You've won a prestigious client: Now what?

Once you win a big customer, another stage of hard work begins. Here's what to do

Written by Deborah Aarts

Put that cork back in the champagne—as soon as you’ve won a big customer, another stage of hard work begins. “Winning a contract creates a whole other set of issues,” warns Conrad Mandala, vice-president of the SME division at software giant SAP Canada Inc., who helps SMEs meet the demands of large clients. “Are you actually ready to handle the demands of the organization?” Follow these tips to avoid post-sale trouble.

1. Prepare to outsource. Put agreements in place to help with increased—and often sudden—production, distribution, staffing or technology needs. “We thought ahead of time of how we were going to grow fast,” says Stephanie McLarty, founder of Mississauga, Ont.-based REfficient Inc., an environmental asset-management firm that outsources its warehousing. “You may not need to invest in overhead. There may be other, more innovative alternatives you can forge.”

2. Assign a point person. Funnelling all questions through one member of your staff will increase the efficiency and accuracy of communication. “That way, the client doesn’t have information coming from five or six people,” says Kyle Hall, CEO of PNI Digital Media Inc., a Vancouver-based digital photo-processing systems provider.

3. Act global. Even if your giant client is a domestic firm, you might suddenly find yourself in financial transactions with its foreign operating divisions. Talk to your bank to make sure your accounts are compatible.

4. Mind your cash. Many large enterprises take 90 to 120 days to pay their bills. Have sufficient cash flow or an operating line of credit to cover the gap between delivering your product or service and receiving payment.

5. Read the fine print. The sheer size of big corporations forces many of them to enforce a strict set of rules—their rules. Mark Cahsens, founder of Oakville, Ont.-based toy and sporting goods manufacturer Great Circle Works Inc., learned this when Costco turned away 12 trailer loads of his product that hadn’t been stacked on pallets meeting the chain’s published standards.

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