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  • Richard Hall

#1 Success criteria when selling to family business owners

I have worked for and with a lot of family business owners. I can tell you one thing that holds true - do not assume you know their priorities. Each one is different.

Here are some real examples that perhaps you can relate to:

  • One owner paid themselves less than any other executive in the company. Another had to make sure they were the highest paid.

  • One wanted just enough profit to provide a good work environment and to be voted “Best Company to Work For”. Another would cut any staff member if it bought them another cent of profit.

  • One was all about the employees, the other all about themselves.

With such a dichotomy of beliefs, how could someone expect for a standard sales/pain point/business value approach to work? Many rarely do and the salespeople cannot understand why.

In recent years, Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” has inspired many leaders and individuals to identify their own “Why” first. Once doing so, they know and act upon their “why” and it can inspire others to align and follow.

I challenge that the best way to sell to a family business owner is not knowing your “Why” but knowing their “Why”.

Since not all owners are constrained by the goals of profitability like most public companies are, their values and desires may be much different. Hence, their buying needs are also different.

Three approaches to understanding their “Why”

  • Ask – Try this, “Owner, you are obviously very successful. Just so we are aligned, and I provide the best value possible, what would you like to see your company accomplish in the next 5 years”? If they speak of profits or growth, that tells you they may be motivated by money, right? What about “Best company to work for?”. That would speak to employees and legacy. What about retirement or transition? That could speak to stability and sustainability.

  • Do your research - Look them up on LinkedIn, Facebook, and or Google. What are their interests, charities, and hobbies away from work? Will your solution make life easier and give them more of that?

  • Be observant when you visit - How does the office look? How do they dress? Who did they invite for the meeting and why? If roles are unsure, ask for introductions. (I cannot tell you the times that salespeople are speaking to the CEO because they are in the room when the actual influencer is across the table and being ignored)

Understanding your audience’s “why” speaks to their true motivations and not just short-term pain.

So why is this important?

The market for selling to family-owned businesses in the United States is tremendous. Many people think of the corner “mom and pop” store. Reminder that Walmart is a family owned business.

In fact, there over 5.5 million family businesses in the U.S. They contribute 57% of the U.S. GDP, employ 63% of the workforce, and are responsible for 78% of all new job creation.

If you follow steps outlined here, you should be able to increase your success rate in a large market. Selfishly speaking, if you put these in action, you will also save the family owners a lot of time and frustration by giving them what they want and need and not just what you are trying to sell them.

If you'd like to discuss further, contact me at

Rich Hall | Trusted Business Advisor

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