Walking with Giants: How to Partner with a Large Company

From Day One, Joshua Holmes had big dreams for his small business. “My background was never in building small websites—it was in much larger enterprise solutions for hospitals and e-commerce,” Holmes relates. Problem was, there just aren’t a whole lot of big hitters  in Medina, where his 12-person company is based. 

From Day One, Joshua Holmes had big dreams for his small business.

“My background was never in building small websites—it was in much larger enterprise solutions for hospitals and e-commerce,” Holmes relates. Problem was, there just aren’t a whole lot of big hitters  in Medina, where his 12-person company is based.

At first, he did pretty much all types of Web-related work, but he kept his eye on the big leagues, and his business finally built up a rapport and symbiotic partnership with Miami, Florida-based software firm, dotCMS, that was looking for a developer like Ethode to implement its program.

Holmes learned about dotCMS because he was looking for a platform built in Java (which is faster and more sophisticated than Word Press, from a developer standpoint). He came across dotCMS, which had the features he wanted. When he got to know the firm—which was rolling out its product to marketers who needed help with implementation—both parties discovered a synergy.

Holmes didn’t know dotCMS, and it’s not like the relationship bloomed overnight. But Holmes took a chance, vetted the firm and dedicated time to learning their product and using it himself.  The more they got to know each other, they realized they had a lot in common. “We came from similar backgrounds,” he says.

Today, when dotCMS sells its product to a customer, Ethode almost always installs it. And when a customer is considering dotCMS, Ethode often helps close the deal because its third-party opinion makes an impact.

“Our business doesn’t come from constantly trying to find the next customer,” Holmes says of partnerships like dotCMS and how this opens the sales door. “They depend on us to install a product to make their customers happy, and most of their customers can’t do it themselves.”

So you’re ready to go big-game hunting? Great! Before you start that hunt, though, read what our experts have to say about their own experiences and how it can jumpstart your efforts.? That means getting this business involves more than just asking for it. Allow our experts to explain.

What are you trying to do?

If you’re thinking about a partnership with a big business, the first thing you need to do is: Stop! Christian Silveira, director of sales and mass market operations at OnDemand Energy Solutions, which, like Ethode, has also taken the big-business plunge.

You first have to figure out if it makes sense for your business. “What is your scope? It’s not necessarily a good business practice for every company, depending on the verticals or services they provide,” he points out.

Differentiating commodities

OK, So, you’ve decided it makes sense for you. Great! So, now what? (Hint: It has to do with standing out from the crowd!)

Energy is a commodity, but OnDemand’s services are far from it. Acting as a consultant is how the firm differentiates itself from competitors. A conversation about the price of power shifts to business strategy—and that’s when large clients listen.

“The conversation changes from savings to risk mitigation and that is typically exciting for our big clients,” says Christian Silveira, director of sales and mass market operations at OnDemand Energy Solutions, which, like Ethode, has also taken the big-business plunge.

“When buying a very volatile commodity we discuss the various ways to manage risk. Negotiating favorable contract language for our clients, hedging, or layering energy purchase over time, we believe, is a more prudent way to buy power. After all, buying a commodity is a financial transaction,” says Silveria. “This message resonates with them.”

Winning face time

For Holmes, the key to securing large clients has been physically meeting decision makers and contacts who can point him to key personnel in large organizations.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. But Holmes has found typical lead generation tactics many Web businesses use are not as effective—such as pay-per-click, search engine optimization and traditional advertising.

“In this day and age, everyone thinks it’s all about electronic ads, but at the end of the day there are a lot of people who say great things but wind up doing a terrible job,” he says. “So, there is fear around hiring IT companies. People are always skeptical of you.”

Networking in the community and actually meeting prospects makes all the difference. “You have to find them and shake their hands—and once they realize what you know, they recognize you are unique,” Holmes says.

Show your value

This seems like a simple question to ask, but what can you really do for a big client? If you’ll help grow their revenues, how? If you’ll mitigate risk for them in some capacity, how? If you’ll expand their footprint or product offerings—how? Be prepared to explain how you can help, and back that up with examples.

“An anology I like to give when talking with large clients is, ‘Do you file your corporate tax returns yourself?’” Silveira says. Of course, they say no. “Did you hire the cheapest CPA, or the best that provides the most value?”

Getting prospects to think about value and recognize their buying an expertise can be a game-changer. “The main thing we push here is question-based consulting,” Silveira adds. In other words, he doesn’t want to sit in a boardroom and spend an hour delivering a pitch. He wants prospects to toss him hard-ball questions so he can prove OnDemand’s expertise.

