When it comes to the SMB segment and the multiple sub-markets, it is just a plain fact that you cannot be everywhere. We addressed the segmentation thought process crucial for buyer-based marketing to the SMB segment in the previous article, Grow SMB Revenues With Buyer-Based Marketing, as a means to know where to have a presence. Therein lays the new buyer realities of today. Having a presence that creates a gravitational pull of SMB buyers towards your organization is the new realty of mastering the SMB challenge.
SMB marketing and sales began to become more than just an afterthought in the early ‘90’s through the early 2000′s. Considerable investments were made in establishing inside sales organizations and in outbound marketing activities specifically to reach the SMB base of customers and prospective buyers. Newly created inside sales organizations endured the trials and tribulations of field sales entrenched infrastructure as well as the ownership battle of the mid-size customer gray area. Marketing discovered that outbound tools for inside sales and for marketing to the SMB segment varied greatly from that of a focus on large field accounts.
In a span of 5-7 years we find ourselves in a drastically different world. The notion of reaching buyers is becoming a huge hurdle to climb for those wedded to predominantly outbound activities related to inside sales. As mentioned, establishing an inside sales function can be a sizable investment. The Fortune 1000 and Global 2000 today find themselves with inside sales units loaded with personnel, technology, software, and etc. that were installed and aimed at outbound efforts. What we now have is the challenge of turning on a dime to repurpose inside sales and marketing support to at least gain balance in inbound marketing while succeeding at a level of outbound demand generation as well.
This has more to do with transformation shifts in buyer behaviors with new technologies being the driving force behind these changes. What is profound is that this is more than the labels of the elusive, invisible, or buyer 2.0. No, they didn’t go anywhere and they are not hiding. Nor, should we be of the mind that buyers are now just empowered – as if sellers gave them the empowerment. Buyers today – with SMB buyers a significant part of this picture – are creating new ways of working and conducting business. Here’s the smell the coffee moment for sellers: SMB buyers, in addition to larger accounts, are creating a new world of buyer-driven economies whereby as sellers – if you do not fit or adapt – it is a world in which you will not be participating within.
While I may be seemingly digressing here, I do so to make a very salient point. SMB buyers are adapting new technologies in the entrepreneurial fashion they have started their business with in the first place. Unburdened by large scale infrastructures, they can see how to make new uses of technologies nimbly and drive new ways of conducting business as well as expand their own customer bases. SMB businesses, not so surprisingly, may be surpassing larger enterprises in their adoption of new technologies for interacting with buyers.
What Does This All Mean?
If you are part of a larger enterprise marketing to SMB buyers, what this all points to is a higher stakes challenge. Expectations on buyer experience are being renewed at a constant rate for the reasons mentioned above. Many of today’s new technologies, which for the most part had their original invention in non-business pursuits, have balanced the equation. While larger enterprises enjoyed an advantage in acquiring newer technologies over that of SMB businesses, this may no longer be true. In fact, the opposite in many cases may be true with SMB businesses able to leap frog into newer technologies as cost factors continue to be driven lower.
With this being the case, larger enterprises need to focus on creating seamless buyer-based experiences that allow SMB businesses to act quickly, make choices, and do so in the channels they prefer. This applies to both inbound and outbound efforts. A key focus for inbound efforts is that of enriching the buyer experience. Darren Pleasance, a Principal with McKinsey & Company, recently covered this topic in an excellent article entitled, Serious about SMB experience? Focus on your web site, on McKinsey’s Chief Marketing & Sales Officer Forum site. Darren mentions the importance of the web site experience, providing the ability to buy seamlessly through multiple channels, and investing in post-purchase experiences as keys to success in the SMB segment. All of these contributing to enriched buyer experiences. The core of SMB buyer-based marketing and selling will not only be the web site as Darren articulates, but I believe the totality of the buyer experience now becoming the driving force behind how SMB buyers choose.
This brings us back to outbound. Does this mean inside sales and other outbound activities will simply go away? Far from it I believe. A fundamental shift however needs to take place in how organizations view and orient their outbound efforts such as inside sales. This shift relates to transforming from a tools-based approach to a buyer-based experience approach. Here’s the voice of one SMB business executive articulating this point:
“The thing that kills you is that you get what you need from the web site but contacting them directly is a whole different matter. It’s as if they are clueless that I may have visited their site and got information to review. On top of that, I get calls from their people saying they are my account manager. Really? Then how come they don’t know that I talked to someone in their company already?”
This exemplifies what happens when organizations fail to connect their inbound activities with outbound activities in SMB buyer-based marketing and selling. On the other hand, connecting the two tightly enriches the experience as this SMB business owner says:
“I was really impressed to be honest. I went on the site and found a few items I wanted to read so downloaded them. I got a call from the company; his name was Steve, first acknowledging that I had downloaded the papers and then asking if I had questions. We wound up having a discussion on some of things we’ve been working on. Wasn’t pushy or anything like that.”
To create impressive buyer experiences, this integration of inbound and outbound cannot be ignored. While the shiny object these days is inbound and the incessant promotion of content marketing, for some products and services, the ultimate deciding factor will continue to come down to the buyer conversation taking place. One thing we can count on is that more and more SMB buyers today come to table ready for a conversation – are you?