3 simple ways to give your team the exposure it needs
At the B2SMB Institute’s Global Conference in early October, one of the speakers asked a room full of B2SMB marketers and sales leaders, “How many people know more than a handful of business owners?” I was unsurprised when only 1/3 of the audience raised their hands. In my experience, too many marketing teams seem to believe they have all the data they need to produce results, without ever talking to actual customers or prospects. This is a reason for concern, especially when it comes to marketing to small and midsize businesses (SMBs), a market that is very unique. Following are some explanations of why this may be the case, and some suggestions for what to do to ensure that your team understands the SMB market and produces the results you expect.
Today, marketing departments have so much more on their plates than even 10 years ago. Think of the entire field of digital marketing, which was quite nascent back then. There is also more pressure as demand for leads and other results continues, while the effectiveness of traditional tactics, like display advertising, is diminishing. This, combined with a plethora of new media options and outsourced creative (including content), is perhaps why some marketers don’t have the time to really understand SMBs and how best to reach them.
I have also seen companies hire content creators and strategists who seem to be really good at the fundamentals of content marketing, but who lack understanding of the nuances of the SMB market. This is apparent in the following example.
Very recently, a client we were working with insisted on producing content for an SMB audience on preparing for an IPO. At first blush, one might think, “Sure, that might be interesting to SMBs.” But wait; there were roughly 160 IPOs in 2017 . . . among 27 million small businesses. The topic would only have been relevant to a tiny fraction of their audience. When you know the SMB market, this is an obvious flag.
Why it matters
Why is it so important that your marketing team really understands the SMB market?
- SMBs are a unique segment with unique traits. For example, compared to enterprise buyers, most SMBs are not professional buyers and rarely have formal buying processes or linear buying journeys. Understanding this is critical when trying to accelerate the journey.
- The SMB market can be segmented in many ways, and understanding these segments is critical to success. For example, micro-businesses are very different from those with 15 employees, which in turn are different from those with 125 employees. A fast-growing tech company is going to respond very differently than a 20-year-old retailer.
- Any sales pro will tell you that buyers buy for emotional reasons, and then rationalize the purchase intellectually. Understanding the emotional drivers common to SMB owners—for whom business is truly personal—can impact everything from your entire marketing plan, to your content, to positioning your products’ features and benefits.
- Successful marketers know that they are selling outcomes, not solutions. For business owners, desired outcomes are often as much personally motivated as they are related to specific business goals.
Going back to the B2SMB Institute event, multiple speakers made the point that knowing SMB data or personas is not the same as really understanding SMBs.
What you can do
Once you understand why it’s important that your marketing team really understand SMBs, you can take steps to give them regular exposure to business owners or knowledgeable SMB employees. Here are a few examples:
- SMB roundtable events: These are moderated discussions with 8–12 small business owners or decision makers, typically discussing a particular set of issues around a theme (e.g., improving productivity). Your team can observe the discussion and ask questions. In a previous post, we discuss the elements of a successful roundtable event for sales purposes. While the objectives of a marketing roundtable are different, the two events have many practices in common.
- SMB panel discussion: This entails 3–4 SMB owners answering questions from a moderator about their businesses.
- Briefings from your agency or content developers: This is, of course, only effective if your marketing partners have the insights into the SMB market that you seek, and is not nearly as effective as the first two.
When creating programs to give your marketers direct exposure to SMBs, consider the following success factors:
- Do not make the program about your company or product. Make it about the business opportunities and challenges that your product or service can help SMBs overcome.
- Include both customers and non-customers.
- The moderator and the questions asked are critical to producing meaningful responses. The moderator must be very familiar with SMBs.
- Follow events with lunch or drinks with your team so your team gets to mingle with the SMB attendees.
In my experience, most B2SMB marketers really don’t know SMBs well enough to produce or commission the content that builds trust, generates demand, and accelerates the buyer’s journey. Remember that “good enough” content is not good enough anymore. Content needs to be great. Developing a program that provides your team with regular exposure to SMBs is a prerequisite for producing great content.