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. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company

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. Plus, 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 percent), 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 advisers 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.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

In B-to-B marketing, decision makers (and influencers) are always gathering information about products before they take the next step in the sales cycle. So how do you make sure they have access to, and get, what they need and want? Many corporate websites are chock full of product information—but often located in disparate locations. For a cold prospect, landing on the website home page makes information gathering a daunting, time consuming task.

In B-to-B marketing, decision makers (and influencers) are always gathering information about products before they take the next step in the sales cycle. So how do you make sure they have access to, and get, what they need and want?

Many corporate websites are chock full of product information—but often located in disparate locations. For a cold prospect, landing on the website home page makes information gathering a daunting, time consuming task.

Instead, build a resource center, and organize it such that your target can find and consume it quickly and easily. If you’re targeting key verticals, then organize your site by vertical industry. Then, within each vertical, organize your whitepapers, case studies, product spec sheets, etc.

Use your outbound marketing efforts to drive targets to that microsite. To determine who is visiting and downloading information, “lock” your pages and require visitors to register before they can access the information. Yes, you will get a few “Mickey Mouse” registrants, but those who are most serious are happy to share who they are—if you don’t ask that pesky “how soon are you looking to purchase?” question. Of course we’ve all figured out that you’ll be calling us first if we answer “within 1 month!”

Be sure to have a plan in place to get a list of who has been visiting your Resource Center every day—and a plan as to how to follow up with these leads. There is NOTHING more annoying than getting a phone call that says “You downloaded a white paper last month and I’m calling to see if you want more information.” My response is “I download lots of whitepapers—I can’t even remember which whitepaper you’re talking about, so no, I’m not interested.”

A better follow up plan is to have a real reason to follow up—an invitation to a webinar where a professional user of the product is talking about his/her experience with the product. Or an invitation to a breakfast briefing where some C-level is going to talk about how his/her business was transformed (and the product was part of the solution).

Business leaders are always seeking ideas and ways to make their business more productive. But if you make them do all the work to find out how, or where, they may show up the first time, but they will not come back. Ever.

B-to-B Marketers Gone Wild!

All text and no fun makes Jack a dull B-to-B marketer. What’s fun about shopping online is that B-to-C retail sites often use video to make their products look more interesting and provide more information than you’d see in a static picture. Since B-to-B brands often sell a service, solution, or product that’s not easily demonstrated in a video, there will be reams of product information to convey, white papers and/or case studies to read. And who declared they have to be all text and dull, dull, dull?

All text and no fun makes Jack a dull B-to-B marketer.

What’s fun about shopping online is that B-to-C retail sites often use video to make their products look more interesting and provide more information than you’d see in a static picture.

Since B-to-B brands often sell a service, solution, or product that’s not easily demonstrated in a video, there will be reams of product information to convey, white papers and/or case studies to read. And who declared they have to be all text and dull, dull, dull?

Whether you’re targeting IT managers, security administrators, hospital executives or CFO’s, no one asks you to present your information in the dullest way possible.

Let’s look at 3 simple, but effective options:

  1. Design product sheets, white papers and case studies to be visually pleasing. Eye tracking studies prove that site visitors spend most of their time looking at visuals—faces in particular. And common sense tells us that when something is visually attractive, it will garner more attention. Which of these two B-to-B white papers would you rather read: All text or visually compelling?
  2. Use flash animation to liven up statistics and tell the story. Or if it’s too complicated, use animation to “hit the highlights,” then give readers a deeper understanding with a text/PDF option. Here are some fun examples to see flash in action.
  3. Add a simple involvement device to engage your site visitor: Online calculators let them see how much they could save, or determine what your product might cost given a few variables. For example, this is a simple but engaging one for college students to determine whether or not they should skip class today, while this data loss calculator demonstrates the negative financial impact an organization may face as a result of a data breach or theft of identity data. This one for a BtoB insurance product helps you see how much income is at risk if you became disabled, and ultimately helps calculate how much the insurance product might cost based on your age and other factors.

Building a Mobile Presence

Mobile is a revolution. The power of the personal mobile device has created the potential for businesses to build stronger and more mutually valuable relationships with their customers. Nothing gets a marketer closer to their customer than mobile. Many marketers realize this, at least instinctively. They know that a mobile relationship has to be invited, built upon and cultivated. However, either due to lack of experience or training many marketers don’t know how to do this.

Mobile is a revolution. The power of the personal mobile device has created the potential for businesses to build stronger and more mutually valuable relationships with their customers. Nothing gets a marketer closer to their customer than mobile.

