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How To Get To Know The New SMB Buyer

©All rights Reserved Peter Schofield

This is part 2 of a series on the challenge of targeting SMB markets and how the use of buyer modeling and buyer-based marketing help organizations to grow their SMB customer base. 

In the first article of this series, we visited two new realities.  One, that many Fortune 1000 and Global 2000 organizations are turning a focused eye towards growing their SMB customer and revenue base.  With revenue growth potential shrinking in larger strategic accounts due to budget and pricing pressures, many are dedicating attention and resources with more determination than in the past.  The second reality is that they are finding a very different buyer this time around than in the past.  Simply put, SMB buyers are more social, more sophisticated, more connected, and are transforming their buying behaviors at an accelerated pace.  New technologies opening their world to advantages only once afforded to large enterprises.

Waking up to these new realities has set up another challenge for executive leaders.  That is of how to get to know the new SMB buyer.  Here’s how one sales executive put this to me recently:

“One of the things we realized is that we have got to get to know our SMB customers.  If you keep in mind that we haven’t really dedicated much resource to this area, then we are lacking in knowledge per se’.  We’ve got to find out what is important to them versus just giving them some generic sales pitch.”

This is a very salient point for many organizations tend to view the SMB as a whole segment in of itself.  The reality is that the SMB is highly fragmented and consists of many layers of sub-market segments.  Getting to know what makes SMB buyers tick is, by no means, as easy as saying this is your SMB buyer.  Layer on top of this the enormous changes in buyer behavior, the invisibility of SMB buyers in their sourcing for information, and new empowering technologies makes this endeavor a higher mountain to climb.  It is no wonder many executives are walking out of their meetings where SMB growth is identified as a top priority saying – now what?

Getting To Know The New SMB Buyer

The first tough challenge is realizing that viewing the SMB as a single market and that rudimentary means of segmenting by employee size and revenue figures are not going to result in the understanding needed.  While vertical segmentation is of significant help, what is paramount is knowledge of how these sub-markets and buyers within behave.  What are steps that executives can take to understand the new SMB buyer?

Buyer Research: This has to be a clear mission.  Getting to know the new SMB buyer is going to take some level of buyer research.  It is going to take the integrated approach of committing to both quantitative and qualitative approaches to understand the full 360 degrees of the new SMB buyer.

Buyer Modeling: Depending on the degree of fragmentation in sub-markets, powerful buyer modeling can be an extensive exercise.  However, one well-worth the upfront investment to get to know the new SMB buyer in ways that transforms efforts into an order of magnitude competitive advantage.  There are several areas of modeling that by understanding them deeply, can make your organization relevant to buyers and core to their problem-solving:

Buyer Persona Modeling: What is important here is not to model the single archetypal buyer but to model the new levels of interactions buyers are having with newly formed ecosystems and networks.  They may be SMB but they are growing exponentially and organically by creating new ecosystems.  Buyer persona modeling represents composite archetypes based on behavioral research with a focus on identifying critical goals that drive buyer behaviors.

Buyer Scenario Modeling: To get a handle on the problems SMB buyers face and what confronts them, modeling buying scenarios can give your marketing and sales teams insight into how to be relevant.  Additionally, this gives you the ability to address fragmentation and identify sub-market segments that have the best optimal scenarios to be part of the SMB buyer’s solution.

Buyer Decision Modeling: How SMB buyers are making purchase decisions today is changing so fast and by sub-markets that not monitoring this aspect of a SMB strategy can put an organization behind the curve.  While looking at the buyer decision journey can be fruitful, in my qualitative research I’ve noted how the new SMB buyers are adept at more ad-hoc decision-making.  Furthermore, with the rise of ecosystems and networks, collaborative efforts in making purchase decisions are not so neatly streamlined.  Newer technologies are also making purchase decisions more decentralized than ever – making fragmentation on this issue even more complex.

Buyer Value Modeling:  SMB buyers’ value varies widely by sub-market segments.   Gaining insight and modeling how these values operate in their day-to-day world can help you to tailor offerings and communications to fit specific sub-market segments.  Depending on the industry and markets, values in the SMB take on a deeper emotive texture and can be a deciding factor in purchase decisions.

Avoid Big Data Trap

With the rise of big data, there will be a tendency to try and “cut the numbers” every which way to make sense of the SMB market challenge.  When dealing with 5,000 SMB accounts to 150,000 SMB accounts, the tasks of getting to know these SMB buyers at a deeper level can look downright daunting.  Analytics will play an important role towards reaching understanding.  I also contend and advocate that qualitative and predictive buyer modeling is essential to integrate into the mix of discovering the new SMB buyer of today.  Buyer behavior within the SMB world is rapidly changing.  A reasonable assumption can be made that in some SMB sub-market segments it is changing at a faster pace than that of larger organizations.

