Does Your SMB Marketing Message Need a Makeover? Seven Questions to Ask

Countless technology vendors are targeting the increasingly coveted yet still somewhat elusive small and medium business (SMB) market. We do our share of message testing and market strategy work with them, and attend innumerable briefings from other vendors aiming to make their mark in this crowded space.

All too often, we see some warning signs that indicate gaps a vendor hasn’t created a strong enough story to gain a solid foothold and/or build a volume business. Here’s my take on the top seven questions you need to ask yourself about your SMB marketing approach, the warning signs that you need to adjust what you’re doing, and some quick tips to help you avoid falling into these traps in the first place.

  1. Can you state your solution’s value proposition in a clear, compelling way in 60 seconds? Believe it or not, some vendors can’t do this in an hour, let alone 60 seconds. I’m not saying that you need to explain every little feature and function, just what it is you do and why an SMB customer should care. When vendors have trouble getting the point across to analysts who live, eat and breathe technology for a living, it’s a good bet that most SMBs will never get it. To make sure that you’ve gotten your message across, do a reality check to see if the analyst can concisely restate what it is you, what problems you solve, who you solve them for, etc. And a quick example of what TO do: At a recent event, I asked David Barrett, CEO of Expensify, what his firm does, and he said, “We do expense reports that don’t suck.”
  2. Are your presentations acronym free? Big companies are typically much more likely to be guilty of this than small ones. Industry acronyms are frequently indecipherable to many SMBs. Worse yet, your own corporate acronyms are a mystery to them, and often to insiders, such as analysts and press—as well. These are the very people you rely on to help spread the word about what you’re doing–don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Worse yet, 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. (In March, I actually went to an event where almost the entire agenda was written in acronyms.) There’s an easy fix for this one. Send anything you present to press, analysts and customers through spell check first, and make sure you spell out an acronym the first time you use it—or better yet, get rid of the acronyms!
  3. Can you get your message across in plain English or are you using a lot of technical and business jargon and fluff? As I discussed in this blog post, Another Plea for Plain English‎, it can be tough to break down complex or new technology solutions into understandable terms. And it can be hard to resist trying to make all this stuff sound (more?) exciting. But you need to demystify technology solutions to get the value across to the broad SMB market. Use HubSpot’s free Press Release grader to evaluate your press release for marketing effectiveness, with the added bonus of providing feedback on search engine optimization.
  4. Does your target audience align with your actual customer base—and reality? The SMB market is actually very fragmented, and consists of many diverse sub-segments with very different needs, goals, and attitudes about technology solutions. Vendors will sometime tell us that they target small businesses–but most of their customers are VC-backed firms (and most of them are other tech companies!). In this case, the vendor has mistaken the outliers for “true” small businesses, which are owner-financed and lack the technology sophistication and cash flow of these elites.  While there is nothing wrong at all with going after the tech-savvy niche, don’t delude yourself! Another bad sign is when a vendor says that they target medium businesses, but their mid-market definition goes up to 5,000 employees or a billion dollars in revenues. I kid you not, I recently attended an event where the vendor defined mid-market as companies with 1,000 to 10,000 employees. By looking at this chart, you can see just how off the mark this is.
  5. Are you spending too much time on religious zealotry, and not enough on why your solution will provide the most value? If you’re Marc Benioff, and have more VC money than you know what to do with, this is probably fine. Otherwise, stop leading with the cloud, open source or whatever platform you’re preaching from. I’m not saying that this shouldn’t be a part of your value proposition (if it truly adds value) just don’t lead with it. Instead, lead with why your solution will do x, y or z better, faster and cheaper than the other guy’s–this is what most SMB customers truly care about. And, when the next new big technology thing comes along, you reduce the risk that your lead message will suddenly sound very dated.
  6. Does it take a detective to figure out how much your solution costs? I am constantly amazed that in this day and age of the Internet and transparency, there are vendors that don’t publish pricing or even pricing guidelines on their sites. You know who you are! This tactic wouldn’t last 3 minutes in the true small business market, so most culprits are in the mid-market space. Having interviewed hundreds of mid-market customers, I can tell you this is a big turn-off for many of them. 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. This is especially true for vendors that are trying to move into SMB markets from the large enterprise space—SMBs are likely to think your stuff will be too expensive unless its easy for them to see that you’ve priced it affordably.
  7. How can the SMB customer purchase your solution? You may have created good buzz, and have a solution that is priced right and solves world hunger, but if its difficult for prospects to figure out how and where to buy it, they will often give up and look elsewhere. This is a problem that can plague vendors that sell through indirect channels only, or rely on private label channels. Even if the SMB customer can’t buy directly from you, make sure people can go to your site and quickly figure out who can take the order!

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