I once believed selling was selling — that no matter where I lived, or what I was peddling, the act of selling was the same. From personal computers and insurance in mid-Michigan to corporate identity programs and copiers in Southern California, I was told by many learned sales managers, trainers, and “experts” that “sales is sales is sales.” They were wrong.
Of course, there are differences across the selling spectrum. Geography, local economics, and social norms impact decision-making on a varied and personal level. To treat everybody the same is an injustice. Advanced B2B selling has moved beyond a cookie-cutter methodology.
As far as I see it, there are three levels of B2B prospects:
- Small/medium business
First, a word about “profiles.” The following descriptions are by no means absolute. These are my opinions based on years of personal observations, on both sides of the presentation. You will have a different view – I hope you have multiple perspectives on all subjects and consider the following as suggestions and a basis for growth.
SMB/Down-the-street, $1 to $50M
- 1-100 employees, typically sells directly to consumers (B2C)
- Family-owned, speak directly to decision-makers. No IT on staff
- Very price sensitive, 30-day cycle
- 100-500 employees, regional and multiple locations, B2B customers
- Possibly family owned, IT department, more than one DM
- Price conscious, budget driven, 30-90 day cycle
- 500-1000+ employees, national, global, B2B customer base
- Multiple decision makers/committee/board
- 90 to 120+ day cycle
We’ll examine each category through three dimensions: the approach, the tools, and the expectations. In Part 1 of this series we’ll examine, the initial, orientational, yet by no means “entry-level,” SMB/down-the-street opportunity.
These are the small or even micro businesses that you drive by every day. They could be in line with you at the coffee shop, or your kids may go to the same school.
These businesses primarily deal directly with the public, selling directly to end customers (B2C).
The operation was started by the owner who did or still does perform most operations, from sales to inventory control, human resources and customer service – they’ve done it all and they’ve done it by themselves. They’ve failed, recovered, and work 24 hours a day.
The interaction is less formal but don’t confuse informality with business savvy – owners know the market, and how to succeed. Do not think you know more than they do.
Cash is king. These businesses run on a 30-day cash basis. They’re more than likely to want to lease but may have credit challenges. Get them approved as early as possible.
The important thing with these accounts is to be straightforward and keep your promises. Credibility is most important, so if you say you’ll get them information, deliver it the day before you’ve promised.
Approach: Face-to-face, cost-benefit, incentives
Walk through the door with a list of similar businesses that use your offerings. Be quick, to the point, with hard cost justification. Mention soft cost reduction after establishing a real and agreed ROI.
This is the biggest piece of advice I can give: The moment you start to talk about how you can help them grow sales, increase revenue, and reduce costs – in a real way – you leave your competition in the dust. Nobody asks, “How do you sell your widgets? Tell me what you’re going to do to increase sales by 5%. I think I can help you get more sales.” These opening statements demand attention.
Small business decision-makers are price sensitive because they are spending their money, not the corporate budget. They will take advantage of discounts, so be ready to offer incentives. But for goodness’ sake, let them ask first.
Tools: Shoe leather, voice mail and the inter-webs
Although walking through the front door works with every type of opportunity, for down-the-street business, this can be the best approach. The odds of meeting an owner face to face on a drop-in are higher at this level. Gathering evidence visually is easier with a smaller business as well – it takes a few seconds in a lobby to size up the success or struggles of any business. Take advantage of the timing and be ready.
Business owners have thousands of unopened emails – it comes with the territory. Yet, they still communicate via email. Again, be relevant, and concise. Consider using the Re: field as your total message space. Once your prospect returns your message, understand that you’ve probably broken through the spam filters. Do not burn this bridge with pitch-based communiques.
It goes without saying, researching all prospects is a necessary step in the selling process. Get into news articles, volunteer announcements and community activities in which your prospects participate. This is basic, but the internet is your friend. Understand the assignment.
Expectations: Curt answers, deep questions, 30 to 90 days
In today’s B2B world, when an owner wants to invest in the business, you can count on them researching deeply – they will know more about your product than you think, and if you’re talking with them, you’ve earned an initial, not exclusive, review.
In a good news/bad news way, most small businesses will make decisions relatively quickly – so if you don’t get the business, they’ll either tell you outright or ghost you the day after you present and attempt to close. When you do secure movement forward, it usually takes place 30 days after your initial meeting.
When successful, and if you’ve configured your recommendation correctly, the profit margin will be commensurate with the time invested in closing the deal.
Down-the-street selling is the bread and butter of every selling professional’s history – it’s time-consuming, challenging, and at times can be a pain. But in the end, more is learned from knocking on doors than can ever be gleaned in a classroom.
A few more tactical tidbits to remember:
- Have paperwork ready.
- Use a two-to-three-page recommendation.
- Answer all questions, even those about pricing.
- Ask for the business.
Good luck and sell on!
is an entrepreneur and founder of the notorious destination site TheDeathOfTheCopier, where he comments on all things imaging, the rise of managed services and the advance of business technology. A prolific writer and frequent speaker, Greg shares his passionate, unique – and often provocative – view of technology and people, addressing the impact of digital on 21st century business. His 2014 book, Death Of The Copier, offers a controversial summary of the early days of Managed Print Services and the not-so-distant future of the hard copy industry. Reach out to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.