This article is a guest post by Laurie McCabe, a Partner and Analyst at the SMB Group , specializing on research in the highly fragment small to medium business market.
Many economists believe that we are in the midst of an economic recovery, but one that is more similar to a wiggly line than a nice, smooth upward trending trajectory. In this type of environment, our research consistently indicates that growing the business--by attracting new customers and getting existing ones to buy more--is a top priority for small businesses.
We all know intuitively that strong marketing is essential to helping to achieve these growth objectives. But does your business have what it takes to stay ahead of the marketing curve?
Based on SMB Group research, here are seven questions to help you assess where you’re at, warning signs that you need to reset, and some quick tips to help you get your marketing groove back.
- Is marketing core to your company, or is it window dressing? Our Small Business Marketing Health Check research reveals that growth companies are more likely to view marketing strategically, and invest more in marketing than their counterparts with flat of declining revenues. Too often, companies focus the bulk of their efforts on sales, and neglect the essential role that marketing plays in bringing prospects in the door. How does your marketing investment compare to similar companies in your industry? How effective are your marketing initiatives in priming the sales pump? Are you proactively monitoring, measuring and fine-tuning what you do based on outcomes? If you can’t readily answer these questions, the odds are good that your company is falling behind the marketing curve.
- Are you stuck in a marketing rut? Growing small businesses are shifting more rapidly from traditional marketing (print advertising, direct mail, etc.) to Web-based and social media marketing than counterparts with flat or declining revenues. Why? Because Web-based marketing and social media tools are often less expensive, easier to use and more effective than traditional marketing alternatives. Are you taking advantage of new ways to market your company? Do you periodically evaluate and change up your marketing mix? Do you experiment with new landing pages, keywords and SEO terms on a regular basis? If you answer no to these questions, you’re ready for a marketing makeover. But don’t despair. There have never been so many great, cost-effective marketing solutions available for small businesses. However, the sheer volume of choices can make selecting the right ones confusing. Try browsing a small business app store (such as Google App Marketplace , GetApp.com , Salesforce.com AppExchange , etc) sponsored by a company whose applications you already use, taking advantage of customer ratings and comments to help you get to a manageable short list.
- Do you proactively look for the silver lining when others focus on the darkening clouds? To quote Rahm Emanuel, never let a good crisis go to waste! Companies that seek out opportunities to capitalize on new trends and solve new problems beat slower competitors to the punch--and are more likely to be growth companies than those that don’t. But, you need a strong pulse on your market to be effective. Are you using social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to listen for unmet needs and preferences in relevant communities? Do you dialogue--online and in person--with customers to get additional insights into their requirements? Do you periodically survey or poll visitors to your Web site? Dial down the volume on your own sales pitch and turn it up on prospects, customers and community conversations to boost your marketing power, gain new insights and get the competitive edge.
- Can everyone in your company give a compelling elevator pitch for what you do and the value you provide? With the possible exception of the cleaning staff, all of your employees should be able to get the main point of your business across to anyone that may be interested. If you ask a random group of employees (not all sales people!) and get a variety of ums, ahs, and different answers, your company lacks a clear consistent message to rally around. Boil down your what you do and why it matters into an easy to remember slogan. For example, of what works: I asked David Barrett, CEO of Expensify , what his firm does, and he said, “We do expense reports that don’t suck.”
- If your company does something complex, do you demystify it so that everyone can understand it? Make sure that you break down complex or new products or services into understandable terms. to get the value across to the broad SMB market. Use tools, such as HubSpot’s free Press Release grader to evaluate your press release for marketing effectiveness. Internal or industry acronyms and jargon are probably indecipherable to your customers (think “derivative”), so make sure your presentations and collateral are acronym and jargon free. If you riddle your presentations or press releases with this stuff, it indicates that you are thinking from a vendor and industry-centric place, instead of a customer-centric one. Put everything through spell check to unearth acronyms, and make sure your mother, grandmother or neighbor can get the gist of it before you use it.
- Does it take a detective to figure out how much what you sell costs? I am constantly amazed that in this day and age of the Internet and transparency, many companies don’t even give a whiff of pricing guidance on their sites. You know who you are! This is a big turn-off for many prospects. If you’re not making it easy for them to get ballpark pricing information, they may cut you from the short list before you even get there. Many prospects are likely to think your stuff will be too expensive unless it is easy for them to see that you’ve priced it affordably.
- Do you know what people are saying about your company and its products and services? Trust me: ignorance is not bliss. In this age of social media and crowd-sourcing, you need to know what people are saying so you can both spread the good word and diminish and counteract negative commentary. Fortunately, tools abound for helping small businesses inexpensively and easily track and weigh in on relevant conversations occurring across the Internet. One of many to check out: Marchex Reputation Management .
Ask yourself the seven questions above to reset expectations about your marketing effectiveness and tell us what else you think is critical to market a growing business today. Then, if you’ve got time, help us create some more useful insights about how small and medium businesses make buying decisions for software and service technology. Take the survey to enter the raffle to win an Apple iPad!