In October, it will be two years since I left the FTSE 100 where I had worked for 15 years latterly as a Sales Director. The companies I was selling to were also large corporates – typically FTSE 350 or equivalent.
At Hybrid Legal we specialise in helping SMEs protect and grow their businesses. So, I spend a lot of time talking to business owners. I enjoy this aspect of my job – listening to their stories about why they started the business and trying to understand what makes them tick.
I’m often asked what the major differences are between working in a small company compared to a large organisation.
I could talk about the hands-on approach – for example carrying your own office furniture around when you move offices, rather than phoning the premises department.
Or the number of roles I have within our business – I’m still in sales but I’m also Finance Director, Human Resources Director and Marketing Director. And that’s the ‘official’ sounding stuff, never mind my team appointing me in charge of horticulture.
But the main thing has been the differences in dealing with clients. When you’re in a relatively senior position at a large organisation you get used to the partners, introducers and clients you deal with providing you with all the information you ask for and usually quite quickly.
I naturally assumed that dealing with SMEs would be a similar experience. I thought “if I carry on doing the things I did before I’ll be successful”. For example – I’d always try to respond to emails swiftly. Or I’d give lots of information so the client or prospect would be armed with all the key facts. Or I’d be quick to try arrange follow up meetings or phone calls.
My logic was that if I treat SME business owners in the way that I treated employees of FTSE 350 corporates they’d respond well to that and we’d develop our relationships and win new business.
What I didn’t understand is that SME business owners are nothing like employees of FTSE 350 corporates.
SME business owners have other (better) things to do than read my emails or respond to my voice messages. They are very busy people and often, the more successful they are, the busier they are. They don’t have to answer to anyone and so are not concerned that if someone has a moan about them, their boss might hear about it and rein them in. They want the key facts not the detail.
So, I’ve realised that to develop relationships with SME business owners, I should think like they do (after all I am one now).
Amongst other things, this means being patient and persistent. Finding new and innovative ways of communicating with them. Understanding their problems to look for opportunities to help even if it doesn’t mean business initially.
It all sounds so obvious, but for someone brought up in the world of the large corporate – the last 2 years have been a steep learning curve!
By Alan Reid.