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5 Ways Small is Beating Big for Flagship Clients

Mouse Beats the Elephant

Small is Beating Big

I’ve been noticing a not so subtle trend lately. One that should really get small businesses excited about the future.

Small is beating big for major accounts–Fortune 500 kind of accounts.

How is this possible? How are Chris Brogan and Jason Falls beating Oglivy Interactive, BBDO, Campbell-Ewald and the like for big-time interactive marketing and social media clients. How is Jeremiah Owyang and Altimeter Group beating Forrester and Gartner?

1. They’re real – I think it starts here. The old sales adage goes, “people buy from people they like.” In these cases you can see (very clearly and transparently) who you’re buying.

In the alternative case you are getting the brand. That means you are hoping you get David Oglivy, reincarnate–really?

Let’s talk reality. At least the small entrepreneurs read his books. I bet the account executives think they’re too smart for Oglivy on Advertising.

2. You get the impact player – With the small players you’re talking to the impact player. You’re going to work directly with the one that has the most to win or lose. That means you get the hungriest player on the team–the owner.

Here’s how small works: If they achieve results for you they get to take it all home–every month, hopefully. If they don’t, they’d better come up with a pitch that gets you to double down for bigger results. Or they need to quickly pick-up, dust-off, and learn from it so the next client gets what they paid for.

Here’s how big works: You get the fresh faced college kid with Ivy league credentials. And if he screws up on your account you get an apology from the account executive (whom you’ve probably never met) and Johnny gets shuffled over to another account and you get another well-groomed MBA.

3. They’re already there – The small gal is hustling everyday to be visible. She is working the same markets you are. Chances are she is already where you want to be. Their ideas and campaigns for your business are personal. They’re working their own neighborhood.

The big guys are worrying about how to quickly target, infiltrate, and develop audiences and communities. How is that working for you (oldie, but goodie)?

4. They bring along their Tribe – Ah, the best part. All those people they’re interacting with, building relationships with, and helping in order to survive and grow their own business–they bring them on every client engagement.

Seth Godin calls it their Tribe. And that’s very important. They’ve already built trust. These folks are loyal and willing to be responsive. The Tribe of the small is always looking for opportunities to give back for all the free value they have received from these folks.

5. They’re still hungry – I think I mentioned this already, but it bears repeating. The small lays it on the line in each new engagement. If they stop performing at the highest level, the music stops.

What do you think? Are you ready to show this pitch to your Fortune 500 prospect? I think it will get you a new client. Let me know–so I can cheer you on!

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This post is part of the SugarTone: Sweet Business Blogging Contest.

I work with B2B sales and marketing organization to social media and Web 2.0 enable their sales processes. Buyers are changing their research and evaluation processes shouldn't you be adjust your sales processes to match? Let's talk about social selling and social CRM.

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  • Thanks for sharing Cindy. Really enjoyed the post from Doyle on the 6 core strategies for 2010. Just left him a nice comment.
    Will probably work on a similar post for January 🙂 I believe that we could get great input from bloggers on how to sharpen also our strategy from the very start of 2010.

  • Cindy: I recommend you to check out Edwin A. Locke’s work, if you are interested to learn more about SMART goals and the goal setting theory.

  • Anonymous

    Great article. I am looking forward to your weekly posts. Very honoured that may article made your review. Thanks and have a great Christmas Cindy.

  • Thanks for the reviews. These are great capsules to wrap-up my week. I often find you have captured an article or two I have missed. I make us all smarter, better–thanks for your efforts.

  • Hi Cindy,
    Thanks so much for the weekly reviews. It’s great to be able to share bizSugar with another business community online and it has been a real treat having members of Bloggertone contribute to the bizSugar community as well, something we hope will continue into the future.

  • Hi Cindy, another great series of articles. I particularly enjoyed “How To Explain To Clients That They Are Wrong” this is a huge challenge. On occasion this year, I have backed off to the point of letting potential clients go make the mistake. Sometimes for small/start ups, there is value and a learning that needs to be experienced first. Messing up can be a good thing 🙂

  • Another great list Cindy – thanks. Like Niall, I like the one on how to explain to clients they are wrong. This year I was fortunate enough to be one of those clients of a company who knew exactly how to tell me without making it seem like I was a complete idiot! This is a worthy skill and one that everyone should develop. As you say, it’s not just freelancers who could learn this – we can all benefit. Have a great Christmas

  • Nice one Bill. I guess in what I do we tend to convey that hunger to the prospect up to certain extent, but could do with more. Even if after the pitch the project is handled overall by somebody else in the team. I guess the key is for the client to know that there’s a hungry committed team behind (some more than others of course) and that real response can be obtained when needed. Probably need to work a bit more on stressing these points to close more sales 🙂

  • Anonymous

    In tech selling, small companies have an even stronger advantage. So much of the “older” technologies is just selling maintenance and collecting annual revenue – these companies are more focused on keeping customers than winning new ones (or wow-ing their current ones). Your small company can succeed here by aggressively understanding the customer and delivering. Your larger competitors will be telling stories about all their other deals….