Many marketers realize this, at least instinctively. They know that a mobile relationship has to be invited, built upon and cultivated. However, either due to lack of experience or training, many marketers don’t know how to do this.

Today’s brand imperative is to include mobile in the marketing mix. A key element is to establish a mobile presence. Marketers leveraging mobile may use any number of the elements at their disposal to engage, entertain, enrich and delight consumers. These include:

  • mobile websites;
  • mobile applications;
  • SMS, MMS and email messaging;
  • voice;
  • mobile enrichments, elements and experiences;
  • mobile search;
  • location-aware plug-ins;
  • mobile social media;
  • mobile advertising (from text to banner to rich media);
  • mobile commerce;
  • response codes;
  • personalization and privacy management tools;
  • optimized mobile content (e.g., text, images, video);
  • mobile access points;
  • feature phones;
  • smartphones;
  • tablet computers and other connected devices;
  • use of traditional media; and
  • market verticals.

The versatility and capability of the channel means that building out mobile campaigns could employ any combination of the above. However, conducting a campaign that simply leverages one or more mobile elements for a finite period of time is simply a mobile tactic, not a mobile presence. It shouldn’t be considered core to the marketer’s strategy.

To develop a strategy, consider mobile from every side and dimension. In developing a strategic marketing plan, brands can no longer just rely on linear models. Marketing today is a multidimensional problem set requiring nonlinear solutions and thinking.

Without a strategy to hold these elements together, your mobile engagement could suffer. One key to a mobile strategy is where you’ll establish your mobile presence. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to building a mobile presence. Just as mobile is a personal choice for the consumer, the right combination of the mobile elements outlined above will vary based on particular marketing objectives, firm resources and customer needs.

You may not need mobile apps or mobile advertising may not be the first thing you start with. You must figure out the mix and sequence that will meet the needs of your brand. One of the first steps in building a mobile presence is ensuring that you have a mobile website that functions well on mobile devices in terms of form, function and content. These aspects of a mobile website should complement a marketer’s objectives and industry.

For example, a retail site may focus on providing consumers with product information, discounts, loyalty-building programs, store locations and maybe even direct commerce options. Whichever combination of these services a marketer employs, they need to get it right by making the features accessible and easy to use. A recent Limelight Networks’ study found that 20 percent of consumers may complete their research efforts but vow to never return to the site. An additional 18 percent will stop immediately and move on to another site. By not creating an effective mobile presence, marketers are clearly losing business.

Repurposing your site for mobile may feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, being able to envision how your site reads or works as a mobile site has become much easier. There are several tools available that can help you build out your mobile web presence. One such tool was launched last month when Google released GoMo. By entering your website’s URL into HowToGoMo.com, you can see what the site looks like on a mobile device. GoMo goes a step further, making suggestions and showing alternatives that will help you make adjustments to ensure your site is mobile optimized.

GoMo also gives examples of effective and engaging mobile websites to show what’s possible. It also offers a selection of leading mobile site developers. GoMo is an extraordinary resource to help you see what your customers see when accessing your site on their mobile devices, including the challenges you face in making your site as accessible and useful as possible.

Yet however critical it is, having an effective mobile website is just one of many mobile tactics. You must consider all the mobile touchpoints listed above. See how they integrate with your objectives at every stage of the consumer consideration funnel, then adjust your execution based on your needs and those of your customers.

In the end, creating a mobile presence is about providing a better user experience across all channels to help consumers engage with your brand at any state of the consideration funnel from any device or location. In the mobile marketplace, mobile presence is essentially the front door of a business. Making it accessible, useful and easy to approach isn’t just an added service or a smart business tactic that’s essential to effective customer engagement, it’s a business imperative in today’s mobile world.

Holiday Paid Search Analytics Reveal Insights Into Today’s Cross-Channel Shopper

When analyzing early holiday paid search data, it’s readily apparent that shopping is truly a cross-channel endeavor. For instance, the majority of this year’s Black Friday shopping occurred in-store, but consumers used search engines in droves before setting foot in a store. Search helped shoppers map out their in-store Black Friday strategies, informing them exactly where and when they could find the best deals on the products they wanted.

When analyzing early holiday paid search data, it’s readily apparent that shopping is truly a cross-channel endeavor. For instance, the majority of this year’s Black Friday shopping occurred in-store, but consumers used search engines in droves before setting foot in a store. Search helped shoppers map out their in-store Black Friday strategies, informing them exactly where and when they could find the best deals on the products they wanted.

