I’ve spent the past quarter of a century working with business owners and entrepreneurs; organizations ranging from startups to publicly traded companies. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about the small-to-midsize business (SMB) market is that it’s not one market comprised of 27-28 million companies. The SMB space is actually thousands of smaller segments that make up 99% of all businesses in the United States.
Imagine holding a large mirror in your hands that represents the SMB market. Drop it on the floor and the glass shatters—leaving shards, large and small, all over the floor. The shards represent the various SMB segments. You have startup businesses, small businesses, entrepreneurial companies, women and minority-owned businesses, franchises, inner-city companies, etc…Some segments overlap (e.g. a woman-owned franchise in the inner city) while other segments never touch each other.
When putting together your strategy to reach the SMB market, it is critically important to know which segments are priorities for your company. If you plan to target the entire SMB space, your message will be so diluted that it won’t effectively reach any one segment. You’re better off keeping your money in your wallet.
Once you’ve identified the targeted segments and are creating your campaign, remember these three requests from business owners:
1. Tell Me About Your Product/Service. If you have a product or service that will increase my workforce productivity, save me time or help me better manage my cash flow, you officially have my attention—for 10 seconds to start. Let me know the main feature and benefit upfront and I will most likely look into your offering. As Theodore Levitt, an Economist and Harvard Marketing Professor once said “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
2. Please Speak My Language. I don’t have time to do an online search to determine what you are saying to me. If there are words or phrases that are endemic to your world, but foreign to mine, either define them for me or leave them out of your messaging. If your goal is to educate me on a product or service, make sure you speak my language. Thank you.
3. Don’t Let the Honeymoon End. As a customer, I am loyal to a fault. I had the same insurance company for 23 years, the same cable company for 21 years and drove the same type of car for 17 years. This year, it hit me. The companies that had my business took advantage of my loyalty. After years of steady price increases, cutbacks in service and watching them woo potential customers while ignoring me, I decided to make wholesale changes. I kept my relationships with service providers who appreciated my business (mostly local small businesses) and left the companies that treated me as a commodity.
Here was the reply from my cable company after being with them for 21 years and spending over $40,000 on their service: Sorry to see you go. Thanks for returning your equipment. Here’s what you can expect on your final bill.
I received a similar note from my insurance broker of 23 years. I knew everyone in his office and they knew my family. When I finally left because another insurance company offered the exact same coverage for 30% less money, they acted as if they hardly knew me.
Success in the SMB space is not as difficult as it appears. If you treat your customers with respect, listen to their feedback and help them when they need it the most, you will have customers (and advocates) for life. For those who already practice what I’m preaching, thank you for being our partner and contributing to our success.