It's almost a given that small B-to-B marketers should be able to learn from their larger counterparts, right? Chances are big businesses have been through many marketing campaigns, they've had failures and successes, and they've learned something along the way.
And these larger businesses have people that manage large marketing budgets and they're usually careful not to go over budget. However, that may mean they might not be taking chances or testing new things. Conversely, these marketers may spend up to the last penny of their budgets just because it's there and if they don't spend it now, they may lose out on it next year. But what if those budgets came right out of their own personal bank accounts? These managers might be a hell of a lot more careful with them, that's for sure.
Most small business owners feel the pain of letting go of those dollars. They feel that for every dollar they spend on advertising they won't be able to buy new products to sell, they won't be able to hire someone new or they might not be able to take their own paycheck that month.
Small B-to-B marketers like to see a pretty quick return on investment if they're to keep pumping hundreds of dollars a month into mediums like Google Adwords or a local print ad. But of course, many marketing tactics take time to work. This means small businesses are forced to be clever in the ways they get new customers. And they need to do so on the cheap.
What can large B-to-B businesses learn from the techniques that small business owners know so well?
1. Grass Roots – Remember the old world of face-to-face networking? Think you'll ever really see anyone from a big company at a local chamber of commerce event? You might see some agents from the local Wells Fargo there because they have to participate in community events. They're likely counting the minutes to when they get home or when the free food is gone.
Small business owners, however, use these events to network themselves like crazy. For example, my local San Francisco Chamber of Commerce puts on "After Hours" events where they invite all businesses in the community to come together and meet. Many exchange ideas and business cards and try hard to really drum up business. They follow up immediately with email and stay in touch however they can. Larger businesses should take note of this, and designate local community coordinators to represent their organizations at such gatherings. They should get to know business owners by name and send monthly email newsletters to them to keep the connection going. This is a great way to put a human face on a behemoth company.
2. Social Networking – Small businesses do a great job at making connections and engaging with their customers and prospects. Take Velocity Tech Solutions, a company that sells servers and IT hardware. Thanks to an active blog and YouTube channel, a presence on all the major social networking channels and social sharing features in their emails, traffic to their site has consistently improved and their company has grown.
In comparison, many larger businesses have stringent rules and regulations about how employees can—or worse yet, can't—do social media. Even IBM has its guidelines for employee use of social networking here. While it encourages participation, its rules sound a bit daunting and might scare an employee from joining in. Big businesses should learn from the small guys and let go and have a personality! Bravo to Southwest Airlines, one of the few that does a great job.
3. Over Deliver – Small businesses have always had to do this since they're competing with larger companies. On the consumer side, many eBay sellers are the best at this. Many do a great job at what they deliver when you get your package. I've purchased shoes and received the box in pristine condition with extra gifts of hand cream, a shoehorn and some leather protection. Nice touches go a long way, even if you're a business selling to another business. Bigger companies don't really use their packaging real estate the way they should. When was the last time you got a surprise in your box from Staples or OfficeMax?
4. Be Human – We've seen some great blogs talking about the people behind the business. These establish wonderful connections with customers. For instance, the owner of The Tulsa Wedding Show, which puts on wedding trade shows and events and markets to both vendors and brides-to-be, writes a "Producer's Blog" where she often shares more personal content. Her "About Us" section features family pictures and a story about her daughter's wedding and how it gave her a new perspective on the wedding planning process. It's a nice way to engage with your customers.
5. Be Fun – This is probably the toughest thing for a larger business to embrace. Many business owners start their own business to complement their lifestyle. They don't want to move up the corporate ladder; they want to really like what they do and have fun doing it. As a result, you feel it when you walk into their businesses or visit their sites. When was the last time you saw a Comcast rep or a Domino's Pizza worker and said to yourself, "Wow, I think that person is really having fun?" But you may have visited a website or received an email and smiled at what you've just read. E-BizDocs, a company in New York that helps businesses with electronic record-keeping solutions, injects a little fun into many of its email newsletters, like a call to help a 91-year-old New York Giants fan (and local Ulster County resident) win a Facebook contest sponsored by the football team.
When my own email marketing company VerticalResponse wanted to have some fun around our partnership with Salesforce.com, we shot a music video to drive awareness for what we do. Even though it's been years since we launched it, it still gets views to this day.
Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of Vertical Response.