Small businesses usually like working with other small businesses.
Similarly, large businesses working with other large businesses.
During the sales process, small businesses tell me things like, “All the decision-makers are on this call” and “Let’s move forward with this right now. What do we need to do to start tomorrow?”
Large businesses are more likely to say, “Please fill out this 26-page PDF to be eligible for a bidding process that will start in three months.”
I’ve long believed in this as a kinda-sorta unwritten rule, but I got an email (and a bunch of paperwork) from a prospective customer that opened my eyes about just how seriously large companies take this. The technical folks were already sold and selected me as their vendor – but then they hit a brick wall when they tried to talk to their internal purchasing team. There was a lengthy internal discussion on a separate email thread, but someone accidentally (?) forwarded me that thread. It included this gem from their purchasing team:
Typically we would like to ensure we issue out this questionnaire at the outset, to make sure we’re dealing with serious vendors and to set the tone.
The attached “questionnaire” required our credit records – okay, sure – then diagrams of our quality management process, explanations of how we administer our health and safety policies, and more things that would have taken me days to produce.
That’s how some large companies see independents and small businesses, dear reader: someone who has no choice but to fill out paperwork to jump through hoops so they can “set the tone.”
I didn’t realize that back when I first started consulting. The technical teams at Ginormous Corporation would get all excited to work with me, and then they’d contact their purchasing team, and suddenly the avalanche of paperwork would start. I kept thinking, “If I just fill out this one last form, I’ll be past all the hurdles, and I’ll be in for life!” It does indeed work – but just be aware that sometimes it’s a lot more paperwork than it looks like at first glance, and some companies even have ongoing vendor certification renewal processes.
With that in mind, I try to be a great customer for other small businesses too, like our artist, print shops, accountant, etc. I try to make their lives as easy as possible – because after all, they’re making my life easier, too.