September 15, 2010
Case Study

Starting from Scratch: 5 Steps to Develop and Grow an SMB Strategy

SUMMARY: Smaller companies sometimes focus more on sales than marketing. This is workable up to a point, but sooner or later, a well-planned marketing strategy needs to be in place, even if you’re building it from scratch.

See how a growing B2B company took a bare-bones marketing operation and built a well-rounded marketing strategy, complete with the technology and strategies needed to test campaigns and nurture leads. Includes the types of research and systems they needed to build a foundation.
by Sean Donahue, Editor


When Brian Harris joined Custom House as VP of Marketing and Product Management three years ago, he found a situation that he says is common among small, entrepreneurial organizations: Sales and marketing were one group, which did "a lot of sales with a little bit of marketing."

But the company, which facilitates international financial transactions for small- and mid-sized companies, had hired Harris specifically to develop a new marketing strategy.

"I had a pretty explicit mandate: I needed to position ourselves as experts in international payments and foreign exchange for small- and medium-sized businesses. And I had to build a pipeline of engaged and interested leads for the sales organization," he says.

Harris and his team were practically starting from scratch: Their only marketing collateral was branded calendars and marketing, up to that point, had no say over the website. So they needed to develop both a marketing strategy, and the systems and platforms to support it.


The team created a marketing foundation built on new technologies, new research, campaign testing and lead nurturing.

Here are five major steps they took:

Step #1. Establish platform for lead management

Before building a lead pipeline, Harris and his team need a platform to help manage those leads and collaborate with the sales team.

Working in tandem with sales, the team implemented two key systems to underpin its new marketing strategy:
o A CRM platform
o A marketing automation platform

It was also necessary to tie together those two systems in order to test new campaigns and measure results.

Step #2. Research target markets and industry verticals

To deliver effective marketing campaigns, the team needed to identify target industries and understand the role of international payments for SMBs in those industries.

They conducted a research project that included two major initiatives:

- Analyzing global markets and industry trends

The team analyzed several regions of the world to determine typical trade flows and participating industries.

For major regions, such as Europe, they examined which industries participated in foreign trade the most, and which countries were the most common senders and recipients of funds. This way, they could prioritize target industries based on:
o Trade volume and flow
o Competition -- i.e., whether banks were aggressively marketing international payments to those verticals/regions

- Interviewing personnel involved with international transactions

Next, the team conducted on-site research with SMBs in target regions/industries to learn how companies handle international payments.

They interviewed both decision makers and end users -- the personnel actually conducting transactions. The goal was to uncover specific needs, expectations, concerns and pain points around international payments.

"We examined which of those verticals are not being served by other competitors very well, and which have a clear need we can address," says Harris.

Step #3. Identify common pain points and other themes for marketing content development

By analyzing the results of that research, the team looked for commonalities among the needs and pain points of different industries and regions. The goal was to identify potential campaign themes that could be repurposed for multiple industries and regions.

The team settled on roughly five industries on which to focus their initial marketing outreach. Within those industries, they also identified the common concerns about international payments for decision makers and end users:

- Decision makers were most concerned with payment system efficiency, accuracy, and ability to offer the best foreign exchange rate.

- Payment processors weren't concerned with exchange rates. They were most interested in a system's simplicity, accuracy, and reporting capabilities.

The team then began developing content based on those profiles. For example:

- A whitepaper for decision makers described how to handle currency risk in international payments.

- A whitepaper for end users focused on the benefits of using an online payment scheduling system to save time and effort.

Step #4. Test industry-specific campaigns

The team immediately began testing campaigns to determine what types of messages would work for their audience.

"That's the beauty of the online world, you can test, measure and make changes," says Harris.

One of the first tests was an integrated campaign aimed at the wine and spirits industry. The campaign combined email outreach and whitepaper offers timed to arrive before and after an industry trade show where the company was exhibiting.

Major elements included:

- A pre-show email message promoting a whitepaper that described the benefits of online payment system for the wine and spirits industry. The email featured images of wine bottles, and copy that described the unique challenges faced by wine and spirits importers/exporters during the recession.

The email was signed by a sales representative assigned to that industry.

- A pre-show landing page for the whitepaper download that was also customized with imagery and copy relevant to the wine and spirits industry. In addition to hosting the whitepaper registration form, the landing page promoted the company's booth at the upcoming trade show.

- A post-show email, customized with images and copy relevant to the wine and spirits industry, that invited recipients to learn more about the company's payment system, and promoted another white paper offer.

- A post-show landing page for the whitepaper download that maintained the wine and spirits industry focus. It also included an image of a handwritten note on a cocktail napkin that said, "Hope you enjoyed the WSWA Convention in Las Vegas!"

Step #5. Nurture leads in tandem with sales team

Leads in the team's database were put into a nurturing track that could feature a variety of content, such as:
o Whitepapers
o Media articles that feature the company
o Case studies and customer success stories

However, as with the email outreach for the wine and spirits campaign described above, all nurturing and follow-up connects were sent on behalf of a salesperson assigned to that industry (but from the marketing automation platform).

The team also worked with individual sales reps to let them decide the best nurturing and lead scoring methodology for their contact lists.

"Once they've taken on a lead, we allow the sales person to dictate what the ongoing communication will be from that point on," says Harris. "For marketers, that can be difficult to accept, but we focus more on helping them be successful through coaching and internal webinars on how to use lead scoring information."

Starting from the ground up meant that almost any contribution from marketing was a big improvement. But Harris and his team measured their success by looking at the percentage of new revenue that was initiated or influenced by marketing.

On that count, they've been thrilled:

- Last year, slightly more than 50% of all new revenue was influenced by marketing.

"That speaks to the fact that yes, our marketing programs are getting better and having an impact, and also that our sales people are using them."

Through testing, they've also proven the benefits of targeting email copy, imagery, and landing pages for specific industries. Here are results for the campaign aimed at the wine and spirits industry described above:
o 13% higher open rates generated by pre- and post-show emails than generic company email nurturing
o 2% higher clickthrough rates than regular, non-segmented emails
o 4% of the contacts became new business leads

Perhaps the most impressive achievement, though, is that the team's results have convinced the company to invest more in marketing. Harris started with a small team in Canada, but now has added marketing teams in the U.S., England and Australia.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Custom House

Members Library -- Lead Nurturing and Management Q&A: How to Handle 5 Key Challenges

Members Library -- Lead Scoring: 6 Strategies to Partner with Sales to Rank, ID Prospects

Eloqua: The team's marketing automation platform The team's CRM platform

Custom House

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions