larger clients were important to our business and suppliers. We had developed a different level of talent in our organization. We had become a critical resource to the top organizations in our strategic architecture.

Some larger, more complex selling systems specialize functionally to serve all client sizes. They assign an inside sales team to smaller prospects, while assigning account managers to larger prospects. Great solution, if you have the resources. Otherwise, the cost of sale for “smalls” can be astronomical.

So, as a professional sales person, if I had 2,000 hours of talent to spread this year and I had a choice between pursuing 100 “smalls,” or 10 “bigs,” I’m going supersize. Sure, the selling flywheel is a bit slower. The buying systems are more complex. To win, they do require higher levels of strategic thinking and differentiation. But, when you earn the business, it changes the way you think about your business.

Questions or comments? Please contact Mark Frasco at mfrasco@teamCOACT.com