In his latest column, Ben Gilhespy of the Engineering and Manufacturing Network (EMN) looks at the challenges smaller companies face when trying to win contracts with larger regional and national firms – and what they can do to ensure their time preparing quotes and providing costs isn’t wasted.

For many smaller engineering and manufacturing businesses, a key priority is to establish themselves with larger companies, becoming part of their lucrative supplier register.

However, they often hit a brick wall by falling foul of a complex purchasing protocol.

Unfortunately, this may only be realised after their initial engagement – that meeting goes well, but soon they discover that the decision maker is not the person they met with, or there is a central procurement office into which they now need to make inroads into but have no contacts.

So how can this be overcome, or at least prepared for?

Clearly different sized businesses have different protocols ranging from small companies with an MD who can make immediate decisions, mid-sized businesses where there may be a spend limit beyond which further approval has to be sought or large national / international businesses who have a centralised procurement facility to whom you must apply for ‘approved supplier’ status before you can even provide a cost.

The key here is understanding this before spending valuable time providing costs to someone who has good intentions, will ultimately benefit from your product or service, but can’t approve the spend.

Having that honest conversation upfront to understand their process is critical and can save a fortune in lost time, real costs and dashed hopes.

Another vital part of this process and one that is frequently only realised after lost sleep and traumatic meetings is ‘contract review’. Sales aren’t just about providing a quote and receiving an order, ongoing account management will ensure that costly mistakes aren’t made during the delivery process. It may seem like a laborious prospect but engaging the customer throughout delivery is critical, as is ensuring that any conversations about changes to specifications, delivery dates, costs etc are all evidenced in writing which includes a ‘cc’ to every stakeholder in the process before final delivery.

This isn’t rocket science but sometimes a new prospect is so exciting that we jump the gun and make fundamental mistakes that we later regret. Whether we employ one person or a thousand, having documented procedures for the entire sales process through to completion ensures that we all follow the plan or are at least reminded that there is one.