You’ve heard it before – marketing is important. It is important for all businesses, large and small alike. However, while large businesses have their name working for them, small businesses and entrepreneurs don’t have the advantage of the trust and credibility that are a given with large companies; neither do they have the funds that larger, well-recognised corporations can afford to invest in marketing.
The majority of the small B2B business owners I work with often struggle with their marketing efforts. Not only because they can’t afford large lumps of money in advertising but also because they don’t know where to start. In a smaller enterprise, it is down to a few people to cover all the functions of the business. And regardless of how talented and smart they are, they can’t be excellent in each and every department.
With no dedicated marketing department in a small company, somebody needs to invest the time to educate themselves about the marketing channels and tools out there because being good at marketing often times means being able to survive. Today when virtually almost every company has a web page and is on social media, it is no longer about existing on Google but how you use the options that are there to communicate your value to potential clients.
Before I go into the different options that are easily accessible to small businesses and particularly suitable for B2B businesses, I will start off by saying what I always say to my clients first: random efforts here and there aren’t going to take you far. You need to understand your target market firstly, and secondly you need to have a marketing plan so your efforts are structured.
- Define your target market
Everything starts with your client. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know who your current and past clients are and who you are targeting. You need to get that crystal clear in your mind because whatever efforts you make, whatever marketing tools you use, wherever you seek for clients, will depend on the profile of your targeted customer. Think about the clients you already have, what industries they are in, what do they do. You need to understand this in order to know where to find and how to approach more people like the clients you have now and had in the past.
Imagine you are a web design company and you were looking to revamp your own web page. You know what the web trends are and you would like something trendy and simple, less business-like. If you look at your customers however, you discover that 80% of them are solicitors, architects, accountants, etc. – all professionals who generally look for a strictly business appearance of their web pages. It is often times subconscious but people will trust other people that they feel are somehow similar to themselves. By changing your web page to a more trendy one, while your clients are traditional in their taste, you might find that you no longer attract the type of clients you have.
You see, knowing who your customers are and what they are like means that you know their needs and requirements which this in turn means that you understand what would be interesting, appealing and valuable to them. In other words, you will know what to offer to them and how.
- Put a marketing plan in place
There are various ways to go with your marketing strategy. As you can imagine, what is suitable, will very much depend on the business you are in and again – the clients you are targeting. However, if you are an entrepreneur or a small company offering B2B services, don’t stress about the fact that you might not be in a position to spend a lot on your marketing. There are many options which are inexpensive or even free. What is important is that you are consistent across the tools you use and that there is a plan in place.
You have to be patient and keep it up even at busy times – First, you need to decide what tools you will use: i.e. social media (and what in particular), blogs, events, speeches etc.; and how often you will do it: i.e. 3 times a week, once every two weeks, one networking event per month, etc. As you put together your marketing plan, be honest with yourself. Think about how much time per week you can realistically spend on your marketing. It is better to start off with modest but consistent efforts rather than have periods where you are super productive and then not make any marketing efforts for months.
You might not have a lot of funds to invest in your marketing and that is ok, we live in an era full of possibilities where to reach out to clients is much easier. The problem is that it is easier for everybody and clients end up being bombarded with information and messages which often times they chose to ignore because they are overwhelmed. Ultimately your success will depend on the quality of what you put out there. Is it relevant? Is it interesting? Is it useful? Are you being actually helpful? And so on and so forth. Here’s a few marketing ideas that I find particularly suitable for B2B business owners:
This comes as no surprise, I know. But Social Media can be really beneficial when it comes to reaching out to business clients. Once you’ve identified who your clients are, you can afford to spend a little bit of time every week posting articles and information relevant to them. Is costs you nothing and can help you build a reputation for somebody who understands that specific group’s needs and problems. For argument’s sake, say that your target group were retail shop owners, you might post articles such as ‘5 creative ways to increase client loyalty in stores’. All you need to do is a little research on the Internet to come up with your own content.
When it comes to B2B, LinkedIn is particularly useful as you can join groups that fall into the category of your target market and actually personalise your posts to each specific group. You can start conversations on topics of interest and share advice, you can re-post how-to videos, infographics etc. Same applies for Twitter which is a little bit ahead in terms of number of users in Ireland. LinkedIn, however, is the media that is designed for and targeted at professionals.
Blogs are popular with B2B professionals who share experience and offer advice by posting articles on their own websites. Again, always keep in mind who your target market is and think about what you can offer to these people that is valuable. There are different types of blogs, i.e. Advantages / Disadvantages blogs, How to blogs, Tips & Reviews blogs, etc. If you were an accountant, for example, who targets small businesses you might want to write about specific book-keeping software listing its advantages and disadvantages or offer tips on how to make filing of accounting documents easier and less time-consuming. Even if you don’t have the confidence to write articles yourself or you don’t have the time to write a blog every week, there’s always professional blog writers who can do that for you at a reasonable cost.
The most important thing here is to start with the end in mind and really focus on posting an article on a regular basis but most importantly on topics of relevance and interest for YOUR clients. Blogs can also be shared on Social Media.
I’ve talked about this before but networking is really important today and particularly suitable for B2B small business professionals. Nothing can compare to the face to face communication where people get to know the real person behind a business. Contacts can bring you leads and prospects as people get to know you better and the services you offer. What is important to mention here is that you shouldn’t try to sell at these events, it puts people off. Do have a clear presentation pitch prepared in your mind, so when people ask you about what you do, you can give them a clear and concise answer. However, keep in mind that these events are more about listening than talking. Go with an open mind, listen to people and if you can offer advice, always do – people will never forget you if you’ve helped them. Not to mention the word-of-mouth potential that such situations present.
Choose the events you attend and networking groups you join carefully. You might go to such a networking event only once or twice a month but if you are among the right people, you’re your target market perspective, it can be really beneficial.
Stay in touch
Whether it is a Newsletter email that you send out or a phone call, unless it is too often, there is no harm in approaching your past clients just to say hello. However, don’t try to sell and talk them into availing of a new service or buying a new product. Make sure it’s nice and friendly, with ‘just to say hello’ kind of attitude, simply asking how they are and letting them know you are there. People hate it when they are pushed to buy or bombarded with calls and emails. I wouldn’t recommend touching base more often than once every 3/4 months. Otherwise, you risk putting them off if they find you annoying.
Ultimately, with all of your efforts writing blogs, using social media etc., your purpose is to build a reputation for somebody who is knowledgeable and helpful. If you can do that, business will come to you and you don’t need to spend thousands on aggressive marketing campaigns convincing people that you are worth it. Simply demonstrate it through the work you do. There’s no tool more powerful than the word-of-mouth and if your posts, blogs, encounters with other professionals, and your work of course, are genuinely aimed at helping people, clients will follow.