Saturday, January 27, 2007

Five tips for selling to entrepreneurs

I had a great lunch yesterday with a guy who’s been selling information and services into the small-business market for many years. Some excellent insights from that meeting:

* If you're selling seminars, beware. Educational seminars have always been a big part of his marketing, but he says it’s becoming harder and harder to get people out. Where he used to get a 3% to 4% response rate from his direct mail, it’s now more like 1% or less. He suspects the technique has been overused, and that entrepreneurs are now seminared-out.

* If you're selling information products, keep in mind that entrepreneurs don't want to be educated. “They want to learn by osmosis,” he says. Turn information into stories, case studies and anecdotes to make it easier to digest and remember.

* Entrepreneurial spirit is not as common in small business as you might think. While most entrepreneurs continue to think freely, weirdly and creatively, very few of their employees are entrepreneurial thinkers. The more employees a company has, he says, the more corporate they are likely to become.

* Don't try and sell features to small-business owners. “Entrepreneurs are driven by pain.” Tell them now what your product or service can do, but how it can solve their most pressing problem now.

* Get in the ground floor with a small-business prospect. Sell a low-cost product or service that will get you in the door. Once an entrepreneur trusts you and your ability to create value, you will find that many of their budget restrictions disappear like magic.

The fifth point is obviously the most important. Despite all the defenses that entrepreneurs put up, they need a few key suppliers with whom to form lasting relationships. And when you scale that wall, it makes you forget all that sweat, all the rejection, and those half-empty seminars rooms.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Small business is always personal

We've talked in this blog before about what motivates small business owners, but one of the key messages they're looking for is respect. They believe they're doing something special, and they want to see signs that other people believe it too. Especially partners, suppliers and anyone else with whom they spend their hard-earned, well guarded budgets.

Example: the other day I received a lovely email from an award-winning entrepreneur I met a few times when I was editor of PROFIT Magazine.

Here's the edited excerpt:

Hey Rick, you may recall being highly supportive of our company... Well, we made it! It was a long road, but we were acquired by xxxx last year and are now working hard to integrate our work into this remarkable company. It certainly represents a BIG change for our little team!
I just wanted to say thanks for your interest over the years. It provided validation and moral support, sometimes when it was needed more than you can imagine.

It was a touching message that I appreciated very much.

I reproduce it here to remind you that the line between success and failure is often very thin. And that behind even successful businesses is a request for respect. If you as a marketer can honour and reinforce the owners' sense of mission and self-worth, you will get through to them in ways that no others can.

Small business is personal.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Marketing in the New You-niverse

Kodak - Winds of Change

This is bloody brilliant. It's a Kodak commercial that evidently was produced for internal use. But it proved so popular they let it out.
It's now all over YouTube, so this could be the best Web 2.0 marketing move ever.
"They've got things in their research labs that will make biometrics look like a Happy Meal toy!"

Respect your customer, even when offside

Did you know that Canada’ s three national credit bureaus not only keep tabs on how much you’ve borrowed and how much you’ve paid back – but on how many times you've been late paying your credit card bills?

I just learned that while researching my column for MoneySense magazine. I looked up my credit reports at TransUnion and Equifax, and there were my late payments – made how many years ago – still on file, still working to make lenders think less of extending credit to me (or charging me more for the privilege). Six years those late payment stay on file!

But I'm here to tell you that it works both ways. Entrepreneurs don't forget, either. And they (okay, we) don’t easily forgive.

As a business owner, about four times a year I get a direct mail from American Express promoting its corporate card for small business.

The letter uses the right language: simple, declarative, flattering. (“As a business owner, it was your idea that opened doors. Your dedication that got customers calling, And your perseverance that keeps them coming back.” And it offers “quarterly management reports” and 200 bonus rewards points a month (whatever those are).

But it will be a cold day in Richmond Hill before I get an Amex card. Why? Because I remember how they treated me when I was late paying off a card one month, 10 years ago. Never mind the exorbitant interest rates (now 30%) they charge – they treat you rudely and dismissively, like a thief in the night. And this on top of the annual fee I (or my employer at the time) was paying.

