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 This is episode five of our nine-part series on the Pathway to your Success. This series is geared towards helping you to discover how to build a legacy business that gives back. In this series we have discussed corporate contracts versus government contracts; legacy business growth and what that means; and what do big companies buy.

Part five of the series addresses the mindset for winning in this market -- understanding the corporate customer's challenges and how you help.

What's your role?

I want to start with a story which in this case is very simple. The story is "stop the insanity". Let me repeat, "stop the insanity". The definition of insanity is doing what you've always done and expecting a different result. If you keep doing what you've always done, then you're going to get what you’ve always gotten, and so that gets rather fascinating because when you start peeling the onion on that particular phrase for large corporations, it's probably easier said than done.

Large corporations have built systems and processes that allow them to do what we call “manage by exception”. And all of us have experienced this. An example is when we've called into a customer service call center.  We are forced to listen to a menu of options listing a standard script of reasons the company believes addresses your concerns. As a matter of fact, they've gone with IVR (interactive voice recordings) so that it's so hard to talk to a real person. For instance, you have to work your way through “Press one if you want Espanol; Press two if you would like the amount due on your bill; Press three if you'd like to change your payment information, etc.”. All of that is a result of companies having automated tasks with systems and processes addressing common customer activities.  This is done so that when you actually talk to someone, the expectation is that you are calling them about something that requires somebody's attention - or what we call managing by exception - that somehow the regular processes and systems weren't set up to address your issue.

That's a great way to run your business. We all should have a representative portion of our business with this feature -- these kinds of systems in place so that when we get the reports that tell us what's going on in the business, things should work exactly the way we expect them to work. Therefore, when we see exceptions on a report, we know what the problems are. We know we need to work on the areas that potentially are costing us sales, or costing us revenue or profit outside of our working systems and processes.

Clearly in that situation we can always optimize a process, optimize a system, and that's what a lot of large corporations are doing. They look at an entire system and try and optimize it. But when you've gotten so good at the game and you trust your systems and processes, everybody eventually catches up with you.  You are then in position to lose your competitive advantage in the affected areas.

So now, through no effort or your own, you find yourself behind and it turns out the issue isn't so much doing the exact same thing and expecting a different outcome. It is that the competition is leaving you behind and you can no longer afford to keep doing what you've always done. Getting the same result is not good enough. You have to stop the insanity which means that you have to inject innovation. You definitely have to adopt innovation primarily because if you stand still, your competitors are going to leave you behind.

Now then, you as a small business owner know this because every day you are looking at ways to optimize your business. You're looking at ways to figure out how to lower your costs. You're looking at new technologies that you can deploy that help you to bring a higher level of customer service and allow you to get more work done at lower internal cost. You're looking at new things that you can take advantage of to make you more productive. Your everyday life is choosing between a host of things in the marketplace and trying to determine which one is going to make you more nimble, more agile, more productive, and allow you to maintain your customers as well as outmaneuver your competitors. It's just something you do every day without even thinking about it. These are the exact same needs of the Fortune 500 companies.

We used to have this phrase in the old days “it’s the big that beat the small”, but now in this current time, “it's the fast that beat the slow”. However, speed is not an excuse for poor performance, bad execution or sloppy work. So, you have to do it quickly and you have to do it right. The problem that large companies run into is that when they start talking to some of the bigger companies that are also in the Fortune 500, their systems are pretty much geared along the same lines and they have the same problems with proven systems and processes that make them a little slow to come on board. Then there is this notion of prudent risk that corporations get into where their risk profile is almost to the point where they do nothing. They basically end up talking to people that are echoing their same concerns and getting nowhere.

So guess what? Large corporations have discovered that small businesses - especially small diverse businesses - are a huge source of innovation. The challenge is finding small businesses that are really and truly ready to do business. (We're going to talk about that a little later because that issue of being ready to do business is the Achilles heel for you and small businesses like yours.) You may think you're ready for the big contracts, but the reality is that - from a corporate buyer’s perspective - you may not be. When I approached a large corporation the first time around, I wasn't ready. I came from a background as a corporate buyer and I understand I should have known better, but I didn't.

