Monday, August 15, 2011

8 Key Elements for SMB Marketing (Part 1)

Mysterious SMB market.  For many years, I have been hearing the same story, "SMB market is lucrative and really fragmented.  It represents a tremendous opportunity for us."   Yet, I have witnessed many companies enter this space over and over, just to fall short of their expectations.  So, what gives?

The challenge is that neither enterprise, nor consumer programs alone are effective in this market.  I spent last 1,5 years on finding effective approaches for marketing and selling IT products and services into SMB.  Here are my findings:

1. Market Definition.   First, how do you define SMB?  I break it down into 4 segments:
           a. Small Office / Home Office (1 - 5 employees)  Consumer-like buying behavior.
           b. Very Small Business (6-30 employees).  No dedicated IT.  Use of consultants.
           c. Small Business (31 - 250 employees).  1-3 IT employees.
           d. Medium Business (251 - 1,000 employees).  1-5 IT employees.  More sophisticated network / apps.  Elements of the enterprise IT.

2.  Analyzing Strengths.  If you already have presence in this space and analyze your historic sales, you probably will discover that sales have been coming from one or two of the sub-segments above.  This exercise will point to success in certain types of your activities or channels.  And, visa versa, you may see opportunities in sub-segments that are not performing well.  You can also define which of these sub-segments are best matched for your product / sales force / channel presence.  This is critical, because even if you have the best product, but lack the right sales force type, your efforts may stumble.

3. Different Target Audience.  IT folks in SMB find, purchase and consume products differently than their peers in large enterprises.  SMB IT employees are typically generalists.  Having to compete with much larger companies, IT departments with only a few people have to take care of everything from fixing computers to maintaining the network infrastructure and deploying applications.  This often means no time for a deep dive into any area.  This also means no time to read fancy white papers, or try every product feature, or attend industry IT mega shows.  These characteristics make enterprise-type marketing fairly ineffective.

4.  Product Approach.   Ease of use is the name of the game here.  I have seen many simple and easy-to-use cloud services beat out complex, difficult-to-use and deploy, yet feature-rich products.  When building a product or a service for SMB market, it is critical to keep ease of use in mind.  It is a somewhat difficult concept for enterprise software vendors, who customize products to the needs of very large customers.  For these vendors, it may make sense to have a simpler and cheaper offering with reduced functionality that is easy to use, fast to deploy and doesn't require lots of support.  That is one of the reasons behind success of many cloud services in SMB space.  It is a worthwhile exercise for product managers, especially the ones with little SMB experience, to hold several focus groups to understand the simplicity requirements.

5. Messaging.  Since simplicity is so important, most of the enterprise (complicated and long) messaging approaches won't work.  SMB IT folks have absolutely no time to translate complicated technology of fluffy marketing messages into benefits.  Product Marketing has to create a message that connects quickly and uses their target market's language.  The reward can be huge - quick decision-making process and faster time to revenue.  A successful example of such messaging is what we did for Panda Security:

More... Not to bore you with too long of a post, I broke it down in two entries.  In the second part, I  discuss lead generation, lead sorting and nurturing, sales approach and channels, and marketing / sales tools.

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