(Quick note before we start – I originally wrote this in a response to a question I got from a large corporate client trying to market to small business owners. My comments also apply completely to smaller consulting firms and professional practices.)
Talk to a small business owner and they’ll tell you that the big businesses that sell things to them “just don’t get it.”
Talk to the same owner behind-the-scenes and they’ll tell you big businesses are a necessary evil and flat-out suck.
There are exceptions, of course, but the way most large companies market and sell to small business guarantees they’ll get price shopped and have little to no loyalty.
Surface loyalty, sure.
But loyalty when someone else offers a little better price or some tickets to a football game … nope.
It got me thinking about the 4 kinds of companies and salespeople that serve small business, how small business owners think about them, and why most companies don’t get it.
First up are Vendors.
Vendors sell stuff, and their value to the small business owners begins and ends at their ability to deliver their product or service on time and at a reasonable price.
The moment a small business owner has the chance to get a cheaper vendor, or a vendor that has a little more selection or can speak in the latest buzzwords … they switch.
There is no loyalty, no relationship, and no added value beyond the stuff vendor’s supply.
Second comes Consultants.
Consultants still sell stuff, but they provide added value by helping the business owner use the stuff they sell in the business.
Unlike the vendor who says, “Here is the stuff I sell, would you like some?” … the Consultant is more likely to spend time figuring out what is happening in the business and help the owner understand how their products and services fit in.
There is a higher level of service here, and being consultative results in more sales.
But there is still little real loyalty.
Consultants have more wiggle room than vendors, because they bring value beyond simply what they sell.
But the value is still being calculated in a purely analytical fashion—“Company X is worth keeping around because of Ralph. He helps us with promotions every time he comes to visit.”
But as soon as someone offers the business the same service as Ralph and “above and beyond” value … Ralph is out the door. Sorry, Ralph, “business is business.”
Which brings us to the Advocate…
Advocates go beyond simply helping the business owner use their stuff; they help the business owner even when it doesn’t directly lead to selling more products and services.
They operate with the question, “How can I help the business thrive?”
Practically speaking, a thriving business consumes more products and services to keep up with the growth, and they are more willing to spend beyond tomorrow—upgrading systems, purchasing new equipment, doing the things that need to be done to grow the business into the future without feeling the pressure to penny-pinch every step of the way.
Finally, there are Partners.
Partners are Advocates who develop and maintain a deep emotional relationship with the business owners.
Partners operate with the question, “How can I be the person who is with the business owner through thick and thin, the person who they can count on, the one who will always be on their side?”
Partners provide a top-notch product or service (Vendor), they help the business owner optimize the product or service in their business (Consultant), they look for opportunities to help the business owner reduce stress and increase success (Advocate), and they develop a deep emotional relationship along the way (Partner) that makes the business owner feel like … when everything is falling apart and they are holding the business together with bits of glue and duct tape … that this person and this company was there when it counted.
How all of this impacts your B2B marketing and sales strategy
So, if you are the CEO or in sales or marketing management in a big company, the question you should be asking is as follows:
“Short of finding those diamonds who naturally fit into the Advocate or Partner role, what can the company do to facilitate that emotional connection and relationship in a systemic way through marketing systems, through sales systems, and through hiring practices?”
The great news is that there are answers.
And we’ll be talking about that soon …
If you have comments about this post or about your experiences with big business and/or their salespeople selling to you, leave a comment.