Can a service provider used to working with multi-nationals and large corporations be equally effective in a working relationship with a small to medium sized business?
In some respects the answer is yes. There are business principles that every company, no matter its size, will strive to uphold. These include things such as: being open to change; realistic goal setting; always strive for improvement; accept and learn from feedback; be ready to change approach; add value first, add profit second.
But, says Doug Burns, the Chair of Pursuit Software, there are some characteristics that service providers must be aware of when working with smaller companies. And Doug is an expert in these matters. While most of Pursuit Software’s customers are large, national brands, Pursuit Software is also making a name for itself as a company that provides a great service for the smaller operators.
The first stage is winning the contract. For a service provider, winning a contract with a national or multinational company might be a great outcome, but the process is likely to be a long drawn-out affair. The dynamic nature of a smaller business means that decisions can be taken quickly. To win a large contract, a company may go through five or six stages of interview and tender. With a small company, one or two meetings could easily seal the deal.
This links to the next point. The bigger the company, the more bureaucracy there is in place. Getting your ideas or plans in front of the correct person can mean navigating your way through an organisational maze. Small businesses are far less complex when it comes to layers of decision-making. In short, there are less hoops to jump through.
As a service provider to a large company, you may get to know one or two contacts within the business. These are the people assigned to dealing with you. In a small company, the chances are you will soon know everyone from the receptionist who greets you to the finance director who pays the bills. There is likely to be a large amount of multi-functional working as well, with one person wearing several hats. Learning who does what is crucial to you when it comes to getting the work done effectively.
On the other hand, at a large company you will find there is more specialisation. Working with a small company could mean that you are often offering an additional (unpaid) teaching or mentoring service. In a large company, there is likely to be a specialist in place who will be up to speed with your service offering.
Flexibility and dynamism are the two benefits that a small to medium sized company will hold over the larger companies. For the external service provider, that can be a real bonus as decisions will often be made swiftly and the company may well be open to change and new ideas to a greater extent than its larger counterparts. On the other hand, a contract with a large and established company will often mean far more security. Once you have established a relationship, you may find there is much more stability in working with large players in the field.
A final point. A small to medium sized business can often feel like an extended family. While that can be a great thing, with lots of friendly camaraderie and a feeling of belonging, there is always the danger of a family fall-out. However friendly the company, always make sure you keep a professional distance.