When you start, getting a contract with a big company is a nice success. Provided you know how to be respected. Here are six points that need special vigilance.

PhotoAlto/Eric Audras/Getty Images

PhotoAlto/Eric Audras/Getty Images

After knocking on the doors of the Vinci, Eiffage and other big names in construction to sell their services, Emmanuel Cazeneuve, the founder of Hesus (delivery of construction materials and waste disposal), armed with patience. A lot of patience. Between the first meeting with Bouygues teams and the signing of their order for a housing project in Alfortville, it has passed a year and a half, he says. Working with a big account is an enticing prospect for the turnover of his box. A quarter of purchases by major groups focus on SMEs (according to the SME Pact association). But we must remain cautious, because we face a multitude of interlocutors can change any time … or post!

Frédéric Bouilhaguet, at the head of Resonate MP4, a video processing software, knows something about it. As he was preparing to land a contract with Thales for the Shanghai Metro, the local boss of the transport giant, with whom he was in talks, left for France before he had time to sign his contract. contract. White cabbage ! Two examples that illustrate the obstacle course that SME leaders must perform when they attack mastodons: a series of appointments in which it is necessary to prove each time every time, a decision process that is difficult to read and a picky logistics. “Not all companies are structured to handle large contracts. This requires a lot of people and a strong personal investment. Sometimes, it is better to temporize before launching, while waiting to be “staffed” in a sufficient way, warns Pierre Pelouzet, the mediator of the companies.

Get paid on time

The payment of bills is the nerve of war and your priority. However, if the payment period is supposed to be sixty days from the date of issue, it takes on average nearly eleven more days. It is therefore better to manage your cash flow and have an effective invoice tracking process. Because late payments remain the first reason for referral of the mediator and companies still cause a quarter of corporate bankruptcies, according to Altares. “Quite often, the slowness of payments comes from an order form that was not issued early enough by the large group or from a supplier invoice that does not contain all the information requested by the purchasing department”, says Evelyne Platnic Cohen, entrepreneur and specialist in key account sales According to a Barometer Arc-Ifop, 59% of executives believe that their commercial services are too reluctant to restart a big box, for fear of losing or damaging their relationship commercial.

Sebastien Moreau, boss of Electrogeloz, a printing services provider for Mercedes and Etam, briefed his teams on the issue. “Large groups have draconian billing rules, such as mentioning subsidiaries, the head office address, and so on. Sometimes we perform for them urgent impressions, but the operational fails to send us the order form. “He has therefore put in place recovery procedures allowing this family business of 300 employees to be paid rubies on the market. ‘nail. “If your financial situation is precarious, it is better not to hide it and have a transparent discussion”, adds Frédéric Vendeuvre, consultant and co-author of Sell and negotiate with major accounts (Dunod). But before you get there, you’ll have to go through several steps and overcome obstacles …

To be effective in the approach

To identify the person who will be able to explain the internal decision-making process to him and to be the advocate of his simulators driving construction machines with his colleagues, Eric Pierson, at the head of Acreos (read below) , aims at the operational ones: “Thanks to our network, we recover the telephone number of the person in charge of a building site. If she is not a decision maker, we ask her to put us in touch with the buyer. “

Co-founder of Acreos, Eric Pierson wins his contracts by taking care of his buyers approach. - © Acreos.

Co-founder of Acreos, Eric Pierson wins his contracts by taking care of his buyers approach. – © Acreos.

  • Acreos (simulators driving construction equipment): exploit the snowball effect!
  • 33 employees, turnover 2017: 3.1 million euros. Acreos works with Vinci and Bouygues.

Then, it is necessary to convince very quickly: “The door of a large client opens only if he is convinced that he will realize a real gain in productivity.” For this, it will have to provide him ” concrete examples of application, “says Gilles Cochevelou, digital director of Total, who expects a” Eureka effect “from small companies who request it. “The emails we receive are too general,” he explains. A business proposal must address our strategic topics such as new services, cost reduction, or improved security. “Another card to play is to use the positive feedback from the first customers to try new ones. After signing with Auchan and BlaBlaCar, Howtank (community-to-consumer chat) tackled Sarenza and Sephora. “A first success reassures the big groups”, testifies Johanna Bar, the general director (read below).

Johanna Bar, is CEO of Howtank. - © Howtank.

Johanna Bar, is CEO of Howtank. – © Howtank.

  • Howtank (community chat): reporting is crucial
  • 10 employees, turnover: NC. Howtank works with Sarenza, Auchan, Sephora, BlaBlaCar.
  • Specialized in forums around major brands, the platform has an interest in treating its customer relationship. “Large groups expect more relationship and reporting than small boxes. They need at least one quarterly follow-up and a newsletter about our business, “said Johanna Bar, CEO of Howtank.

Have good sales people

If you want to conquer these titans, look for profiles that speak their vocabulary. To sell their electronic signature solution to Crédit Agricole, PMU and Carrefour Voyages, Luc Pallavidino and Antoine Louiset, the founders of Yousign (3 employees), have teamed up with Eric Chevalier, a seasoned salesman. Before the latter joined them, the creators mainly addressed SMEs. “I advised them to change their offer, which was not suitable for large accounts, explains Eric Chevalier. To interest them, the application must be personalized, simple and fast. “Before approaching Fnac Darty and Leroy Merlin, Netatmo, the French nugget of connected objects, has also appealed to commercial with a good experience of large retailers. “They know this world at their fingertips and have negotiated the training of sellers, the returns in stock and the rate of the back margins,” recalls Fred Potter, the founder.

