:: By Nate Kristy, Automational ::
This is an exciting time to be a marketer. The quickly evolving digital world presents businesses with the opportunity to reach customers across online channels and do so with unprecedented efficiency.
Unfortunately small businesses do not always have the resources to take advantage of this new wave of marketing opportunities. The SMB sector has high expectations for revenue growth in 2016 – 85 percent of small business owners expect increased revenue this year, according to a recent study conducted by Yelp. Yet, they also cite their top challenges as attracting and retaining customers (60 percent), managing a marketing budget (32 percent) and competing against bigger businesses (30 percent).
SMB owners face many of the same marketing and sales complexities as larger companies – from managing customer information and engaging prospects authentically to efficiently sending automated, yet personalized, communications. However, SMBs rarely have a seasoned marketing team on board (which brings us back to that budget issue mentioned above), and as a result, are missing opportunities to expand their markets and increase their sales. So how can small businesses effectively attract and retain customers while competing against larger, better resourced and more digitally savvy competition?
The good news is that marketing technologies are making it easier and more efficient for any entrepreneur or SMB employee to become a “smart marketer” without breaking the bank. Today’s CRM and marketing automation solutions are becoming more accessible and affordable, allowing SMBs to obtain and leverage useful information about their prospects and customers. Here’s how entrepreneurs can combine time-tested marketing strategies with these field-levelling technologies to become their own “smart marketers”:
Do your offline work first
Before you can have an effective digital marketing strategy, a little offline work is necessary to get to know your audience. Take a look at your best existing customers and prospects. What unique characteristics and needs do they have? What sets them apart from each other – industry, revenue, income, gender, age? Determine groups, or audience segments, based on the categories and criteria that make sense.
You’ll also need to test to determine which marketing messages resonate best with your audience. Are certain products or services more popular than others? Have customers been more excited about certain aspects of a service you offer? Take these learnings into consideration, and then, do a little research to see what messages and mediums attract the audience segments previously identified.
Divide and conquer, intelligently
Be as specific as you can in your targeting. It is better to “own” a specific segment of your market than simply be a contender in a broad market. Once you have an idea of how to segment your customers and leads, go beyond demographics to separate them into groups based on similar behaviors and preferences. For example, an e-commerce company may have segments of “moms,” “holiday buyers,” or even a group that “loves denim accessories.” A small insurance company’s segments may include “large family head of household,” “multiple car owners” and “single home owners.” As you can see, each of these example groups would likely have very different interests, so it’s important to identify these characteristics early on to engage them effectively. If you don’t understand the consistencies in your customers, it will be difficult to learn what portions of your marketing program are working and what is keeping you from closing more deals.
Don’t just “set it and forget it”
You’ve completed the ground work - all of your contacts are segmented in your CRM system and you’ve created regular, automated content that speaks to each individual group. Now what? Sure, automation allows you to rest easy knowing that you’re reaching customers and not missing out any opportunities, but smart marketers will adopt an “always testing” mindset. With all the time you’ve saved with automatic follow ups and emails, you should consistently monitor customer reactions. Which emails, subject lines, and website pages are driving more clicks and sales? Which are not? Pay attention. The more you know about your customers’ likes and dislikes, the more you can tweak your content to focus on what’s working and what’s driving revenue.
Create a feedback loop
A critical step in learning about your customers and their preferences is simply asking them, “What can we do better?” Companies that ask questions and adapt to feedback prove to be much more valuable in the eyes of customers. Not only is their feedback an asset to your business – from product to marketing, and everything in between – but customers are often appreciative and delighted that you even asked. Simple ways to ask for feedback include email follow-ups after a purchase or service is completed, surveys that offer an incentive, and ratings and review options on your website or via third-party sites like Yelp.
Make small changes for big improvements
With all of the information you’ve collected and the extra knowledge you have about your customers, take the time to make small changes that can have a huge impact. Updating an email subject line to mention a popular product feature or tailoring the time of day that an automated email message goes out can have a huge influence on response rates and ultimately, your sales.
Small businesses have a lofty – but winnable – marketing and sales challenge. They must address the same savvy consumers who are accustomed to engaging with marketing messages from larger businesses, such as hyper-customized messaging, cross-sell/up-sell promotions, and product ratings or reviews. Traditionally, marketing technology solutions have been too expensive and time-consuming for SMB use. Thankfully, there’s a new breed of small business marketing technology providers that are bringing powerful capabilities in easy-to-use tools that offer a ton of small business value. The key to unleashing your inner “smart marketer” is to combine a defined strategy with these technology-enabled processes and a commitment to improvement to drive and motivate your customer base.
Nate Kristy’s B2B, SaaS, and services marketing expertise stems from over 15 years of industry experience in leadership and marketing development. As vice president of marketing for Automational, Kristy manages the marketing strategy, messaging and lead generation initiatives for the small business marketing and sales solution.