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Enterprise was the golden calf, but startups look to SMBs for next boom

(BUSINESS MARKETING) SMBs could be the next frontier for B2B software sales. They need tech like any other large company, and there are more of them.

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smbs tech

Your tech startup is finally starting to take off. You’ve spent what feels like your entire lifetime pulling your hair out to figure out how to shape your idea into the most unique, functional, cornering-the-market silver bullet any VC has ever seen. You have momentum and passion and you’re ready for the big leagues. Everyone in your corner advises you to think big, and try to sell your product to the biggest, baddest players in the game. Sign a fat contract and it will carry you through the rest of your growth if you could just land that one client with 5,000 employees and a billion more customers, partners, and accordingly long coattails you can ride into the sunset.

But what if the all that glitters is not the only gold?

The state of New York reported in 2019 that 99.8% of all businesses have fewer than 500 employees. Businesses employing less than 20 people experienced the largest gains in 2016, adding 89,213 net jobs. In California, the statistics are virtually identical: 99.8% of businesses have fewer than 500 employees, employing 7.1 million people (48.8% of California’s employees).

In 2012, the City of Austin initiated Imagine Austin, a comprehensive plan adopted by the city to work towards a vision where Austin is “a beacon of sustainability, social equity, and economic opportunity.” According to data collected for the plan, an average of 251,715 Austinites attended small business workshops each year from 2012 to 2016. The workshops are “geared toward professional development, education, and community networking designed to support the capacity, sustainability, and growth of the creative sector in Austin.” Additionally, the number of employees working for businesses with fewer than 50 employees increased by an average of 3.3% per year from 2008-2015.

Despite the obviously robust market in small and medium businesses (SMBs), many software companies continue to target the biggest fish for B2B contracts. The prevailing theory is that large companies have the infrastructure, wherewithal, and cash flow to implement new technology systems to stay competitive. The prospect of hooking such a client is lucrative, reliable, and sexy.

However, SMBs have the same needs as their larger peers. They are just as interested in providing the most current and convenient service to their customers, the most effective and seamless payroll processes to their employees, and the most efficient bookkeeping for themselves as their heftier competitors.

Obviously the risk is greater in a sub-economy where SMBs have a 30% closure rate in their first year. And of course let’s not take for granted the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 epidemic is inflicting on SMBs, particularly in the brick-and-mortar retail and service industries that have been forced to close or operate on adapted service terms indefinitely nationwide.

But as in all business ventures, there exists no opportunity without risk. Perhaps it’s time for funders to rethink traditional sales strategies to take seriously the SMB market that is truly the under appreciated lifeblood of the American economy.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather is the Venture Growth & Partnerships Lead at Republic where she works with partners in private investing to democratize access to capital for entrepreneurs. Heather studied neurobiology at Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. She likes to write for AG, drink Austin beer, and ride around town on her road bicycle. His name is Pippin. Say hello if you see them.

Business Marketing

No-reply emails don’t help customers, they’ve run their course

(MARKETING) No-reply emails may serve a company well, but the customers can become frustrated with the loss of a quick and easy way to get help.

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no-reply mail boxes

Let me tell you a modern-day horror story.

You finally decide to purchase the item that’s been sitting in your cart all week, but when you receive your confirmation email you realize there’s a mistake on the order. Maybe you ordered the wrong size item, maybe your old address is listed as the shipping location, or maybe you just have buyer’s remorse. Either way, you’ve got to contact customer service.

Your next mission is to find contact information or a support line where you can get the issue resolved. You scroll to the bottom of the email and look around for a place to contact the company, but all you find is some copyright junk and an unsubscribe option. Tempting, but it won’t solve your problem. Your last hope is to reply to the confirmation email, so you hit that trusty reply arrow and…nothing. It’s a no-reply email. Cue the high-pitched screams.

Customers should not have to sort through your website and emails with a microscope to find contact information or a customer service line. With high customer expectations and fierce ecommerce competition, business owners can’t afford to use no-reply emails anymore.

Intended or not, no-reply emails send your customer the message that you really don’t want to hear from them. In an age when you can DM major airlines on Twitter and expect a response, this is just not going to fly anymore.

Fixing this issue doesn’t need to be a huge burden on your company. A simple solution is to create a persona for your email marketing or customer service emails, it could be member of your team or even a company mascot. Rather than using noreply@company.com you can use john@company.com and make that email a place where your email list can respond to questions and communicate concerns. Remember, the whole point of email marketing is to create a conversation with your customers.

Another great strategy for avoiding a million customer service emails where you don’t want them? Include customer service contact info in your emails. Place a thoughtful message near the bottom of your template letting people know where they can go if they’re having an issue with the product or service. This simple change will save you, your customers, and your team so much time in the long-run.

Your goal as a business owner is to build a trusting relationship between you and your customers, so leave the no reply emails behind. They’re annoying and they might even get you marked as spam.

