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Pitching to the personality of an SME: How to appeal to the characteristics of small business owners | B2B Marketing

Appealing to everyone may not always be the best tactic.

Rebecca Ley

speaks to GoDaddy, Mailjet and SDL about how to target the different personas and characteristics in the small business sector

For every small business that can be categorised easily, there is one that defies definition. No two businesses are the same, so why would you market to them in the same way?

Small businesses can be as varied as fingerprints. Despite this, 75% of them say large companies do not effectively market their product or service when targeting their community. This creates an opportunity for B2B marketers. As well as being the largest business demographic in the UK, the small business sector is ripe for the picking, as long as you have a product or service that can simplify their lives.

For Rob Gorby, commercial VP, mid-market and small business solutions at SDL, the value of marketing effectively to this sector is huge. He suggests starting with ‘bite-sized chunks’ – projects that small businesses can test out with low commitment, which has proved effective at the language translation and content management company.

“It’s a broad sector – you absolutely have to break it down into smaller segments”

Rob Gorby, SDL

“If you satisfy that initial demand, we tend to find we win a lot of business that’s low value, but if you do a great job for them initially they’ll stick with you as they grow,” he says. However, he warns against targeting this demographic by lumping it into one. “It’s a broad sector – you absolutely have to break it right down into smaller segments,” he explains. “It’s too generic to break them down into size. We’ve tended to think about what we’re selling and what they’re trying to achieve as a business.”

While working at Powwownow, a conference call service provider, Rob says they didn’t target by size, but by customers who spent a lot of time commuting, who could avoid this by using conference calling. By targeting individuals, Rob says his company gained share in its competitors’ market, as well as avoiding the processes and procurement teams of larger businesses.

Segment your audience

Some 91% of B2B marketers segment their market, but how you do this is key. For email service provider Mailjet, small- and medium-sized businesses make up its main customer base, with 120,000 small business customers, and 1.5 billion emails sent out for clients every month.

“We don’t do anything differently based on their size,” says Mailjet’s CMO Judy Boniface, looking instead at business need. “Segmentation is truly based on email volume and the way people use different emails.”

A huge company may not send many emails, and vice versa, which means segmenting by size won’t do anything for the small business community. Rob agrees, focusing on maturity in export markets rather than size as the main way to segment SDL’s audience. “It’s a misnomer that the bigger the business, the bigger the budget,” he says. “You could have a small business that, because of the digital age, is able to scale quickly and has the need for content management and skills across 20 or 30 languages.”

Rob also found that as a percentage of revenue, small businesses tend to overinvest in marketing and IT to give themselves a competitive edge. “Even if the budgets are smaller, as a percentage of revenue invested, they tend to be higher,” he explains.

“Often it’s the smaller guys who are coming to us looking for the most sophisticated solutions”

Rob Gorby, SDL

The way to benefit from this investment, therefore, is to look at their specific business needs and market accordingly. “Often it’s the smaller guys who are coming to us looking for the most sophisticated solutions to enable them to manage content globally,” Rob says.

Kate Cox, VP and CMO at website builder GoDaddy echoes this, saying her company chose to outline how its products and services are designed to fit the needs of small businesses, rather than segment on a sector-by-sector level. While the profiles of small businesses may vary hugely, she points out, the digital needs of a small business are more similar than they are different.

Target your audience

If small business doesn’t necessarily mean small budget, are they really more careful with purchasing decisions and harder to win over? Not if you know your audience, says Rob at SDL.

By identifying and targeting individual personas, Rob has found it’s easier to gain business from this sector. Segmenting its audience by two main profiles – defined by how advanced their content and translation needs are – SDL can then target the decision-makers in the company. “We started to look at personas not necessarily at the top of the marketing team, but among those who have the problem: the marketing manager, not just the CMO.”

Rob has found through this method there’s a desire to switch providers. “It’s easy for them to be nimble and switch if they see something’s not working because they don’t have to go through the procurement procedure of larger businesses,” he explains.

Judy at Mailjet has similarly identified the benefit of focusing on business need and individuals, rather than company size. She focuses on content and how different types of small businesses consume information. “Before you can think about targeting small businesses, you have to think of something that works for them.” For Mailjet, this means blogs, step-by-step guidance, and digestible content, and webinars and whitepapers aimed at dedicated email marketers who are further along their business journey.

