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Mar 11, 2009

Marketing to SMBs, Part II: New Data on What They Want Now

SUMMARY: Last week, we highlighted several tactics that marketers have used to reach the SMB market. This week, we offer an exclusive look at new data on marketing to an SMB audience.

Bredin Business Information recently surveyed SMBs and enterprise marketers targeting the SMB audience about marketing preferences and tactics. We’ve underscored five insights from the data, including:
o The emphasis of enterprise SMB marketing efforts
o Which channels SMBs prefer
o Major SMB pain points
o Messages that resonate with the SMB audience
SMBs typically have different needs and preferences than enterprise clients do. They also tend to engage with marketing channels differently than larger organizations. But what are marketers doing today to deal with significant economic challenges, such as reductions in their own marketing budgets and a cutback in SMB spending?

We got an exclusive look at new research from Bredin Business Information that helps answer that question. “The reason we conducted this research was fundamentally to help marketers stay current on best practices in marketing to SMBs, especially with how quickly the economy is changing,” says Stu Richards, CEO.

BBI recently conducted two surveys on the subject. The first asked 50 large businesses how they’re positioning their SMB marketing campaigns this year. The second polled 741 SMBs (companies that employ up to 500 employees) about their marketing channel preferences and top pain points.

Here are five insights from that data that will help you plan your SMB marketing strategies for 2009:

Insight #1. Marketers are emphasizing customer acquisition in SMB campaigns

Although marketers typically emphasize customer retention during economic downturns, customer acquisition is the common goal of this year’s SMB marketing campaigns.

The survey of large organizations asked marketers to describe the focus of their 2009 campaigns:
o 48% said they are balancing efforts between customer acquisition and retention
o 32% said they are focusing on acquisition
o 20% said they are focusing on retention

(See link below for data charts related to figures cited throughout this article)

That trend may reflect the relative financial health of survey respondents, says Richards. These companies may consider themselves in a good position to take advantage of weaker competitors and target market share.

It also may indicate that marketers see opportunities in the SMB market to offset slowing growth in the enterprise segment. Richards cited a recent survey by Millward Brown that found that smaller businesses are more likely to report an increase in IT investments than large enterprises are (37% compared to 26%).

Insight #2. Marketers are decreasing offline efforts, but SMBs still prefer those channels

With budgets under pressure, marketers reported plans to slightly increase online SMB marketing efforts, at the expense of traditional, offline channels.

The survey asked marketers to rate tactics on a scale of 1-5, with 1 representing a significant decrease and 5 representing a significant increase:
o Offline efforts received an average rating of 2.6
o Online efforts received an average rating of 3.5

While that trend is consistent with a general shift toward online marketing efforts, marketers are at risk of de-emphasizing the marketing channels SMBs prefer.

The survey asked SMBs to rank online and offline channels as valuable sources of information:
o Direct mail was the top channel for companies with 20 or fewer employees
o Trade shows and news articles were the top channels for companies with 21-100 employees
o Print newsletters were the top channel for companies with 101-500 employees

If you’re trying to reach SMBs, don’t ignore the potential impact of these offline tactics. Richards cautions that SMB managers and owners tend to have less time than other prospects to filter through content, such as online communities or Twitter feeds. Instead, they prefer messages that arrive on schedule and are easy to use, such as print and email newsletters, or even direct-mail postcards.

Insight #3. Managing costs and acquiring customers are major concern for SMBs

You can enhance your campaigns by targeting SMBs’ major pain points. The survey asked SMBs to rank seven business challenges:
o Managing costs was the top challenge for businesses of 101-500 employees
o Managing costs and acquiring customers tied for the top challenge of business with 21-100 employees
o Managing costs was the second-biggest concern for businesses with 20 employees or fewer

By contrast, the least important challenges for SMBs were:
o Product development
o Employee retention

Insight #4. Focus your marketing messages on value, not just price

Many marketers new to the SMB segment assume that these businesses are cash-strapped, says Richards. As a result, they make the mistake of focusing their marketing messages on low price.

While price is an important consideration for SMBs, they are very conscious of long-term value. They often are willing to pay a slight premium for products and services that will boost revenue or save money in the long run.

The survey asked SMBs to rate the most important factors they consider when making a purchase:
o High value was the top consideration for businesses with fewer than 100 employees
o High value was the second most important consideration for businesses with 101-500 employees, after price.

Insight #5. Consider special deals and offers to act as campaign incentives

Even though SMBs are focused on value, they’re still looking for a break from their vendors.

The survey asked SMBs to describe what they’re looking for from suppliers in the current economy. They ranked several choices, including business advice, product information, special offers and service and support:
o Special deals and offers was the top selection for businesses with fewer than 20 employees
o Special deals and offers tied for the top choice among businesses with 21-500 employees

Still, you should integrate any special offers with a clear value proposition.

“The underlying message has to be one of value -- we’re not just cutting prices and getting rid of bad stuff to clear out the inventory,” says Richards. “It’s also important to say, ‘We recognize that you are cash-constrained, and we’re offering you special deals to manage your business.’”

Useful links related to this article

Charts from the BBI SMB surveys

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

Millward Brown survey on IT buying trends

Bredin Business Information

See Also:

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