Investing in growth

By reinvesting profits into the business, Holmes has grown his firm to the scale where he can service large corporate customers. He knew from the beginning this “enterprise” demographic was his target audience, so he aligned his business strategy accordingly.

That includes plants to build the first data center in Medina County in 2017, and possibly opening another U.S. location out of state.

Scaling up

If you’re going to service the big players, you better be prepared with the resources and manpower (if required) to fulfill your obligations. Big business can mean big workload. For Ethode, that meant scaling up with independent contractors at first so Holmes could service customers’ needs as a constant point of contact (and salesperson).

Once he grew the business, by year three, Holmes brought on full-time employees. By the end of 2016, he expects to employ 20 people, growing the staff by up to eight employees. “The Catch-22 of contractors is you don’t own them,” Holmes quips. “You can’t dictate their full-time schedules, otherwise they are not considered contractors by law.”      

Dropping names

Holmes leveraged his background building corporate enterprise software systems when talking with large prospects about his small business. “I name dropped a little,” he says, relating that he worked on a “massive” project for Skyy Vodka and subsidiaries. “The customer is buying you. They want to know that you know what you are doing, so I said, ‘This is my background. This is what I’ve done.’”

“I’m a small guy and I fish in a big pond,” Holmes says. “But if you have some background working with big business, that can alleviate their fears.”

Big business wins

Following the tips above can pay off in a big way, as Holmes and Silveira can attest.

Through its partnership with dotCMS and others, Ethode works all over the country. This means Holmes gains exposure to a range of clients in his “sweet spot.” Ethode has implemented projects for companies such as Roto-Rooter, The Cheesecake Factory, Johnsonville, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital—and locally, The University of Akron and Oberlin College.

“I knew I wanted to immediately grow the company,” Holmes says of the business that got its start in 2010. “It made sense for me to reach out to those two industries (healthcare and e-commerce) and network with people I knew already.”

It’s been a worthwhile venture also for OnDemand, where large customers comprise approximately 20% of the customer base. And 80% of the energy load under contract comes from that base. “It’s the old 80/20 rule,” Silveira says.

Overall, OnDemand manages electricty supply requirements for more than 5,000 clients with more than 27,000 meters, a total energy load under contract exceeding 15 billion kilowatt hours. That’s big.

A “legacy book” of ongoing relationships prior to launching OnDemand has been key to getting in the door with big companies. Like Ethode, OnDemand took a good look at “who do you know” and honed in on those clients. Previously, the firm was part a wholly owned subsidiary of Duquesne Light in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania.

OnDemand’s client base runs the gamut, and most are small businesses. But the firm can really stretch its consulting muscles when working with large firms that hire OnDemand as an extension of their energy management teams. They look at OnDemand as the CPA or attorney—a professional they need on hand to navigate energy procurement contract language.  

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  • Next up: Want free help with digital marketing?

    Want free help with digital marketing?

    Stuck/Challenged by Digital Marketing?  Want some free help with taking more advantage of digital marketing? As part of our job to connect you with opportunities, we thought we’d pass this along….from Bill Leamon at The Enterprise Development Center at Notre Dame College.  Bill is a big advocate for our region’s small businesses and this opportunity is a legitimate effort to both bring value to small businesses that need help with their digital marketing and give students with time and skills a “real world” project helping your business with it’s real needs. 

    Stuck/Challenged by Digital Marketing?  Want some free help with taking more advantage of digital marketing?

    As part of our job to connect you with opportunities, we thought we’d pass this along….from Bill Leamon at The Enterprise Development Center at Notre Dame College.  Bill is a big advocate for our region’s small businesses and this opportunity is a legitimate effort to both bring value to small businesses that need help with their digital marketing and give students with time and skills a “real world” project helping your business with it’s real needs.  If you are interested, read more…

    Notre Dame College has a Digital Marketing Class this spring.  As a part of the student’s work, they will work with 20 small businesses and/or start-ups to help them improve their digital marketing strategy and execution.

    The lead professor for the course will be Erika Port, a talented digital marketing consultant specializing in supporting startups and small businesses in Northeast Ohio.

    The program is designed to provide free help to startups and small businesses, while providing micro-internship experiences for the students, with the possibility that some could also land internships (also paid by NDC) this summer. Students will be expected to work 3 hours/week (45 hours total) beyond the regular course time to help build the entrepreneurs' online presence, and will be paid a stipend by the Enterprise Development Center at Notre Dame College (EDC@NDC) based on their performance.

