Strategies to Engage the SMB Segment

If your target customers are primarily small to medium sized businesses, one thing that came out of CEB’s Marketing to Small Business Event we attended last week is that you’re struggling to reach (and nurture) your target market. The message we heard loud and clear was that small business owners are inert, break-fix, time starved, and unique. Meaning, they wear many hats, they search for a solution to a problem only once they have encountered it, and they have diverse, complex needs as individuals within a segment. These characteristics pose a huge challenge if your go-to-market strategy is focused on only traditional marketing tactics, or if your digital strategy lacks personalization.

Coming out of the event, it is clear that inbound marketing is your best asset when targeting and nurturing the expansive universe of SMB.

Creating Online Communities

The first step in nurturing leads is establishing a clear target audience. Try not to think of your audience as a target market, but rather as an audience. This subtle difference will have a profound effect on your inbound marketing content. Instead of trying to send your prospects various offers, develop content that is genuinely meant to educate, inform and eventually leads to your products or services.

A great way to offer this is through an online community. Directing your prospects to a forum where they can learn about running their business and talk with other owners has major perks for your nurturing efforts. By collecting data from your potential customers, you can offer them personalized content through your marketing programs.

By defining your target audience for your products or services, it will also help you find out where they are more likely to be reached. Are they seniors that are active on Facebook? Maybe they are a start-up that focuses their time on a smartphone or on Instagram or Tumblr. Use this data collected from your online community to determine which channels to reach your audience in further communications. Considering your unique audience rather than a generalized demographic leads to better content targeted towards a specific demographic audience in the spaces either online or offline where they are more apt to be.

The Inbound Approach

SMBs don’t like to be treated like enterprise customers. They see vendors as a partner in their business and deserve to be treated as such. In fact, this was a unanimous sentiment expressed during the Small Business Owner panel at CEB. Curb the traditional outbound marketing and switch to an inbound strategy where your customers will come to you. Don’t completely ditch advertising and direct mail, but use your inbound insights to provide more value to your potential customers in the form of personalized communications.

Not surprisingly, outbound marketing could be costing you up to 60% more per lead generation than an inbound strategy. SMBs are simply not tuned into those channels of marketing like they used to be. Outbound can be effective, but only if an SMB has a large budget and a consistent message. This is why most SMBs have tuned out.

The inbound approach is about creating amazing value-driven content that will engage SMBs. This content needs to generally be free and give significant value to the viewer. Find a problem, either in research, information, or education based and provide a complete solution for the SMB. It can be in the form of a well-tailored email campaign to specific leads, an industry newsletter that highlights industry trends or an online community.

In this way, you are creating a way for your clients to find you, when they are looking. They will gladly contact you for other solutions, when they realize you have provided a well thought out solution to their problems once already.

Create a Relationship

Marketing to SMBs requires focus on creating a relationship, not specifically focused around the sales funnel. It creates a relationship that the customer can come to rely on for advice, information and solutions. As a business partner to small business owners, you need to understand their business, just as well as they do. This can only truly be done by having the right marketing technology in place, such as CRM and marketing automation.

Start tracking your SMBs, their successes and failures in the marketplace and keep up-to-date on their information within your system. Every time you can reach out with a personal message, either on social media, through email or a congratulatory blog on their success, provides a touch point in furthering your relationship with them.

Inbound Tactics Develop specific inbound tactics within your overall strategy that reaches out to different segments of your target audience. Different people do things differently. SMBs looking for a solution will not go about their research in the same way.

1. Use Social Media

Although they are time-starved, small business owners do spend time researching on blogs and social media. This means that a good portion time spent online is in places you can offer great content. Develop a blog on the topics within your industry. Make it compelling and interesting. Provide Top 10 Lists, How-To guides and informative posts. This type of information can often become indispensable to a decision maker in an SMB. When they need a product or service to solve their problem, they will already have you in mind.

2. Participate in Forums By becoming an expert and a known authority in your area, SMBs will know who to call when they have a problem. Start getting on the premier forums that answer businesses questions. Start answering questions and giving solutions that make sense to SMBs. Do this at least twice a week and provide well thought answers with great resources and solutions.

3. Stay Current

Like newswire services you have the ability through social media platforms to start collecting and disseminating information that matters to your target SMBs. Pick out the most important trends, news articles and innovations on a daily basis and share them through your social media. This type of engagement means you are actively looking out for them, even if it points to a competitor. This is how trust is built.

Creating relationships with SMBs in business take time. Developing an inbound marketing strategy that focuses on nurturing these relationships with value, not with a sales pitch, is a critical step in the process.