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5 reasons you're failing to connect with small businesses (and how to fix them)

Struggling to connect with small businesses? Here are five reasons why there's such a divide and what you can do to bridge it

When it comes to marketing and selling to small business owners, marketers are facing a problem – 90% of brands struggle to identify and connect with actual small business decision-makers, according to CMO Council.

So what are the obstacles getting in the way, and what can big brands do to fix it and turn their small business marketing efforts around?

1. Big businesses are treating all small businesses the same

Despite what a Google image search might tell you, not every small business is the same. Despite this, most of the time brands are adopting lazy and ineffective segmentation – simply looking at location, size of business and industry.

Think of any high street of retailers. How much does the builders’ merchant really have in common with the gift card shop next door? Yet, by using the usual firmographic segmentation, these two companies would be considered exactly the same – try to address everyone and you ultimately address no one.

How to get around it

Businesses need to reframe how they see small businesses and begin using psychographics to take into account the human part of the business decision. They need to take into consideration explicit goals (driven by the organisation), as well as implicit goals (driven by the individual). Furthermore, take into consideration the fact during business decisions, personal drivers outweigh business drivers 2:1. (Source: CEB)

2. Small businesses fall foul of the volume/value quandary for sales and marketing

When it comes to approaching the SME market, one of the biggest challenges facing B2B marketers is a tactical one. The issue they face is that small businesses offer a lower deal size than the ‘enterprise’ sell, but a smaller market size compared to the ‘consumer’ sell. This leaves small businesses caught between the big business sale that justifies an expensive sales team and the consumer marketing, which broadcast media can efficiently serve.

How to get around it

It’s time for B2B marketers to adapt to the new way small businesses buy. The truth is the old, lazy way of selling is ineffective - 82% of SMEs say telemarketing doesn’t work, and under 1% respond to cold emails. B2B marketers need to understand small businesses are doing their own research online in the early stages of the purchase journey, and are taking recommendations from family, friends and industry peers. This means brands really need to step up and make the effort to help them throughout the buyer journey and create experiences that people are going to talk to their peers about.

3. Small businesses are cynical to ‘the usual’ advertising and marketing

Like many modern consumers, small businesses are losing trust in traditional advertising and the marketing messages they're bombarded with through social media. Increasingly, they want to do their own research and take recommendations from their local community. The old ways of ‘shout as loudly and as much as possible’ just isn’t going to cut it.

How to get around it

Businesses need to start thinking about how they can be ‘the most helpful’ brand out there – providing content that will help buyers along their purchase journey and nurture the ‘soft sell’ as much as possible – always being there for potential customers when they are needed. And it pays off - we found nearly half of small businesses end up buying from a supplier that has provided helpful content at some point.

4. Marketers are using the wrong tone of voice when talking to small businesses

Big brands often manage to talk a lot of jargon while at the same time (unwittingly) patronising small business. Just look at the term SME: one of the research participants said: “As for the ‘smee’ word, what is that all about? I never call myself a smee. I don’t want to be patronised.”

How to get around it

B2B marketers have to talk to small business owners as real people, using their language (take, for example, Canon's recent 'Maxify' campaign that aimed to do exactly that). But to do this, brands really need to take time to understand their audience and the world they live in, better.

Canon Maxify Printers - meet the team: Joe

5. Businesses aren’t giving small business owners the customer experience they expect

At the end of the day, small businesses expect a great experience from the people they work with. Partner businesses are so important to small business owners - communication and customer experience are paramount. But often, unfortunately, brands aren’t stepping up to the mark.

How to get around it

Big businesses need to design and deliver great experiences – mapping out customer journeys, asking customers for feedback post-purchase and always looking for new ways they can add value once someone is a customer. They also need to treat small business customers with as much respect as anyone else – ensuring not to patronise and put off a potential sale.

If big businesses can focus on tackling these five obstacles, they will be on the road to connecting with and selling to more small businesses.

To join the conversation use #SmallBizB2B.

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 target small business owners

Think Small: How to market to small businesses