    The EDC@NDC's support will be provided free to COSE members. The quality of the students' work will be closely monitored by Erika, Bill Leamon, and Notre Dame’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Todd Warmington. In order to participate you need only to commit to an initial project launch meeting (January 21, 2016), a mid-term review of progress (mid-March), and final evaluation of performance (early May).

    Here are the specific objectives of the course: 

    Objective 1: Students will recognize the importance of digital marketing and apply digital marketing elements into local businesses

    Objective 2: Students will creatively audit and analyze a local business, and find opportunities to improve the local business through digital marketing

    Objective 3: Students will develop a strategy for growing a local business and present their findings to the local business owner and help the entrepreneurs carry out the strategy

    Additional objectives specific to the needs of the participating companies can be included in the project scope.

    If you are interested in participating and providing both an experience for a student and getting value for your business, please send an email to Todd, providing him with your contact information, a brief description of your business, and a link to your website (you need to have a website of some sort to participate).  Also, please note, there are only about 20 students in this program, so the opportunity is limited.

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  • Next up: We're All in Sales, So Get Better at it!

    We're All in Sales, So Get Better at it!

    Sales is one of the foundational skills for any profession, for any leader in any organization who wants sustained growth. Here's how to master the art, even if it doesn't come naturally to you.

    If you are starting a business or own a business, you need to be able to sell. If you are pitching new ideas to your organization, you need to be able to sell. If you are raising funds for a nonprofit, you need to be able to sell. If you are a parent and raising a family, you need to be able sell.

    Selling skills are not the exclusive domain of the people in the sales department. At some point in any career we will find ourselves needing to sell something: an idea, a vision, a solution, etc.

    As Henry Ford’s quote states, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”  The basis of selling is the process of helping a prospect or customer (individual or group) make decisions to achieve a desired outcome. Fundamental skills in selling are used to help the customer navigate their buying journey resulting in a decision based on trust, data/proof and emotion.

    Based on your business, the role of sales is to manage the gap between a target customer’s needs and the solution a company offers with its products and services. By closing the gap, the company is able to achieve its revenue targets and forecasts. The sales function in any company helps the organization achieve profit and growth objectives. Sales must assume a key team leadership role by engaging other departments in the profitable support of target customers and the successful growth of the organization.

    As you develop as a sales professional, here are five tips to helping others feel confident about their decision to work with and buy from you and your company.

    Sales tip no. 1: Be a professional. How do you want others to see you as a sales professional? Are you able to sell at all levels? Can you be counted on or can’t you be trusted? Are you serious or casual? Are you organized or sloppy? On a foundational level, to be a successful and professional sales person you must learn how to lead and manage yourself while developing the skills to get other people to follow you as you manage complex relationships with customers. Your customers will expect you to have expert business knowledge, skills and strategy, while your company will expect you to anticipate and lead change between your business and your customers. In your company, you are the team leader/team builder; you must have the right mindset, behaviors, initiative and discipline to be successful.

    Sales tip no. 2: Manage your assigned sales pipeline. A sales person must learn how to design and manage their own sales pipeline to achieve their personal and assigned goals. A sales pipeline must have a consistent volume and reliable speed (rate) of opportunities moving through from lead to new sale to achieve monthly forecasts.  As a sales professional, your selling process needs to be aligned with the customer’s buying process. Your project management skills help you track the stages in your pipeline as opportunities flow through the conversion stages: prospect, lead, meetings, quotes, close, etc.

    Sales tip no. 3: Manage successful transitions. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Warning: not all objections to change will be uncovered during your sales process. You must be prepared to lead change and manage the transition and the new relationships between your customers and your company. Some objections and resistance will come after the sale is made and they will arise in a variety of ways. As a sales professional you have to take the lead and manage the transition with new accounts or major new products.

    Sales tip no. 4: Drive results and sustain profitable growth. Stay focused and keep individuals and teams aligned with the key internal drivers, metrics and KPIs in your business: Financial, customer, marketing, product/services, people and processes of the business. A focus on key drivers that grow cash flow and profits are needed to sustain and scale a company. Be sure to align everyone’s daily decisions and actions to the big picture—serving your customers and increasing the value of the business.

    Sales tip no. 5: Engage and innovate. Use a combination of business review meetings or surveys with your customers as well as internal meetings within your company to discuss how you can keep your customers satisfied and loyal. Leverage the data you collect and load into your CRM systems, as well as data from the market, to discover the best ways to recognize and reward loyalty. Make it easier for customers to keep buying from you by offering more products and services that are aligned with customer needs and economics.

