At the Borrell show last week there were a ton of terrific speakers and sessions. I had lots of interesting conversations “in the hallways.” But one thought keep coming back to me: no one is really seeing the world through the eyes of the SMB.
In the opening session Jeff Jarvis discussed the movement from “selling scarcity to selling service.” I thought this was a clever slogan to capture changes in the market: the difference between selling a limited number of ad placements in your own publication to providing an array of marketing options and services to your customers that reach beyond your O&O properties.
In general Jarvis said some insightful and compelling things and there was also some, I would argue, naive thinking he put forward. But the concept he discussed — scarcity to service — is right.
Perhaps because it was an industry conference few people discussed the SMB’s perspective or predicament. There were a few mentions in some of the sessions I attended — I wasn’t at all of them of course — and I tried to do this in my two sessions. But most people discussed their margins and how the new product offerings would grow them or preserve them, etc. People also discussed why they were better positioned than the other one to sell into the SMB or local market.
While the YP publishers have been selling SEM and related services for several years now (since late 2004), newspapers, radio stations, TV affiliates, credit card issuers and a range of others are now in the hunt. There are lots of platforms and white label SMB marketing “solutions” providers out there. It’s pretty “turnkey” to start selling SEM, SEO, websites, etc. to the SMB market these days.
The market is getting more and more noisy. And many of the platform companies now are also moving into direct sales (e.g., WebVisible).
The rising “noise level” contributes to the churn problem that concerns everyone in the segment. More competition, more aggressive pricing and more inflated claims of quick results all contribute to more confusion and more churn when SMBs are dissatisfied, disappointed or don’t understand what they bought or how it works.
Everyone is coming at these small businesses and most of the offerings sound very similar. So even as the products to match SMB needs are in the market it’s very tough for SMBs to figure out whom to trust and how to think about all these things.
If you were getting 5 to 10 calls a week from competing providers of similar online marketing services how would you figure it out?
One answer, for later discussion, involves the idea of “trusted brands.”