7 tips for SMEs on winning bigger business

Steve James, Commercial Director of Opus Energy explains the combination of delivery, innovation and flexibility SMEs need to attract larger customers.

15th July 2009 at 9:03 am

1. Understand your audience

Due diligence is key before pitching for new business. Ensure you understand exactly what the company’s objectives are, and how your services can specifically help them achieve those goals. In addition, if the business has a particularly strong credit position despite a challenging market, mentioning this demonstrates that you make it a priority to research and understand your customers.

2. Promote stability

Big business may have concerns that SMEs are less financially stable and therefore less able to provide a guaranteed level and duration of service. It is vital to quash any uncertainties by actively promoting your business’ financial health and long term plans to prospective clients. Be prepared to lucidly discuss your business plan and structure, noting milestones and targets, making it clear that you are able to partner your clients for the long term.

3. Price sensibly

Prices should be based on your operational costs and must be sustainable from the outset. Companies that win business simply by undercutting the market have a tendency to be unstable and often go bust. Be competitive, but price sensibly to maintain a stable position and demonstrate to prospective customers the your service represents value for money.

4. Prioritise customer service

A good technique is to ensure that your core team are trained to understand as many different areas of your business and the general business landscape as possible, so that when speaking to a customer they can address any question or request directly. A knowledgeable account manager is vital for corporates that demand a quick, responsive service.

5. Innovate

Having a good understanding of your customer base is key to providing a service that is relevant and useful. Ask your customers what additional business requirements they have. By doing this, Opus was able to identify a need in the corporate market for an online flexible energy purchasing platform. This was then developed in house and launched as Opus Evolution in September 2007. This service has since become one of Opus Energy’s leading products, boosting turnover in the past 12 months by 25%. In a competitive market, smaller players need to use their flexibility to innovate and quickly respond to customer needs in order to stay at the forefront of the market.

6. Network

Existing contacts and referrals are likely to make up the majority of good business leads, particularly for SMEs with smaller marketing budgets. Ensure that you are involved in industry business associations. Attending industry events with a demonstrable product is also a good way to encourage interaction with potential customers. Case studies also help potential customers to identify with similar problems that your service has provided the solution for. Corporates are much more likely to consider you as a contender having seen glowing reviews from their peers.

7. Retain customers

Customer retention should be a priority. Face-to-face contact is essential to build and maintain working relationships with corporate customers, as it shows a commitment to their business. It is amazing how few businesses do this as standard. Opus Energy’s high customer retention rate has been achieved by ensuring that account managers travel to their client’s sites for regular after sale meetings and account reviews. The effort should not stop once the sale has been closed, instead it should increase, with each customer being valued as a long term investment.

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Steve James

Steve is responsible for all aspects of Opus Corporate Solutions, including the development of Opus Evolution. He is also responsible for Opus Energy’s regulatory compliance, including reporting to Ofgem. Steve has acquired 10 years of experience within the gas and electricity markets working in customer service and business development. http://www.opusenergy.com

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