    We have all heard it, people ultimately do business with companies and people who can be trusted to deliver what they promised and are easy to do business with. If you make doing business harder or you hate working with people, you may want to look for other work.

    According to Warren Bennis, “The basis of leadership is the capacity of the leader to change the mindset, the framework of the other person.”

    Selling is about change. Leading is about change. Both deal with being able to successfully build relationships with other humans who are looking for new ideas or a solution to something that may be broken.

    What then do you need to know about sales as a function or a skill in your business or organization? Who do you have to become to be more successful as a leader in sales? What do you need to do to become more successful for yourself, your family and your company?

    There are no shortcuts, but there are plenty of clues and successful and proven strategies to be more successful in sales.

    Wayne Bergman is a business and executive coach and founder of Consistent Business Growth. Questions or comments about this piece? Email him directly at wayne@cbgrowth-gfm.com.

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  • Next up: We Can't Hire You If You Can't Pass A Drug Test - Vote No on Issue 3

    We Can't Hire You If You Can't Pass A Drug Test - Vote No on Issue 3

    Michael Canty is the owner of a successful manufacturing company in Northeast Ohio called Alloy Bellows & Precision Welding and he, like so many other business owners, are voicing their opposition to legalizing marijuana in Ohio on Election Day.  On October 20th, Mr. Canty hosted representatives from the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), Greater Cleveland Partnership, Urban League of Greater Cleveland, and Secretary of State Jon Husted to discuss why voting NO on Issue 3 is in the best interest of all Ohioans – especially for small businesses.

    Michael Canty is the owner of a successful manufacturing company in Northeast Ohio called Alloy Bellows & Precision Welding and he, like so many other business owners, are voicing their opposition to legalizing marijuana in Ohio on Election Day. On October 20th, Mr. Canty hosted representatives from the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), Greater Cleveland Partnership, Urban League of Greater Cleveland, and Secretary of State Jon Husted to discuss why voting NO on Issue 3 is in the best interest of all Ohioans – especially for small businesses.

    Small business employers and entrepreneurs could face big challenges if voters decide to legalize marijuana on Tuesday.  There are workplace safety concerns, human resources policies would need to be updated, employment and productivity issues will be amplified, employees will fail more drug tests, and an increase in litigation costs can serve as a financial anchor for a company. 

    “Currently, we interview lots and lots of people,” said Mr. Canty.  “We tell them right up front that if they can’t pass a drug test please don’t bother finishing the application process.  We can’t hire you if you can’t pass a drug test.  Still…ten to fifteen percent of even those can’t pass a drug test.”

    Beyond workforce issues and whether you are open to a conversation about legalizing marijuana in Ohio or not, amending the Ohio Constitution before we have a better understanding of the implications and to provide economic gain for a targeted group of individuals is risky.  The people behind Issue 3 are made up of a handful of investors that stand to line their own pockets should the measure pass because commercial marijuana would only be grown at 10 sites belonging to these individuals. 

    The goal for Issue 3 investors?  Corner a market dominated by a small number of sellers and reap the financial rewards that come with it.  The result for the rest of us?  An oligopoly on marijuana in Ohio that would make us the first state in the Union to simultaneously legalize pot for medicinal and recreational use. 

    And, don’t forget the additional strains it would place on small business employers like Mr. Canty. 

    After Mr. Canty spoke with local reporters on the issue, he led the group on a tour of Alloy Bellows’ state-of-the-art facility, a space that features the latest technologies in manufacturing.  By controlling all of their processes internally Alloy Bellows is able to offer their customers the best efficiencies, output, and flexibility possible.  The complex operation requires continuity and consistency. 

    Legalizing marijuana in the way Issue 3 is offering is an unpredictable proposition.  This issue is too important to the future success of employers in our state and it is far from responsible. 

    To see WKYC Channel 3 coverage of the event at Alloy Bellows & Precision Welding click here.

    To learn more about this crucial ballot measure see here.

    COSE urges you to please remember to vote NO on Issue 3.



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  • Next up: Weigh-in on newly proposed overtime rules, investment capital

    Weigh-in on newly proposed overtime rules, investment capital

    Two of the top ten most significant challenges to the future growth and survival of a small business are a lack of available capital and costs associated with employee salaries. That’s according to answers received in the National Small Business Association’s (NSBA) 2014 Year-End Economic Report – a poll of small business owners that represented every industry in every state in the nation. Do you experience similar challenges? We need your help.

