Selling to Small Businesses: Getting Your Pitch Past the Gatekeepers

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Black iron gateSelling valuable services to small and medium sized-businesses (SMBs) can be challenging. SMB owners have very little wiggle room in their schedules and budgets. Selling services to brick-and-mortar SMBs is even more challenging — as few of them maintain websites and they generally have unreliable contact information. Yet, despite these challenges, new companies that serve the SMB market, from point-of-sale providers (Square, Shopkeep, Revel) to online listing platforms (Yext, GoDaddy, Localeze, SinglePlatform) aggressively compete for their business.

SMB owners are focused on operating their businesses and making payroll each week. Their lives depend on running their businesses successfully. So when vendors call or walk in, they typically don’t have the bandwidth necessary to seriously consider purchasing the products or services being offered. Instead, owners (the decision makers) tend to have their staff members (the gatekeepers) push eager sales reps away.

Having better conversations with gatekeepers is one way to improve the sales process. Most inquiring sales reps tend to ask a gatekeeper when the decision-maker will be available and then quickly end the sales call. This is a waste of a great opportunity to gather valuable intelligence. A gatekeeper can be your unwitting scout, giving you the information you need to better serve your prospective client.

A few quick tips for your conversation with a business’s gatekeeper:

  • Begin with sincerely asking them if they can help you. You’d be surprised how many gatekeepers will point you in the right direction by asking if they can help. For example, “I am looking to learn more about your online marketing, are you the best person to speak with?”
  • Succinctly tell them why you’re calling. If the gatekeeper wants to dig deeper before putting you in contact with the decision maker, tell them why you’re calling. For example, “I see that you are running a deal on Yelp, and wanted to see how many new customers it has brought in.” Most gatekeepers do not know this answer and will have to get the right person to answer.
  • Ask for their busiest times of day, so you know when not to call. If the merchant’s busiest time is from 11am-2pm, it’s best to call outside of that time frame in order to have the decision maker’s full attention. Calling at the right time limits the number of ineffective calls and makes the sales cycle as efficient as possible.
  • Ask if this is typically considered their busy season. By asking the gatekeeper if it’s their busy season, you will learn how to frame the conversation when speaking with the decision maker. If it’s busy, ask: What kind of marketing have you done to create the current buzz around your business? If it’s slow, ask: What kind of marketing have you done in the past?
  • Ask if they have any social media presence. If they are not on social media, the decision maker may focus on word-of-mouth and traditional media for business which gives some intel into the state of mind of decision maker. If the business uses social media for marketing, most likely the decision maker understands the importance of technology.
  • Ask for a better way to contact the owner and specific time to call back. Let the gatekeeper know the importance of your call as well as their time and ask for the decision maker’s email and best time to reach them.
  • Always build a rapport. Keep track of their name, attitude, and ability to help. Keeping the conversation lively and fun will help get in touch with the right person.
  • If the rapport with the gatekeeper is good, sell your product to the gatekeeper. They can’t make the decision, but if they are a champion of your product and ultimately you (people buy from people), they’ll point you in the right direction and speak highly of you. This is essential to inside sales because decision makers are naturally hesitant of closing a deal over the phone without a basic stamp of approval.

All of this information can be used in order to create a better, more informed conversation with a decision-maker. Productive conversations with gatekeepers are essential to the sales cycle and will result in more successful closes.

geoff michenerGeoffrey Michener is the co-founder of ProspectWise. ProspectWise gathers small business information directly from the physical location, not from online sources where accurate small business data is unavailable due to their limited digital footprint. ProspectWise’s massive crowdsourced workforce canvases streets and neighborhoods to collect and verify valuable business intelligence that fuels small business vendors’ marketing and sales channels.