What Happens When SMBs Get Social?

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LinkedIn and Facebook transformed online selling in enterprise and consumer markets. What lessons learned can be applied to selling into SMBs?

Top 3 Takeaways:

  1. Ownership of your “brand” is going to shift from You to Your Customers
  2. Brand Sentiment (Net Promoter Score) impact on Cost of Acquisition will be amplified and will determine who gains market share.    
  3. Marketing and Selling to SMBs is about to Experience Significant Transformation.

Let’s take a walk through time…  


Stage One: Hard Core Traditional Selling “Mad Men”
In the Old Days (pre-Google) selling was an art form where businesses built out tremendous marketing and sales engines. Targeting was accomplished by demographic analysis of the various media channels (television’s 3 stations, magazines, newspaper, and radio). The goal was to place your advertisement in front of the right audience to drive awareness to action.  This was a fairly uniform process across all industry segments (from enterprise to SMB to consumers). 

At the same time, selling was all about getting physically in front of prospective customers. On the enterprise side there would be teams of sales people “working” accounts to build relationships at all levels within a target customer, wining and dining their way to closing the “elephant” of deals. On the small business side, it was more about walking the streets and going door to door selling (think Yellow Pages sales people) or renting a list from InfoUSA or D&B and dialing for dollars. On the consumer side it was all about getting your product on the right shelf in the right store to drive sell-thru. 

Net-Net: This was a very expensive way to sell.

Stage Two: Google and Inbound Marketing
A massive shift happened when AltaVista (remember the mountains?) and then Google indexed the web. No longer did companies selling products have to guess where prospective customers might be who were interested in their products. All they had to do was make sure they were present when they were searching for what they offered online. Over time, Hubspot redefined this “world of content placement” at the moment of interest as “Inbound Marketing.”  Marketing left traditional media and became all about SEO, PPC, content generation, lead capture and nurture.  

At this time, the selling process also started to evolve and become more efficient. In the Enterprise selling world, LinkedIn made it possible to understand and tap into the power of your entire network of connections and SalesForce.com burst onto the scene enabling sales teams to become more efficient in how they managed accounts.

For those selling into the world of SMBs, inbound marketing and search made it possible to feed more qualified leads to sales teams increasing their productivity and efficiency, and SaaS applications made it possible to close the sale without walking in the door.  On the consumer side, the point of sale was forever changed.  Online selling created an entirely new world of shopping with a glass of wine in your pj’s and companies from Amazon to Zillow were born.

Net-Net: Marketing and Selling gets a lot more efficient

Stage Three: Social Marketing Changes Everything
A byproduct of building out a social graph is the massive quantities of unique user data that’s collected and made available for delivering in-context messaging that almost anticipates what someone is looking for before they even know they are looking for it.  No longer do you have to wait for someone to search for “Restaurants in Boston’s North-end.” A simple post of “what are you up to?” between two friends physically located in the North-end at 4:30pm can trigger a post from a mutually liked restaurant nearby for a free appetizer if they stop by in the next hour. Social changes everything.

Social changes everything not only because of the massive quantities of data available to discern intent, it also changes everything because the ownership of your brand shifts from the messages you want to deliver about it to those your customers want to share with their friends and followers.  Your customers own your brand. 

Great news, customer referrals are the most cost-effective way to acquire great customers and social networks make it frictionless for them to share their opinions about you as well as your competition. It’s Media in 3D. You, People with an Opinion about You, and Your Prospective Customers all coming together online. So naturally, those businesses with the greatest brand sentiment have the most to gain and those on the other end of the spectrum the most to lose. 

Social has transformed selling to both enterprises and consumers. And we’re seeing it start to happen across all of the SMB communities on Alignable as well.  That’s why we started to track brand sentiment across the most talked about SMB brands in our SMB Trust IndexSM. Thinking back on the days building Constant Contact while competing with MailChimp I thought we had a pretty good read on how our customers thought about us. What we didn’t know was how the world of SMBs thought about us and most importantly how it compared to what they thought of our competition.

Now’s the Time to Get Ready
Social networks are transformative, and are the most disruptive when they provide a market segment with opportunities previously unavailable. Networks remove barriers and unlock access to information in ways never before seen. When you step back and look at the competitive disadvantages faced by small businesses for example and realize they largely exist due to the isolation of business owners, the nice and opportunity become clear.

Envision a world where every small business is connected to one another and have the opportunity to work together to drive their business forward; it’s not hard to understand why the transformative shift is starting to take effect.

EricGrovesHeadshotEric Groves is the co-founder and CEO of Alignable, the small business network where local businesses and organizations connect and collaborate with others nearby. Eric has been a local marketing expert and enthusiast since joining Constant Contact as a founding executive in 2001.