How Do SMBs Come to Trust Local Marketing Providers?

Last week, Alignable released its latest “Trust Index” for Q1 2016. It ranked 45 prominent small business (SMB) marketing providers based on net promoter scores (NPS). The question of what enables or generates trust for local business owners is also something we think about and have explored in empirical and anecdotal research.

A large percentage of SMBs (71%) are DIY marketers. This is partly because entrepreneurs are DIY-oriented by definition. However it also likely reflects general distrust and skepticism in the market. Many SMBs are wary of marketing claims and more than a few have had negative experiences with one local marketing services vendor or another.

In honor of Small Businesses Week (#DreamSmallBiz), we asked a variety of local marketers around the country to elaborate on their feelings about marketing vendors and their online information. The following are responses we received to questions about trust and how they decide to work with marketing providers.

Question: “Do you trust online information about marketing companies?”

  • “I don’t trust marketing companies and what they say. After all, isn’t it their job to make things sound sweet and try to sell it? It’s hard to find reputable marketing companies. I would more often trust consumer reviews over what a marketing agent tells me.” Andrew, Photographer (Portland, OR)
  • “No. The vast majority of marketing companies pitch the same products, services, and solutions. The messaging of a marketing company in itself is almost synonymous with distrust! Lots of shiny penny offerings without tested and true verifiable results behind them. Sales promises one result but the account manager usually doesn’t deliver. And then you hear things like, ‘we need more money, more time, another tool, etc.’” Fee, Real Estate (Austin, TX)
  • “I rarely trust anything I read online. I don’t often trust marketing companies’ self-promotion. I take most of what they say with a grain of salt, especially if I haven’t heard of them or any of the companies they represent.” Abby, Art Studio (Detroit, MI)
  • “I have a marketing background, so I have experience working with different types of partners.  The good marketing partners tend to share insight and information; content of value.  Sure it’s an inbound sales strategy for them, but it’s also a great way to build relationships with potential clients.  I also always ask for referrals from my existing professional relationships.” Hannah, Restaurant (San Francisco, CA)

Question: “What helps you trust a marketing services company?”

  • “They need to have a proven track record by actual clients. Sometimes a money back guarantee or some sort of progress promise helps you to wet your feet with a marketing company.” Andrew, Photographer (Portland, OR)
  • “Reviews, testimonials, no contracts, free trial (dating period), money back or results guarantee, offer of something value that can help me as a business owner.” Fee, Real Estate (Austin, TX)
  • “In-person interactions are always helpful for me, as are references that I can call to see how they have enjoyed their services and experiences.” Abby, Art Studio (Detroit, MI)
  • “Talking to the company and meeting with them helps us decide who to work with.  We only work with partners that can show existing quality relevant work.  Two other big indicators for us when choosing partners is their personal character and the effort and attention to detail they put into presenting their work and pitching us.  We’ve passed on working with branding and consulting agencies that come off as arrogant and didn’t care to create a dedicated presentation.  The partners we did end up going with were attentive, listened more than talked and developed customized presentations for our needs.  Essentially we’re business owners talking to other business owners, and we’re down to earth hard working folks.  We want to work with partners that are like minded.” Hannah, Restaurant (San Francisco, CA)
  • “Results with small-med size companies and evidence of commitment to our brand. We want to know that we are not just another client/money.” Malin, Fitness Facility (Austin, TX)

This feedback isn’t necessarily representative of the entire SMB population, yet the comments do capture a pervasive mood of distrust. One of the themes above is personalized attention (including in-person meetings) and evidence of success with similar businesses. Two of the responses mention “money back guarantees,” which are reflective of high expectations and the fact that these business owners are generally risk averse.

That may be unrealistic but that’s what marketing providers have to contend with today. Winning over these local advertisers clearly requires more than a few blog posts and a free trial. While discounts, trials and month-to-month agreements are attractive and can help get the conversation started, it takes a great deal more to gain the trust of skeptical business owners.

2 Responses to “How Do SMBs Come to Trust Local Marketing Providers?”

  1. Greg, a MAJOR FACTOR that is missing from this conversation is the marketing person’s knowledge of the individual’s business and industry! After working with dozens and dozens of media companies in twenty countries, and being on thousands and thousands of sales calls ….nothing else is even close to this. If the business owner doesn’t believe you understand their specific business, what they sells, who they’re trying to sell to, the specific buying factors their potential customers ” care about ” and their unique selling proposition….nothing else matters. This is by far the single most important factor when it comes to gaining trust and credibility with a business owner. Again, nothing else is even close!

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    Totally agree . . . many vendors are “verticalizing” accordingly. I think “knowledge of my industry” is implied in some of the comments. Further probing probably would have yielded this.

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