It’s time to get real. Do you know what’s really going on in the minds of your SMB customers and prospects? Perhaps you use third-party research, or conduct your own surveys. Such data is surely useful, but there’s no substitute for talking to business owners directly if you want to truly understand the SMB market. To that end, I want to share some real-world insights drawn from conversations with SMB owners across industries.
I speak with fellow business owners every day. As the publisher and editor-in-chief of The New York Enterprise Report (NYER), founded in 2003, I developed a network of hundreds of business owners. While we sold NYER in 2014 to focus on our content marketing business, an overwhelming percentage of my network and friends today are business owners.
Why am I sharing this with you? Simple. Whether it is your product, your content or your brand experience, we all know marketing has to be about the customer. Through this and future editions of SMB Minded, I hope to help you go beyond the data to better understand your SMB customers and prospects and thereby create marketing programs that truly connect.
So, let’s get started. Here are three opportunities and challenges common to many SMBs – all of which involve managing change.
Disruption – Almost every industry is facing disruption today – largely from digitalization. One friend in retail is holding his own by embracing digital tactics through strong email and social pushes. At the same time, he leverages excess space for a “store within a store” program. This gives him additional revenue and new traffic while giving upstart brands access to his customer base without a long-term commitment. Another friend is a multi-million-dollar supplier to large department stores and is dealing with double-digit revenue declines. She is paring headcount as part of a bigger effort to right-size the company while developing her own online retail channels.
Marketing Evolution - This one will surely ring true with many of you. The way we marketed just a few years ago no longer works as well as it used to. It seems clear that businesses of all sizes now fall into two categories: those that realize this and are testing and pursuing new opportunities and channels, and those that are continuing with the same, increasingly ineffective tactics and hoping for a better result.
Some of the companies I know that are struggling with this are quite large. One has 200 employees in the HR space and has been around for over 40 years. The CEO recently brought in a marketing person, but I don’t know if he truly understands the role of marketing (and hence if he is doing enough).
In my experience, this is particularly common in SMBs that are sales-driven organizations as it becomes increasingly difficult to get prospects on the phone. Because only a small fraction of potential customers is ready to buy at any given time, the winners in today’s environment will be those that develop robust marketing programs to augment their sales functions and attract and nurture prospects at earlier stages of the sales funnel.
Re-Defining the Target Market – Some owners are realizing that success isn’t about revenue growth, but rather profit growth. I am seeing more businesses firing unprofitable clients and pursuing market niches where clients are more likely to be satisfied and are easier to serve.
For example, an SEO firm I know that used to cater to everyone now targets companies in just a few verticals that are willing to spend a minimum of $10,000/month for at least 6 months – long enough to see results. They literally say “no” to companies that don’t fit their new model.Market forces (specialization facilitated by the Internet and “extreme customization,” among others) mean that mass markets are disappearing for most products and services. Companies with targeted expertise and/or strong brands that are “known for something” can realize higher profits by focusing on the segments they are best able to serve and that are most aligned with their established brand value propositions.
Consider these issues from the perspective of your SMB customers, and think about how your content can address them. If you can position your content (and ultimately your product) as one that helps companies embrace and thrive with change, you will be striking a chord with most SMBs. As we have said before, SMB buyers care about their opportunities and challenges, not your product. The successful marketer really understands and practically empathizes with SMBs. I talk to SMBs every day. I like to say, “I speak SMB,” and I’d love to help you tailor your content to what’s on their minds.
If you are looking for more insights on other issues impacting your SMB customers or affecting your ability to reach them with content that speaks to the problems they face, get in touch.