Keys to Small Business Sales Success

A small business constantly worries about where its next client is coming from. Without dedicated sales people typically, most entrepreneurs generate leads themselves amidst their multitude of other business functions including servicing existing client accounts. Often without professional sales experience, the small business owner (myself included) would be remiss to turn away some helpful tips on how to sell effectively. With this in mind, I took some time to interview a proven sales professional.

Following is my interview with Kenneth Barns, founder of Breaking the Sales Bottleneck (BTSB) Consulting (

Kevin: What sales challenges do you see the small business owner facing most prevalently today?

Ken: Without even stopping to think about it, I can tell you that it is undoubtedly the process of converting prospects into buying customers, that is, the function of actually getting them to sign on the dotted line. Many small businesses have great success at attracting prospects but actually translating them into paying customers is often the biggest challenge. I would also say that starting the initial discussion with a prospect as followup to direct mail or marketing piece, for example, is another big one.

Kevin: What are some of the things entrepreneurs can do to strike up that first conversation, whether it be in person or over the telephone?

Ken: If they know in advance which company they will be meeting or speaking with, then it comes right down to research, to find the challenges and issues the prospect faces. For example, “I noticed on your website you just announced…” or “I understand your business just had a record quarter…” These types of opening questions allows the small business owner to probe them about their business – what they do and how they serve clients and prospects. People love to talk about what they do. If you can get the prospect talking, you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn about their challenges and needs simply by listening. Once you learn this, you can set an appointment to discuss with them further just how you can help them address their challenges.

Kevin: It sounds like you’re advocating the probing question or consultative approach to selling. Right?

Ken: Yes, that’s right. In addition to using a prospect’s website or recent announcements as a way of getting them to talk, you can also use what I call the “powerful question concept”. This approach is extremely effective and basically focuses on the types of questions to ask and when to ask them. Here are some examples:

  • How satisfied are you with your marketing?
  • What are your biggest challenges/most pressing problems?
  • What has been most successful for you in terms of generating sales?
  • What has been the least effective in terms of generating sales?
  • Do you have any sort of sales tracking or metrics measurement in place?

Kevin: Ken, you mentioned earlier the challenge of converting prospects to paying customers. Can you please talk about that a little bit?

Ken: Sure. The way I look at it is as a formula. First you create that awareness factor of their specific business challenges. Its demonstrating your awareness as well as them validating their own awareness. Once you dredge these up and show your true understanding of their issues, you have passed a major hurdle. Something special happens when you can effectively uncover a business’s true challenges, many times ones they haven’t even thought of themselves. Once this happens, they will have a certain level of trust in you and they will look to you to help them solve them. You showed them you took the time to research and understand their business. They will then be more apt to bringing their wall down.

Kevin: So it’s essentially the notion of uncovering their “hidden” challenges that they may not even be aware of?

Ken: Right. Strategically it’s all about the customer and his/her issues. Its not about you and your products and services. We all focus too much on our own offerings when we need to be focused on the needs of those whom we want to purchase our products and services.
In the end, effective selling comes down to either having a far superior product or service and/or your ability to create an “a-ha” for your prospective customer that can have serious implications if not addressed. You then position yourself and your business as the solution needed to solve their problem.

Kevin: Thank you Ken for that wonderful insight into effective selling. Can you now take a minute to tell us about your book?

Ken: I had tremendous success selling products and services for Verizon a few years back. I wanted to essentially parlay that success into a tutorial if you will on how to drive sales. So I wrote a book that essentially tells that story. I call it “Breaking the Sales Bottleneck” and it serves as a foundation for sales success covering essential, practical sales techniques. I call it “Breaking the Sales Bottleneck” because we are all faced today with the challenge of identifying viable business prospects and then excrutiatingly trying to pull them through to paying customers.

Kevin: Tell us about your new business.

Ken: I created a program called Listening for Sales Success that is all about this consultative/active listening sales approach we talked about. I also offer one-on-one sales consulting services leveraging these techniques and others that I outline in my book. And my whole approach to effective selling is based on a sales model I developed that I call R3. Essentially it is a three-tiered model comprised of building rapport with prospects, keeping the discussion relevant to their challenges and daily world, and using proven rhetorical sales tactics to pull the prospect through that narrow bottleneck that typically keeps most of us from closing the deal.
For a free electronic copy of Ken’s book and to learn more about his sales consulting services, you can visit his website at

By Kevin B. Levi


  1. Breaking the bottle neck of your sales is through launching your business in online and promoting all over the world.

  2. Patrick Badstibner says

    This is a very informative post. I might add three keys though for the small business owner.

    1)Read, read and then read some more, this will build knowledge, and in turn passion, passion sells.

    2)Reinvent reinvent and the reinvent some more, the company who stops should close their doors tommorrow. Sam old services done the same old way, leaves the door open for his competition.

    3) Teach, teach, and then teach some more , the old saying you are only as good as those that follow is very true.
    Thanks for an informative post.

    Pat Badstibner

  3. I agree with the points made, but would emphasize two other major challenges that totally relate to being successful (= sales!)….1) specific targeting of an audience rather than trying to be everything to everybody; and 2) focusing of resources – knowing what is truly a high impact activity and what basic blocking & tackling activities are required, versus those that are distractions and loss leaders.

  4. This article is very informative. I agree with your point that most small businesses have the owners themselves handling the sales, and some of them are not even sure how they should be handling those sales.