Better Use of Data Could Dramatically Alter Local Digital Sales

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First-party data, third-party data, big data, smart data: Whatever the type, data is a core principle of digital marketing today.

Yet when it comes to local, big data has not penetrated very deeply into marketing, particularly where the sales process is concerned. The efforts of local marketing vendors and media sellers have remained fairly “old school” when it comes to small business (SMB) advertiser acquisition.

All of that is about to change with the appearance of multiple companies trying to put data at the center of the way digital marketing is presented and sold to local businesses.

Old-School Sales Tactics
Sales tactics targeting SMBs have generally fallen into four buckets: feet on the street, telephone sales, email marketing and, more recently, content-based lead generation or so-called inbound marketing. Most reps, whether on the phone or in person, don’t personalize or customize the pitch for the local advertiser. They generally treat advertisers as interchangeable, potential “accounts.”

Although there’s a lot of talk about consultative selling, it’s only happening intermittently. Sales reps are often pushing products rather than customizing packages based on the needs of specific SMB prospects.

Outside sales reps are often highly effective; they’re also generally expensive. The traditional media margins that used to support an extensive “feet on the street” sales organization have come under intense pressure or disappeared in the decade-long transition to digital.

Telephone sales are more cost-effective because reps are paid less, but from an acquisition and retention standpoint, they tend to be less successful than feet on the street. It’s more difficult over the phone to get a decision-maker’s attention and break through all the noise in the local market.

But because inside sales are cheaper, this tends to be where lots of SMB-oriented vendors, startups, and sales organizations concentrate their efforts, resulting in a barrage of calls to local businesses. U.S. small businesses get roughly 17 sales calls per month and take six of them, according to 2015 survey data from Borrell Associates.

SMB Digital Marketing Needs
Survey findings suggest the local digital market has become progressively more complex, rather than simpler and more accessible for SMBs. According to Local Search Association (LSA) research, SMBs are now using more than seven media types/channels (traditional and digital) to market themselves.

Specific SMB marketing requirements are usually tied to a business’ tenure and maturity. A February 2015 Thrive Analytics survey conducted for the LSA found that newer businesses need to create awareness and visibility (e.g. SEO, listings management). More established businesses still need visibility but may have a different focus (e.g. social media, ecommerce).

Digital Marketing Needs by SMB Tenure

Digital Marketing Needs by Tenure

Source: LSA-Thrive Analytics, February 2015, n=716 U.S. small business owners

Data-Driven Sales
The chart above implies the need for a more segmented or customized approach to SMB digital marketing services. This is where data can — and probably will — transform local digital media sales in the next five years.

A number of companies, including BuzzBoard, Vendasta, Radius, and Internet Marketing Fiduciaries (IMF), are using data to create precise insights and profiles of SMBs, pinpointing digital deficiencies and where primary SMB marketing needs reside. These companies are going beyond standard-issue SEO “visibility scores” or digital presence management, either with deeper or more precise data or a broader approach encompassing a holistic digital marketing profile.

Radius is positioned as a powerful segmentation-based prospecting tool for the SMB market. BuzzBoard is being used as a sales aid for both inside and outside reps to enable them to quickly understand the needs of the particular prospect and selectively connect those to the vendor’s product list.

IMF is doing sophisticated benchmarking to help attorneys understand whether they’re getting value from their current marketing providers. It also has application as a sales and prospecting tool. Vendasta does an assessment of an SMB’s digital presence and then pushes that out in the form of email marketing and a subsequent drip campaign to identify and separate strong leads from weaker ones and thereby accelerate close rates.

Each of these companies has a slightly different approach in applying data to the challenge of SMB acquisition. Yet in each case, a data-driven analysis of individual businesses is a core offering. If used correctly, the data can make selling much more efficient and enable the rep to make a much more customized pitch to the business owner — one of the desired changes suggested by LSA survey respondents.

The ability to personalize the sales presentation and speak directly to the specific needs of the individual business could dramatically alter the local digital sales landscape. For example, if used correctly and to their fullest extent, these tools could make less seasoned inside sales reps more effective than feet on the street. Indeed, SMB prospecting could be substantially automated, as Vendasta is trying to do, turning acquisition into something that more closely resembles inbound marketing.

In the most extreme version of this scenario, content marketing becomes less necessary because the precision of the data-driven approach eliminates the need to develop general content to generate leads. A highly customized email or digital presentation addressing an SMB’s deficient mobile presence is likely to get more attention than an ebook on the importance of mobile-friendly websites, which must still be marketed itself.

As with all things, execution is key to the success of this approach. To be effective, the data utilized must be accurate and the reps using it must be trained properly in its use.

But independent of training issues or the attitudes of sales management, it’s almost certain that more sophisticated SMB data usage will make its way into the sales process. If used thoughtfully and correctly, deeper data could not only bring about true consultative selling, but also lead to lower costs and greater overall success for SMB acquisition and retention.

Greg SterlingGreg Sterling is VP of strategy and insights for the Local Search Association (LSA). He is also a contributing editor at leading tech blogs Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. Sterling has been conducting research and writing about location-based and small business marketing trends since 2000.