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TARGETTING SMEs: The meaning of success

A client recently asked us to identify successful small businesses for a forthcoming campaign. A fairly simple requirement you might think and you'd be right at first glance. But on reflection, this is more complex than it seems. The more we looked at what the client was really looking for, the more it became apparent that success is one of those words that can mean whatever you want it to mean.

Initially, the client was looking for small businesses that are financially successful, that is, they are reporting healthy profits and are therefore worth marketing to. However sensible this definition of success might sound, there are a number of problems in framing the search this way.

Firstly, as anyone who spends much time with B2B data knows, there is a lot less information on profit, turnover and the like than we might wish for. This is for the simple reason that genuinely small businesses don't have to report much in the way of figures back to Companies House in their annual reports. Anyone who has ever spent much time looking at the balance sheets of small businesses, trying to find useful data for marketing purposes, will be aware that a lot of what is reported has no meaning or relevance in the real world. That isn't to suggest that small companies report rubbish to Companies House every year. Rather, that the data is often simply out of date and irrelevant to understanding what is going on inside the business.