How to Sell to the Corporate Office by Selling to the Local Location

The Gist:

  • It’s never good to be told that you are going to have to call a company’s corporate office.
  • Even when a local location is failing, the decision-makers in faraway places generally refuse to make changes at the local level.
  • There is a way to compel the corporate office to change, but you cannot do it alone.

There are many companies with corporate offices in faraway places. When you call these companies to attempt to schedule a meeting, the company line is often that they don’t make the decision at the location close to you and you’ll have to call the corporate office.

The corporate office is doing what corporate offices do; they are making decisions about what they purchase and who they buy from to maintain consistency and leverage their spending. It’s almost certain they are buying what you sell from one of your larger competitors. When you call, they will tell you they aren’t looking to change, but that you can fill out some form on their website to be considered in the future, a strategy that almost never works.

The compliant salesperson will fill out the web form in hope of being contacted someday. The truth of the matter is that the decision is made at the corporate office until the location close to you is not producing the results they need because your large competitor is failing them. Because of this, there is rarely ever a reason to fill out a vendor form when there are better approaches available to you.

Why your big competitor fails

Why Your Big Competitor Fails

If you have never worked for a big company, you might believe that it is easier than working at a smaller company. The truth is that bigger companies have bigger and more systemic challenges. A company that has scaled up does so by creating processes and procedures that all of their locations are supposed to follow. The unevenness of their results follows the unevenness of the execution of people who are far removed from their headquarters.

The four-billion-dollar company that employed me for a number of years won a national contract with a client. The national sales team won their business because our company’s and the client’s headquarters were located very close to each other on the East Coast. Even though the business deal had razor thin margins, the account was worth tens of millions of dollars. Where I was located, on the West Coast, there was so little business that it wasn’t worth taking the account, making it easy to ignore the client completely and go for higher margin business, instead of the empty calories of the client’s low margin business.

The client close to our location needed to find someone else to help them, even though they were not allowed to go off the corporate contract. And while, our corporate office did their best to compel all of the locations to serve this client, they lacked the ability to force compliance.

The person who eventually wins

The Person Who Eventually Wins

The person who eventually wins a contest between the local location near you and the corporate office is the local person who is responsible for producing the result that requires whatever it is that you sell. At first, their complaints result in the corporate office calling the national supplier to put a little pressure on them to take better care of the local location. When that doesn’t work, they push harder, an approach that rarely works to improve the results.

At some point, when the local outpost starts to fail, the balance of power shifts. The person who is going to eventually get what they want is the local leader with the results that are being prevented by the failure of the large competitor with the “exclusive” contract. Sometimes, this local leader decides to sign a contract adding suppliers, something the corporate office calls “rogue spend.” Other times, they seek permission to add the supplier that they need.

It is difficult for the corporate decision-makers to enforce the use of a supplier who is failing. If their attempts to improve the supplier’s results fail, it is incredibly difficult to require the local leaders to continue to use that supplier.

The Best Person to Call Corporate

The best strategy for winning the company’s business locally is to help arm the stakeholder with the ability to argue that they need you in that location. When it’s possible and profitable to do so, you can offer to match your larger competitor’s pricing and terms, making it more difficult for corporate to reject the idea. When it’s not profitable, you can help your contact justify the additional spend by pointing out the cost of continuing to fail.

The person who the corporate office is failing has many times more leverage in this conversation than you would have. Even though you could argue on behalf of the stakeholders at the local facility, your argument is not as compelling as the individuals who are struggling to produce the results they need. More still, were you to call, you’d end up speaking to a person who will try to defend the existing supplier. When the head of the location near you calls, they are generally going to speak to someone in their chain of command, a person who is certain to be responsible for the results at that location.

Your best strategy for winning the local business is by asking your main contact to call and complain they’re unable to do their job without a new supplier.

Vendor management systems

Vendor Management Systems

Now that software has eaten the entire world, this approach is easier than ever. It allows corporate types visibility and control. It also allows decision-makers in faraway places to address the unevenness of results they experience across their systems.

Increasing your business in these types of approaches requires that you work closely with the leaders who are trying to improve their results and creating a strong preference to work with you. In the end, the person who needs help producing results rarely loses a contest over the choice of suppliers when the corporate office’s darling fails them.

Do Good Work:

  • Get to the person that needs the result they are struggling to produce.
  • Ask that person to call and complain to the person they report to at corporate to ask for help.
  • Help negotiate the terms to find a way to force the corporate office to consent to adding you.

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