How small businesses want to be sold to

Just 10 minutes into her meeting with Erply Ltd., serial entrepreneur Vy Le was ready to walk out on the New York-based point of sale vendor, then something unexpected happened – they started listening to her.

The CEO of Rudy’s Barbershop, a chain of haircut shops based in Seattle with satellite locations in Portland and Los Angeles, never thought she’d be turned into an ambassador for Erply. “They were speaking in terms that were Greek to me,” Le says of her first impression.

But now she uses the cloud-based software in all of her stores and advocates that her partners also adopt the solution.  “They really took the time and the investment, not just sending a sales guy out to meet us,” she says.

After sending a vice-president level employee to spend a week with Erply and asses their needs, the provider was able to customize its product to fit into Rudy’s Barbershop environment as neatly as a buzz cut.  Le says there are lessons to be learned about how Erply sold its product to her small enterprise, and plans to speak about it at next month’s Grow Conference in Vancouver. But she passed on a few early tips to ITBusiness.ca in a phone interview.

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Also chipping in is Paul Edwards, director of SMB & channels research at IDC Canada. Small businesses aren’t that much different from large enterprise, he says, they just don’t have the same budget level.

Small shops care about quality and cost

After working with retail brands such as the Gap and Levi’s, Le was appalled to discover that Rudy’s Barbershop was still a paper-based business when she took up the role of CEO.

“Paper drives me bonkers,” she says. “They didn’t have a system that gave me real time access to my data in all 15 locations. You couldn’t even get end of day data.”

But that didn’t mean she was ready to jump at any digital system that came her way. Le was specific about looking for a cloud-based system that could deliver real-time information that included an easy-to-read dashboard she could read with her iPhone. But she was also looking for a system that wouldn’t cost her small business $100,000.

That’s typical of most small businesses, Edwards says. They must meet complex needs without blowing their budgets.

An IDC survey shows that the number one concern small shops have when looking for an IT product is the quality of the product. They want to know it will last a certain length of time and perform well, the analyst says.

“The second one is competitive pricing,” he says. “They want to have quality products and services that meet their needs, but they also want it in a competitive pricing model.”

Think about how to sell the capabilities of your product or service and keep price low enough to avoid sticker shock.

Listen to potential customers

Just as Le was ready to walk out of that initial meeting with Erply, they invited her to speak about her needs. She sketched out the sort of information her business required on a dashboard, and the conversation continued from there. Le would eventually open up her entire work flow process to show Erply what was required of the system.

“A lot of these vendors have the solution, they’re just not willing to listen to the customer,” Le says. “We want to open our doors to you and say look at our infrastructure, what can you as a developer do for us?”

In other words, not only to small shops expect quality and affordability – they expect service, Edwards says. “They want that extra personal touch.”

Because there are so many small businesses on the market, vendors often work with partners to cater to their needs. Having the a reseller channel helps customize a vendor’s products and services to the needs of a wider variety of smaller shops and vertical businesses.

“They want someone to talk to and someone to talk back to them to tell them what is important to address their key issues,” Edwards says. Research shows that small businesses are buying IT from a number of sources – directly from vendors, through the channel, and also from retail stores.

Build and maintain a relationship

After getting cozy with Erply, Le has no qualms about committing to a three-phase rollout of the cloud-based software at Rudy’s Barbershop that will start with the point of sales system and inventory tracking, then extend to allow customers to make appointments online and with iPads available when they walk into a bricks and mortar location. Eventually, Le would like to be able to order hair products directly through the system, tying directly into her other vendors.

Not only has Le signed up to be a long-term customer, but she now eagerly endorses Erply. That’s how small business entrepreneurs operate, she says – they network and share their success stories. “There’s a huge group of small businesses now that want to partner and share. It’s not like it’s a trade secret.

“We’re all word of mouth,” Le says. “We love to sit in a room and share ideas about how to do business.”

For vendors, that means a great opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell, Edwards says. To connect with entrepreneurs, remember to focus on the value proposition of your product – not on the technical speeds and feeds aspect, but on the bottom line of what the product will ultimately deliver to a business.

Brian Jackson is Associate Editor at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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