Thursday, December 03, 2009

10 tips for marketing to SMEs

According to the Toronto-based Executive Council on Small Business (ECSB), small business is already flooded with advertising and product information.

75% of business owners say the amount of marketing material they receive has risen in the past three years. Most don't even read what they get: according to another study, 36% of business owners just scan your copy for key words, while 35% skim it by reading only the bullet points.

So how do you get a business owner to give your marketing the attention it deserves? ECSB senior vice-president Jeff Berry offers his Top 10 Tactics.

Point 1: Entrepreneurs in Canada may be gutsy risk-takers when they launch their businesses, but surveys find them decidedly risk-averse regarding day-to-day operations.

Marketers can leverage that risk aversion by acknowledging the risks or issues that customers may encounter in using their products (e.g., installation or compatibility problems).

Point 2: Reduce perceived risk by offering samples and free trials, refund periods or money-back guarantees.

Points 3 and 4: Entrepreneurs are older than you think, says Berry: 62% of Canadian business owners are between the ages of 46 and 62. Use images in your marketing materials that reflect the faces, fashions and lifestyles of older entrepreneurs. And produce your copy in bigger fonts, to ensure your target market can read your material.

Point 5: Entrepreneurs need to feel they're in control. Provide two or three options in each product category so business owners can choose the item that best fits their needs. (More than three options can get confusing.)

Points 6 and 7: Most business owners are locally oriented. Berry suggests helping entrepreneurs expand their contacts by supporting local groups; in the U.S., for instance, American Express recently sponsored “meetup” groups that enabled its customers to network more formally with local business people.

You can also form your own groups of local customers. Apple Inc. hosts bi-monthly events at its Apple stores for Macintosh-powered entrepreneurs.

Point 8: Respect entrepreneurs’ hectic schedules by creating content that’s easy to read and skim. “If what you sell them isn’t going to save them time,” says Berry, “then make the message ‘faster’ to consume.”

Point 9: Offer service options that work with business owners’ schedules. At ProStores, an e-commerce solutions company, account reps make their calendars viewable so customers can pick their own appointment times.

Point 10: Empower business owners to solve their own problems in a timely manner. ECSB’s research found that 84% of entrepreneurs watch “how-to” videos, and 71% watch videos on corporate web sites.

Any marketer can have a credible product and a fabulous offer. By heeding the new rules of consumability, you might even get your message across.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fun with Contests that Align with Strategy

Here’s a great way for a company that prides itself on customer service to promote itself, and the very concept of service as well., the “cloud computing” hosting company that calls itself “The Home of Fanatical Support,” puts customer service first in its own business. But it also holds a contest for its clients to recognize “one of our customers for valuing customer service as much as we do.”

The 2009 Fanati Contest is now underway (for U.S. customers only). Rackspace clients who think they have what it takes have until Dec. 11 to put together a 5-minute video explaining why they deserve to be this year’s winner.

Here are some of the approaches Rackspace suggests to contest entrants:
• Tell us who you are and what your business does.
• Describe what Fanatical Support means to you.
• If you were going to take a thesaurus to the phrase “Fanatical Support” and use that in your company’s business motto, what would your new motto be?
• Tell us about a time you or an employee went above and beyond (fanatically) for a customer or employee.
• Tell us how you’ve continued to enhance your motto to adapt to your business’ changing needs, culture, and/or growth to ensure that customers stay satisfied?

What a great way to align yourself with your customers, promote your brand, and create increased engagement by among customers and their staff. And it costs almost nothing.

Kudos to Rackspace for showing that marketing (in this age of clutter) can still be about good ideas that benefit buyers and sellers alike.

What’s your brand? How could you get customers more excited about it, and promote it to the rest of the world, by organizing a contest of your own?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Quick: What does Small Business want?

My column in this week’s Financial Post tells about my recent encounter with billionaire Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit (Quicken, QuickBooks, etc.).

Cook came to Toronto last month to kick off an Intuit Canada campaign to get closer to the small business market by holding information sessions with working entrepreneurs across the country. Cook himself facilitated the first one, asking 14 Toronto business owners about the problems that keep them awake at night.

So my story looks at small business’s most urgent needs today, as well as how one company is getting closer to that market in order to identify the problems it can actually solve.

FYI, here are some of the key issues Cook heard about:

"Growth timing: When to take on extra fixed costs."

"When to expand and why."

"Compliance with tax authorities... Managing cash flow. Seeking investors."

"Work-life balance."

"How to persuade prospects of our value."

"Getting faster responses from customers."

"How to manage the time suck of social media."

"When to cut prices."

"Developing an online presence."

"Partnership and collaboration."

"Finding distribution channels."

"Cutting costs."

"Hiring, training, and when to fire."

After the meeting, I asked Cook if he'd heard any promising ideas. One big one, he said: "Social media as a time suck."
"I don't claim I understand it yet," he said, "but it's given us more to do."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Value of FREE

I had an interesting discussion last week with an exhibitor at the SOHO business conference and trade show in Vancouver. Specifically, about the lack of promotional pizzazz being shown by the exhibitors.

My friend’s company was giving away free product to anyone who visited the booth. It offers a service that people may use twice to 20 times a year, and it has extra inventory, so why not? Sampling is a time-honoured technique, good not only for getting prospects used to consuming your product, but also to attract people's attention in any competitive marketplace, such as a trade show.

Ever notice how trade show attendees usually avoid eye contact with any sales people in the booths? That’s because they see no value in initiating any sort of relationship with you. It’s a lack of interest, lack of trust, and unwillingness to explore the ROI they might gain by doing business with you. All because you have not caught their eye by offering any obvious, easy-to-grasp VALUE.

So how do you overcome that? Offer something free! Not just a cheap knickknack for stopping by the booth (“How many free pens do you need?” asked my friend), but a real, knock-their-socks-off FREE offer that presents real value – and an acknowledgement that in today’s ultra-competitive markets, prospects are doing you a big favor by even considering your wares.

They say people are exposed to 3,000 marketing messages a day (or about a million a year). We all feel like the quarry in a fox hunt, being chased through the woods and hounded to death. You have spent a lot of money to be at this trade show: show your prospects a piece of that. Give them an offer (something free, or a whopping introductory discount) that reflects their true value to you.

It’s not just a cost of doing business. It’s the price you pay to be noticed and trusted.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Passion Wanted: Small Business Week 2009

There are less than four months to go till Small Business Week, which runs from October 18 to 24 this year. The Business Development Bank, which owns the rights to SBW, has selected as its theme, Your dream, your business, your passion.”

Although Small Business Week seems to be losing steam (I haven't seen much passion around it in recent years), I believe it is still an important event for focussing attention on the needs of Canada’s SMEs. It’s also an opportune time for bigger businesses that sell to small business to show their support for the marketplace, through events, product launches, research studies, etc.

And of course through paid ads, though I am skeptical that they have much influence. Saying that you love and support small business is not quite as credible as demonstrating that you do.

This will be the 30th anniversary Small Business Week, so it could be a good time to get involved.

I have been working up some concepts for projects that would be appropriate to execute in and around Small Business Week. If you are looking for ideas or inspiration, send me an email (rick at I’d be delighted to chat with you.

One reason the SMW brand in Canada may be fading is the rise of something called Global Entrepreneurship Week, taking place in more than 60 countries this year from Nov. 16 to 22. It comes out of the UK and the Kansas City-based Kaufman Foundation. Details for this year are still sketchy, but this event is probably only a few sponsors away from turning into something quite exciting.

More details (although not many) at