Stop selling to businesses, do this instead

Never in the history of the world has a business bought anything. 

So, stop trying to sell to them.

Instead, connect with the person who is buying.

The other day I was standing in front of a group of business owners and marketing managers helping them to define their target customer – their BrandStory character – and I had a simple epiphany. 


I asked one woman who her target market was, she replied: “small businesses”. 

Which is an answer I get dozens of times a week: “I am targeting small to medium-sized businesses, or big businesses, or service businesses or businesses with purple doors.” 

People talk about their segments with the conviction of having carefully thought through their target market and defined precisely whom they want to attract.  The woman in this workshop could tell me how many people work at her target client, how much money the business makes, whether it is innovative or stuck in its way and so on.   

We have all been trained this way.  This is how we create segments and how we think about our customers. 

My epiphany: our targets don’t exist. 

I knew this but struggled to express it until I just did: stop selling to businesses. 

Nobody listening to you is a business.  Businesses don’t buy.  They never buy.  They don’t even really exist except as a piece of paper and an entry in a database somewhere.

A business isn’t real, people are.

People are real.  People buy. 

Individuals in businesses have needs.  These needs are informed by the state of a business.  The real reason you might target a business with sales in the realm of 20 to 40 million dollars is that people in these businesses tend to have a similar problem. 

But the sales are irrelevant.  The problem is key. 

Instead of targeting the business with the right level of sales, you must target the individual with the problem. 

Think deeply about your customer, who makes the decision to buy your product and understand what is missing in their life.  Ask yourself (or better yet ask them):

  • What challenges do they face?

  • What is causing them stress at work?

  • How do they feel about what is going on in their life?

  • What do they wish they had?

Create a real persona of your target market.  Because you are selling to a person.  People make buying decisions, people have needs. 

Targeting this way will make your marketing much more specific, more detailed and easier to relate to.

Instead of “I target companies with 20-40 million in sales who want to grow”.  You target “Business owners who aren’t getting enough out of their marketing and need new strategies to attract customers.”

Then you can get more specific in your targeting and explore a level deeper, getting into the why they don’t have it.  

When you start thinking of your market as people with real problems you can develop solutions that speak directly to them in a way that attracts, engages and increases sales. 

Successful marketers and successful businesses know that they are selling to people and solving problems for individuals.  

That woman in the workshop? 

The beautiful thing is that once she let go of trying to sell to businesses and started thinking of the people she was targeting and their needs her whole pitch changed. 

She spoke easily and eloquently about whom she was targeting, and I went from a bored listener to a potential client. 

So, stop selling to businesses, start selling to people.