The war between small business and corporate giants is a familiar tale. Farmers market vs. Walmart, local boutique vs. the Gap, small-town florist vs. 1-800-Flowers. Every day small battles are fought inside the mind of consumers. Will they buy something cheap or invest in something reliable? Will they shop local or ship from around the world? There are a lot of factors that can sway a purchase decision.
As a small business owner competing with a large corporation, you have a lot stacked against you. Your marketing budget is smaller. Your sales team is slight. Your reputation is backed by far fewer fans. Yet, consumers choose small businesses over big ones all the time.
Small businesses have opportunities to position themselves as a viable alternative to their corporate big brothers. But how can you compete with the big brands that have deep pockets and unlimited marketing resources? Here are four ways that will help you close a sale and win over more customers than the big guys.
How to close a sale tip #1: get personal
When was the last time you went to a big brand store and had a nice conversation with the checkout clerk that didn’t feel like a work obligation? Big brand stores are always busy and their employees don’t usually have the connection to the business that would empower a heartfelt conversation. You, on the other, have a pulse on every moving part of your business.
Case study: Celebration Saunas vs. big-box stores
Katie DeCicco from Celebration Saunas says she’s in constant competition with brands like Sears, Walmart, and Costco, but she focuses her efforts on what they can’t do because of their size: get personal. According to DeCicco small businesses should:
- Use your size as a strength. Provide personalized customer’ service, competitive pricing, or better warranties.
- Walk your clients through every part of the sales process. Discuss the benefits of buying with your company openly and help with product usage.
In order to compete, you must become the expert in your field and use it to help customers. Larger business can offer advice and support, but it often comes off as a “one size fits all” customer service solution.
Identify your corporate competitor’s customer service weaknesses
Are they too big to care? Do they outsource customer service? Is their return policy hard to penetrate? Try to understand the experience your customers face when dealing with your competitor and find a more intimate and tailored solution that you can provide.
How to close a sale tip #2: dominate local markets
People love working with the business next door. Corporate competitors are nameless, faceless manufacturing machines. You’re an essential part of the community. When you have proximal access to customers or the ability to provide solutions for problems specific to your area, take advantage of that.
Case study: Eastern Connection vs. worldwide delivery companies
Brian Scanlon from Eastern Connection says that even though they compete with FedEx and UPS, they have found ways to stay relevant in their market. “UPS and FedEx cover the entire world, and we cover a footprint from Maine to Virginia," says Scanlon. "We separate ourselves by covering that entire territory in one day with ground service, which the major carriers do not do…we offer later pickup time and earlier delivery time, flexible minimums and hundredweight ratings, less claims and damage than the national carriers."
Highlight your local advantage
There’s something that makes people choose your small business over a major industry leader. By identifying what that is for your small business, you can get one step ahead of the giants.
How to close a sale tip #3: find your niche
Case study: METAZASHI vs. corporate jean brands
Chris and Jesse Machiaverno own METAZASHI, a two-man jean shop in New England. One of their challenges is competing against companies with enormous budgets and massive brand equity. Part of the Machiavernos’ strategy is that they derive inspiration for their jeans from contemporary and impressionist art. All of their jeans are cut and sewn in the USA and made from Japanese denim. That is something unique that helps them target a different type of buyer and sell to those interested.
To find your niche, the Machiavernos say small businesses need to understand what big businesses excel at and find an indirect way to compete with the larger companies.
Have buyer radar
Odds are, you don’t have a slew of sales people or a surplus of time to waste when trying to close a sale. So you have to actively engage the decision makers in a way big corporations can’t always do. Large brands tend to cast a wide net when marketing. You don’t have the luxury of losing advertising dollars and wasting sales hours on people who aren’t your target. Matthew Reischer of LegalAdvice.com says that to find those decision makers or potential buyers, you need to do a little investigating. Establishing relationships with key players is the trick to identifying decision makers.
This, in essence, requires you to engage people and understand the landscape before you begin selling.
Takeaway: Learn where the decision nodes operate before you approach a sales effort, and you will significantly increase your sales capability.
How to close a sale tip #4: compel people to choose you
- Provide flexibility in your terms
- Deliver personalized service
- Be available in case of emergencies or dissatisfied customers
- Troubleshoot quicker and find solutions more efficiently
- Stay connected and give back to the community when possible
Remember you are a small business owner but you’re also a consumer. So, the Golden rule should apply. When you focus on the things that you can do because you’re not as big as the brands you compete with, you can do a lot with a less.