While awaiting a grilled chicken salad for lunch at a local sub shop, I overheard a local service provider tech trying to explain the finer points of small business networking to one of the co-owners, who like me, rolled her eyes when phrases like “static IP address” were spoken.
The line of hungry customers was lengthening fast and (pardon the wording) no connection was being made by the two, who were almost literally speaking different languages, small business English and tech talk.
This situation, hardly unique or new, underscores the need for small business sales and tech teams to learn how to speak to non-tech fluent current and potential customers to successfully address their needs and problems – without small business owners having to buy and read a Networking for Dummies book first.
The tech types need to take the keep-it-simple approach in all dealing with small business or just hit the exit. People don’t buy or sign up for things they are confused about and shouldn’t need an IT certification to feel comfortable with a pitched solution – if simplicity is the primary focus.
Small businesses – which by the way lack IT understanding let alone staff—often want pre-packaged solutions they can all but have installed and maybe never touch—to easily address issues they are confronted with. And they want a trusted source to call when a problem arises or they need to expand their IT package. The smaller they are in number of workers, the more help they can use.
With this ongoing disconnect in mind, here are some real-world suggestions designed to eliminate the tech talk disconnected between small business owners and managers and those pitching them products and services to help run their operations:
Business Training for Techs. Techs can network your entire business a gazillion different ways, understanding every piece of what would appear to a small business decision maker as a Rubik’s Cube; but what do techs know about running a business? Not hardly enough.
Rather than expect those who run small businesses to be or get tech savvy, it would be easier for large service providers and VARs, agents, etc. to get business savvy. They don’t need a college degree in business, but they do need a degree of understanding of how businesses do business—and how they can help them. Business 101.
Timing is (almost) Everything. The best way to get off to a disastrous start is to attempt to engage a small business decision maker during their busiest times of the day and/or night. It’s best to swing by during a relatively quiet time to make an owner friendly time to discuss needs and options.
Otherwise, you get the same evil eye look that alcohol distributors receive when they arrive with deliveries as people are stopping in on the way home from work. Worse, this shows the small business that you have zero understanding of/or care for, their business.
Pre-packaged Solutions. Following the keep-it-simple approach, provide a somewhat limited list of options depending on the basic needs of small business. And I’m talking beyond voice, Internet and TV bundles as they only cover part of the needs of small business. No small business owner wants a Chinese menu through which to navigate.
What would be even better for small businesses would be for tech product vendors/service providers to take a page from the amazingly popular book of resorts and cruise lines and offer all-inclusive packages (hotel room, airfare, food and beverage etc). They could include hardware/software/service/support and maintenance for one monthly charge.
Hyper-local references. If you don’t have any pre-existing relationship with a small business decision maker, assemble references with a brief description of what you did for them along with contact info. Few feel confident doing business with complete strangers.
Positive and negative word of mouth can make all the difference in dealing with small businesses. When was the last time you bought something outside the ordinary, or even went to see a movie without someone else’s opinion and/or research? The same goes for home improvement projects and restaurants.
Learn and Speak Small Business Language. Small businesses need help running, managing and growing their business. Technology can enable all three and perhaps more, but only if companies instruct and train their tech-immersed reps to speak in terms of what business benefits products and services can provide. Decision makers don’t need (and often don’t want) to know the specific technology or pieces to the solution in tech names and terms.
Address Security. They may not know a firewall from a brick wall, but small business decision makers are well aware of the threat and actual impact of lax security or none at all—having seen data breaches of their far larger business brethren.
They have also heard plenty about identity theft. All this makes security a front-of-mind topic with elements that should be included in pre-packaged solutions. Don’t forget anti-virus protections.
Marketing Matters. I can’t imagine a small business that doesn’t want to do more business. But beyond positive word of mouth and low-end approaches such as direct mail, coupon mailers, yellow page listings and ads in remaining newspapers, they need help reaching a broader audience to expand their brand. Technology products and preferably services can help them go next-level.
Here’s where their knowledge and experience runs out and opportunities are created. They are likely not tech-savvy, so, again, cut the tech talk and cut to the business benefits. Small business owners and managers are often too busy with day-to-day operations that they struggle to think beyond above options for growing their businesses. That’s where service providers can bring up the topic, get their attention, and start a potentially productive conversation.
Following Up. There’s nothing worse in a post-purchase stretch when you receive the out-of-sight, out-of-mind, treatment. It’s generally defined as not hearing from your contact short of additional sales visits. A simple phone call (the old-school personal touch) can make a world of difference with no-tech small business owners expecting you to be their trusted advisor. An off-peak check-in visit would be even better.
Simplicity in Invoicing. Getting K.I.S.S invoicing may seem to be a pipe dream, but it’s highly coveted by small business decision makers because time is money and they don’t want to call customer service to have their monthly invoice decrypted for them. A summary of charges page followed by a breakdown page (which would be short if all-inclusive packages equaled simplified billing) would be a hit with small business owners who have little free time before even discussing tech. And let’s keep everything on one bill.
Better, Faster, Cheaper? As technology-enabled features and functionality arise, present new and/or enhanced options to small business owners as a way for them to advance, not as a sales pitch. Explain in small business speak what and how they stand to gain and keep it simple.
If you combine this action with above mentioned advice, the decision maker at the small business should begin to see you as a trusted advisor who understands their business and can be a valuable, long-term resource for all things technology.
Just don’t show up at a sub shop at lunch to talk tech. The lines are long enough!