Selling marketing services to SMBs is never going to be easy, and Google and Facebook get more than their fair share of business. But the SMB market remains a potential gold mine for platform providers and resellers. To gauge the current environment, we caught up recently with a longtime expert in SMB sales: LocalSphere founder and CEO Olivier Vincent, who previously took on Yellow Pages giant YPG all over Canada with Canpages, before selling to YPG in 2010.
Founded in 2013, LocalSphere updated the SMB marketing model, providing SMBs with content and search services and ecommerce aids such as gift cards. The company gained 500+ SMBs in its hometown of Vancouver, each typically paying $400 or $500 a month.
Last week, the company announced it would merge with Vancouver’s RTown, with Vincent kicking himself upstairs to the merged company’s board. RTown CEO and “Mayor” Luke Aulin will keep the CEO spot. The company has raised an additional $500,000 to jump-start its activities.
Post-deal, we talked with Vincent about what he’s seeing for SMBs. Vancouver fosters a reputation of being “Silicon Valley North,” but Vincent makes clear that even in Vancouver, SMB digital marketing still has some way to go.
The premise remains simple, he says. “Everybody loves local (businesses), but online, you can’t find them. You mostly see big (national names). So as a business person, you know there has to be a huge opportunity to get it right.” But even though there are many marketing players making noise, the solutions aren’t perfect and they are expensive. For the tech provider, it remains difficult to get through “the last mile” to get to the paying SMB,” says Vincent. Moreover, SMBs are besieged by calls, and many aren’t eager to pick up the phone or open their door, either. “Many of them have been burned.”
Vincent says he feels one key to success is to provide a variety of products that can be tailored for different results or verticals– RTown + LocalSphere provide 30. But most of those are for upsell. If his salespeople can get in the door, they want to keep things simple and initially push 2-3 products.
“The first 30 seconds are the most difficult” because they have to grab an SMB’s attention,” says Vincent. “They’ll get vertigo if you talk about 30 products.”
Another key to success: temper expectations. Many SMBs expect their investment in marketing to turn around their business. But it takes time. SEO campaigns in themselves take at least a few months to have an impact.
Vincent also notes that only “half” of customers closely track their digital efforts via analytic dashboards etc. But providing analytics aren’t necessarily a wasted effort if customers don’t use them. Many find it reassuring that they are available.
A third and final key to SMB marketing success: make it bigger than just reselling Google, and/or Facebook. Google’s great, says Vincent, but SMBs might get a stronger ROI with a better website, and publishing regular content that keeps them top of mind for their customers.”
It is also important to push “the interaction layer” with customers, such as loyalty programs, eCommerce and gift cards. “Even a carpet cleaner may benefit by offering digital cards on their website,” says Vincent.