Having worked as an advisor for companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 members and even global multinationals, I see the same mistakes being repeated over and over again for targeting entrepreneurs and small business owners.
If your company sells B2B, or you are part of a company that does, avoid the following four common mistakes if you want to really engage and grow your small business customer base.
1. Selling features versus solutions
Companies, especially large ones, like to tout their innovations and the features of their products and services. This takes place across the marketing media, whether companies are creating informational content or traditional advertisements.
This emphasis on features is at direct odds with the way entrepreneurs consume information. Most small business owners are busy and focused primarily on running their businesses. They prioritize the things that directly impact those operations that day, week, month and year -- how to find new customers, treat employees, save more money and time, work fewer hours, etc.
So, unless you happen to be offering a solution to a “hair-on-fire” problem, like the virus that just infected a company's computers or the lawsuit it just learned of, the company is not likely to pay much attention to your features-driven messaging.
The real solution here is akin to hiding peas in the mashed potatoes in order to get the vegetables benefit while focusing on the good stuff: Put your business-consulting hat on and talk about solutions to the small business categories listed above (such as helping businesses find new customers). Incorporate your products and services into that solution to keep a company's attention.
2. Lacking a call to action
This is potentially the most frustrating and easily avoidable issue that I see with small-business marketing. A company will invest in some great, helpful small business content; this could be a video, social post, ebook, newsletter, etc. But at the end of the content, the company forgets to put in a clear, easy-to-follow call to action.
If in fact you have gotten a company's attention with your content, continue the conversation. Capture the contact's email and get permission to talk to him or her directly and provide more great content. Or at least have an online hub the company's reps can visit. Air this information simply, by putting at the end of your video or ebook: “For more tips to help your small business grow, visit ----."
Make it easy for the company to do just that, and send your contact to a specific place where you can leverage that connection point.
3. Having too many places to interface
Speaking of sending small businesses to a place for information, many brands -- large and small alike, but especially large brands -- aren’t organized, from a customer-facing perspective. Internally, there may be many teams that all do some marketing to small businesses. However, small businesses do not understand the internal politics of an organization. More importantly, they do not care nor want to understand the politics involved.
This means that, instead of every one of your teams sending small businesses to a different website or email list, or having 10 different Twitter handles that touch SMBs, create one cohesive small business hub for customers to visit. If your divisions need to remain separate internally, then have them all link into one main small-business umbrella online-touchpoint that the small business customer sees externally.
This will make it clear and easy for small-business owners to know where to go to find information relevant to them. They'll be able to refer others to your offers and information. It will also make your company's small business strategy cohesive.
As a bonus, your company will get more scale and more bang for its buck when all your employees are rowing in the same direction.
4. Not segmenting
The reason that small business has become such a focus for companies of all sizes is that there are a ton of them. There are around 28 million small businesses in the United States, and millions more abroad. However, despite these large aggregate numbers, small businesses aren’t all alike and treating them that way means missed opportunities for your brand.
First, segment by industry. While it makes sense to try to get scale from your marketing, you still need to chunk it down into smaller groups. Many small business owners identify themselves as related to an industry and see their business problems as industry-related.
For example, auto dealerships, which are often family-owned small businesses passed down through generations, have very different needs than lawyers, restaurant owners or pet sitters. Think about content creation, relationships and more by targeting industries that your business wants to focus on.
Also look at geography. Small businesses in the United States are very different from those abroad. In Dubai, for example, small businesses don’t yet use social media extensively. Australia has a number of government-sponsored initiatives to help small business. Be aware of these geographical differences.
Also, look to both local and U.S.-based influencers to help deliver your message. Even abroad, the United States still sets the standard for entrepreneurship.