Search played a major role in driving in-store traffic this Black Friday. Performics tracked a huge spike in Google paid search clicks for its clients on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Paid search clicks increased 87 percent year-over-year on Thanksgiving and 65 percent year-over-year on Black Friday. Additionally, this year saw the most mobile paid search clicks and impressions ever seen on Black Friday — 400 percent more than 2010.

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For the second consecutive year, Black Friday clicks surpassed Cyber Monday clicks. The adjacent graph shows three primary spikes in 2010 and 2011 fourth quarter paid search clicks. Black Friday represents the biggest spike, with Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday (which were close to each other) following behind.

Cyber Monday has historically been the biggest online sales day of the year, not Black Friday. In terms of online sales, Black Friday historically ranks behind Cyber Monday, Green Monday (the second Monday in December) and Free Shipping Day. Black Friday drives the most clicks, but the fourth most online sales.

This indicates that consumers use search engines heavily on Black Friday to discover the best in-store deals. Post-recession shoppers are researching on their computers and mobile devices more than ever to find the right combination of quality and price. The rise of mobile, highlighted by the 400 percent year-over-year increase in Black Friday mobile clicks, is the biggest indicator of true cross-channel shopping.

Not only are on-the-go consumers searching for your store locations, but they’re also conducting competitive price searches and looking for product information on their phones/tablets while in your store. According to Performics’ 2011 Social Shopping Study, 62 percent of consumers perform competitive price searches on their mobile devices while in a retailer’s store and 41 percent look for product information.

To capitalize on this cross-channel shopping behavior during the holiday season and beyond, marketers should do the following:

  • integrate online and offline promotional planning;
  • create strong mobile websites;
  • use paid search extensions (e.g., addresses, phone numbers, click-to-call) to aid searchers looking for your store;
  • let searchers know that products are in stock in your stores;
  • ensure visibility in mobile search for keywords likely to be used by shoppers searching for your store while on the go or in-store; and
  • create comprehensive local paid and organic search campaigns.

Marketers should invest in analytics to understand exactly how search marketing affects offline sales. Uncovering insights through data will help you best allocate budgets and create marketing strategies to maximize cross-channel performance.

Easy Fixes for Your Website Mistakes, Part 2

Last week in this space, I discussed the first five web design mistakes highlighted in an Oct. 13 Target Marketing-sponsored presentation titled 10 Mistakes Your Website Is Making (And How to Fix Them). Speakers included Amy Schade, a director at the Nielsen Norman Group, and Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Gomez, which was also the event’s sponsor. I moderated.

Last week in this space, I discussed the first five web design mistakes highlighted in an Oct. 13 Target Marketing-sponsored presentation titled 10 Mistakes Your Website Is Making (And How to Fix Them). Speakers included Amy Schade, a director at the Nielsen Norman Group, and Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Gomez, which was also the event’s sponsor. I moderated.

(To tune in to a replay of the presentation, register here.)

This week, I’ll discuss the last five mistakes, which were presented by both Amy and Matt.

6. Blocking your users’ progress. Don’t make people go through extra steps to get the information they need from your site, Schade said. Instead, make your users feel like they’re flowing through your site and making progress toward reaching their end goals.

7. Saying way too much or way too little. Before offering any details about a product, offer a synopsis of the product you’re selling, Schade said. Users will not scroll through pages and pages of information about a product unless they know exactly what the product is. Also, be specific when categorizing your products.

A good way to do both of these things, according to Schade, is to use a concept called layering, where you offer different layers of product information on your site.

At the top of a page, for instance, you could show a picture of an item, along with some identifying characteristics. If users are interested, they can scroll down the page and see a highlights tab that summarizes more detailed information about it. Then if they’re still interested, they can click through and read more detailed information. This is a nice balance of presenting the right amount of information in a very usable way, Schade said.

8. Not taking a walk in your users shoes. This applies to users web usability and technical perspectives, Poepsel said. Make sure the experiences they have in terms of website availability, performance and load time are excellent. If not, users will be frustrated, your brand will be at risk and you’ll incur higher operational costs, among other potential problems.

9. Not checking your work twice. Validate how your website looks, displays and performs not just in the most popular browsers — such as Internet Explorer 7.0 — but in all the possible browsers consumers may use when visiting your site, Poepsel said.

10. Not preparing for success. Make sure your website can perform well in both your lowest traffic times and your highest, Poepsel said. You don’t want to have the performance of your website flounder after sending out an email blast about a special promotion. Despite the influx of people going to your website at the same time, it should perform just as well as it normally does.