Estimated read time: 8 minutes
We all know that 2020 was a rough (if not horrible) year for a good number of small and midsize businesses. What’s 2021 got in store for SMBs? Here is what to expect over the next 12 months:
- Economic conditions will be favorable for a wide range of SMBs
Most indicators point to the economy rebounding in 2021, which is no surprise, given the 2020 recession and the large amount of money pumped into businesses by the U.S. government. For most SMBs—with the exception of those in still-battered industries like hospitality or those led by “shell-shocked” owners unable to adapt—the worst is over. While this doesn’t necessarily mean a return to 2019’s economy, it will mean the days of declining revenue are over.
- The recovery will be uneven
It’s never a good idea to generalize when it comes to assessing the SMB market, as 2020 showed. In fact, many SMBs had a great 2020. (Note: If you’re getting your SMB news from the mainstream media, it will seem that almost all small businesses are failing. As always, don’t look to mainstream media for SMB insights.)
In 2021, it will be especially risky to generalize. Why? Because SMBs are recovering at different speeds. Not only does the speed of recovery depend on their industry, but also on their unique behaviors. For years, we’ve pointed out that behaviors are a much better signal than demographics when it comes to SMBs. This is even more so now. Some business owners have uncovered new opportunities amid the pandemic and can’t press the gas pedal fast enough, while others are still treading water.
- Businesses will continue to retool
As I’ve said on many podcasts and interviews, COVID-19 became a great accelerator in the SMB market. For example, SMBs that hadn’t already embraced the cloud were forced to adopt it quickly due to all the employees who suddenly had to work from home and access data remotely. But WFH is just one area where SMBs are retooling. Here are others:
- Customer experience: Many SMBs started offering contactless payments and other mobile technologies as a way to make their customer experience more convenient and seamless.
- Employee engagement: Beyond simply for WFH ease, SMBs also adopted technologies like video conferencing, instant messaging apps and other collaboration tools to keep employees more connected and engaged.
- Automation throughout the enterprise: Workflow automation tools like Zapier have made it easier for SMB owners to connect the apps and tools they and their employees use every day, to reduce repetitive tasks and be more productive. That became even more important during the pandemic, and it will continue to pick up steam this year.
This retooling is an opportunity for B2SMB brands. Most SMBs do not have expertise in automation or the other new technologies that can help them stay competitive—so they are looking externally for help.
- Many new businesses will emerge
Recessions have traditionally led to many new businesses, and this one will be no exception. Already by late 2020, we saw a surge in startup activity. Some local businesses that went bust last year will be replaced with new ones, and some people who were laid off will take the plunge and start working for themselves.
How to Win Over SMBs in 2021
The above-mentioned trends will offer an opportunity for B2SMB brands. Here are four ways you can make the most of them and win SMB customers in the year ahead:
- Target (and segment) SMBs by behaviors—not just demographics
Your messaging and marketing should mirror the industries you are targeting, but remember that SMB behaviors are just as important when targeting. Are you looking to reach businesses that are in growth mode and perhaps retooling—or are you trying to help those that are struggling to keep up? Understanding their different behaviors and segmenting around them is critical to sending them the right message.
For example, if you have a SaaS product that helps SMBs with productivity and are targeting growing SMBs, your messaging could refer to how your product enables scale. If you are targeting those trying to survive 2021, messaging could refer to saving money.
- Remember that SMB leaders “don’t know what they don’t know”
For years, we’ve said that the mission of any B2SMB brand (or its SMB division) should be focused on helping small businesses, rather than simply pitching products or services to them. This has never been as important for your organization as it will be in 2021. As businesses retool and move fast to take advantage of new growth opportunities, they will need more help than ever.
Among other things, this means providing them with ideas—ideas around how to improve the customer and employee experiences and how to automate their business. As always, make sure the content comes from real experts who can provide POV-changing insights.
- Always connect the dots between SMB challenges and opportunities and your products
Don’t assume that SMBs will automatically do this on their own. This is done by creating the right content for them at all stages of the buying journey. (For more on how to do this, read our recent post “How to Convert More SMBs, Today and Tomorrow.”)
- Rev up your marketing investment
Opportunities to win SMBs’ business are likely to be plentiful in 2021, especially as the pandemic tapers—so you want to make sure your marketing is ready. The big question here: When is the right time? This depends on your specific target markets, but you can time it right by asking questions like:
- Do they need a boost from the COVID vaccine in order to start to see growth (think restaurants and hospitality)?
- Or, are they starting the new year already in growth mode (think residential contractors and real estate)?
2021 will be a year of big change and opportunity for most SMBs. Imagine looking back on the year on December 31, 2021, and ask yourself: Where was your brand through all of this?