Are you still cold calling? Have you noticed that selling to small business in particular is all but impossible (and of course, selling to large business is even harder)?

Business changes. All the time. I’m fascinated by business change, and our clients know we help them create and get them through the process of business change. Sure, I’m all about that pesky Search Engine Optimization stuff, and I love talking about how SEO works particularly in relation to long tail marketing, but I get really hopped up on the pure academics and how they intersect with reality.

John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing gets this. I’ve been reading John’s work for a couple of years now. As the name of his business and web site suggest, John’s all about the simple and practical kind of stuff that we all understand almost intrinsically, yet keep managing to overlook.

A few days ago, John wrote a post called “How To Sell To a Small Business Owner” that made me jump. Like John, I run a small business, and reading his piece from the perspective of the guy being sold to I was thinking “yep, that’s me!”.

Of course, the point here isn’t how hard it is to sell to me; the idea is giving you tools you can use to sell to others.

A long time ago (my bio is here), I was the President and COO of a technology consultancy called Planet Computer. One of my partners had created a practical way to log into computers remotely across the then-prevalent dial-up Internet connections most small businesses were using, and at Planet Computer we sold access to that service.

Today, what Planet sold isn’t needed because we all have faster connections, faster computers, and software that lets people log in remotely free or very inexpensively. That, of course, is what business change is all about.

But while at Planet, I was approached by IBM about becoming an official IBM Business Partner.

Think about that for a moment; THIS WAS IBM. We had some pretty cool technology at Planet Computer, but IBM didn’t need to pay us for that (and didn’t offer). What IBM wanted in making Planet Computer an IBM Business Partner—and they did; it took me a year to negotiate the deal, but we did business with IBM despite the fact that we were very small—was to have us help them reach small business, because IBM and other large companies don’t know how to do that.

It’s impossible, actually. When businesses grow, their cultures change, and IBM simply couldn’t speak the language of small business. Still can’t, and never will.

But can small business speak the language of small business? Does small business even have a language?

John Jantsch’s article reminds me that yes, they do. Small business

  • plans mostly for the short term
  • wants value but buys on price
  • wants to feel like they’re using something cool
  • wants to be spoken to like a partner (not a target)
  • and yes, will keep buying from you forever as long as you take care of all of the above

That last one is the best part of this, because long-term customers are the best customers. But especially with small businesses you’ll never get there if you can’t hit the first four points. And that isn’t always easy. Should we be surprised that Microsoft Doesn’t Understand Long Tail Marketing? Nope. But small businesses, who must invest in that if they are to become large businesses, don’t get it either because long-tail takes a long time.

I can tell you that ranking at the top of Google’s search results for “Who Really Caught Osama?” is a good technique in the long-tail wars, and that telling the world about Bad Customer Service at Nissan of Manhattan matters, but you won’t care unless you “get it”.

It does work, though, to say that Long-Tail Marketing Works While You Sleep. Because you want to make money 24 hours a day, right?

Small Businesses can’t be sold to, because in the new business era, where SEO and The Long Tail are so important, no-one can be sold to. But you can be there when Small Businesses need you. And if you are, and you speak their language, they’ll keep doing business with you for a very long time.

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