Once the contract is signed, the monitoring of the commercial relationship is of paramount importance. “We must rely on the processes of our customers, set up a steering committee and draft procedures in case of problems,” said Lionel Baraban, co-founder of Famoco, one of the leading SMEs in contactless payment (100 employees). Left to hire key account managers with commercial and operational experience. “A big group is not a customer like any other. Offering him a single interlocutor is a guarantee of efficiency, “says Catherine Pardo, professor at EM Lyon.

Be wary of buried projects

Before you go to large accounts, check that the game is worth it. By asking you, in particular, how your offer will not serve as a one-shot showcase to a large account lacking innovation. “Pocketing 40,000 euros to prepare a comex for new challenges is tantalizing, but if it takes time to develop the pilot of a project that will ultimately never be deployed or will not win other customers , then, I refuse, “arms Lionel Baraban. “Beforehand, therefore, find out about the budget your target is ready to put on a proof of concept,” recommends Robert Kalocsai, treasurer of Innovation and Enterprise, a club that brings together start-ups and large groups .

Another warning: determine the duration during which you will be put to contribution, you thus avoid to embark on pharaonic and time-consuming projects. At Yousign, Eric Chevalier negotiates drivers including a dozen users for several months, but with the obligation of feedback on which he relies to reassure the big account and move faster.

Rethinking production

The contract may be signed, the hardest is yet to come: will your production capacities be up to snuff? This new market is not likely to explode your box? “After securing an agreement to provide insect-based snack cakes at Nature & Découvertes’ 85 stores, we had a month to deliver tens of thousands of products to their central purchasing department. Fortunately, we had anticipated increasing our stocks as soon as negotiations started. Our machines were well calibrated, but not our team: we used temporary and overtime, “says Clément Scellier, co-founder of Jimini’s (read below).

Clement Scellier and Bastien Rabastens (right), the founders of Jimini's. - © Nicolas Chest.

Clement Scellier and Bastien Rabastens (right), the founders of Jimini’s. – © Nicolas Chest.

  • Jimini’s (insect snacks): toughness always pays
  • 17 employees, turnover 2017: 2 million euros. Jimini’s works with Nature & Découvertes, Carrefour Spain.
  • It’s not easy to be referenced when you offer insect-based biscuits. By dint of perseverance, Clément Scellier and Bastien Rabastens managed to hang Nature & Découvertes. “We negotiated hard for six months before they agreed to take four products,” they say. But the game was worth the candle: their snacks are distributed throughout France for two years.

When we approach a giant, we must know how to reconfigure. Especially since it can be paying off. Thus, Hesus (see below) has changed its service when Bouygues asked him to rid his sites not only of the earth, as expected, but also other materials such as crushed concrete. And it’s worth investing. “When you signed with a big group, you did the hard part. The next shot is to copy and paste, “says Arnaud Legrand, president of Energiency (software analysis of energy consumption of factories), a company of 24 employees who works with the equipment manufacturer Faurecia.

The SME of Emmanuel Cazeneuve was armed with patience to seduce the big ones of the building. - © Bertrand Noël for Management.

The SME of Emmanuel Cazeneuve was armed with patience to seduce the big ones of the building. – © Bertrand Noël for Management.

  • Hesus (waste management): all-out negotiations
  • 25 employees, turnover 2017: 18 million euros. Hesus works with Vinci, Bouygues, Eiffage …
  • By offering construction companies the chance to get rid of their construction waste, Hesus had to convince both the construction heavyweights and those of the recycling of cements, excavated concrete, etc. “Without having access to their reprocessing centers, and at competitive rates, we could not hope to win major customers,” says Emmanuel Cazeneuve, creator of the start-up.

Do not be trampled!

Restoring the balance between David and Goliath finally means rejecting excessive clauses. At the head of Hydroprocess, a nine-person SME specializing in high-tech machines used by malabars in the food industry such as Kraft Foods and Pasquier, Michèle Dereims firmly rejects late delivery penalties that are attempted. sometimes to impose on him. “We produce for them prototypes never made before and which require the transmission of a large amount of information to be validated on several levels. This therefore always requires more time than originally estimated. Some threaten to break the contracts? I’m good! “Says the one who is accompanied by a lawyer at each negotiation.

Another point of vigilance: the claimant’s defense of his intellectual property. With Olikrom (14 people), Jean-François Létard patented intelligent pigments changing color with temperature, atmospheric pressure or in the presence of a gas. They have already seduced bands like Airbus and Effage. However, this former CNRS researcher turned entrepreneur firmly refuses to perform R & D in place of these contractors. “We bring them advice and expertise, we build the specifications with them. Therefore, we file the patents together. No way to leave them the paternity of our paintings! “He proclaims. Like what can be small but have a big voice …


1. Forget impersonal e-mail and constant phone calls to find the right speaker! Privilege your personal network and direct contact at trade shows and conferences.

2. Study their strategic plan, the markets they want to develop, their current customers, to highlight what you will bring them.

3. First target a subsidiary or operational unit before attacking headquarters.

4. Do not be afraid to tell them about their budget. Even a proof of concept should not be charged at a discounted rate.

5. Stay on your guard. With a multitude of decision makers, nothing is ever finalized before the contract is signed.

6. Give them relationship and reporting: that’s what they expect from you.

7. Be unyielding about intellectual property and late payments.