Small isn’t the new Big; that’s okay.

A while back, I was led to Jason Cohen’s blog post on not trying to look like a big company when you’re not. Jason makes a good point, that when Lockheed Martin is ready to order 1000 copies of new software they probably won’t buy it from a small company anyway. That’s often true. But I think there’s a more important reason to knock off the high-falutin’ corporate image thing.

I bring this up here, on a blog about making software projects not suck, because so many software developers and consultants have single-person operations, and often carry on their business on nights and weekends. I’m not opposed to that! I’m just pointing out why a big fakey web presentation just makes you look silly when it matters. (Same goes for business cards with pretentious titles.)

What’s your best presentation tactic?

If you’re an individual freelancer, or running a very small bueinss, are you better off having an impressive, big-company website look? How’s that going to work out? Game this in your head a little.

Your prospective client has some reason, any reason, to prefer to deal with a larger company. They’re solid on this point, for whatever reason.

Even when you do hook the attention of a bigshot prospect, then what? Someone from Lockheed is going to call you and then… what? Do you think they’ll make that million-dollar order over the phone? Do you think they won’t want to visit your office, or at least ask for the glossy marketing materials?

That’s silly. The very first thing they’ll figure out when you answer the phone is that it’s just you. It will be obvious when every voicemail box has your greeting on it. When you return calls on lunch hour from your day job. When they ask who else you’re bringing to the presentation and you say, “Nobody, just me.”

Did they really want to deal with a big company? How long did you succeed in fooling them?

It makes me think of a dog chasing cars. I’ve always wondered, what the heck is the dog going to do when he catches one? Likewise, when you get that much-anticipated call from Lockheed Martin, because they (hypothetically) think you’re the marketing person at a big, impressive, established company… what were you going to do next?

Let them say no

Ike Krieger built much of his sales training practice on the concept of “uncovering a ‘no’ that was going to happen anyway.” His angle is this: if there’s a good reason for not buying your product or service, nobody benefits from a long sales process. So part (not all!) of the Krieger process is to give the prospect explicit permission to say no, to find out all the reasons for not buying, to examine the reasons that might prevail, and to address those reasons immediately.

By the way, Ike has since merged his practice with Andrew Sokol’s; the program may have changed, but the concept of “uncovering the no” is brilliant. You might as well start now.

You can’t fool them anyway

The other thing is that the fake-big-company website is an awfully thin veneer. It only takes a minute for potential prospects to notice things like:

  • not mentioning any staff by name
  • leaving yourself out of the “About Us” page
  • saying “we” without explaining who “we” are
  • using a lot of stock images
  • a “contact us” form rather than a real phone number and email address
  • generalities

It’s not just the early adopters

Jason’s post offers a neat alternative to the fake-big-company concept. Why not position yourself, if you’re a very small firm, as the solution for early adopters? Play to their need to innovate, to try new things, and to work directly with people who can solve their problem–even if the source is neither conventional nor proven: you.

As Jason puts it, “Should you come off as a big, established, safe company or as a cool, passionate, small team who wants to make a difference?”

Still, I think the issue is larger than that. Everyone talks about “authenticity” as a marketing technique, but if you can’t manage that you should at least not be directly misleading. It rarely gets your foot in the door, and even then you just end up with a sore foot.

There’s no part-credit for the sale you almost made. Just present who you are and what you actually do as directly as possible.

Back to you

Have you tried using “big company look” to represent your mom-and-pop business? Did it ever attract and convert accounts that you wouldn’t have gotten with a more authentic presentation? I’m curious. I wonder whether the “let them say no” approach is as sound as it seems. Tell me about it in the comments.

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3 responses

  1. Thanks for a great response to my article.

    I agree with you that the issue is bigger than whether or not Lockheed “will buy from small.” They bought from me when I had just 10 employees — that’s still “really really small” by Lockheed’s standards.

    I also like your point about getting to “no” faster so you stop wasting your time with deals that will never materialize. Lockheed is actually another good example of that, but that’s a longer story…

    Finally, I like your point that you don’t have to necessarily emphasize being small, but surely you shouldn’t intentionally misrepresent yourself. A lie by omission is twice the lie, as they say.

    Still, I do believe that keeping your “perfect customer” or “early adopter” in mind is the right mindset. Of COURSE you’ll also sell to folks not in those categories, but by focusing on your best chance for a sale you’ll also express yourself most effectively, and that works on a wider range of customer than you might expect.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark W. Schumann, Mark W. Schumann. Mark W. Schumann said: Riffing on @asmartbear's blog on looking like a small co (http://bit.ly/NzzF2), I give you http://bit.ly/7Fulj6 [...]

  3. I agree with both of you. It takes too much energy to keep up appearances that are not in synch (or out of integrity) with who you really are. Plus, you put off the clients who might really love who you are right now.

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