Selling To Small Business

Selling To Small Business - Strategies to help you sell to small business entrepreneurs

Monday, July 21, 2008

Be There Until the End

Guest Contributor: Mark Nissley
Mark's Posts - Mark's Site

In previous posts, we've talked about recognizing small business owners as "rock stars". We've used that analogy to discuss how to sell to those business owners. The first selling point should be that it will make their life easier, that it will allow them to focus on what they do best, and eliminate a bit of stress. The second selling point is to only promise incremental change. Battle hardened small business owners will only believe in incremental change. If greater change happens, they will be wildly surprised, but promise dramatic change and you get that stone cold stare.

The third point is both the most simple, though not the easiest to deliver. Like a rock star, a small business owner has been burned by gold diggers more times than they can count. Consider how many sales people have promised this small business owner the world, only to disappear after the sales is closed. Consider how prevalent this probably was when the business was young. Imagine the defenses the small business owner has built against it.

To manage a rock star, you may promise access to great band talent. To sell something to a small business owner, you are going to have to convince them that you can help them do what they do not know how to do. This will take the small business owner into an area that they are not comfortable with. What they want to know is that you will continue to be there to help them learn and grow in this area. And they are going to want more than promises, because they've been burned thirteen times before.

There is an important difference here between a small business and a medium or large business. Larger businesses want service contracts. They want 24 hour support. They want a help desk. Not a small business owner. They want you. They want you to deliver on your promise. They want to call you when something goes wrong. They want you to bounce ideas off. They want you to hold their hand through the learning promise.

It won't be forever. Just for a few months. And it doesn't mean you need to deliver the service you are selling, but you must be a part of delivery cycle. After each contact with your product/service, it is going to be important that you call and see how things are going.

And how do I convince the small business owner that I am not like the last jerk that sold him something? One lay out a communication plan very clearly, in writing, on a calendar, if possible. Then follow it! Two, set precedence. Demonstrate excellent reliability and communication prior to the sale, when the initial contact is being developed. Three, provide references in the local community, as much as possible. If the small business owner sees a name they know, you are gold... Although you should be aware, your references will be called. Make sure they are gold. A long stable client history will create miracles.

In summary, set out expectations that you will be there until the end- at least the end of training. Then deliver. Show references that you have delivered in the past. Imagine going to a rock star, selling them on your ability to be a manager. Let them know that you can assemble the talent around them to make them a star. And show them how you have done it before. Presto, you've got yourself a band!


Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Little Bit at a Time

Guest Contributor: Mark Nissley
Mark's Posts - Mark's Site

In the previous three posts, we recognized that small business owners are akin to rock stars. We then began talking about the pitch, and the key points of grabbing the attention and financial interest of our rock star small business owner. The first is to make their life simple. Don't promise to make their business better- you'll get the cold stare. Promise to make their life better.

The second point is equally as simple and direct. Don't promise them the moon. Don't promise them a fortune. Don't promise them instant fame. A rock star, unless they are an American Idol, played 642 dirty bars before meeting you. They bloody well know that it takes work to get where they want to go. The promise of instant fame is for the young and naïve. However, a few nights opening for Cold Play, they might be able to do something with that. They can see where that might go.

And so it is with our small business owner. They've been around the block a half dozen times. They've sold their soul a few times. They are battle hardened. Don't promise them you'll make them an Inc. 500 winner. Don't promise them you double their ROI. If you tell them that you can do either more than a little bit, they won't believe you. You'll get the stone cold stare. Talk about hours per month, or hundreds of dollars per week, or handfuls of customers. I don't care what you can do, or how wonderful your product is.

You see it is very important to under-promise and over-deliver to a small business owner. If you do over-deliver, you will have their full and undivided attention. If you under promise, you will have their respect. And if you take it step by step, you will gain a long term customer that will be your strongest advocate an d referral source.

This may be tough with your aggressive sales quota. You may be able to find some young and naïve small businesses. And they'll never refer anyone because they will probably go out of business. And chances are, you'll get branded as a scam in the small business network. Hopefully you have a strong enough customer base that you can convert your strategy to a slower long- term penetration. If not, are you in the right seat on the right bus? It's just that short and simple.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Make Being a Rock Star Easier

Guest Contributor: Mark Nissley
Mark's Posts - Mark's Site

In the previous two posts, we took a look at the importance of the story of a rock star. Now that we've recognized that, it's time to make our pitch. This is much simpler than most might imagine, and I believe, a very different tactic than selling to large organizations or fortune 500. There are three important points. I'll address the first in this post.

Rock stars want one thing: to be a rock star. There are many facets of this persona, but basically it's about the music and the lifestyle. Most don't want to be bothered with the logistics of touring, the newest technology in stage design, nor the managing of their money. If you want to get a rock star to buy into an idea, it's usually got to be something that makes there life easier or promotes their lifestyle as a rock star. This is where agents and managers make their money.

And this is where you'll make your money. In a way, small business owners are the opposite of a rock star. They are saturated with the details of running their business. But ultimately, most business owners want to be treated like a rock star. That's where you come in. You are going to be the manger that makes their life easier. If your product can do this, you are golden.

Have you ever told a rock star how to make their music better? Imagine the response you'd get. If not an explosion, I'd guess for a stone cold glare. On the same token, don't pitch a small business owner that you'll make their business better. It may be true, but they don't want to hear that. They gotten themselves to this point, thank you, they know their business. They don't want to waste their time with some "expert". They'll tell you so, or you'll get the stone cold stare.

