February 08, 2016
5 Tips To Becoming A Trusted Advisor To Small And Mid-Sized Businesses
Marketing the offering of a managed service provider (MSP) is challenging. No one wants to think about the unthinkable – a disaster that would harm the business which an entrepreneur has invested years of effort and considerable personal savings. And even if the decision maker at a small or medium-sized business is willing to think about hazards that could harm the business, capturing his or her attention will not be easy, given all of the immediate, competing demands on limited time. The marketing effort requires patience and persistence just to begin the dialogue with the small or medium-sized business (SMB).
Let’s say that you have made it past the gatekeeper, and secured an appointment with an IT or business person authorized to take decisions to invest in business continuity measures. This is a valuable opportunity. To make the most of it, I recommend the following best practices to build a relationship that will result in your becoming a trusted advisor to small and mid-sized businesses:
-Exercise care, as the MSP often suffers from what is known as “the curse of knowledge”.
You may think that because you know something, everyone else does, too, but that may not be the case. You may not even be aware that information you share may be misunderstood. The attorney, for example, frustrates the business owner by using more Latin words in his communications than English ones, leaving contract negotiation behind an inscrutable wall of foreign legal terms. The same can be said about the work done by technology experts. So it is best to communicate information, particularly information concerning computer information systems, in plain English.
-You know the facts and figures, but the SMB probably does not.
You surely have information about the incidence of various threats to SMBs, such as economic losses arising from computer downtime, for example. It can be helpful to share these with SMBs in the form of a helpful infographic. Provide a sufficient amount of information to inform, but not overwhelm, the business owner.
-Case studies are compelling and can help to better understand the need for business continuity measures.
I learned this when I updated the second edition of my book Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses. I included short, one-paragraph case studies on small businesses impacted by various threats. I provided just enough information to teach a memorable lesson, but not so much as to overwhelm. When the business manager for a medical practice reads the case study of the real-world example of the doctor’s office that lost valuable patient records because of a power outage, he nods his head in agreement and is more receptive to the information being shared. In the years since the first edition of my book was published, I have collected case studies (with the written consent of the business owner to share or publish these studies) covering a range of SMB’s across all geographic regions, all industry types and all threats and hazards. You should do so, too. Case studies move facts and figures into common, everyday experiences.
-Be careful not to communicate any information that could be construed as fear-mongering.
I refrain from scaring people with extreme threats that are probably unlikely to happen anyway. I am careful to point out that I recognize that my experience of 9/11 was a statistical outlier; however, the elements of the hazards arising from 9/11 (power outages and temporary lack of access to my regular place of work, for example) are very common and thankfully I was prepared for them. Television networks increase their viewership by broadcasting vivid images of severe disasters; this approach can be counterproductive for business continuity measures. People just become numb to these threat scenarios and don’t like to feel that they are being scared into making an investment. Always have a business-like, pragmatic tone in your communications with SMBs. You are not looking for a temporary boost to viewership; you are looking to build a long-term relationship.
-Provide helpful information to your clients that exceeds the requirements of closing a sale.
By sharing helpful information with SMBs, even when such information will not advance the close of the sale, you become a trusted advisor to SMBs, and not just a sales person. I learned a variation of this lesson after my book was published and I reached out to journalists covering the small-business sector. I often pitched story ideas on timely topics relevant to SMBs, topics they have not considered and which topics were completely unrelated to small business risk management – the subject of my book! I would refer them to expert sources to inform their reporting. After they fainted and woke up (they are used to public relations firms pitching self-serving material), they worked with my information. I would estimate that about 19 of 20 story ideas I packaged and pitched had nothing to do with small business risk management or advancing sales of my book or my business. They began to come to me for information and that led to long-term relationships. If you learn of new emergency evacuation information in your community, why not pass it along? It supports business resilience, even though it is not directly related to closing a sale.
For more on these and other approaches to small business risk resilience, check out, The 5 Keys to Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan for SMBs.