Going Small: The Difference Between Selling to Small and Large Businesses Image by Dona Alice Cupcakes via Flickr

Most salespeople focus on finding the largest clients with the biggest wallets possible. In theory, this is ideal, but it doesn’t always work in practice. Sometimes, going after many smaller clients has distinct advantages over chasing large or enterprise customers. Here are some of the most important reasons why you need to consider not only selling to small businesses, but focusing on them:

  • Laying a foundation. If you’re trying to break into a new segment or just get your business off the ground, small businesses are the ideal target. Once you have a strong customer base, you’ll have the experience and track record necessary to try and land larger clients.
  • Getting in early. The start-ups and small businesses of today are the enterprise businesses of tomorrow. Many of today’s largest companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Google started in a garage. If you’re targeting the right small businesses, you might be lucky enough to watch them grow into an enormous whale.
  • Plenty of opportunity. The perception might be that small businesses are fading into the background, but in the U.S. that’s just not true. In fact, there are more than five million businesses in the U.S. with fewer than 100 employees, and even more on a global scale.
  • More time-efficient. Breaking into a large business takes a lot of time and effort. There are usually multiple decision makers that you need to connect with and impress. Small businesses, however, are much simpler. You can often land a deal in only a couple of phone calls, giving you more time to spend finding even more business.

In order to take advantage of these benefits by selling to SMBs, you need to understand the fundamental ways they’re different from larger clients.

Differences between small and large businesses

By definition, the most obvious difference between large and small businesses are their size. Beyond that, there are several other differences that have a profound impact on the way you need to approach your sales strategy.

One critical difference is that small businesses have a bit more flexibility and can generally move on a deal quicker. As we briefly discussed above, large businesses tend to have multiple decision-makers and thorough purchasing processes. Small organizations usually only have one or two decision-makers, and the process moves much faster.

It’s also important to understand that smaller businesses typically (although there are exceptions to the rule) don’t have the same resources that larger companies do. Their resources are much tighter and every dollar counts. You don’t necessarily have to compete on price every time, but you absolutely need to find a way to tie every dollar spend back to a specific benefit or return.

Finally, small businesses often target a more focused audience than larger businesses do. Once a company becomes big enough, their products and services are popular and well-known so they’ll typically start tailoring them for a general audience. Small businesses, on the other hand, will tend to focus on a very specific customer while they gain their footing.

Successfully selling to SMBs

Now that we know why it’s important to sell to SMBs and what makes them tick, we can start building a strategy to earn more of their business. Here are some important tips for selling to small businesses:

Identify them quickly

Since small businesses have less red tape and generally move to purchase quicker than their larger counterparts, you need to identify them as soon as possible to secure their business before a competitor swoops in. Learn their purchasing triggers and tweak your lead generation accordingly.

Target niches yourself

We know that small businesses tend to target niches, so it makes sense to do it yourself. Once you help one particular customer in a niche industry, reach out to their competition and other similar companies. Pointing to somebody in their niche that you have already helped is a great ice breaker.

Personalize everything

With small, privately owned businesses, you need to connect directly with the owner. After all, it’s their business and their money. Don’t send everybody the same pitch, tailor it to their unique customers, problems, and needs. If you can form a direct relationship, you’ll have a much better chance of becoming long-term business partners.

Focus on the short-term

Proving that you can help your clients in the long-term is extremely valuable, if they have the time and resources to wait that long. For many small businesses, this isn’t always the case. Instead, accelerate the perceived value timeline by focusing primarily on the short-term, immediate benefits. Treat any long-term benefits as a bonus.

Selling to small businesses takes time and money, but the effort is well-worth it. By using the information above to understand and more effectively sell to them, you’ll have a strong foundation and plenty of opportunity for growth.


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Danny Wong

Danny Wong

Danny Wong is a marketing consultant, sales strategist, and writer. He is a member of the marketing team at Tenfold, which provides a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. Connect with him on Twitter @dannywong1190.

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