Your SMB customers are on a journey like no other.
Being a business owner can be like riding a roller coaster – the kind where sometimes you’re in the dark, you can’t see what’s coming and monsters leap out unexpectedly. Also, the monsters are real.
Here’s a personal example. There was a time in a previous business where in the space of a few weeks, I discovered a trusted salesperson had booked fraudulent orders amounting to around 10% of my annual revenues. Then I received an erroneous tax bill from the IRS for a similar amount. I was pitching the business to investors at the time and had to explain all this to them. On top of all of this, the economy was tanking (it was the summer of 2008). It wasn’t all doom and gloom – revenues were trending better than ever – but that was still a lot to handle all at once.
It can get worse. Legendary entrepreneur Norm Brodsky famously talks about how, based on a single bad decision, he went from $100mm to $0 in 9 months. He recovered quite well, but he had to start over to do it.
I tell these stories because, as you strive to know your SMB customers, it’s essential to understand what they might be dealing with at the same time as you’re trying to engage with them. Everyone has ups and downs. However, the ups and downs many business owners face are often more extreme, and potentially more existential, than those faced by executives with large organizations behind them.
The implications can run very deep. For many business owners, much of their net worth as well as their personal identity can be tied up in their business. The highs can be great, but the lows can be devastating, and sometimes they come at the same time. Here are some recent, real-life examples from a few of my SMB friends:
- A CPA experienced a fire in his office this year on April 16th (extensions/returns were due on the 17th this year), putting hundreds of clients at risk for late payments.
- The owner of a 27-person marketing firm is excited about her pipeline, which is at record levels, but revenue is down 14% so far this year.
- A friend who owns an IT services company made a great new hire but lost a critical team member whom he had planned to bring on as a partner.
- A retailer has experienced at least 5% growth in each of the previous 4 years but is worried that her $9 million in revenues is at risk from Amazon and changing buyer behavior.
A problem in a small business can quickly turn into job losses and significant reductions in the cash flow of the business owner. And keep in mind that if things go south, many business owners cannot simply find another job. Their independent nature and lack of specialized skills in a narrow field often make them unemployable. The good news is business owners are clever, crafty and incredibly resilient. Like Norm, they pivot and bounce back.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s relevant to how to successfully market to small and midsize businesses. Owning a business is a journey, and you never know where in that journey your prospect might be when they first encounter your content or your salesperson.
For example, your message might be on point but reaches the SMB owner at one of their lows or when they are preoccupied with a major challenge. Consistency and repetition is critically important to ensure that your message reaches them again when they are likely to be more receptive.
When you do reach them, make sure your message is one they can relate to. Knowing your customer is most meaningful when it allows you to demonstrate that you understand them and that you empathize with their situation. Customer stories that include the lows as well as the highs and show how your brand has helped other SMBs overcome similar challenges are particularly compelling.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for B2SMB professionals? Make sure your marketing and customer-facing teams get face-to-face with business owners directly from time-to-time to fully appreciate what they’re dealing with (and the opportunities this may present). We know many good approaches for doing this – including roundtables and more.
SMB owners travel a different path from most others. It’s important to understand who they are and what they’re facing to effectively market and sell to them. Forbes just published an article that I wrote titled “4 Rules for Marketing to Small and Midsize Businesses”. Have a look to learn more.
SMB Minded is our monthly column providing insights into the minds and hearts of small business buyers.