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Fresh insights in selling to SMBs

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go.  SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing.  You’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles.  And you’ve got a lot of company.  Plenty of agencies, research firms, and other marketers are focused on SMB, and willing to share their insights.  One new set comes from Bredin, Inc., a Boston-based agency that just published a new study on how SMBs buy today.

Kudos to Bredin for figuring out how to persuade 532 busy business owners to take a 15-minute survey online, in May 2014.  Respondents were asked all kinds of questions about their buying, influences, media preferences, resources, the works.  Here are the nuggets that were most revealing to me.

  • These buyers trust their peers more than any other information source, across the spectrum from awareness, to researching product details, to the buying decision.
  • They still rely on trade shows and events for product information–second only to peers and colleagues.
  • They like print materials, for brochures, checklists, handbooks, case studies.  When it comes to tablets, they expect to see quotes, order confirmations, videos, interactive tools, and presentations.
  • They want to hear from their vendors, regularly.  Not just when they are ready to make a purchase.  Encouraging, isn’t it?
  • They welcome email, phone, and face-to-face contact from vendors in the period when they are researching, but not ready to buy—what we marketers call “nurturing.”  But the number of nurturing contacts they want varies widely, from weekly, to monthly, to every six months.
  • Most of the time (74%), the business owner himself or herself is the person investigating the new products and solutions,   and this is among businesses with up to 500 employees.
  • The vendor website is a top resource when conducting product research and honing in on a purchase decision.

What should marketers take away from these observations?

Thought leadership.  Establishing your executives and your company as trusted advisors in your field is hugely important in this market.    This means networking, content marketing, PR outreach, speaking engagements, and trade/industry professional activities.

Block and tackle.  There are always shiny objects out there, but make sure you have the basics covered.  A well-trained sales force, enabled with informative materials, both digital and print, email, phone and trade show support.

Content-rich website.  Intuitive navigation, clarity of design, benefit-oriented copy–loaded with explanatory tools like case studies, product comparisons, testimonials, how-to guides, video demonstrations—this is how to attract and serve the SMB buyer.

This fresh data confirms my long-held view that business owners value the help they get from their vendors.  Ours is a relationship of mutual benefit, as long as we do our part to help them solve their business problems.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens is a member consultant of Consultants Collective. She advises clients on customer acquisition and retention, for both consumer and business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is a guest blogger at AdAge, HBR.org, and Target Marketing Magazine. Her newest book is B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results. She is also the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM. She studied marketing management at Harvard Business School, and holds an MBA from Columbia University. Learn more at www.ruthstevens.com.

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