Start Small to Go Big

Most system integrators are eager to find those large customers who can provide a steady flow of business opportunities, and we’re no different. But experience has taught us that large corporations are often reluctant to turn over major projects to a new, untested vendor. You have to be patient, be willing to accept some very small jobs, and perform exceedingly well when you get your opportunities.

A Single Panel

One significant client of ours, cultivated over several years into a multi-million dollar account, had very modest beginnings, a single panel. This client is a large oil & gas firm with extensive operations in midstream and downstream segments of the petroleum industry. A former employee of ours was doing work for them and identified their need for a control panel to be built. Not having his own panel building capability, he recommended the client consider us.

It was a build-to-print job, something we do a lot of. They already had a panel designed but needed someone to build it according to their plans. “We knocked it out of the park,” says Greg Graves, VP Sales & Marketing. The value engineering we did, the documentation package we provided, and the adherence to a tight delivery schedule gave the client the confidence to send more work our way.

Growing the Business

We began handling some of their field service work and provided some engineering services. Subsequent projects needed innovative solutions to difficult problems, or needed very fast delivery, or both. In every case, we delivered what we said we would. Over time, we developed a good understanding of their business and their structure, allowing better cultivation of relationships and business opportunities. 

According to business development manager David Hemphill, “An important factor in their positive view of us was our team, the combined skills and experience level.” Now, in addition to building panels for them, we’re also helping them develop their engineering standards, doing PLC configuration work, and continuing with field service support. We’ve also signed a five-year agreement for system integration work.

Challenges and the Future

The main challenge with taking on a large client such as this is addressing the degree of bureaucracy that exists. Maintaining contact is often challenging, making it even more important to add value for them with our technical expertise. It required a slow and steady approach, being willing to take on the small jobs before moving on to bigger projects. 

Says Greg Graves, “We think our future with this client is very positive because of the resurgence of the oil & gas industry driving their business. We are one of five integrators in North America pre-approved for their integration work and one of three approved panel builders in North America.”

We like having large clients, but we recognize such clients don’t come easily. It takes a willingness to start small, and it takes the ability to perform well when the opportunities present themselves.