Cutting Tool Engineering
July 2014 / Volume 66 / Issue 7

Getting big-company business

By Keith Jennings

Large companies can represent sizable amounts of business for machine shops of all sizes. Grabbing their attention, gaining access and getting an opportunity to be on the approved-vendor list requires a different strategy than when targeting small to medium-size companies, where personal relationships are easier to develop. If growth is part of your business model, landing contracts from the big guys can help fuel that growth and generate healthy revenue streams.

I’m loosely defining a “big company” as a corporation with 500-plus employees that’s likely to have a formal supplier-approval process and a secure facility, making it all but impossible to gain entry without an appointment. So, how does a machine shop add big-company accounts?

The good news is it’s not impossible, but it will take some effort. Like anything, working with large corporations has its benefits and drawbacks. Be prepared for the many formalities, policies and requirements that are part of the relationship. Terms and conditions are weighted in their favor, and large companies may or may not respond to your concerns, depending on how critical your shop is to their supply chain.

If they have a need and are convinced your shop is the answer, you can get on the fast track to approval. If your shop wasn’t sought for anything in particular, prepare for the long route, with no guarantee of getting any worthwhile business. Positioning your shop as the solution to their problem is key.

Ensuring your company is considered for any new work simply requires creating an awareness of your shop and its capabilities. Building that awareness is done through relationships you’ve developed professionally and sometimes personally. Effective sales and marketing programs work, along with opportunities to meet people and inform them of your company and experience. When a large company requires a new supplier, hopefully a decision maker will remember meeting you at some function, event or trade show. If they have no idea your shop exists, you won’t be getting a call.

Don’t underestimate the value of casual meetings and discussions either. I’ve met many business people at my kids’ sporting events, including fellow parents who worked for big corporations. Later, we were contacted by their representatives simply because we had built a rapport outside of work. Some of these referrals eventually generated work for our company.

Also, employees often don’t stay with the same company. If a buyer or engineer you have a relationship with goes to work for a large corporation, hopefully he will remember and contact you again. In my case, this has occurred frequently over the last couple of years as numerous contacts transferred and again gave us an opportunity to add another good account.

Companies get bought and sold, and a history with one can transition into a new account if you don’t slip through the cracks. The scenarios are many, but selling and promoting through a network of contacts maintains awareness and leads to new opportunities.

Know that when working with a large company, part of the approval process will likely include a supplier audit. Also, most corporate accounts are price-sensitive and review multiple bids, making you compete for every P.O. On the other hand, if you successfully develop a relationship with a big account and your shop is listed in its system as the primary supplier for a particular item, chances are you’ll retain that business for a long time.

No formula works every time, but knowing people and maintaining contact matters. Getting that big-company business is much easier when they need you. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at kjennings@jwr.com.

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