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How to tailor your approach to target small business owners

Small business owners have their hands full, but play to their tune and you'll open doors. Mike Adams writes

Every marketer worth their paycheque knows that understanding your customer is the golden rule of marketing. This is as true in the B2B sector as any other, and particularly vital for companies targeting small businesses. Over the past 35 years, I’ve sat around the table with hundreds of small and medium businesses and have discovered they have a lot in common.

Because SMEs are smaller than large corporates, their locus of decision-making is usually only one or two people, and they will often be the owner of the business. There is not a hierarchy of decision-makers you have to get through and this presents both challenges and opportunities.

Small business owners are time-strapped and have limited resources

Firstly, these people are extremely time poor and are constantly carrying all elements of the business in their head at any one time. They don’t have an army of assistants to help them and if there’s a problem in the business, it’s their problem to solve. SMEs come in all shapes and sizes, but more often than not, the person you need to convince is probably wearing many hats and juggling multiple balls. Even companies with a sizeable turnover and multiple staff can still have a chief who’s reminiscent of the one-man-band.​

This means your proposition needs to be extremely clear and catch their attention immediately. I’ve observed they often don’t have long attention-spans and will switch off if presented with too much detail. They are used to processing information very quickly, however, and will judge you on first impressions. Video is a highly effective tool as it can say a lot about what you in a short space of time.

How do you convince SME owners to do business?

If you have the opportunity to meet in person, it’s imperative you demonstrate a solid understanding of the whole business context they operate in and how you can add value and deliver real ROI. Ensure your proposition is hassle-free and doesn’t require a huge time investment from them, as they simply don’t have it.

I’ve observed these people will often make decisions based on gut instinct as well as a cold calculation of the facts. Most have a well-honed bull-sh*t-ometer, so don’t use patronising language and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Many SMEs are small by choice and don’t have grand ambitions to take over the world. They don’t want to be treated like a B grade player but rather a successful company in their own right.

Trust is extremely important, especially to business owners, so aim to build trust quickly. This means doing your homework to really understand how the business ticks. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships either. Referrals are like gold so if you can leverage strong relationships in the sector, don’t be shy about asking for a recommendation or an introduction. Short testimonials from other reputable clients always go a long way.

Use multiple channels in your marketing as if they’ve never heard of you, it’s unlikely they’ll respond to your first outreach, unless you're lucky and connect with them at just the right moment. Be prepared to test different ideas out on a small scale, particularly with email campaigns, and see what gains the most traction. Success comes to those who are persistent, respectful and knowledgeable, and it’s well worth the effort.

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 market to small businesses

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