Agony Lance: The pain of large customers for small businesses

As a small business, is it worth the pain of dealing with large customers?

We have an on-going discussion with a potential large corporate SaaS distributor. How long before we say, ‘Hey let’s get moving!’ Mauritz van den Berg (@MVDBTax)

Large customers can be wonderful for revenue, but they are often difficult customers for early stage small businesses. The sales cycles are often very long, a lot longer than anyone believes, and the pain of dealing with large customers is generally a lot higher than with small ones. Meanwhile if your potential partner is only offering distribution, then I advise you to be careful about what that actually means, as access to their customers alone will probably not translate into many sales.

In general I steer companies away from believing that any one deal is going to be their saviour or launchpad. Those deals take a large amount of energy and time, removing it from more important work. For early stage companies in particular, I usually recommend maintaining the focus on picking up customers one by one, and in your case, trying to sell directly to some of those customers to whom your potential giant partner distributes.

Work on your sales machine so that you know who to and how to sell, and, steadily grow the size of the team as you succeed. Meanwhile, you’re working with your existing customers to steadily improve your product, delivering to their unmet needs as you learn through observation and experience.

By focusing on the smaller yet doable sales, you’ll learn a lot more about what works and what doesn’t for the bigger deals. You can then deal with a few of those larger companies at a time, and take it on the chin if none work out.

By the time your big corporate partner comes on board you should be growing at a good rate and be able to cut a better deal and land a bigger share of their customers.