Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Marketers' biggest mistake

What's the worst mistake big-business people make when marketing to small business?

Warrillow & Co., a Toronto-based company that researches the small business market on behalf of bigger clients, asked that question of Gary Slack, chairman & "Chief Experience Officer" of Chicago-based Slack Barshinger, an integrated marketing agency focussed on business-to-business. Slack Barshinger was BtoB magazine’s 2006 Midsize Agency of the Year, and the Business Marketing Association’s 2006 Agency of the Year.

Warrillow: "What’s the biggest mistake you see enterprise companies make when they target small businesses?"

Slack: "I think the biggest mistake we see enterprise firms make is assuming they understand the needs, challenges and mindset of their small-business customers and prospects. We still too commonly encounter marketers who try to arrive at the answers to critical questions by arguing them out around conference tables rather than doing the research required to really understand the marketplace.

"On top of that, we also see enterprise companies sometimes make the mistake of assuming that small companies are the same as their own company – for example, large, bureaucratic, territorial and slow to act. They don’t sufficiently appreciate how quickly decisions can be made at a smaller company, assuming you have reached the right person or persons with the right message.

"Last but not least, we’ve also found that enterprise firms sometimes make blanket assumptions about the SMB buying process related to their product or service... assumptions that may prove incorrect. In the chaotic world of SMB life, job descriptions cover a fraction of what an individual actually does, and research is needed to truly understand all the potential players who might be involved in a purchasing decision, what information those individuals will seek, their various pain points, and what steps they will follow in their firm’s buying cycle."

In my opinion, the trouble with researching small business habits is that they're so different. A focus group of 10 people couldn't begin to cover the broad spectrum of possible small business attitudes and behaviours. Yet quantitative research is so limited in terms of covering multiple options and open-ended behaviours and attitudes.

So what's a marketer to do? Cover off multiple options: one-on-one research and experience, small-group interviews, and quantitative surveys. The hard part, though, it to synthesize the information and convey the resulting intelligence and insights to everyone in your marketing, product development and executive teams who needs to understand these markets.

Fortunately, technology has come up with unique new solutions for that. Internal blogs and wikis are great ways of recording, sharing and understanding an ongoing wave of information. And you can control access to any participants you wish.

I know, I know. Something new to research. But don't worry. Blogs and wikis are easy to learn, simple to use and easy to set up, yet cost next to nothing.

And they're a great way to ensure that your hard-earned research gets understood and gets used.

For more of Warrillow's interview with Slack, click here.

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