No, what a small business owner wants to hear (at least at first) is how you will make their busy life a little less busy and a little less expensive. Tell them how your product will take tasks off their list. Tell them how your product will help them talk to less people every week. Tell them how your product will help manage their business, so they can manage less. Tell them how your product will help them immediately have a bit more time to go to their kid's soccer game. And tell them that it can do this tomorrow. This is the language of a small business owner.

If you go in with the "next big thing", the comprehensive business solution, or any solution that may require more work from them, or a big learning curve… well, you'll see that cold stare again. This is not to say that you can't sell these, but take a look at HOW you are selling them. Work up to your big products by presenting things first that make their life easier. We'll talk more about this in the next post: "Bar by Bar". The important thing presented today is that you examine and reshape your presentation, to get your foot into the door. Make the small business owner feel like the rock star they really are by living a life of a bit more, and immediately.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Recognizing a Rock Star

Guest Contributor: Mark Nissley
Mark's Posts - Mark's Site

In a comment posted to my last entry, a reader noted that so many "stories are the same". That is so very true, even with rock stars- one more boy from south central LA; one more girl from Topeka, Kansas; one more aged star launching a comeback tour. There isn't story we haven't heard before. I often wonder how many iTunes tracks can actually be sold from singer-songwriters singing soft, halting guitar ballads about love and loneliness. Apparently, the answer is a staggering amount.

There are two very similar reasons. First, people want to hear it. They have an emotional connection to it. They like to hear something that reminds them of their youth, their passion, or their softer side. It reminds them of a part of themselves. Second, there will always be young males and females making the music, because there will always be youth, heartache, and beauty. People will sing about. And because everyone experiences those things, at least some of us will listen to it. See reason number one.

Small business has the same connection with most Americans. It is the American way. Everyone either has done it or would like to do it one day, if only... It is about taking risk, seeking independence, and taking care of your life. When they tell their story to the average American, they get quiet looks of admiration and respect. They are accustomed to this position in life, despite where it has actually gotten them on the totem pole. They have fought the good fight or are still fighting it.

A small business owner may have a similar story to the one you heard yesterday. The fact is that their story has subtle differences from the other. Those differences indicate the most important struggles that the business owner overcame. Despite the similarity of today's story to yesterday's story, that story is very real. It impacted the business owner in dynamic ways and changed who they are. Listen carefully: it IS who they are. A story like that has soul, funk, a bass line and a harmony. It might sound like last year's hit, but it is this year's hit, and more importantly, it is your potential customer's hit. Until you recognize and revere that story, the story of a rock-star, small-business owner, you will never be truly effective at selling to small business. You'll just get lucky sometimes.

If you want to build a relationship with a small business owner, take the time to hear their story. They always love to tell it. If they don't offer it, look around, it is probably on the walls of the small front office. Ask questions about pictures and awards you see. Be impressed. You should be. And then ask the big Hollywood question, "What gave you the idea for this business? How did you get started? Could you tell me how you got this GREAT idea?" Then sit down and let them tell you a story. When they are done, recognize their accomplishments (that they are, indeed, a rock star) and note how impressed you are that they got to this point.

If you have the time in your sales cycle, spend your entire first call listening to the story. Then say "Whoops! Look at the time! I have to go! Mind if I come back next week?" Without even pitching your pitch. I guarantee that when you return next week, they will look at you with more open eyes. They may even ask to hear your story!


Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Story of a Rock Star

Guest Contributor: Mark Nissley
Mark's Posts - Mark's Site

In a former life, I was in the music industry. I met the right star at the right time, and my entrepreneurial spirit did the rest. I was a part of an innovative group that developed new versions retro grass roots marketing and distribution. We dabbled in internet distribution before most people knew what the internet was. We had some star power behind us and we had a lot of fun!

To the public, the star is everything. In the industry, the star is simply the leading edge marketing tool. They are the story and the talent that leads consumers to products. Talent is important; the star has to have a great media presence, a great voice, inherent performance compulsions, and a moderate ability to think on their feet. Talent in one area is not hard to find. Talent in all areas is in abundance in every major city. But talent with a great story is rare. These are the stars. They sell products.

I was fortunate to work with one of the best star stories of the last decade. I first met this star before her 20th birthday. She lived in her van, and sang nights at a coffeehouses and bars. She was fortunate enough to get a spot in a San Diego club and was surrounded by some leading talent of the early nineties. She studied them and learned from them. There were more talented people around her, but she was the one to receive a big contract. She had one of the biggest debut albums of all time, with a number of subsequent albums.

There are many aspects to her story that can illustrate the points that I am getting to, but I'll just share one. I attribute a single reason this songwriter became a star. While all the very talented musicians around her spent their time between and after sets, hanging out back stage and drinking (among other things), the teenage girl did something different. She met her fans and really talked to them. She told her story at every show. She positioned herself at the exit and shook every patron's hand. She asked people if they liked her music. She asked people to come back and see her. One of those hands she shook was an executive from Atlantic Records. They came back to see her, and brought a contract.

This is my first contribution to this blog. They are a few analogies I will draw from this story over the next months. The basics are these: Every small business owner is a rock star. Every small owner has a story and some degree of talent. Every small business owner wants you to know their story, not just their "music". Later we'll talk about how every small business owner only wants to sing and tell their story, just like a rock star. If you are going to sell to a rock star, you must understand these things. Finally, we'll talk about how to take this and shape into a sales strategy. We'll talk about how to convince a rock star that you are the best agent. And if you are still reading, we'll talk about how to get a rock star to sell product.


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Name: Evan Carmichael
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada is the world's #1 website for small business motivation and strategies. Evan also runs a series of successful Mastermind Groups in Toronto for entrepreneurs.

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Selling To Small Business