GE. VW. Apple. Ford. Boeing. Verizon. Samsung. HP.

For many of Newry’s clients, these companies are the center of their world, and for good reason: combined, these eight corporations generated over $1 trillion in revenues over the last 12 months (according to the S&P). Undoubtedly, understanding those customers’ needs and keeping them happy should consume a vast majority of your time if you’re, let’s say, a B2B company in automotive, telecom, aerospace, consumer electronics, or the plethora of markets GE plays in. That being said, agreed upon, and obvious, we have seen a trend emerge across several engagements: namely, that building relationships with smaller customers can be surprisingly valuable. In several instances, our clients will earn enormous returns on their investments because they took a micro risk and decided to look more closely at small customers that turned out to be incredibly interesting.

A couple scenarios where this small customer concept is particularly intriguing:

M&A: Newry has been a part of multiple efforts where our client was looking for acquisition targets in their industry, and had run out of big, actionable options. Because of an unusual order or a last-ditch effort to round out their target list, they eventually considered a couple of ignorably-small customers. Not until we took a look underneath the hood did we realize, holy cow, this company has direct relationships with all of these world-leading customers that our client, the giant in this industry, doesn’t have. Or, no kidding, this company’s technology is actually revolutionary and could generate $1B a year with our client’s help.

Emerging technologies: Newry had an engagement with a specialty component manufacturer looking to enter into new markets. During our search for new applications for their product, we found a start-up that was trying to disrupt a mature, cost-driven market with a novel concept, and it just so happened that they had a clear need for our client’s product. Our client was used to selling to the biggest companies in the world, and so naturally they were hesitant to engage. After further evaluation of the market, however, we decided to move forward and ended up introducing the start-up to our client. That start-up is expected be a million-dollar customer for our client. While millions in sales won’t blow all of you away, our client had been consistently browbeaten on price by their large customers and were in desperate need of more profitable pastures, so this was a big deal to them.

In several instances, our clients will earn enormous returns on their investments because they decided to look more closely at small customers.

So, maybe you think this is an interesting idea, but here’s why you should do something about it right now: there is $1.68 trillion in cash on corporate balance sheets, US venture capital investment is about $60B, and PE investment is $282B. All those funds need to be invested somewhere, and with the limited universe of large, attractive acquisition targets, those investors are going earlier stage. So unless you want to wait until that perfect acquisition target – growing 35% per year and serving 3 of your biggest customers – has raised another round of funding at an astronomical valuation, had their IP stolen from a customer, or, worse, was bought by your competitor, you need to act now.

If the emerging technologies example intrigued you, then your situation is just as urgent. Like your competitors and the private investors, these start-ups – your potential customers – are also thriving in this period of tremendously easy access to capital. So grab your opportunity to link up with the next unicorn before the next economic contraction hits, or your competitor’s product is spec’d into their system.

While no one will ever blame you for going after Apple, take a cue from these case studies and take a deeper look at that small but intriguing customer. What you find could be the start of something really big.

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