Entrepreneurs are not always the most organized people. Sometimes they lose track of the trees as they keep their eye on the forest.* If you want to serve them properly, treat them (okay, us) as respectfully when they're offside as when you're first wooing them.

Because power imbalances are temporary. Memories are long.

(*After all, even big businesses slip up. Example: on Jan. 23, 2007, Amex’s website offered this information about the fee for its Small Business Corporate Card: "$30 annual fee ($50 annual fee, effective March 14, 2005).”

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Interview with an Entrepreneur

Every entrepreneur is different, yet they have so much in common. The more time you can spend with them to understand the peculiarly creative and self-absorbed way they view the world, the better you will be able to sell to small business.

And if you can't spend time with them, read interviews with them – especially Q&As, where you get to see how their minds work.

In today’s National Post, Libby Zneimer had a great lifestyle-oriented interview with Sam Chebib, president and CEO of Nightingale Informatix Corp., which sells services and software for the health-care industry. Here are a few revealing tidbits:

Q: What are your key functions?
A: I focus primarily on execut­ing our strategic plans, and spend most of my time with my senior management team and major clients. I am very involved in all of our operations, but work very effectively through my executive team.
Q: How many hours do you work each week and when do you start?
A: I work anywhere between 70 and 80 hours per week and 1 usually start at 7:30 a.m.
Q: How often do you take work home?
A: I always have something under my arm when I leave.
Q: How many phone calls do you get? How often do customers call you directly?
A I get 20 to 30 calls a day, and I'll take about 10 to 20 of those. Of those calls, one or two a day will be from customers, which I always take.
Q: How many meetings do you at­tend? Do you like meetings?
A: Between four and five per day. I like some of them, for example, those meetings where I can brainstorm ideas with my team and come up with solutions to strategic concerns.
Q: Are you a workaholic?
A: No, I am just trying to get a job done and I happen to enjoy doing it.
Q: Does your family think you work too much?
A: Of course they do. I've never met a family that didn't.
Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: I get to hire and train highly talented people so they can do most of my job for me.
Q: What’s the best perk?
A I can admit when I've made a mistake without fear of being yelled at.
Q: Do you have hobbies, sports or a fitness routine?
A: I love tennis and skiing, but I don't get to do them often enough, and it's getting more dif­ficult all the time.

Themes to think about: his sheer busy-ness; results-focus; work isn't work when you own the company; the barely-concealed feeling of immunity at the top; scarcity of leisure time; customers really do come first.
How would you market to someone like that?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Small Business: Stronger than you think!

I don't know how many times I’ve heard the statistic that “80% of all small businesses fail in their first five years.”

Put it out of yourhead. I have never seen the source of that statistic, but I’ve always known it's wrong. No one knows how many businesses “fail.”

The best that researchers can do is track companies that go out of business – which means they can't tell the failures from the wind-ups, the retirements, the merged or the acquired.

But even that figure seems overstated, as I've just discovered a statistic that is much more bullish.

In 2005, Statistics Canada reported on the results of a longitudinal study of Canadian businesses that found Canadian firms last longer than most people thought. Sayeth StatsCan:

  • “Of all firms that were created during the 1990s, roughly one-quarter ceased to operate within the first two years, according to a new report that analyzes the impact of economic developments on business dynamics during the past decade.
  • "Just over one-third of these firms survived five years or more, and only one-fifth were still in operation after 10 years.”

So the 80% “disparu” rate is for 10 years, not five – which supports the contention that many of these businesses were wound down rather than “failed.” If a business needs 10 years to “fail,” it must have been a success for some of that time!

And never forget: most businesses are small businesses. The study found that as of 2001, “only 0.2% of firms employed 500 or more employees, but they represented 42% of total employment. The vast majority (92%) of companies employed fewer than 20 workers, and they accounted for 21% of total employment.”

You can check the stats yourself at