Do B2B Marketers Know What Small to Midsize Business Owners Want?

February 11, 2020
Contributed by Gartner Digital Markets Analysts

Many factors determine whether a lead converts into a sale. Check out our key insights to shift your strategy to overcome common pitfalls.

The challenge of creating insightful, moving, industry-changing marketing campaigns may prove especially difficult in the technology industry given its inherent rapid rate of change. How can software vendors catch the eye of leads when new tech innovations hit the market every month?

To market successfully to small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in 2020, marketers must tap into deeper insights surrounding the technology considerations, business goals and investment activities of SMBs.

To obtain those insights, Gartner Digital Markets surveyed SMBs on their technology investments and goal-setting behaviors. We’ll detail those here, along with some suggestions for software vendors and their marketing teams to create campaigns and product features that address specific SMB goals and expectations. Use these recommendations to drive your high-level marketing strategy and planning for 2020 to 2021:

  • Shape product marketing around SMB goals
  • Set goals: Turn SMB strategies into marketing strengths
  • Plan ahead: SMBs want cutting-edge technologies
  • Help technology buyers identify the right technology: Yours
Survey methodology

Collected from 715 respondents in 2018 and 539 respondents in 2019, individuals from more than 15 industries answered business-technology-related questions for a Gartner Digital Markets survey. All of the respondents were from small or midsize businesses with fewer than 249 employees and report less than $100 million in annual revenue.

Below are four key take-aways from that survey data, with the goal of helping you create or reformat your existing marketing campaigns for small and midsize business buyers in 2020 and 2021.

1. Shape product marketing around SMB goals

If you can align your product marketing with your customers’ goals, your product will be as natural a fit for them as a tailored suit. But first, you need to know what your customers’ goals are. We asked small and midsize businesses what top factors triggered their drive to invest in technology, and the answer was expected: 25% of respondents in 2019 said that productivity improvements were a top business goal.

What does that mean for your product marketing campaign? If you provide software that saves a business time, they will, in turn, save money. After all, time is money. A marketing campaign that identifies aspects of the software that increase efficiency or usability, thereby saving money and increasing revenue, will be more likely to make it onto buyers’ shortlists. That means you should highlight an accessible user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

Shape your message like this: Every minute your customers spend learning how to use a clunky product is a minute not spent generating potential revenue streams. SMB processes and workflows are unique and come with challenges that enterprise-level customers simply don’t need to navigate. An intuitive product design that makes those processes easier also tells potential small and midsize business customers that your product is built to make their lives easier.

Key take-away:

Design your marketing campaign to include examples of how your product is either easier to use than your competitors' or present an “ease of use” case study to your potential buyers.

2. Set goals: Turn SMB strategies into marketing strengths

Forty-three percent of the 539 respondents in 2019 named “competitive pressures” as a significant factor in shaping their business goals. In 2020 and beyond, marketing campaigns should address how your technology can help SMBs overcome their competition, or, at the very least, point out that you recognize the level of competition they are experiencing.

Helping small and midsize businesses compete against rivals is not the only opportunity for B2B software marketers, however. Fifty-three percent of SMBs cited “outgrew current technology” as a key factor shaping their business goals.

What does that mean for your marketing? Highlight the ways in which your product is on the cutting edge of the newest advances to put some of their fears to bed. A marketing campaign that assures customers they’re taking advantage of something new that could also put them at the head of their industry is a great way to get a lot of business.

Key take-away:

Increase product sales by creating marketing campaigns that directly address SMBs’ goal-setting strategies: Competition and advances in technology.

3. Plan ahead: SMBs want cutting-edge technologies

Give buyers what they expect with a small surprise, and your product will sell. SMBs already know, to a degree, what they want. Software providers can generate more engagement, however, if they create some excitement in their offerings. That excitement typically comes in the form of cutting-edge, newsworthy technology features.

SMBs in many different industries said they plan for cutting-edge technologies to significantly impact their businesses over the next one to two years:

To take advantage of the future-facing mindset of SMBs, software providers should look at offering features with or solutions for:

  • Business intelligence and analytics
  • Conversational user interface
  • Wearables
  • Blockchain
  • 3D printing or additive manufacturing
  • Artificial intelligence/machine learning
  • Drones
  • Virtual reality/augmented reality
  • Autonomous Vehicles

To be clear: Software solution providers don’t need to go to their product team and completely overhaul their offerings to include touchpoints with all of that groundbreaking technology. But you can play up existing strengths with your marketing message.

For instance, if a field service management solution provider sells software that integrates easily with a client’s desire to issue wearables to their workforce, provide a marketing message that highlights that capability.

Key take-away:

Software solution marketers can win over SMB buyers by leading the conversation on cutting-edge technologies. Plan marketing campaigns focused on the areas of technology that buyers predict will change or impact their businesses in the next two years.

4. Help your buyers identify the right technology: yours

Nearly half (47%) of the 2019 respondents said “identifying the right technology” represented the top challenge faced by their organization when planning to invest in new technology.

How can software providers help SMBs more easily identify the right technology for their business? Get your product in front of your potential customers faster. Software providers with great digital footprints already use SEO best practices and create content, but that’s only half the battle when it comes to online discovery. Optimizing for SEO isn’t enough anymore; relying on your product to show up in search results is only part of the marketing picture. Your software needs to show up in relevant content outside of your home site to show that industry experts use — and love — your product.

List your offering on software directories and reach out to industry thought leaders to have them use and review your product for their audiences. Build potential customers’ trust in your offering.

In the digital age, trust is built by user reviews. The logic behind user reviews is valid: If someone else used a product and gave it a positive review, users figure that they will most likely have a positive experience as well. Marketers gain the added benefit of an SEO lift when positive product reviews show up on Google and other search platforms, so user reviews are an all-around win.

Top take-aways for software vendors

Keep an eye on individual markets for more nuanced messaging to potential clients. Also:

  • Highlight how your product is easy to use, therefore saving time that can be devoted to more important SMB activities that lead to increased revenue.
  • Address the worries of SMBs for 2020 and beyond: Competition and advances in technology.
  • Lead the conversation on cutting-edge technologies because SMBs are already thinking about how they will change their strategies to incorporate new tech.
  • Make it easier for potential buyers to find your software by getting it listed on trusted software directories like Gartner Digital Markets.

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Gartner Top Technology Trends Survey

Results presented are based on a Gartner study to understand small business challenges and approach to technology investments. The primary research was conducted online among 715 respondents in 2018 and 539 respondents in 2019.  

Companies were screened for company size in terms of:
Number of employees: 2-249 employees 
Enterprisewide annual revenue: Less than 100 million USD 

Respondents were required to be involved in purchasing technologies for the organization and hold a position of manager or above in the company.

The study was developed collaboratively by Gartner analysts and the primary research team who follow digital markets.

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