Small business owners tend to be incredibly difficult to get hold of, and, even when you do manage to pin them down, they probably have a grand total of 5 minutes available in their busy day to devote to hearing your meticulously rehearsed product pitch.
That’s why, as those of you who’ve done it will know, selling to small business can be a real slog. You need serious patience, plus a willingness to really get to know their business and the problems they face. After all, that’s what they’re doing for their customers. They expect the same in return. You have to care.
So given this state of affairs, rather than go direct, some of the most effective B2B sales strategies leverage channel models instead. The idea is that if you can get in the ear of a small business advisor or existing technology vendor who is already ‘wining and dining’ your prospective customer, then the ripple effect through to their customers will be a highly cost effective route to market.
It’s a sound model – but also a well-worn one. It also doesn’t help that more and more B2B fintech and banking startups are vying for the same advisors ears. At some point, something will probably have to give.
Pushing business banking products to small business through third parties is notoriously difficult. Primarily because banking products are complex and, given they physically ‘touch’ the finances of a business owner, tend to invoke a far higher degree of caution than a loyalty or rostering app recommendation would. This is mostly because the latter can be easily deleted should it turn out to be less than satisfactory. But changing banks or finance providers? Everyone knows that’s painful. So as an advisor, you need to have a particularly compelling reason to put someone through that sort of open heart surgery.
Business advisors are often also uncomfortable about receiving commissions for recommending banking products. One advisor has mentioned to me in passing that they would far rather use their relationship with a fintech provider to offer preferential pricing to their customers, rather than pocket commissions. Unlike traditional technology vendor channel partners, not all advisors see a commission stream as a ‘valuable enough’ source of revenue compared to preserving the aura of independence a commissions free stance provides in support of their broader client advisory work.
So if channel models aren’t the most elegant distribution channel for small business banking products, what is?
Well, it’s probably less a case of chucking the baby out with the bathwater and more a case of rethinking what banking channel models are. Channel models where no money changes hands, but where a business advisor’s life and a business owner’s life both get better as the product becomes more embedded is probably key.
Taking this from a philosophy to a reality is a huge challenge. As a result there is plenty of smoke and mirrors around the concept of ‘mutual gain’ in B2B partnership pitches today.
But if you can build a product with both sides of the channel equation in mind – customer and advisor – then you are likely to build a highly defensible channel strategy that can make itself heard above the noise of all the rats and mice B2B fintech players pitching into the advisory space.
We often talk about understanding the problems of small business owners. You actually need to go deeper than this – you need to understand the problems of the people that advise to them. There will be commonalities, and your goal should be to uncover these and build your product accordingly. While not really fintech directly, companies like Receipt Bank do this very well today.
In my opinion creating a truly symbiotic product that helps improve a relationship between an advisor and their client is better than tapping an advisor on a per transaction basis. It’s also something a traditional bank would never do.
In all fairness I don’t really know of any B2B fintech startup that has mastered this at scale. Some are certainly trying in the cash flow advisory, bench marking and forecasting space, and could very well crack it. But if you do, I’d love to know about them to further my research!