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Seven top tips for speaking to SME’s in their own language

There are a staggering 125 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the world. They are the backbone  of the economy and in Europe, for example, create two out of every three jobs.

They face real challenges including access to finance, competition, over-regulation, acquiring customers and, for owner-managers, enormous time pressure. Understanding these issues is the key to communicating effectively with them.

Advertising is a particular challenge. SMBs typically spend less than their larger competitors, as a percentage of turnover, which suggests that they’re missing an opportunity. At the same time, more of them manage advertising internally than larger companies and this just adds another task an already full agenda.

So, this is the context for your conversation with SME owner-managers. How do you convince them of the opportunity when they have so little time and attention to give you and so many other things to worry about?

  1. Find the right forum

    Don’t expect owner-managers to come to you looking for answers. Instead, you need to engage them where they are, whether it’s online, on the phone or face to face. For example: local chambers of commerce, industry organisations and networking clubs for personal contacts and small business blogs, forums and LinkedIn groups online. But one of the most effective ways to reach them is by calling them. If you understand their issues and respect their time, you’ll find them surprisingly open to a call

  2. Talk about their issues

    Show how your advertising solutions solve their problems. For example, focus on how you help them win more customers, cut their costs or accelerate growth. The more specific you can be the better.

  3. Use their language

    They know their business and their market sector intimately but they are not advertising experts (even if they are responsible for marketing in their business) so you have to use everyday language.

  4. Avoid hype

    Don’t pepper your emails, promotions and websites with ‘purple farts’ – empty words and phrases that sound meaningful. Avoid buzzwords and cliches. Business owners are wary of exaggerated claims because they see so many. Research has found that using objective language makes it more credible.

  5. Be concise

    They’re busy so respect their time. Grab their attention early from the start. The impact of what you say is inversely proportional to the number of words you use to say it so use fewer words.

  6. Become a trusted advisor

    Politicians have a bad reputation because we assume they are lying to us. People prefer trustworthy business partners. Become a trusted advisor by consciously, conspicuously and consistently acting in customers’ best interests.

  7. Use stories as examples

    Human beings are story-telling animals. We respond to a good story and a good example better than we do to lists of facts and technical details. This is why we read novels not phone directories. So find good case studies that show how other clients benefitted from advertising and practice condensing them into short 30-second anecdotes.

Above all, use personas and use active listening to see things through the eyes of your customers. Like a skilled diplomat, once you understand their world, speaking their language and persuading them will become second nature.