Selling to Small Businesses

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Selling to a business owner.

For certain products and services, the 'sweet spot' prospect is small businesses. That kind of B2B sales requires a very different approach from selling to big corporations or, for that matter, from selling to consumers. Small businesses have their needs and limitations, and if you can identify and address these, you can have considerable success with this market.

What Is a Small Business?

The Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business as one that is for-profit, privately owned, and not dominant in its field.

Small businesses generally have revenues under $20 million a year and employ fewer than 500 employees (sometimes much fewer). Businesses of this size usually don't have the need or the funds to keep a purchasing expert on staff. So if you sell to small businesses and your product is something more expensive than office supplies, odds are you'll be selling to the business owner or owners.

The good news is that selling to small businesses generally means a shorter sales cycle as opposed to large business customers because you won't have to go through a long and involved approval process. In fact, you have a good chance of closing the sale at the first meeting. When you're dealing directly with the business owner, he doesn't exactly have to wait for approval from upstairs.

The Decision Maker

Before you meet with the decision maker, do some research and uncover at least the basics about his company.

Just looking at your prospect's website will usually tell you who the owners are, how long they've been in business, whether the current owners founded the company or bought it from someone else, what their major successes have been, and so on. Some companies even list their significant customers, which can be hugely useful for your sales presentation.

If you mention during your appointment how useful your product would be in future sales to Company X and back it up with an example or two, your prospect will be highly impressed.

Small business owners are well aware of the dismal statistics surrounding the failure rate of small businesses. No matter how successful they are individually, they know that there is no safety net and that one really bad year can wipe them out. As a result, presenting your product as a way to increase the business owner's peace of mind is often an effective approach. Saving money is also a highly useful benefit since many small businesses have very little margin for error financially.

These owners are generally looking to advance their business in one of two ways: to grow it until it's a major player in the industry, or to attract a bigger company that will buy their company. Early on in the presentation, find out which way your prospect is leaning, and then position your product as a tool to help him achieve that end. For example, if you are selling accounting software, the ability to quickly produce reports going back several years would be very helpful during a company sale or merger. Such reports would also help a growing company identify areas of strength or weakness and guide the business owner's strategic planning.

The beauty of tying your product or service into his long-term goals is that it will make him much less likely to switch providers later on. You are making yourself and your company, a strategic partner, to help him get his company where he wants it to go. As a result, you're armoring him against your competitors' wiles.