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How to support SMEs through the purchase cycle

Want to tap into the lucrative and largely ignored small business market? We examine how to improve the customer experience for SMEs before, during and after they sign

If you’re new to marketing to small businesses possibly the best advice you’ll receive is not to dumb yourself down, simplify or expect an easier ride. Instead, you must intrigue, entice and delight your small business customers just as you would a large corporate.

‘But, ah!’ you’re thinking. ‘Corporates have complex decision making units and an endless sludge of process. It’s different.’ True.

Small businesses have fewer decision-makers but they can guard their budget with the determination of Cerberus. They can swap paper work and process for the ability to switch providers in an instant. Good luck if you think it’s going to be easy.

In the beginning there was seduction

Most marketers fall at the first hurdle - they can’t even make small business owners interested. If it were played out on Tinder most wouldn’t get a swipe.

Just like leaders at large organisations, small business owners want suppliers to understand them as individuals but more importantly, to understand their business.

That means pitching an offering that’s relevant to them, not a downscaled version of what you sell to enterprise clients. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can fool them.

Small business are not immature or under-developed versions of your big grown-up clients. Their businesses are sophisticated, challenges complex and decision-makers intelligent. Acting otherwise will put them off immediately.

Be upfront and honest. The decision makers you’re approaching here want to know the cost of your offering, what they get for it and when they need to pay. Keep it simple, play it straight. They don’t have time for your fluff.

In the name of customer retention, their commitment is your commitment

Most small businesses have a more informal and faster buying cycle than a corporate, which is great for you because you can close deals and secure payment at a quicker rate.

The flip side is they are less absorbed in process, and certainly less interested in yours. Once they have committed to a purchase they’ll want quick, efficient delivery and to know exactly how to use it.

This lack of process also means they can flit from one producer to another much more easily. So yes, there are fewer people to seduce at the beginning, which is great, but also fewer blockers in getting rid of you.

That’s one reason why customer retention is such a big deal in small business marketing. Very few marketers put in the effort.

So how do you do it? You won’t retain them without first delighting them. Regaling them, ethralling them even. Of course that’s about having a great product offering but it’s also about demonstrating its value in a captivating, relatable way.

Think of small business owners as you would your sister

Given all that’s been said it shouldn’t come as a surprise that small business owners want swift action to any challenges or questions they have about what you sold them. (Are you getting that they can be pretty demanding yet?)

Give them what they they want. Don’t waste their time.

Okay, that’s the basics covered but how do you guarantee they come back to you time and again - and better still, recommend you to others?

Just like Annie Lennox and her sisters, small business owners are doing it for themselves. Sometimes doing it all for themselves. What they often lack is external support from a trusted adviser. 

Whether it’s financial advice, connections and networking or supportive, informative content, if you can be seen as an advisor you’ll have tamed the three-headed Cerberus. Possibly replacing it with a purring kitten of single-minded loyalty.

Think Small: How to market to small businesses

In this marketing success pack, B2B Marketing and Earnest offer advice, opinion and first-hand experiences of targeting and engaging small businesses owners.

Learn how to target small business owners

Think Small: How to market to small businesses image