Five Mistakes When Selling to Small Business Owners

Editor’s Note: Not long ago I conducted an audio interview with small business expert Andy Birol (see his earlier contributions in our Small Business Experts Directory). With so many companies these days interested in selling to small business owners, I wanted to know what Andy saw as the top mistakes vendors make when selling to small businesses and how to avoid them. Andy is himself a small business owner and he counsels many other business owners. He is a colorful, outspoken guy and I knew he would not hold back.

Whether you represent one of the many small businesses whose target market is other small businesses, or whether you represent a large organization, check out this interview. Below are selected quotes of Andy’s from the interview, or you can listen to the podcast or read the transcript. — Anita Campbell, Editor

Andy Birol on mistakes when selling to small business owners:

  • …[Y]ou should always give your small business accounts — whether they’re prospects or customers — to individuals that have had at least a close encounter of the second kind, if not the first. For example, Lowes and Home Depot always hire individuals in their stores that have been contractors, so that when a contractor comes in, they’re speaking to somebody that can identify with what it means to be a small business. So, if you can’t hire ex-small business owners yourself, or retired ones, look around and see if you can at least hire their kids. Or hire folks that have already worked in a small business.
  • Recognize that when you’re selling to small business, you’re on a series of dates with an owner. And since it’s so personal — because it’s their money, it’s their company, and it’s their problems — the last thing they’re looking for is a long term commitment from the get go. So, if it sounds like a great idea to make a six-month commitment, I’d ask you to think about making a six-day commitment or a six-week commitment.
  • … [Never] think of business owners as this giant inanimate mass but rather understand they are as segmented as every other part of the formerly mass market has now been chopped into. Let me give you a great example. You should version your copy when you are writing to small business owners in terms of whether they are at the stage of survival or the stage of success. Those are completely different headsets and to speak to all business owners, even in the first person, as if they’re all surviving or as if they’re all successful is to probably alienate half of them.
  • The majority of us want some small part of our miserably overstressed lives to get marginally better for a short period of time, which in turns really delights us. And when you think of the small business owner’s market, you’re talking about something not too different than the upscale mass market. So rather than try to sell them a total solution for which they’ve never asked, why not pick a bite-sized battle?

Listen to the interview by clicking the player below. Or read the transcript: Five Mistakes Selling to Small Business (PDF opens in new window).


Andy Birol Andy Birol is the author of "The Five Catalysts of Seven Figure Growth." He is also a noted small business coach, consultant and speaker who has been interviewed on CNN, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Entrepreneur, and Fortune Small Business. His blog is Profitable Growth.

11 Reactions
  1. By the way I just wanted to mention that these comments do not work in the firefox browser, someone should check into this.
    Great site though!

  2. Hi Brian, thanks, yes. Tim, the Webmaster, is working on the site today. He is actually working on the commenting function.

    The spellchecker feature doesn’t seem to work with the new Internet Explorer 7, either.


  3. hello,

    Andy’s point about market segments is so important, too often people design and provide services that are targeted to Small Business Owners, when in fact small business is not a market segment at all, it a general category. To be effective in reaching this huge category start with real segments (home builders, clothing boutiques, or graphic designers for example), if you build a great product that gets traction in a segment then maybe you can think about scaling to the category.

    You are not Intuit – Quickbooks, that is a fact.

    Second great point by Andy was that business owners are psychographically very similar to high end consumer, not so much the “unwitting masses” that so many people think of them as.

    Treat them like discerning, resourceful customers that demand value + service and you will stand out.

    Thanks Again, great article – great blog.

  4. The last tip is right on point. Small business owners are usually very careful about their money (because, as one of the other points mentioned, it is THEIR money), so the services/products a company is selling should to be exactly what the business needs.
    For any company trying to break into the small business market, it’s crucial to understand the needs of its target market… and cater to them, rather than spend time convincing small business owners to purchase products/services they would never use.

  5. The point about selling to small business owners as a date is pretty accurate. It is a bit of a romance – a romance with their bank accounts. Small business owners have a direct relationship with the funds – they are working for themselves and earn the money directly and are therefore more guarded when releasing them – it is all about trust and confidence – just like a date!!!

    David Fairley
    Internet Business Broker