  • They’re still hungry may be the most important point. The big guys often only want the biggest deals – why waste their important time on a little payoff.

  • Great point Bill. It’s one the small companies have to remember too. And your articles also reminded me of the importance Gary V puts on hustling!

  • Facundo,

    I think the big guys can still win, but in this market you have to replicate this passion–which is very hard. Although, as these organizations downsize (BBDO recently decimated their Chicago office) they may have to learn this trick naturally.

    We all have to work on our intensity from time to time. We all get a bit too comfortable we have the client’s ongoing business–small or big. Thanks for the comment!

  • Craig,

    You said it all right here: “or wow-ing their current ones.” I turn over the mike!

  • McLaughlin,

    Good point. I always try to help my clients calculate the return on big v. little sales cycles and revenue. It always reveals a need for both. But, you’re right–often big guys can sell smaller.

  • Cindy,

    Oh boy, ain’t that the truth! Gary and Crush It! are great. I actually got a version of Crush It! so I could re-read and see his videos for an occasional shot of energy and motivation to hustle.

  • Bill,

    I agree about them being hungry. I also think for the larger agencies it is outside their core business. You may see in time separate departments specializing in this area, like they tried to do when direct marketing was all the rage years ago.

  • Fantastic round up! Small doesn’t mean weak; it can just be attentive, focus and professional when it comes to task-accomplishments. A clear evident is how our local supermarkets are dominating, people are so used to the good service, they hardly care which franchise is opening near the area. I always find this an intriguing matter — Relationship building & trust have long existed between customers and service providers after quality service is delivered. The challenge now is to maintain & improve. Small business may not always be the low prices, but flexibility and sincerity can be great loyalty magnet. Size doesn’t always matter.

    Social/Blogging Tracker

  • Yes, it will be interesting to see how they adjust. Most of these I have listed have built out “digital” or “interactive” practices. It will be interesting to see how they mature. I’m still thinking these will be hard campaigns to scale over their necessary margins. Advantage=small outfit!

  • I love the way you describe the advantages–attentive and focus. This is the kid of service clients want and need in hard times. I think that it is going to be a good market for hustling entrepreneurs. Thanks for the comment!

  • Hi Bill, wonderful post! could easily be applied to this #Sugartone comp 🙂 Bloggertone & BizSugar have two wonderful tribes who work hard for each other. Bringing the two together and we are greater than the sum of our parts. I think your point about hunger is also well made. it ties well into the fact that we are now all operating in a ever changing and quick moving environment, small invariably are the ones driving this change where as big prefers the status quo. Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Niall

  • Welcome to Bloggertone Bill! great post, really enjoyed it. I love the way smaller companies and consultancies outplay the big fish by simply using social media smarter. It’s not only that, even if the bigger guys use SM well, they probably still have loads of employees and account managers which, at the end of the day, gives a perception of less transparency: “I don’t know WHO am I buying”.

  • Thanks for the comment Niall! You guys are class acts. I’ve enjoyed BizSugar and now glad to be introduced to BloggerTone.

  • Fred,

    Thanks for the welcome.

    I totally agree: “I don’t know WHO am I buying.” Nailed my theme. It should have been my post’s headline!

  • Thanks Bill, we are still in learning mode! However we are blessed to have wonderful professionals contributing such amazing content. Not to mention the support of the BizSugar team. You guys make it easy 🙂

  • Hi Bill, Thanks for the article. I am new to business blogging…oh heck, blogging in general, so I have entered the contest to learn the craft – and I can see that I will be learning from some great experts over the course of the next week or so.

    Thanks for a great article – oh, and considering I have worked for the big guy and the little guy, I have to say that your points are quite salient. The only downside with a smaller firm is access to resources, however, larger firms can get tied up in bureaucracy, so perhaps they cancel each other out.

  • Great observations! I’m small too, and so I know that it’s quite difficult to get to where Chris Brogan and Jeremiah are. All small companies are hungry, but not everyone can be as hungry as Chris & Jeremiah. In fact, see: Why I Don’t Want To Be Chris Brogan –

    Good news is, the formula on how small companies can eat big companies lunch is pretty clear – hustle hustle hustle!

  • Anonymous


    Good blog. I agree with you. I have noticed two other important factors when working with my clients. (1) Smaller companies can react quicker, like turning a aircraft carrier or a speedboat, and (2) Scaleability, customer service is not scalable. When a company grows from $20MM to $50MM, adding head count and doing things the same way does not deliver the same level of service. Companies have to do things differently for the customer to perceive the same level of service. Most companies do not plan for this as they grow.

    Thanks for the blog.


  • Anonymous

    Bill, Finally read your article and really enjoyed it. I find that by conveying myself as that “Impact Player” to my clients that I can fend off the larger competitor.

    I loved how you described the big company – “You get the fresh faced college kid with Ivy league credentials. And if he screws up on your account you get an apology from the account executive (whom you’ve probably never met) and Johnny gets shuffled over to another account and you get another well-groomed MBA.” So true.

    The hunger factor is also massive for a small business. We lose a client and it can cause our business serious damage financially and also to our reputation. An account executive losing a client their commission cheque suffers in next month’s pay.

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