I’ve built a career on helping entrepreneurs and small businesses navigate the market through a combination of tough love and real-world business insight. It’s not always easy to hear the advice that will make your company successful, but without that kind of straight talk and out of the box thinking, chances are you will just keep on making the same mistakes over and over again.

But you wouldn’t be alone. At Microsoft Inspire, I spoke about why most tech companies fail when selling to small businesses and what they need to do to succeed instead. On the latest episode of the newly released Hacking the Future podcast series with Microsoft Partner Network, I chat with host Rachel Braunstein about what mistakes I see most frequently in the partner ecosystem. Here are just a few of those mistakes that I’ve seen partners struggle with over the years, and what you can do instead.

1. Not Understanding the Small Business Customer

It’s actually amazing that so little is known about selling to small businesses because so much of our economy is made up of small businesses. On a global scale, over 99% of all businesses are small businesses. But the challenge remains that they work in all kinds of very disparate verticals, from IT services to dog walkers, lawyers to dentists, accountants to personal trainers. And if you’re a real estate agent, your business is obviously very different from that of a personal trainer. So, a tech company marketing to the small business space is aiming at too broad a market to really land a valuable service.

The solution to this is very simple, but not necessarily easy. It’s about differentiating yourself and focusing in on a particular type of small business or industry vertical, then getting to know them in depth so you can position your services in a way that is meaningful and valuable to them. Once partners are able to unlock their small business customer niche, there is a serious opportunity there.

2. Selling Features Over Business Solutions

As a tech company, it makes sense to focus on all the amazing things you can do. The products and the features are powerful and meaningful…to you. As a small business owner, your customer is obsessed with one thing – getting the job done. Until that time when the technology (or the lack thereof) gets in the way of them getting the job done, technology is out of sight, out of mind.

To overcome that language barrier, look at your technology offerings from the perspective of your customer. How will your offerings solve a specific business problem? How will it make your customer more money? How will it make them more secure and more productive? How will it help them do better work? These are the things that matter most to the small business market, and if you are not able to sell your features as real-world business solutions, then you will struggle to connect with SMB customers.

3. Failing to Sell to Existing Customers

For such an obvious business opportunity, I see this mistake time and again. Your existing customers are one of your greatest resources for future sales, but you have to take the time to reevaluate their needs and your offerings. A great example I like to bring up when I talk about this challenge is how I, as a small business technology customer myself, had to go to my IT provider and ask about what I could be doing to increase my digital security. While I did get what I needed, it is such an obvious opportunity for partners to make the up-sell that it can’t be overlooked.

As a small business customer, I trust and look to my IT service provider to tell me what I need. Whether it’s Office 365 or Advance Threat Protection, chances are that your customer doesn’t fully know what solutions are available or how reasonably priced they are in the SaaS pricing model. When you take the time to educate your customer, they will reward you with more business.

Like I said before, selling to small businesses isn’t complicated, it’s actually pretty simple. But it takes time and commitment to know your customer and to show them how you can make their lives easier through better technology.

For more discussion about succeeding in the small business space, tune in to the latest episode of Hacking the Future with the Microsoft Partner Network. Subscribe for weekly downloads of amazing conversations with industry experts and thought leaders on the cutting edge of business and technology. Download past episodes of the Microsoft Partner Network podcast on iTunesSoundCloudiHeartRadioGoogle Play Music, and YouTube.

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