B2B Companies Successfully Target Small Businesses Through Content And Education

Published: November 2, 2016

No matter what industry they’re in, B2B small business owners have a few things in common: limited time and resources, relatively small budgets and a desire to self-educate on the fly.

When it comes to marketing to small businesses, it’s important for companies to understand these pain points to help SMB owners solve their challenges.

With this insight, companies such as HubSpot, Act-On Software and Autopilot focus on creating useful content and distributing it through educational channels to engage small business prospects.

“We start with valuable, useful and educational content to pull people into our marketing fold and help them warm up to the idea of potentially becoming a customer,” said Meghan Anderson, VP of Marketing at HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform. “We believe in this idea of inbound marketing, which is about providing something of value without asking anything in return and using that as a magnet to pull people into our website, for example. Inbound is a great equalizer. That’s why it works well for SMBs that may not have a huge market.”        

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While budgets and levels of sophistication may differ between small-, medium- and enterprise-sized businesses, you’re still dealing with and marketing to people. Anderson stated that individuals within SMBs are fixed on growth — both for the company and their own professional development.

“A lot of the content they care about are tactical things,” said Anderson. “That need to learn and self-educate and get better, that doesn’t change because of the size company you’re working in. What does change is the level of sophistication of those challenges.”

Some examples of tactical content include themes such as:

  • How to convert a one-time buyer to a repeat buyer;
  • How to navigate algorithms; and
  • How to optimize emails for better results.

Marketing Channels That Resonate For SMBs

When marketing to SMBs, Nick Bhutani, Director of Demand Generation at the employee scheduling software provider When I Work, relies on paid search and retargeting, as well as paid ads on Facebook. He also said SEO should be a key focus for marketers.

“[It’s important to use] keywords that SMBs would use to help grow their business,” Bhutani said. “The terminology is very different. SaaS, for example, is not in their vocabulary. Neither is CRM. So searching for and using keywords [that are relevant to SMBs], like customer database instead of CRM in terms of paid search, is crucial.”

Paid search, retargeting and social media channels are effective for reaching small and medium-sized business owners because SMB owners can access content through these channels at no, or low, cost.

“The first thing we do is build a content machine and distribute it through retargeting, nurturing and social media,” said Guy Marion, CMO of Autopilot, an email marketing and marketing automation software company. “[Retargeting, nurturing and social media] are basically free forms of marketing that are super effective for companies to grow and scale quickly.”

For Act-On Software, a marketing automation software, social media — specifically LinkedIn — also plays a critical role in marketing to SMBs. “LinkedIn has proven to be an effective marketing channel to target SMBs with the ability to feed respective ads to segments based on company size,” said Michelle Huff, CMO of Act-On.

Act-On is currently running a campaign on LinkedIn titled, “Digital Marketing Mistakes,” which is another form of educational content that’s proving to be successful.

“While it has only been running for two weeks, it has shown positive metrics: .5% CTR, 804 Clicks, 165,616 impressions and 75 downloads of the E-book,” said Huff.

Review Sites Play Critical Role

Just as consumers scope out review sites such as Yelp for a restaurant, SMB owners look to review sites as definitive resources. Bhutani and Marion both factor in review sites when marketing to SMBs.

“A big category for SMBs is influential review sites,” Marion said. “Word of mouth can be one of the biggest sources of awareness for SMBs, but there are also paid services where you can have a company profile and create awareness by driving users to your site.”

Bhutani and Marion told Demand Gen Report that actively advertising on sites such as G2 Crowd and Capterra is helpful.

“SMB owners act very much like a [consumer] in terms of buying cycle and persona,” Bhutani said. “They search for reviews on software that other SMB owners have used. Sites such as G2 Crowd and Capterra are geared towards SMB owners looking for ways to grow their business via software. Having a heavy hand in advertising where the actual business owners are looking and researching on how to grow their businesses — in particular, software that solves their pain points — works well.”

Formal Schooling For SMBs

Formally educating small- and mid-size businesses is another effective marketing tactic. SMBs are often starved for information and find it difficult to invest in formal training, experts noted. Building off its strategy of inbound marketing, HubSpot created the HubSpot Academy to provide the education SMBs desire.

The academy is a collection of courses where marketers or SMB owners can sign up for a course, and learn about email marketing strategy, sales strategy and basics of inbound marketing. “We’ll teach you over a series of courses and videos how to level-up your skills,” Anderson said. Once completed, the SMB execs are given an accreditation to put on their LinkedIn profile to showcase their expertise.

Anderson said the academy receives up to 15,000 registrants a month. “[It] has been successful to help us find new businesses to interact with, but also for our customers who continue to want to improve themselves,” she said.

Similarly, Autopilot also hosts a free online learning platform called Flight School, which offers best practices for SMB marketers looking to improve their marketing. The company also keeps track of the content that is getting the most traction from the platform and distributes it on Facebook to engage more prospects. 

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