Corporations understand that small business owners are the ones that are driving the innovation that they desperately need to inject into their operations, so now the big thing is how do they manage the risk of working with small businesses? That's what's going on with them. Start with that. How do they manage the risk of working with small businesses? Now I want you to make sure you actually zero in on their challenges because it's one of those where you probably heard this before: “I don't care about you until you first demonstrate that you care about me”.

To clarify that statement, when as a corporate buyer I used to go to trade shows, folks would come up to me and start launching into what they sell and so forth, and they would do it without even trying to understand whether or not it was something that I needed or something that was a pain in my organization, or a problem we hadn't solved. They made it clear that it was very important that I understood what it was they could do and it was less important for them to understand what it was that I needed, nor did they address any of my company’s problems that they potentially could solve for me. I found that that lack of clarity primarily resulted from most people not having done their homework.

The business salesperson may not have known that we were in the middle of a merger. They may not have known we were in the middle of an acquisition. They may not have known that we had just lost market share and become fourth or fifth relative to our competitors. They may not have known that we had just announced (because our stock price had declined) that we were going to lay off a thousand people. They may not have known that we’re a global competitor who just actually stepped into a new market, bought up one of our competitors, changed the business model and began to reorient our entire go-to-market strategy. They may not have known that we had some environmental issues in one of our plants and we were facing a huge fine or legal challenge or dealing with the justice department on an antitrust case. They may not have known that we have just successfully negotiated with the local government and we're trying to figure out how to actually establish a bigger presence in the local market.

I share with you all of those different examples because you can take those few and you can add 10, 20, a hundred more to those. Now you begin to understand the reality of what it is that these corporations are dealing with and what their challenges are. Once you know that, you have a leg up, you have a competitive advantage, you have a better idea of how to make sure when you talk about what you do, it addresses something that's a priority for the corporation and you can separate yourself from the people that didn't do their homework. I can't stress enough how important this is. A friend of mine told me his approach to trade shows was to pick about three, four or five companies that he wanted to target. He would do his homework. He learned what their challenges were. He knew how to approach the trade show booth in terms of how he actually could help them to address what clearly were issues for their businesses. He was able to find out whether or not he was talking to the right people and, if not, with whom he should follow up.

If you have a good idea; you've done your homework; you know what the company's challenges are; you know if they're looking to expand in a different area; you know what value they're looking for; you know the cost pressures that they're under --  then there's a good chance when you share with them what you do, you can make it meaningful for them where they'll say “we need to bring you in and talk further”.

So the mindset that you need to have is how do you go about understanding the corporate customer’s challenges? That's your mindset for winning. Understand their challenges. Imagine if you went to the doctor and before you told the doctor what's wrong, he said, “here, take this pill and thanks for coming in”. You would say, “don't you want to know why I came in”? The doctor answers “Oh, okay. All right, if you really feel the need to tell me, but, hey, I'm a doctor and I know what I'm doing and I just need to give you a pill and let's move on”. You wouldn't appreciate that at all. But that really and truly is what some business owners do. They just start presenting their services/products/skills without prior knowledge and understanding of the corporate customer’s challenges - and they all don't have the exact same challenges.

Corporations are looking for you because they've decided to stop the insanity. They've decided that they want innovation. They know they can get it from small business owners, especially diverse small business owners who have different life experiences, who innovate out of necessity, who see the world differently. You come up with different ways to approach most every situation, and corporations want you helping them to move their business to the next level. That's your mindset for winning: make sure you understand corporations’ challenges.

Stay tuned for part six: The Corporate Opportunity. I am going to spend some more time talking about the demand for innovation and the role of small business. I’m going to drill down on that a little bit more than I just did.

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