There’s no such thing as a small business
Walking down the street, a familiar name caught my eye.
Etched in the concrete sidewalk at my feet was the inscription:
Concrete that’s that old usually shows its age with cracks and chips, but this sidewalk still looked fresh and new -- a testament to its quality and craftsmanship.
I recognized the name immediately because I had recently done a lot of marketing work in the concrete industry.
Pulice was a big name in that industry. Started in 1956 by the son of an immigrant coal miner, Pulice was gaining steam in 1974, building highways and residential subdivisions throughout the southwestern United States.
After the founder died in 2007, the company was sold to an international conglomerate for $114 million.
Not bad for a small family business.
That sidewalk got me thinking about one of my other clients in that industry.
Roseanne was struggling to get a new sales campaign off the ground. Her employer had crunched its numbers and figured out that although the company consistently sold enormous volumes of low-margin products to a few big customers, they realized much higher margins from their smallest customers.
If only they could sell more volume at those fat margins, they could rake in huge profits.
There was nothing new or surprising about this. Customers who buy a lot expect a discount, while customers who buy only a little have to pay a premium. That’s basic pricing discipline.
But because the company had always been focused on big customers working on big projects, suddenly waking up to the existence of an overlooked market segment was kind of revolutionary.
A gifted salesperson with a real human touch, Roseanne had been tapped to scale-up outreach to these small volume customers. But she quickly ran into a big hurdle: just because these customers bought small volumes didn’t mean they had small visions or expectations.
The company had decided to call Roseanne’s team members “small business account representatives” -- or SBARs, for short.
But she thought that sounded boring and even condescending.
I could only agree.
Plus, there was the inescapable phonetic curse in the job title. If you “bar” something, you’re hindering it or impeding it. That’s definitely not a message you want to send to your customers, even subconsciously.
So we brainstormed some better job titles:
Special accounts manager
Strategic sales specialist
Specialty sales representative
All of which had a more flattering subliminal message. You’re calling your customer “special.” You’re calling your alliance with them “strategic.”
Psychologists have long known that names affect how other people perceive us, which also affects our own behavior and how we see ourselves.
But her boss shot them all down. No, he said. Let’s just stick with the script from corporate management. SBARs it was.
Even though it cost them nothing more than printing up some new business cards, the company missed a golden opportunity to affirm its customers, its strategy and its employees.
A triple fail.
But their real failure went deeper.
They failed to grasp: there’s no such thing as a small business.
It’s an outdated concept. It’s just plain wrong.
Yes, there’s still a federal Small Business Administration, and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and jump through their hoops to qualify for financing or government contracting.
But if you introduce yourself to your customer as their dedicated “small business” representative -- even if you’re promising her special service -- she may take offense.
The whole time, she’s thinking in the back of her mind, “I may be small today, but watch out. In a few years, I’m going to be ringing the bell for my IPO.”
So leave the “small business” moniker to government loan programs and bureaucracies.
There are no small businesses.
There are only entrepreneurs.
Are you looking for opportunity in the right place?
Book a consultation with us at email@example.com to make sure you’re making the most of your market opportunities.