The combined use of analytics and predictive buyer modeling can yield an insightful picture into how these new behaviors translate into uncovering why buyers make purchase decisions.  And, get closer to the holy grail of uncovering the reasons why they would change.

Next Up: The Importance of Buyer-Based Marketing in SMB

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Your Top Priority Is Growing The SMB Revenue Base – Now What?

 

Do Your Research Before You Pick Up The Phone © All Rights Reserved Kenny Madden

This is part 1 of a series on the challenge of targeting SMB markets and how the use of target buyer modeling and buyer-based marketing help organizations to grow their SMB customer base. 

As we continue to come out of the deep freeze over the last few years, we are beginning to see encouraging signs of an economic recovery.  However, the purse strings are still drawn tight and new patterns of buying has created an atmosphere of even more exacting pricing pressures from enterprise-wide level buyers and accounts.  This means less room for revenue growth to come directly from the fabled 20-30 percent of large customers who typically have made up 70-80 percent of total revenues.  This is how a VP of Sales in the software industry put it to me recently in my research:

“Here is what it looks like…we are actually selling more of our product into our larger accounts than ever before….but…over the last three years we’ve faced stiffer competition that has driven our pricing down.  So the net-net has been that we are just holding on as best we can to these larger accounts.  Another words, we are not getting significant real revenue growth from them.”

It is highly likely that this refrain is being repeated across many Fortune 1000, Global 2000, and even Inc. 500 listed companies across the globe.  With revenue growth opportunities shrinking among their large accounts, senior leaders in these organizations are turning a focused eye towards the highly sought after small and mid-size business segment.  For instance, in the highly compettive world of IT Products and Services, both HP and IBM made substantial investments and strategic moves in 2011 to target the SMB segment.  Challenging Dell and its’ low cost entry strategy for small to mid-size businesses.

A New Challenge And A New Frontier

There is good reason for Fortune 1000 or Global 2000 companies to target revenue growth from the SMB segment.  It is one of the fastest growing segments and traditionally has been coming out of a recession.  It also has proven to be lucrative when you consider that actual contribution margin percentages are much richer per sale when compared to large accounts.  It is little surprise that senior executives have shifted at least one eye towards expanding their SMB customer base and tapping into the revenue growth potential that can exists.

While targeting or at least accounting for the SMB segment is not a new idea to larger enterprises, this time around they are waking up to new buyer realities.  Buyer behaviors continue to change rapidly and these new behaviors are associated with largely buyer-driven changes.  What is confronting those wanting to achieve revenue growth from SMB buyers and companies is that they may know very little about these buyers and companies.  How to market to SMB buyers and companies becoming one of the hot priority items showing up on the agenda of many large enterprise management meetings being held daily, weekly, or monthly.  As one Senior VP of Sales and Markerting in IT pointed out to me recently:

“I am almost afraid to admit that we may have taken the SME (my notation: some executives refer to SMB as SME – small and mid-size enterprises) businesses for granted all these years.  We never really moved beyond segmenting by employee size and revenue so we really don’t know a lot about SME’s as we should.  It’s easy say you want to target them but planning how to target them is basically a whole new ball game for us.”

Because little knowledge may exist about SMB businesses and buyers, there are perhaps more assumptions being made about SMB than for larger accounts.  Generalized perceptions and preconceived notions run rampant in the halls and meeting rooms of larger enterprises attempting to figure out how to market to SMB segments.  There is what I call a “definition churn” that can happen when knowledge is found wanting – new definitions, classifications, segmentations, and etc. begin to appear every 3, 6, 9, or 12 months.  Moving around 1,000’s of accounts and prospects in virtual databases to new buckets created for employee size, revenue size, product targets, and verticals.

Unprecedented Transformation Occurring

In the past, working with these definitions may have been sufficient.  Looking ahead into the future - and the near future at that – these definitions alone will no doubt prove to be limiting and even detrimental to growth.  We are experiencing an unprecedented transformation in the world of business with new buyer-driven economies, ecosystems, networks, and communications emerging constantly – making understanding of SMB buyers and companies that may have been attained even as little 3 to 5 years ago nearly obsolete.

For many large enterprise organizations that show up on the famed Fortune 1000 or Global 2000 lists, growing the SMB customer base may be their number one, or at least in the top five, priority.  It is also, as a result of new buyer realities that are emerging, their number one challenge.  To tackle both angles of this two-sided coin, gaining deeper layers of understanding about SMB buyers and companies will need to get on these same priority lists.

Next Up: Understanding New Buyer Realities In SMB

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