Knowing your SMB customers means realizing the challenges they face.
For some reason, people like to confide in me. When I was the editor and publisher of The New York Enterprise Report (the media company for SMBs in the New York tri-state area which I sold in 2014), business owners and company executives alike told me some crazy stories. I always thought this was strange since I ran a media company, but anyway…
We all have to deal with herculean challenges from time-to-time, but those facing business owners can be particularly daunting. In keeping with the theme of SMB-Minded (getting inside the heads of SMB owners), I want to share some insights on the kinds of adversity business owners go through and how they manage to come out on the other side.
When a business owner faces a big problem, a lot is at stake. Consider:
- Business owners are often alone when dealing with a crisis. No board, no McKinsey and no bailouts.
- Often when a crisis happens, it impacts many functional areas (sales, operations, HR, finance) at once.
- Small and midsize businesses rarely have large cash reserves or access to large credit lines. Cash can get tight quickly when a problem hits.
- If things get really bad, many bad things happen at once. People lose jobs, the owner loses some or all of his or her net worth, customers no longer have a vendor. Owners take all of that personally.
As you can imagine, this burden can be overwhelming. I’ve seen friends go through this first hand and it can be soul-crushing. I have had my share of crises myself. Read about one here, where within a single week, I:
- Discovered that my top salesperson was forging orders (so 10% of our revenue for the year was not real)
- Had to cut a $30k personal check to make payroll (not the first time)
- Received a notice from the IRS that I owed $100k in taxes (I didn’t owe a penny)
Then there is the story of good friend and legendary entrepreneur Norm Brodsky, who built a courier business to $100 million in sales over several years, only to see it go to Chapter 11 within a few months. Like me, Norm too, bounced back, only higher. He started a new company, Citistorage, a document storage company which he eventually sold for a reported $110 million. Last year, he sold the land where the company resided for a reported $160 million.
Everyone loves the happy endings, where business owners overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and achieve great success. What they don’t see are the trials behind the scenes… how these things affect the business owner psychologically, financially, etc. The loss of sleep, the effect on our families and employees. And for some entrepreneurs, like Norm and me, there’s no alternative. We simply don’t have the option of getting a job because, quite frankly, we are too independent to be employable.
The owners of small and midsize businesses go through lesser version of challenges like these all the time. Bear this in mind as you seek to get their attention for your brand. I sell RSL services to Fortune 500 executives and I know that it is not B2B, it is P2P (person-to-person). When marketing and selling to SMBs, it’s no different. You are selling to an owner who is inextricably tied to his or her business. They are often one and the same.