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Selling for a Small Company: 8 Rules

Selling for a small firm presents challenges even for top sales professionals. Because your company is small, your prospects probably don't know much about it. Money is tight, which means that you don't have luxury of spending lavishly to develop an account. Your firm probably lack the sales support that reps in big firms take for granted. And so forth.

Even so, there are tremendous advantages to selling for a small firm... if you know the rules. Here they are:

  • RULE #1: Never Apologize. Man sales reps in smaller firms scuttle their credibility by taking on an apologetic air, trying to explain away the inexperience or size of their firm, and then practically begging for the business. Savvy customers smell that kind of fear a mile away and are often more than willing to use it to their advantage by demanding steep discounts or even amusing themselves by making the hapless rep jump through meaningless hoops. Don't let that happen to you.
  • RULE #2: Consider Yourself the Customer's Equal. Rather than being apologetic, you must convince yourself of the value of what you and your firm has to offer. Rather than dwelling on your inexperience, constantly emphasize the unique value of a truly new approach to the customer's problems. And rather than begging for business, be hard-nosed and ready to walk out the door. And as for jumping through hoops, your company is business not a dog and pony show.
  • RULE #3: Treat "Weaknesses" as Strengths. Customers may not know anything about your firm, but they don't have any negative preconceptions, either. Money may be tight but customers are often negatively impressed when they see sales reps overspending. Support may be scarce in your firm, but that's an opportunity to get creative and more independent. Remember: many decision-makers who won't talk to cookie-cutter sales reps from established firms will take the time to talk with somebody with original ideas and a new approach.
  • RULE #4: YOU Are the Brand. It's a truism that customers buy from people they trust. When you're selling for a small firm, YOU are the brand name, the reputation, the trust-ability, and the reliability that the customer is buying. A sales rep working for, say, IBM needs only the label on a business card to create credibility. With a smaller firm, that trust and credibility must come from the person that you are and the way you present yourself to the business world.
  • RULE #5: Be an Entrepreneur. Because your firm lacks the support infrastructure of a larger firm, in most cases the only person you can really count on to get things done is yourself. You'll need to be extremely careful about your time and resources, and constantly finding creative ways to get things done quickly and easily. Remember: "activity" multiplied by "hours spent" must equal "sales results." Make certain that everything you do leads towards the results that you seek.
  • RULE #6: Match Each Request with a Counter-Request. Insist that anything the customer asks you to do give you the right to ask the customer to do something comparable in return. That policy not only ensures that you'll not be taken advantage of, but also gives you frequent opportunities to strengthen your competitive position and move the sales process forward. For example, if a customer asks you to provide them with an RFP based upon 35 pages of detailed questions, explain that you'll only do so if you're guaranteed a meeting with decision-makers to present your solution.
  • RULE #7: Be Willing to Say No. Never give in to a customer who's being unreasonable or demanding things that don't make sense for your company. Your larger competitor can perhaps afford to kowtow to get the business. You, however, don't have the luxury of being anything less than the best - and the best in any industry NEVER truckle. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be cooperative, but in all your dealings be aware of your worth and the worth of your company to the customer.
  • RULE #8: Never be afraid to bail. Don't let wishful thinking propel you into wasted effort. If it becomes clear that the deal doesn't make sense for your company or will take to much time and effort to close, it's not worth pursuing. For example, if you're being told you can't meet with the decision-maker, you aren't going to get the business. Period. So move on, without regrets.
The above is based on a conversation with sales trainer Bob Beck, who (unfortunately) has a track record of borrowing material from other sales trainers. As a result, I don't really know the ultimate origin of these rules. They smack, however, of common sense, so that's why I'm posting them anyway.

NOTE: Similar tips and techniques are contained in my soon-to-be-published book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling, now available for pre-sale here.

    All pre-sale royalties are donated to Wide Horizons for Children, an organization that facilitates foreign adoptions and orphanages.
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