Today, a diverse array of companies target small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to provide marketing services and take advantage of their large sales forces, existing retail locations or related products to drive sales. We see this trend among publishers, financial services companies, office supply stores, printers, shipping franchises and many other categories. For example, there is a trend in recent years for newspapers to offer print and digital services and take on the role of digital agency for their local advertisers.
One of the challenges to launching successful campaigns and generating results for SMBs is getting a clear understanding upfront of goals, products and budgets. Sales teams have to sell high volumes of SMBs and gather critical information quickly for designers, copywriters and others to execute. Plus, their SMBs contacts might have limited marketing knowledge.
With this in mind, we’ve created a list of the essential questions to ask SMBs so you can build comprehensive marketing services programs that will deliver.
1. What does your business do?
When you know the scope of the business, the marketing plan can be focused rather than too broad and inefficient, according to Alex Burke of Demand Media. This is a good opportunity to learn about important industry terms that best describe the business, which can be used as keywords in various marketing channels. Plus, if there any legal requirements for advertising and other marketing materials, this is the time to find out.
2. Describe your products or services and the problems they solve.
Talk about the products and their features and benefits with your client. It can also be helpful to discuss the size of the market for each product and the client’s current market share, says Ian Linton of Demand Media. And just because you have a client in an established category doesn’t mean you automatically know what they want to sell and what is profitable for them (e.g., a cosmetic surgeon may be more interested in selling non-surgical procedures like Botox because they are more profitable). You should also ask about the biggest benefits products provide.
3. Who are your customers and what are their most pressing issues and concerns?
It is impossible to build a campaign to reach everyone. That’s why the best marketing plans are built on a clear understanding of ideal buyer profile, whether that means focusing on an industry segment like real estate agents or demographics such as young, single career women in urban areas. Another consideration is the most important decision makers. There are the actual buyers and the influencers. Food products tend to focus on women in their mid-30s as the main decision makers, but a happy family is featured as the end result of buying the products, notes Entrepreneur Magazine.
4. How long is the sales cycle?
Different marketing approaches support different buying timeframes. Fast food relies on quick sale volume and aggressive techniques, but selling financial services is a gradual process of establishing reputation and building trust over time. This affects the media and the tactics used.
5. What are the buying triggers?
For some companies, purchases are seasonal (e.g., accountants and software during income tax season) or they could be everyday occurrences like groceries. The circumstances influence what consumers want in solutions. In other words, you have to consider if fast and cheap are the major concern or if the audience wants quality that will last. Entrepreneur Magazine indicates that, by identifying the circumstances and key buying criteria, you get a list of traits to emphasize in marketing materials.
6. What are the geographic targets for your business?
You want to help the client focus efforts where they can do the most good, rather than casting a wide net. Take the time to delve into the locations where the client is selling now and where can they ship. Find out if they are focused on expansion and if they can handle a high response rate (if not, you might want to recommend a phased campaign).
7. Who are your competitors and what makes your company different?
Knowing the competitors enables designers to research how, when and where they advertise, in addition to structuring the client’s plan to better capture the target audience. Discuss how strong your client’s competitive advantage is and how the products compare with those of competitors. If the client has proof that his or her business is better (e.g., testimonials, case studies, etc.), it can be incorporated into materials to strengthen them and build credibility.
8. What is your pricing strategy?
Messaging, images and tactics will change based on the pricing strategy. A high-end, expensive brand will focus more on image compared to the low-priced leader, who will sell based on cost and need to drive volume. See the comparison between these two ads for Neiman-Marcus and Dollar General.
9. What factors affect your industry?
There are seasonal peaks and valleys, along with holidays, that can affect marketing programs and the placement of ads. Mother’s Day promotions are in full swing right now and the ads for florists and spas, candy companies and restaurants are common. It’s also a high-visibility time for home improvement companies because of the spring planting season. For some businesses, offering incentives might be important when sales volumes are typically low.
10. What do you want to accomplish?
What are the marketing objectives of the client? You need to understand what he or she is trying to achieve, whether that is market leadership or entering a new market where the company is unknown, suggests Ian Linton. The client may want to launch a new product or increase sales of existing products to new customers. Wherever possible, it is helpful to quantify so that proof of return on investment becomes easier. Targeting 1,000 website visitors per day or getting 10,000 sign-ups to a newsletter is easier to measure than “brand recognition” and helps you ensure the plan is relevant and focused.
11. How do you market today?
Learn about what has and has not worked for the client. You can also gauge where there are gaps in the marketing approach and create a plan to fill them with the services you offer. Be sure to inquire about printed marketing collateral, print ads, direct mail, websites, online ads, emails and e-newsletters, deals of the day and social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare, etc.
12. What is the budget and time frame for the marketing program?
It’s not the easiest question to ask but you have to know how much the client is willing to spend. Furthermore, the combination of the goals and the budget tells you whether the expectations are realistic (Allan Pollett). You can also provide guidance on what additional tactics fit into the budget or what would have to be spent to leverage other approaches.
If you serve SMBs with marketing services, what other questions do you ask your contacts? Which of these do you believe are the most critical to achieving success for clients? Do you have another means for gathering this kind of information?