    Two of the top ten most significant challenges to the future growth and survival of a small business are a lack of available capital and costs associated with employee salaries. That’s according to answers received in the National Small Business Association’s (NSBA) 2014 Year-End Economic Report – a poll of small business owners that represented every industry in every state in the nation. 

    Do you experience similar challenges? We need your help.

    Investment Capital

    COSE’s federal advocacy partner, NSBA, is seeking your input through a brief survey regarding investment capital for your business. NSBA will be filing a brief in support of certain new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules which would ease the process for selling shares of your business. The impact of these changes may help you to reduce or eliminate broker’s fees, lower investor premiums, and give founders greater control over the term sheet. See here for additional background on this issue.

    Proposed Overtime Rules

    The administration has proposed new overtime rules which would increase the salary threshold below which all employees must be paid overtime, from the current $23,660 to $50,400 – a 113% increase. In addition, the proposal seeks comment on the so-called “duties test”, opening the door to changes to be adopted in a final rule. For more information on the proposed overtime rules see here.

    NSBA is working to mobilize small businesses on this issue in two key ways:

    • Your Input – NSBA needs to hear from you by August 21st about how this rule would impact your small business. The information you provide will help inform NSBA’s public comments as well as develop a more detailed outline to help you submit your own comments. Please click here today to tell us what this rule means for your business.
    • High-Level Issue Briefing – On August 13th at 11:00 a.m. EST, NSBA will host a teleconference featuring labor expert and attorney Michael Eastman, who currently serves as Vice President for Public Policy at the Equal Employment Advisory Council. On the call we will discuss how these proposed regulations are likely to impact your firm. Click here to register.

    If these issues are important to you and your small business, please consider taking just a few minutes out of your day to share your experiences. The feedback received will strictly be kept confidential and e-mail us at advocacy@cose.org should you have any questions.


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  • Next up: What Does Value Add Mean?

    What Does Value Add Mean?

    What does Value Add mean? Well the first thing is that it implies a baseline value. To be successful, a product or service must be of value on its own. It has to be able to stand all by it’s self. In today’s competitive marketplace there may be several companies offering the same product or service with the same baseline value. 

    What does Value Add mean? Well the first thing is that it implies a baseline value. To be successful a product or service must be of value on its own. It has to be able to stand all by it’s self. In today’s competitive marketplace there may be several companies offering the same product or service with the same baseline value.

    This is the reason they adopt value-added benefits. Value add is additional value that your product or service has above the baseline. It’s a way of differentiating your company from the pack. If you can add value, then even if your price is a little higher, the prospect will want to buy from you. You bring more to the table.

    All consumers look at purchases from a ‘cost/benefit’ analysis. Does the benefit equal or outweigh the cost? Some of that is subjective. Different consumers have different definitions of benefit. Because of this, it is important to make sure that the value you are adding is considered to be beneficial by your prospects.

    How do you figure this out? Follow these steps:

    1. Understand your target market
    2. Identify the actual baseline value of your product or service. This is the value your clients see – not necessarily the value YOU believe exists.
      1. Document the value you perceive
      2. Ask your clients what value they see
      3. Conduct market research to assess the general public’s view of the baseline value
    3. Consider complementary products or services that you could add to a product you offer as a bonus.
    4. Consider non-complementary products or services that you could add

      Examples of complementary products or services are:

      • Free cleaning
      • Free Helpdesk Support
      • Free Shipping
      • Free Inspection
      • Free Newsletter

      Notice the word ‘Free.’ You are throwing something in to add value to the baseline product or service.  These are items that complement the product or service you are providing.

      Examples of non-complementary products or services are:

      • A Resource Toolbox – filled with information on organizations you know well that offer a variety of products and services
      • Gift Card – to a restaurant or store; not for redemption at your company
      • Quarterly Seminar Series – seminars on a variety of subjects that don’t piggyback your business

      As you can see, these are valuable but do not complement a company’s product or service. So they add value of a different sort. Non-complementary adds are a bit tougher to sell. It really comes down to what the prospect deems as valuable.

      Providing value added benefits can really set you apart. So do your homework. Get to know your target market – what they want and need. Get creative with adds – you really can do anything you want, as long as the prospect finds it valuable. Set up your value adds and get to marketing your product or service with the adds included. It can be a great, inexpensive way to set your company apart.

      Copyright© 2015 Seize This Day Coaching

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