March 04, 2009
How To

How to Market to Small-Medium Businesses – Follow These Five Lessons from Proven Campaigns


The small-medium business market comprises the majority of companies in the U.S. economy, making it an attractive target for B2B marketers. But, compared to enterprise clients, smaller companies have unique needs that your campaigns must accommodate.

We’ve compiled a list of five lessons for marketing to small-medium business clients, based on successful campaigns. These tips can help you plan your strategy whether you’re a marketer whose primary audience is SMBs, or one who balances enterprise-focused campaigns with those aimed at smaller clients.

Small-medium business is a big opportunity for marketers. These companies make up an amazing 99.7% of all employer firms in the U.S., and employ about half of the country’s private-sector workforce, according to the Small Business Administration.

As a result, even large corporations, such as SAP, are targeting this segment. But you need the right message and tactics to break through the clutter.

The key is recognizing the needs of small-medium business clients and delivering relevant content in the most efficient way. For more inspiration on tackling the SMB market, we’ve highlighted proven tactics from past Sherpa Case Studies.

Here are five lessons from marketers who’ve succeeded:

Lesson #1. Centralize and key elements of lead gen operations for efficiency

Often, enterprise sales are generated by individual sales representatives taking a personalized approach with large clients. But that one-on-one strategy isn’t the most efficient way to drive a large volume of small-medium business deals.

Instead, consider the approach SAP took when it expanded into the global SMB market. The SAP team created a centralized marketing operations unit to coordinate SMB campaign strategy, planning and execution, but left room for local sales teams to adapt those campaigns for their individual markets.

The centralized team handled three major tasks:
o Campaign planning and content/creative development
o Automated implementation techniques, such as email, online content distribution and telemarketing follow-up
o Centralized reporting and analytics

Local teams in the company’s global sales regions contributed the following:
o Translation and localization services to adapt global campaigns for the local market
o Proposing specific offers that would resonate with the local market
o SEO terms that reflected local trends

The hybrid centralized/local lead-gen approach cut campaign development time in half, and boosted target-to-opportunity conversions 33%.

Lesson #2. SMBs want advice and how-to content, not sales promotions

It’s especially important to create marketing content that’s highly relevant to small-business customers by focusing on their needs and pain points. Small business owners and managers tend to juggle multiple tasks and welcome advice from trusted vendors on industry best practices.

So when creating marketing content, such as email newsletters or white papers, keep in mind the primary needs of the SMB audience. Here is advice from small-business marketing expert John Jantsch, author of the Duct Tape Marketing blog:
o The #1 SMB challenge is time: they don’t have enough of it
o The #2 SMB challenge is money: they don’t have enough of it
o What an SMB owner wants: somebody they trust to tell them how to do something in a way that works

Lesson #3. Provide DIY tools and resources

SMBs don’t just need articles and white papers that explain industry trends or describe best practices. They also need interactive tools and resources that help them do tasks themselves.

Consider developing downloadable tools and resources for your SMB customers; those could include sample forms, document templates and calculators.

- Arthur Gehring, Director, Marketing, Makana Solutions, took this approach when his team created marketing content for sales managers at small businesses.

Rather than directly promoting the company’s sales compensation planning software, his team created tools to help managers understand the complicated sales compensation planning process, including:
o A downloadable sample sales compensation plan

Incorporating that content with an SEO strategy, the team achieved first-page rankings on Google for key industry search terms, such as:
o Sales compensation plan
o Sales comp plan
o Sample commission plan

- The marketing team at Ariad Custom Communications incorporated tools into their email newsletter for independent financial advisors. Instead of longer, editorial articles, they developed resources that advisors could download and use for their own marketing purposes, such as:
o Pre-written sales letters for specific situations
o Pre-created customer surveys

Those tools became by far the most clicked on elements of individual newsletters, helping the team achieve CTRs that ranged from 25%-73%.

Lesson #4. Design campaign offers that segment prospects by size

If you’re marketing to businesses ranging in size from sole proprietors to large enterprises, you can create campaigns that segment prospects based on the specific offer to which they’ve responded. Then, you can design nurturing campaigns that direct those prospects to the appropriate products and sales channels -- i.e., online, self-service for small businesses, or custom deals with a sales rep for large enterprises.

For example, the online investment information company Edgar Online used a series of white papers that appealed to customer segments that ranged from small businesses to large institutions. White paper titles included:
o EDGAR 101: Find Information on Public Companies
o Introducing Interactive Data: The eXtensible Business Reporting Language [XBRL] for Today
o How to Invest in China

Then, prospects received a different series of nurturing emails, depending on which white paper they had downloaded.

- Prospects who downloaded the EDGAR 101 white paper were likely to be individual investors or small-business users. They were seen as better suited for a basic online subscription. Follow-up included:
- Initial up-sell email outlining some of the company’s higher-end corporate products, in case they were indeed larger organizations
- Offer to save 20% on a subscription if they registered online
- Option for a free trial that required prospects to enter credit card information

- Prospects who downloaded the XBRL white paper were likely to be larger institutions. Follow-up included:
- Email three days later offering a live online tour of the company’s data analytics service
- Offer for a free trial of the service
- Initial email offering both the live demo and the free trial

Because of the segmentation, online subscription registrations doubled.

Lesson #5. Target the consultants and VARs that serve SMBs

SMBs often lack in-house expertise and resources for important business functions, such as IT. For that reason, they rely heavily on expert consultants and value-added resellers when deciding what products and services to buy.

Marketing campaigns that target these important influencers can keep your company top-of-mind when they make recommendations for their clients.

As with any marketing strategy, test campaigns and tactics to determine the right approach for consultants and VARs. But here are four tips we gleaned by asking consultants what marketing approaches they find effective:

- Tip #1. Provide marketing messages that outline benefits for consultants and resellers, such as:

o Increased revenue opportunities
o Regional exclusivity for resellers
o Sharing of referrals and leads
o Technical support

- Tip #2. Invite consultants to demos at trade shows

IT consultants and resellers rely on demos to learn about new products they can then recommend to their clients. Build these demos into your event-marketing plan and use multichannel marketing for invites, such as direct mail, email and telemarketing.

- Tip #3. Create webinars for consultants and VARs

As with in-person demos, webinars are great ways to teach resellers and consultants about your offerings. Focus topics on important industry trends, or on practical advice, such as managing product implementation.

- Tip #4. Make product information easy to find

You need a good online library of product information, technical support resources and marketing content for your consultant and VAR customers. Suggestions for managing that library include:
o Organize information by product category
o Organize information by verticals
o Include all information about a product, such as specs, features/benefits, any known compatibility issues, and licensing information, in one place
o Provide marketing materials consultants can pass along to their clients, such as value propositions, product comparisons, and feature/benefit statements
o Prominently list the technical support number on every page within the reseller section of your site

Useful links related to this article

How SAP Took Local Approach to Global Level for SMB Lead Generation

PR Interview: 5 Tips to Reach Small Businesses - How to Pitch John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Blog

Repurpose Website Content to Triple Leads, Double Conversions: 7 Steps

How an Email Newsletter to Ultra-Busy Execs Gets up to 73% Clickthroughs (Hint: No Articles)

How to Double Subscriptions & New Business - 5 Lead-Gen Strategies

Market to Small-Medium Businesses Via IT Consultants & Resellers

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