When it comes to boosting sales to SME customers and developing relationships with them, businesses need to get their heads around what SMEs really want
SMEs are the backbone of the British economy. Government figures show that they already account for around 99.3% of all private-sector businesses in the UK and, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, they’ll contribute £217bn to the economy by 2020. If you're a business that’s courting SMEs, it’s important to first understand how they differ from larger organisations. Given they have smaller teams and leaner budgets – but equally big goals – these are some of the things an SME client might care about.
Seeing a return on investment
When they’re starting out, businesses are highly conscious of their bottom lines and don't have the luxury of massive budgets. Cashflow problems are one of the biggest causes of terminal problems so any investment the company makes has to be justified from a revenue perspective. There’s not much room for nice-to-haves. Whatever your proposal, to really convince an SME you have to show what their return on investment will be – and how long it will take to materialise. The time period here is equally as important as the figure itself: if a business can’t recoup its investment quickly enough, it could run out of cash long before the returns start to trickle in.
Flexible payment options
Once you’ve sold the company on the value of your service, what could help you seal the deal is offering a range of flexible payment options that take an SME’s cashflow concerns into account. Rather than paying everything up front, they might prefer to put down a deposit and then pay in instalments. This is also more likely to prevent any late payment issues from building up in the future.
The agility advantage
One edge that an SME has over a larger corporation is that it’s in a better position to react to market changes quickly. Without layers of bureaucracy, SMEs can embrace new ideas, become early adopters and be the first to seize opportunities as they arise. So don't shy away from introducing them to new products or technology that’s on the bleeding edge: SMEs can have a massive appetite for innovation.
Understanding the competitive landscape
Most SMEs are battling for a share of their market. The trouble is, they’re often too busy doing their day job and trying to make their existing customers happy that they can’t always look at the bigger picture. If you can start a conversation by sharing an insight about their competitors, identify a gap in the market or an audience need that’s not being fulfilled, you’re far more likely to get them to sit up and take notice. By going the extra mile to show that you understand their market inside out, you’ll be in a better position to be treated as a trusted partner rather than an easily disposable vendor.
SME are not faceless corporations: because they operate on a smaller scale, they often have a very strong sense of their own culture and place importance on developing strong relationships with suppliers, customers and employees alike. Don’t forget that being an entrepreneur can be a lonely affair: if you’re dealing with the business owner themselves, they may have a very small team around them so making a genuine human connection with them and building trust can go a long way.
If you're keen to establish a lasting working relationship, it helps to go the extra mile to form a rapport with individual people: pick up the phone or set up a lunch date rather than relying on email alone. And while automation can save time, don’t allow it to strip away the personal touch – especially when you're dealing with an SME.