Yaneek Page | How to pitch to a large corporation
QUESTION: I would like to do business with Jamaica's largest financial institutions but do not know which letter to write first. Should I write a letter of proposal or a letter of interest first or just mail in a business plan? Please help me.
BUSINESSWISE: Don't write a letter of proposal or letter of interest just yet, and as a general rule, don't ever cold-mail your business plan to any entity 'cold' meaning unsolicited and unexpected.
Very few executives would have, or take, the time to read a detailed unsolicited proposal or business plan. You also want to protect the details of your ideas rather than risk them being seen and then implemented by the company without engaging you, which is a real risk entrepreneurs and service providers face.
The ideal circumstances here would be that you know the key decision maker at the financial institution, you have engaged him or her, you have validated the problems you can solve for the entity or the value you could add, and they are aware of your competence, and have asked you to make a pitch.
Unfortunately, it is likely that you may never have the ideal scenario, which is quite normal, however, the goal must be to come as close as possible.
Therefore, the first step is for you to establish a connection with the key decision maker with responsibility for procuring the service you wish to offer, confirming the needs and getting that person to invite, or at the very least anticipate, your pitch.
The form that pitch will take should be what the representative of the institution tells you is preferred whether it be an email, an in-person meeting, or a formal document.
If you don't have someone in your network who could connect you to the key decision maker, then you may have to contact the person via corporate email or social media as an absolute last resort, but preferably, a professional platform such as Linked in.
As an example, your initial message could be something like this:
Dear Ms Smith: Kindly permit me to use this medium to introduce my ABC services, which I am confident could be a great solution for solving the challenge of XYZ commonly faced by many 'X' departments in large financial institutions. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to have a brief five-minute conversation with you or your designate regarding a special offer of a complimentary, risk-free sample of ABC services. I look forward to your reply.
I'm not a fan of cold email or cold calls because they are among the least effective means for a small business to capture the interest and attention of large corporates. However, you will see from the example that a cold email should be concise, specific to the recipients and their likely needs, have a hook and a specific ask, which, in this case, is the complimentary offer and five-minute meeting request.
I must stress the importance of managing your own expectations when it comes to doing business with these entities. They are typically highly bureaucratic, political, and relatively risk averse. This means even if you have an audience with the right person, decisions and approvals are complex and will take time.
Also, large corporates tend to be discerning about the small businesses they engage in order to manage their reputation and validate the suitability of prospective service providers to meet specified minimum service levels and continuity over the desired time.
Ultimately, pitching your small business to a large corporation is never easy, even for seasoned entrepreneurs who are well connected.
Let me share a germane experience as an example. Years ago, I did a soft pitch of a partnership proposal to one of Jamaica's leading business moguls at a business dinner.
The timing was ideal, and he was more receptive than I had expected. I was elated when he suggested that I contact the CEO of one of his entities to arrange a meeting. That's where the fairy tale ended. The CEO and a senior manager who met with me the following week were brash, disrespectful, and dismissive. In fact, the CEO boldly said, we were only meeting because of his chairman. It was obvious that they were resentful of being asked to meet with me, and they spared no dignity in making their feelings known.
It was one of the most deflating business meetings, but the lessons it taught me were priceless. The point is, be confident, creative, and tenacious but have a thick skin, and don't place your eggs in one frail basket. You may also want to consider diversifying your prospective clients outside the narrow realm of large financial entities. Good luck!