“Before you can think about targeting small businesses you have to think about something that works for them”

Judy Boniface, Mailjet

This approach draws the customer in and increases brand awareness, with the aim they’ll come back to purchase products. “Providing value for our products and services to help customers do a better job at emailing means they upgrade to become paying customers,” says Judy.

GoDaddy takes a similar approach to attracting customers by providing relevant content for them, explains Kate. “We write and produce a whole range of content for small businesses on our blog. These range from short tips and hints articles, through to longer and more in-depth e-books.” This allows the company to target individuals from beginners and digital novices through to more advanced audiences, who will then come back and continue to use GoDaddy products.

A focus on customer need is also essential, says Kate. After extensive research into customer churn, GoDaddy found the biggest cause for a customer to leave the company was either a change in business strategy, discontinuing the business, or moving back to employed status from freelance or side work. “That’s why we’ve invested heavily in our customer service in the UK market to ensure we’re helping customers succeed at every interaction, so we can retain them for the long term.”

GoDaddy’s FourInchFreddies campaign saw England cricketer Freddie Flintoff adding a new string to his bow and launching a website for his new business

Honing your strategy

Focusing on individual customer needs is admirable, but if your customers are growing, targeting every persona may prove difficult.

One thing small businesses do tend to have in common is realising the need for digital, and conducting a lot of business online. “My experience has identified that smaller businesses tend to have more advanced digital skills than larger businesses,” says Rob, “driven by the need to be nimble and agile.” Taking advantage of this strong marketing talent, where people are ‘hungry’, is essential for appealing to the wide audience of small businesses, explains Rob.

Focusing on digital to appeal to as many small businesses as possible has also been a tactic for GoDaddy, says Kate, using its

latest marketing campaign, FourInchFreddies

to span all SME sectors alongside prospective entrepreneurs, and people seeking to build a community or personal website.

Freddie Flintoff launches his side hustle!

The advertising campaign sees former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff adding a new string to his bow and launching a website for his business making miniature figurines of himself in different guises.

Using broadcast media, such as TV and out-of-home advertising, GoDaddy’s campaign aims to show the full range of services from domain names, website builders and hosting packages, which, as Kate explains, allowed the company to meet the needs of this broad grouping, whatever stage their business may be at.

“Small businesses all want to find an email provider solutions that’s easy to use, mobile ready and most importantly has solid reliability”

Judy Boniface, Mailjet

How to stand out

If your customers have one thing in common, it’s that they want affordable, easy to use digital solutions. But if they’re savvy about looking for the best products, how do you stand out when marketing to such a huge sector?

For Mailjet, this is investing in brand familiarity. A way of tackling the perceived lack of desire for small businesses to switch providers is by focusing on brand health and reputation, explains Judy. “Small businesses all want to find an email provider solution that’s easy to use, mobile ready and most importantly, has solid reliability.”

A way to get this message across has been by word-of-mouth and generating consistent inbound reviews on platforms such as Trustpilot. “Visibility is really important, it’s also a measure of how well we’re serving SMEs,” stresses Judy.

“The majority of marketing is forgotten – you need to be memorable to be in with a chance”

Rob Gorby, SDL

While customer experience might be paramount, Rob also has a different tactic for succeeding in this space. “The majority of marketing messaging is forgotten,” he says. “You need to be memorable to be in with a chance.” This means giving customers something to talk about on the platforms where they’re socially active. At Powwownow, Rob had a KPI on complaints from his marketing and advertising.

“We wanted to get into the low 20s of complaints,” he explains. “You don’t want complaints from your target audience, but you might really annoy someone with an opinion or message. As long as you’re willing to lose those people, you can push the boundaries with what you’re doing and get more from your marketing.”

You can’t target them all

Acknowledging you won’t be able to target everyone in the small business market is paramount, says Rob. “It’s just too broad and diverse a sector,” he says.“If you’re concerned with the fact you’re not able to target every segment, you’re in trouble.” You have to omit certain demographics to be successful with the ones you want to win with, he adds, otherwise, you’re in danger of spreading yourself too thinly.

As Rob points out, the key is offering the most simple affordable solution to your target audience. While you can’t appeal to everyone, you can try to understand the varied sector better. “Think about the difficult situations they might find themselves in because of their size, and where they’re at in their lifecycle,” he says. “Your job is to help them get over that issue and onto the next level.”

Think Small: How to market to small businesses

In this marketing success pack, B2B Marketing and Earnest offer advice, opinion and first-hand experiences of targeting and engaging small businesses owners.

Learn how to market to small business owners

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