Selling to Smaller Businesses After Sept. 11: While Nothing Has Changed, Everything Has Changed

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

The rules of the game are different. Or are they? Doing business is still doing business, although without question the playing field does not appear the same. So while nothing has truly changed in the overall scheme of things, the reality is that everything has changed. What can you do, as a business owner or decision maker, to spark your companys sales? Here are seven crucial issues to help get you started.
  1. Understand and reinforce prospect urgency when you see it.

    In this downturn, and after 9-11, ensure your prospects are committed to you. If you sense wavering buy-in you may have already lost the sale. But, there are many business owners who are mimicking the national wake-up call to action in their own businesses. Profile these folks and zero in on them. They are as good as gold to you. An example would be any owner taking immediate steps to increase the security around his business.

  2. It is really all about the owner

    Challenging his or her company is the same as challenging them. Because the business owner views the company as an extension of his worth – professionally, financially, and often personally – you must make the sale personal. Instead of trying to sell based on increasing your prospects sales, instead sell on how the business owner can be recognized as an industry leader. I have a client who insists on being the go-to-guy for technology among his peers. He will buy most anything to ensure his position.

  3. Time frames are now or never

    Offer incentives for commitments within a week and disincentives thereafter. There is no middle ground. Owners like a bargain, so strike now. Sept. 11th has had a profound effect on all of us, but the effect wasnt the same with everyone. Look for people that took it as a wake-up call instead of a call to duck and cover. Many manufacturing consultants are now turning their attention to improving their client’s quality control programs.

  4. Personal selling beats any marketing campaign

    Go there yourself and do it in person. There has never been a better time. Small to mid-sized businesses have long suffered by not having the trappings of their larger competitors, such as fancy advertising, expensive Web sites and deep infrastructure. Now that such accoutrements are seen as barriers to personal interaction, take advantage of the market conditions. If decision makers are interested in seeing you, they will. And when they do, listen hard and be empathetic. Attendance at my business owner’s roundtable has spiked since 9-11. In addition, my retainer clients are calling me now more than ever.

  5. Leverage your entrepreneurial affinity

    Where possible, exploit your similarities. People are reaching out for people who are like them. You are not a corporate animal and neither are they. Revel in your mutual independence and autonomy because you have so much in common now. Be willing to meet in each other’s homes or bring your kids along if you both have to play Mr. Or Ms. Mom on the same day.

  6. Be the real deal and spot the imposters

    As the economy takes its toll, many imposters are being exposed. If you see some in your industry throw in the towel, take improper short cuts or fail to deliver on their value, exploit their missteps and make your move. The number of consultants I have seen leave my marketplace has been stunning. While they all took jobs because they could not sell enough business, their clients will still have needs you can fill.

  7. Focus on your best and highest use

    Many business owners have extended their organizations beyond their core competencies during the heydays of the last decade. They were meeting any demand for products and services their customers made. As demand shrunk and companies pulled back, some have realized how much they neglected their core competence. If you have stuck to your knitting, push it hard. You will sound so much more credible than those that have recently returned to singing an old tune. Accounting firms have been notorious for straying beyond their capabilities. Those who have remained “pure” are taking business away from those who have not.

Since 9-11, selling to smaller businesses has probably changed less than selling to bigger companies. However, as owners ourselves, we know we are more experienced at rolling with the punches-however painful they may have been!

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at (412) 973-2080, by email at, or on the web at

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