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Business Marketing

Influencer marketing isn’t new, it’s actually centuries old

(MARKETING) You may roll your eyes at sexy strangers hawking snake oil on social media, but influencer marketing is nothing new…

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Influencer marketing people taking video on a smart phone to record dances.

Influencer marketing is now one of those buzzword phrases that you can’t go a few days without hearing. In fact, it’s become such a popular term that it was officially added to the English Dictionary in 2019.

While this is a recent change, the concept of an influencer is nothing new. For years, people have looked to friends and family (as well as high-profile people like celebrities) to be influenced (intentionally or unintentionally) about what to buy, what to do, and where to go.

Social Media Today notes that influencers date back centuries.

One of the first “influencer” collaborations dates back to 1760, when a potter by the name Wedgwood made a tea set for the Queen of England,” writes Brooks. “Since the monarchy were the influencers of their time, his forward-thinking decision to market his brand as Royal-approved afforded it the luxury status the brand still enjoys today”

Now, influencers are known as people blowing up your Instagram feed with recommendations of what to wear and stomach flattening teas to buy. Influencers are basically anyone who has the ability to cultivate a following and, from there, give advice on how followers should spend their money.

After the 1760 tea set influencer, influencers were found in the forms of fashion icons (like Coco Chanel in the 1920s, and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s), celebrity endorsements (for example, all of the money Nike made in the ‘80s after signing Michael Jordan to be their spokesperson – I wonder if Hanes is raking in the same bucks as Nike…), TV stars endorsing products (like Jennifer Aniston when she was at the height of “The Rachel” cut and became the face of L’Oreal Elvive; now she’s the face of Aveeno).

Then in the mid-2000s, blogs became a space where “everyday” people could use their voice with influence. This trend has continued and has shifted into social media, usually with a blog counterpart.

Now, blogging and influencing is an industry in and of itself with influencer marketing being a key form of comms. According to the HypeAuditor report, the influencer industry will be worth $22 billion by 2025. Where can I sign up?

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Business Marketing

The use of offline marketing can still be advantageous in a digital world

(BUSINESS) Offline marketing is usually skipped over nowadays for the sparkly, shining ‘digital’ marketing strategies, but don’t forget the roots.

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Everywhere you look, people want to talk about digital marketing. In fact, if you don’t have a digital marketing strategy in today’s business world, you’re not going to last long. But just because digital marketing is popular, don’t assume that offline marketing no longer yields value.

When used together, these strategies can produce significant returns.

“Some people will argue that traditional marketing is dead, but there are several benefits to including offline advertising in your overall marketing campaign,” sales expert Larry Myler admits. “Combining both offline and online campaigns can help boost your brand’s visibility, and help it stand out amongst competitors who may be busy flooding the digital space.”

How do you use offline marketing in a manner that’s both cost-effective and high in exposure? While your business will dictate how you should proceed, here are a few offline marketing methods that still return considerable value in today’s marketplace.

1. Yard signs

When most people think about yard signs, their minds immediately go to political signs that you see posted everywhere during campaign season. However, yard signs have a lot more utility and value beyond campaigning. They’re actually an extremely cost-effective form of offline advertising.

The great thing about yard signs is that you can print your own custom designs for just dollars and, when properly stored, they last for years. They’re also free to place, assuming you have access to property where it’s legal to advertise. This makes them a practical addition to a low-budget marketing campaign.

2. Billboards

The fact that you notice billboards when driving down an interstate or highway is a testament to the reality that other people are also being exposed to these valuable advertisements. If you’ve never considered implementing billboards into your marketing strategy, now’s a good time to think about it.

With billboard advertising, you have to be really careful with design, structure, and execution. “Considering we’re on the move when we read billboards, we don’t have a lot of time to take them in. Six seconds has been touted as the industry average for reading a billboard,” copywriter Paul Suggett explains. “So, around six words is all you should use to get the message across.”

3. Promotional giveaways

It’s the tangible nature of physical marketing that makes it so valuable. Yard signs and billboards are great, but make sure you’re also taking advantage of promotional giveaways as a way of getting something into the hands of your customers.

Promotional giveaways, no matter how simple, generally produce a healthy return on investment. They increase brand awareness and recall, while giving customers positive associations with your brand. (Who doesn’t love getting something for free?)

4. Local event sponsorships

One aspect of offline marketing businesses frequently forget about is local event sponsorships. These sponsorships are usually cost-effective and tend to offer great returns in terms of audience engagement.

Local event sponsorships can usually be found simply by checking the calendar of events in your city. Any time there’s a public event, farmer’s market, parade, sporting event, concert, or fundraiser, there’s an opportunity for you to get your name out there. Look for events where you feel like your target audience is most likely to attend.

Offline marketing is anything but dead.

If your goal is to stand out in a crowded marketplace where all your competitors are investing heavily in social media, SEO, PPC advertising, and blogging, then it’s certainly worth supplementing your existing digital strategy with traditional offline marketing methods that reach your audience at multiple touchpoints.

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