My 25 Secrets for Selling to Small Businesses


Since 1988 I’ve sold, serviced and essentially provided for my family via the results of my interactions with, and strategies toward in large part,  small business.   Maybe that’s you too.  Maybe you are an indepent, an employee of a large firm or even a small business selling to small businesses – no matter — this is all good for you.  

I’ve forgotten far more than I’ve learned I suspect, but here are my 25 best kept secrets for selling to small businesses. 

  1. The worst time to sell to a small business is M-F,10am to 12pm and 1-3pm.  Ain’t nobody in small business interested in doing any business but their own at those times. Work harder on the fringes!
  2. New In Business is gold.  It’s a little like a chick imprinting on you just after hatching.  Help a small business when they are starting out and they will be fiercely loyal to you. 
  3. Not every SB wants to grow! (but they sure as hell want to at least keep what they have).  Use a maintain angle.
  4. Testimonials are so table stakes now.  What you need are testimonials from someone your SB prospect knows.
  5. Surprise! Surprise!  Small business owners are or once were; sales people.  They can smell your trial closes and rotating yes’s from 100 yards away.
  6. The most important word to think, proclaim, represent and lead with when talking with a small business owner is the word “easy”.
  7. Never forget how prideful, ego laden and direct a business owner usually is about his/her business! 
  8. I’ve never said the word “small” to a small business.   Ever.  I just won’t do it.   
  9. Your price, your service, your terms and even your competition are not remotely close to the biggest problem you face with small business.  Time (and getting it) is the biggest challenge by far.
  10. Whoever answers the phone at a small business is good at customer service, great at connecting you to brother Billy and a pro at getting rid of salespeople like you.  
  11. Everyone in a small business has at least some influence in the decision.   Sorry.  Dems’ the apples.
  12. If you don’t make it easy to switch to you, you won’t get a sale. 
  13. You get to go home to your kids.  The SB owner’s kids are in the back room coloring on the folding table.  Free up their time to spend more time with family and you win. 
  14. The first step in the SB sales model isn’t discovery or introduction or greeting or any other silly thing; it’s building credibility.  That needs to be your obsession.
  15. Time is so precious that “either/or” leading questions about anything are always better than open ended questions for a busy small business owner.
  16. Your customers have customers.  If you focus your solution on how it impacts your customer’s customers then it’s a win-win and the sale is easier.
  17. What most people do..” is the most powerful phrase in small business sales.  Use it liberally.
  18. The SB’s website and/or storefront is the “face” of the business.   You can tell a lot by just looking at someone’s face.  Do that first!
  19. I bet a killer secret- to- be in cold calling is the phrase “Did I catch you at a terrible time or do you have 90 seconds?” right after you say your name and company.  (I just learned it so try it and let me know!)
  20. Your SB’s don’t realize yet (most of em’ anyway),  that that cherished Word of Mouth is changing.  Not in value, but in the tools being used to pass that along.  Help your SB’s see the value of social media!
  21. SB’s don’t want to hear about your “8:30to 5 shift” (they don’t have no stinkin’ shift) the old small business you had (that failed) or the other business you go to “just like theirs” (their competition).  So just knock it off. 
  22. It’s not what you think, believe or analyze about your SB customer or prospect so much that matters- it’s what they think of you.  
  23. Asking for help always worked for me.  And you know what worked best? 2 sales people knocking on doors (one being a trainee).  You always got time!  People (SB’s too) like to help people.
  24. Slick, coiffed, corporate and the King’s English doesn’t fly in Small Business.  Be normal, polite and smart but don’t be everything SB’s hate in the first 30 seconds inside the door.
  25. The greatest secret to selling to Small Business? They aren’t a sale, a lead, a customer, a prospect, your commission or even a business; they’re human and would just like a little help.

Till next time,

 Grow The Business.



14 thoughts on “My 25 Secrets for Selling to Small Businesses

  1. Thanks for this list Mark! A large percentage of my territory are small businesses and I can relate to all of these suggestions from experience. Clearly the key thread here is making small business owners lives easier and providing products or services that free up their time. Numbers 16 & 17 really jumped out at me as I read this though:
    16. …”focus your solution on how it impacts your customer’s customers then it’s a win-win and the sale is easier.”
    17. “What most people do..” is the most powerful phrase in small business sales. Use it liberally.
    Sales people have to remember to walk in their customer’s shoes, we all know that if you don’t have satisfied customers, you won’t be in business long and, as important, peer recommendations and feedback are becoming the most powerful tool in our toolkit. Research tells us that knowing “what most people do”, when it comes to selecting vendors to work with, is much more important than length of time in business or media reviews.
    I know that I will be referring back to this post many times, thanks again!

    • Deb,

      Great add to the piece. And yes more and more data I read ( from ECSB for example) says that peer reccommend is the lead influencer when an SB thinks about current or new supplier. Thanks for you comments!


  2. “What most people do…” is a phrase I wish I had figured out in my first 12 months of working with small businesses.

    I have also learned, the hard way, that owners DO see the “small yes early” tactic, and generally, people hate feeling like they are “being sold.”

    • Jeremy, thanks as always for your adds. And for me, it was how important that “being credible” piece was to sales that took the longest for me to figure; that in itself is a full blown sales effort.


  3. Hi Mark. Thanks for these tips. I am moving into a new sales role where I am selling to local small businesses. I am printing out these tips for sure! I think your ideas about using the word “EASY” is right on. Keep up the great work!

    • Sure Alicia, #19 hits hard on the overt TIME tension SB owners have and especially when you interrupt them. “90 seconds” does 2 things– it says instantly when this will be over! ( and it’s a short time) and 2 — Nobody calls or visits and says that so you improve your chances of getting attention– however short that is to your question vs. knee jerk reaction to the same questions they hear over and over again.

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