Competing against bigger firms - tips for small and solo consultants

Competing against bigger firms

competing against larger firms

If you run a small firm, or perhaps your firm is you, you’ll sometimes find yourself competing against bigger firms. This can feel intimidating. These firms have more people, bigger budgets, slicker marketing, and often dedicated sales people. If you already hate sales, this can seem intimidating.

So how do you compete against larger firms?

First, make sure you’re not letting limiting beliefs get in your own way.

Next, figure out if you or the larger firm better serve the prospect’s needs. I once trekked to Minneapolis in the middle of the winter on my own dime to deliver a pitch. The prospect had nice, polite things to say, but needed more people than I could provide. We just weren’t the right fit. And as much as I love Minneapolis in the summer, I could have saved myself a trip if I’d done more investigation up front.

If there’s a good chance you serve the prospect’s needs best, lean into being the smaller firm. You can’t outsize the bigger company, anyway, so why pretend?

Here are some helpful ways to think about the situation.

The big firm may have one or more dedicated sales people. Chances are, they won’t be delivering the project. You are/or your team will. Would you rather talk to your doctor about the operation, or the person selling the surgical tools?

Instead of focusing on closing the deal (and getting your commission), stay focused on prospect’s ultimate goal.

Always be closing vs always be helping.

Big companies often have fancy websites and other marketing literature talking about how awesome they are. They have slide decks about their history. They can point to awards and other recognition.

You shouldn’t feel shy about your accomplishments, but you can spend more time listening.

People care about how you make them feel. If they feel like you are listening, they sense that you will take care of them. If the big firm comes across as arrogant, they practically do your selling for you.

Talk about ourselves vs be curious about them.

I’m the hero vs I help you be the hero.

Big companies also often require coordination on material and decisions. Committees have to approve them. This takes time and also makes things sound boring and “corporate”.

You can offer decisions on the spot (when needed– don’t rush into things when speed isn’t important) and your website, proposals, and other content sounds human.

Boring corporate speak vs compelling human stories.

The big company probably isn’t as focused as you. They need to keep their people billing. In trying to appeal more broadly, they lack the laser-like focus on your particular niche. In fact, you want to define your niche so that you are the 800 pound gorilla.

Competing against bigger firms for “leadership training”? They may have more people, money, and case studies than you, but what if you actually have deeper expertise in “leadership training for family companies transitioning leadership to the children of the founders”.

Or, instead of competing against a bigger firm in “software development”, what if you’re competing in “restaurant ecommerce updates to make mobile ordering easier and increase ticket sizes in Austin for sandwich shops”?

(After all, I don’t want to compete against Salesforce in the “CRM” market. I want to define a different submarket for people who needs a CRM but hate selling and would rather serve clients. And even when Salesforce started, they didn’t go head to head with Siebel, which was the 800 pound gorilla in the CRM market at the time.)

Aim for broad appeal in big(ger) markets vs positioned as obvious #1 in your niche.

This isn’t to bash big companies. They all started as small companies, after all. But you don’t have to be nervous just because you’re competing against bigger firms.

Want 15 questions to ask before you commit to a proposal that will help you seem like the safe expert, even when competing against larger firms?

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