In my strategy practice, I have worked with over 140 companies. If there is one thing I've learned, it's that companies often frame their offers without true understanding of why customers buy. To successfully connect with business owners requires insight into their motivations.
According to the Small Business Administration, there are over 30 million small businesses in the United States, a fertile market for service providers. They have their own special mojo, different from larger companies.
Small businesses practice distinct buying behaviors. For providers of value-added services or products who need to market to small business buyers, it's critical to understand their needs and constraints. These seven proven behaviors summarize how, why and when buyers make their decisions and transactions.
1. Business owners have a distinct vendor selection process.
Based on information from a Gartner study, buyers generally divide prospect research into three blocks of time, usually around 20 minutes each.
In the research phase, prospects seek out potential partners. In the qualification phase, they engage with these potential partners to understand their capabilities. In the evaluation phase they move toward a decision.
It's important to understand the phased approach, because it speaks to the need for marketers to have an integrated sales and marketing platform that touches prospects in all three phases. From case studies on your website to drip marketing campaigns, your entire marketing effort should be designed to touch prospects with information relevant to each phase.
2. Small businesses seek out particular data points about potential suppliers.
Smart marketers understand this selection process and deliver information that prospects are looking for. Often in the case of value-added services such as IT, buyers are looking for information about how things work and at what price. If you sell services to small businesses, make sure you convert the intangible into something tangible.
For example, ensure your white papers and case studies have clear visual models and illustrations that show how services are delivered, so you can advance from phase one to phase two.
3. Prospects are most likely to buy when they are in pain.
While marketers have long understood that they must identify pain and need, business owners often act based on particular events occurring in their business. In the example of outsourced IT, a prospect is more likely to seek out an IT partner directly following a cyber breach or similar event.
Marketing communication is like chocolate--you don't want too much, or too little. Marketers need to find ways to be in front of prospects often without overwhelming them. Having an omnichannel communication approach provides opportunity for multiple touches without creating fatigue.
4. Provide proof.
Social proof has become game, set, and match in marketing today. Prospects will not only validate you on your website but will seek independent validation in the form of reviews on Angie's List, Yelp and others. Make such validation easy to find or create your own social proof through testimonials and such.
5. Entrepreneurs want to grow.
Offers that focus on driving revenue are more meaningful than services that are categorized as a cost center. Business owners will pay a premium for outsourced services they view as accretive to building enterprise value.
In my consulting practice, I have consistently been able to up sell services when the service provided was directly related to improving the client's service delivery or sales productivity.
6. Business owners care about value, not so much about price.
Business owners are trying to earn a profit themselves and understand there are costs associated with the benefits they buy. They want to see value from their suppliers.
While you may not need to be the cheapest, you do need to prove your value through total cost-of-ownership-type comparisons. Provide such data at the end of your interactions with them in phase three, after you've proven you are the supplier of choice.
7. Small business owners are firefighters.
They are time-starved with limited resources. They want their vendors to get to the point. Make sure your website navigation is clean, and ensure your white papers, testimonials and other marketing pieces are illustrative.
Knowing their time constraints, be maniacal about follow-up. As most suppliers have poor follow-through, providing personal attention and follow-up can separate you from the pack.