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Columbia Business Monthly

Eight insights to help market to small business

By Dan Gliatta
Co-founder and CEO, Cargo

Small business represents a big market. I should know. Our agency, Cargo, has specialized for the past decade in helping clients like Lenovo, Intel, and Mercedes-Benz connect with the economic phenomenon that is the small business community.

When large companies take the right approach, there is tremendous opportunity in selling to smaller companies. But success often involves embracing insights that are not obvious to the casual observer, while putting aside some notions that seem to make sense but really don’t.

If you’re thinking of marketing to small businesses, there are a few things you need to know. 

Move the heart to move the mind. Business is more personal for small-business owners, which often makes it more emotional. Of course, you need to lay out a rational value proposition as you’re marketing to them, but it’s just as important to get them to feel if you want to get them to act.

Not all small business owners are entrepreneurs, and some don’t want to be. The quintessential entrepreneur is a “crusader.” The crusader is always looking ahead and focused on the next big thing that will change the whole world. 

Another type of entrepreneur is the “artisan.” They have an art, skill, or craft that they turned into a business, and they’re not focused on changing the whole world. They just want to change their world. Understand the difference between the two–and which of the two you plan to engage.

Use observable traits to find; unobservable traits to connect and motivate. Easily identifiable information like business size, industry, and geography can tell you a lot. But engaging and motivating small business owners requires you to really understand their underlying drivers, values, and behaviors. Get that right, and then tailor messaging that connects.

Talk to them, don’t sell them. Since small business is more personal, the small business owner is turned off when marketers pelt them with the same canned sales pitches they send to everyone else. Know their individual business and take time to learn about it. Real dialogue about their individual needs is the key.

Mindset drives shopping, buying, and consuming decisions. Small business owners are either sharks or sheep. Crusaders are always moving, but selectively consuming, very much like sharks. Artisans, by contrast, are always consuming, but much more selective in their movements–like sheep. Recognizing the mindset you’re dealing with can make or break the sale.

Small business owners’ decision-making changes as they grow. The mindset of the startup owner isn’t the same as the mindset of a midsized owner–even if the owner is the same person. Growth, maturity, and different influencers bring about changes in thinking. Expecting that, and accounting for it, will help you maintain the relationship.

It’s not about price. It’s about value. Yes, many small businesses are on limited budgets, but they’re smart enough to know they won’t grow on the cheap. What they want to buy is the best they can afford, which is built from a combination of real and perceived value. Hit that sweet spot for them, and you’ll have loyal customers for a long time.

Most brands don’t get it, so you have an opportunity. On average, more than 50 percent of SBOs feel brands and marketers are ineffective in engaging them, which means either one in two brands are failing or 50 percent of every brand’s marketing spend is wasted. How can you use the insight offered here to be part of the successful 50 percent? 

Know this…it’s all going to change anyway. Things change and evolve, and you need to pay attention. The fastest growing segment of the SBO community is Millennials, and they think and behave differently that most of their predecessors. We’re already conducting a proprietary, AI-driven study to help us understand their mindset, because when you’re trying to clean up the mess left by your own misperceptions, it’s too late.

Dan Gliatta is the co-founder and CEO of Cargo, a full-service marketing and advertising agency that specializes in helping big brands connect with small businesses. He is an expert in the Business to Small Business space, coining the term B2SB Marketing®.
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