Why small is the new big

4 mins read

The small business market represents a huge and, to an extent, untapped opportunity for brands. But many are still struggling to really connect with small business buyers.

99.8% of EU businesses are classed as SMEs, with £1.8bn in revenue in the UK alone. And while 70% of marketers believe that this market is extremely important to their business, a whopping 90% find it all but impossible to identify and engage with them.

We wanted to find out where brands were going wrong and what we could do to put it right. So, through a partnership with Imperial College in London, we set out to get a better understanding of how small businesses buy – and what they really want from the brands that serve them.

Not all small businesses are created equal

The biggest issue marketers face is that small businesses can’t be defined or pigeon-holed by their size alone. Firmographics are all well and good, but an artisan baker is not going to respond to the same marketing messages as the independent 99p retailer next door. Their needs are entirely different – trying to group them together under the banner of SME simply isn’t going to work. In fact, it just annoys them.

Marketers then compound the problem by either bombarding small business owners with sales calls they don’t have time to take or stalking them on LinkedIn. On the rare occasions brands do manage to connect, they are then politely condescending or demonstrate how little they value their business by offering a poor service.

5 ways to fix the problem

What small businesses want is for brands to understand what matters to them, how they buy and deliver a good experience. We found that if brands can follow five simple principles they can do just that.

  1. Rethink how you see small businesses – forget the stereotypes and explore new approaches to segmentation, like the SUE model (Significance, Urgency, Ease). To find out more about SUE, watch our video here.
  2. Adapt to the way small businesses buy – build a credible presence online with relevant content and back it up with a helpful sales person.
  3. Invest in building familiarity and favourability – be relevant, authentic and know what your audience wants.
  4. Embrace a new way of selling – pull over push, service over hard-sell.
  5. Deliver experiences so good buyers want to talk about them – 96% say a good experience affects whether they’ll buy again and 83% say they’ll offer a referral.

They’re principles we’ve been helping clients like Canon apply to their marketing.

Canon’s Consumer Imaging Group wanted to increase sales of its printers and scanners to small businesses – a highly competitive marketplace. Our insight was that for small businesses, choosing a printer is a bit like hiring a new team member. So we gave each printer in the range a name, and brought its features and benefits to life as though they were the skills and attributes of an employee. And we put activity where small businesses were most likely to see it, resulting in a 360% ROI and 98% sales target reached in just four months.

By putting relevant content in the right place at the right time, recognising individual needs, assisting in the purchase journey and – most importantly – meeting expectations, we connected Canon with small businesses and created some enduring relationships.

If you’d like to know more about how to get in tune with small businesses, read the full report.