I Am Not Your Customer (rant)

November 12, 2013

I own a brick and mortar business in Chicago and I am also the founder of Little Independent, which is a web-based company that sells t-shirts and mugs with small business logos.   

We’ve been around since 2011 but we’ve only recently re-launched with this new product.  Our original website was an aggregate marketplace for items from independent retail stores.  It grew to have almost 100 stores in 22 states but it wasn’t effectively delivering on the value proposition I had intended for stores or shoppers.  We had accomplished a lot but I decided to close that site down and try something new. 

I am pitched to a lot and I have also spent a lot of time presenting my own product to small businesspeople.  I know it is very difficult.  I had a few thoughts I think might help entrepreneurs and sales reps that want to reach independent retailers and restaurateurs. 

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1.  I am not your customer. In my store I am trying to solve problems and provide products and services for the people who call, e-mail or stop in.  When you call, e-mail or stop in to sell to me, I throw up a wall because it usually seems like you don’t respect the dynamic I’m comfortable with.  Maybe we can work together somehow but I’m not used to being the customer in my business and I don’t care for it.

2.  A few times a week an entrepreneur will ask to talk to me about their company because it focuses on small businesses and that’s my thing.  I always hear “I really wanna help small businesses.” Or “I’m just so passionate about supporting local.” That’s great to hear and hopefully those folks both walk the walk and talk the talk.   Action speaks louder than words.  Truthfully we want your business, not your help.  The best thing you can do for small businesses is to be a good customer.  Shop, eat and drink local.  Tell your friends why and where you do.  Don’t ask local shopkeepers to price match Amazon while you scan barcodes in their shops on your phone.  Do all those things and mean it before you look to me to be your customer.  Be mine. 

3.  Try to see things from my perspective.  I’ve got pitches flying at me from all sides.  There are some services I need like legal, accounting, utilities, and distributors but once I have them established I’m not likely to change unless I become unhappy.  If you’re offering a new service I don’t already have, it’s probably a “could do” not a “have to” for me.  Keep in mind there are so many things I could do that may or may not help my business but as long as I’m meeting my goals (full tables, happy customers, turning inventory, bills paid,) I don’t have to do anything.  Sometimes I get the impression that entrepreneurs think I must be soft in the head to not jump up and down to try their new thing because it’s just the best thing ever and will totally be game changing for my business.  Keep in mind, it’s my choice and sometimes I choose to say no or, not right now.  It’s not because I’m not a good business owner or not ambitious, I just have my own customers to focus on. 

4.  On that note, you have to overcome the fact that you’re not the first person pitching me this month, week or day.  That’s not your fault but it’s a reality.  The deal market became so oversaturated.  All the pitchers wanted to explain why his or her thing is different.  Give or take, they all sound the same to me.  Maybe I’m not listening well, but I’m busy.  Everyone wants something from the shopkeeper.  Content. Time. Discounts. Have you even ever been in my store? Are you my customer or are you another sticky hand tugging at my skirt?

5.  Don’t assume I have a problem first of all.  Then, don’t assume that if I did have a problem I’d be looking to you to solve it for me.  Do I even know you? Are you my customer?  So many entrepreneurs jump quickly into the “What’s your struggle?” narrative.  Just because I’m a small businessperson doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always struggling. 

6.  Don’t give up. I hope some of what I said helps you think about how to deliver a sales pitch to a brick and mortar shopkeeper.  I do it all the time and I’m not like the best ever at it.  It’s really, really hard but if you believe what you’re offering is a good product for small business then, spread the word.  You’re a small businessperson too.  Just be empathetic, respectful and most importantly, be a good customer.   

 

Some specifics based on things that actually happen all the time:

  1. If you call, start by asking if it’s a good time to talk.  If I say no, offer to call back or ask if you can e-mail me some information I can take a look at when I have time.
  2. Don’t stop in a Saturday. Don’t stop in when I have customers in the store. Don’t stop in if I didn’t ask you to.  Maybe, don’t stop in at all or if you do, be nice and quick.  “I’m not sure if this is a good time but I just wanted to drop off some information about blabityblah and I’ll follow-up with you later.”
  3. Follow-up.  Sometimes I tell an entrepreneur “No, not now but follow-up with me later.” and a lot of people don’t.  I have the luxury of taking my time to make a decision so, if you want me to say yes, check in. 
  4. Be nice. There seems to be a trend or sort of mean pitches.  Pointing out flaws. The “I thought you might want to know why you’re losing customers” angle.  Ummm… really?  I know our website is not responsive.  We’re gonna hire someone to fix it.  Will it be you? Prolly not.  It’s kind of like Adam Levine on the Voice.  The say something kind of mean so they’ll want to win your love approach.  That doesn’t really work for me.  Be kind. We’re doing a lot right.  If we hadn’t been busy helping customers, we would have updated the site already.
  5. Don’t say negative things about your competitors while pitching. It doesn’t make you look good. 
  6. If you ask if you can stop by, I will probably say no.  Just put your info. out there in a clear, and concise way.  Make me aware of it. Be nice. Be on my radar. If I need your service, maybe a year later, I’ll come to you.
  7. Edit the e-mail you’re copy and pasting so that the name of the last business you contacted isn’t there.  Duh.
  8. I could cut and paste actual pitch e-mails but this is plenty long already. Thanks to Built In Chicago for giving me a place to rant.