How To Talk To Small Business

small businessI was recently asked to share some insights (opinions) about small business at a conference attended primarily by large enterprise B2B marketers charged with growing their organization’s small business segment. (My friend Anita Campbell helped me on this one)

I found myself slipping out of my supposed expert role and instead talking to them more as a long time small business owner.

And this is what I shared:

Small businesses owners do business with companies and people they know, like and trust. While you can buy a great deal of know and like, trust is earned over time and where were most of you ten years ago when we started our businesses?

When it comes to word of mouth about your organizations we talk about businesses we know, like and trust, who also give us something remarkable to talk about. When was the last time you talked about a perfectly adequate experience? Give us something to talk about.

When you want to get inside our heads and try to figure out why we are such irrational beings when it comes to your value propositions understand this – an enterprise buyer considering a purchase may be juggling between two line items on a spreadsheet, a small business owner may be making that same consideration by juggling between your proposal and their daughter’s braces.

Create engagement with your content, not your metrics. If you’ve produced white papers, webinars, ebooks, and research that we can use, put it out freely in the social space. Don’t make us give you 27 data points before we can see the goodies. I know you’ve got a VP somewhere whose benchmarking registrations, but if you put that content where we can have it, where we can engage with it and find value in it on our time, I promise you we will trust you more.

Create connection by proving you know who we are. Gather up some of your small business customers and ask us what we think, what we Google when we look for your kind of solution, what we don’t understand, what else we need, why we don’t trust or get your message. Understand that you must change your language when you market to us. You can’t strip features, repackage and reprice your enterprise solution and call it a small market offering. We won’t get it. It’s not that small business owners aren’t sharp, we just don’t have time or use for corporate speak and jargon.

Create community by investing in ways to help us get more of what we want. No matter if you are trying to sell us credit services, printers or mobile devices if we can come to understand that you want to help us succeed and grow our businesses in ways that are related, or even unrelated, to your core offerings, we’ll get closer to you. Create ways for us to learn from trusted advisors, bring us together in peer to peer sharing environments, and every so often do something that surprises the heck out of us.

I hope this doesn’t come off as a personal rant, it’s meant to help any B2B marketer struggling to understand the small business beast.

Two asks today
1) Please, let me know if this seems on target and add your thoughts
2) Tell me about brands that you think get the above

Image credit: eschipul

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  • TylerWebCPA

    FYI in the fifth paragraph I think that you mean braces, not braises Unless your daughter really likes to cook.

  • Shaun Emerson

    John…I'm with you especially as it relates to doing business with people we know, like and trust…If we can count on our “vendors” to do the right things by us then, to a certain extent, we have increased the size and depth of our team.

  • Captico

    Great thoughts and reminders! Thank you for another great article!

  • TylerWebCPA

    Small business owners never have enough time and are constantly forced to keep many balls in the air at the same time, so your solution should be simple and easy to use out of the box. The best customer technical support is the one that goes unused.
    I think Intuit gets this, especially with their QuickBooks product. They start you off with an inexpensive off the shelf solution that can be scaled up to become almost as sophisticated as you want it to be.

  • Gareth Rees

    You're dead right. In fact the national small business networking group I'm a member of in the UK tag line is exactly “Meet, Like, Know, Trust.” And that is the basis of doing business in the SMB area.

  • Ryan Hanley


    I live, work, breath the small business world. I am a small business and work with small business so I'm in this discussion from both sides.

    I think this statement holds so much value when understanding how to develop relationships with small business owners “an enterprise buyer considering a purchase may be juggling between two line items on a spreadsheet, a small business owner may be making that same consideration by juggling between your proposal and their daughter’s braises.”

    If you can understand that, you will be successful forming relationships with small business owners…


    Ryan H.,

  • ducttape

    As someone who works with small business I find the fact that I'm close to the money equal parts gratifying and terrifying.

  • ducttape

    And the greatest of these is Trust!

  • ducttape

    I agree Intuit has been doing this well for a long time. One of my favorite examples. Good point about the best customer service too

  • ducttape

    Yes I think trust means admitting when your wrong and admitting when you might now have the right solution.

  • Redcort

    Your'e dead on target John. We are a small business living exactly the B2B space that you describe.

    Knowing this was a competitive strength for us, last fall we pondered some ways we could better facilitate the communication of trust through relationship. We added a page to page on our web site for called Virtual Time Clock Software User Reviews where customers could identify themselves as happy users of our product and optionally describe their experiences using our employee time clock software. The page has been a big hit not only with our customers, but the source of some really great feedback when we're talking to businesses as they are evaluating us and our software.

  • Dan Wedin

    I'm a small business owner and small business marketer. I can relate to the insights from both sides of the spectrum.


  • Lloyd Burrell

    I approve to your comments, especially those relating to trust. The whole idea of small business is based on trust.
    Personal branding is also strongly connected to small business world: the cleaner and simpler the brand, the more chances it has on the long run, given that the internet is stuffed with more and more complicated branding solutions.

  • Donna Miller

    I completely agree. I am a small business owner marketing to small businesses – it does give me an advantage because I already “walk their walk”. I know my clients particularly value my “Think Tank” meetings – small peer advisory and networking meetings. I am always amazing at the energy they create and the opportunites that are always created.

    Donna Miller

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  • JamesDibben

    You nailed it!

    I got burned bad a couple of years ago by a VERY LARGE consulting company.

    They charged me a fortune, delivered more than I could ever implement into my business at once and then disappeared with no follow up.

    Three years later I'm still stuck with the debt from their 'help' and I'm more critical of large faceless companies than ever.

    These companies need to hire more small business owners to help them learn how to connect. We don't trust traditional marketing anymore.

  • smallbizuk

    Good to see someone has found this niche and understands how to communicate with it – here in the UK small business owners employ a huge % of the population (outside of the government) and spend a lot each year in services and they need help in developing. So well done on the article in how to communicated with them.

  • The Franchise King

    No rant detected. No self-serving detected either.

    You're talking about creative ways to show that you (we) can add lots of value to our B2B relationships.

    Keep doing what you're doing, John. Your posts always help those who are willing to learn, so they can get better at marketing, and business building.

    The Franchise King®

  • Brian

    Good points. I would only add that the same basic ideas apply to small businesses marketing to consumers or other small businesses.

  • VBP OutSourcing

    This is a great piece. Small and large businesses must attack B2B relationships differently. The small organization must focus on building credibility, trust, and a sense of community amongst its consumers as that is what is expected. Many of your points are head on in terms of adding value to B2B relationships.

  • Phil

    B2B market in online business is not taken as much serious as Social Media….

  • Eric Joiner

    Really appreciate the post. As a small business owner, I find it easy to get sidetracked and distracted with all of the good things I could be doing. The good distracts from the things I can be great at.