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LOCALOGY ENGAGE 19: SMBs — Our Time Is the New ROI

LSA just wrapped LOCALOGY ENGAGE in Washington DC. Day one of the 2-day event brought together local SaaS technology providers with the SMBs they serve, in order to facilitate a direct conversation between them. One of highlights of the event was a small business roundtable at the end of the first day.

The session, which operated like a real-time focus group, addressed a wide range of questions and issues in an open forum that allowed the many enterprises in the room to “AMA” the SMB panelists. The industries represented on stage included healthcare, beauty, travel, marketing and training/education.

The conversation was wide-ranging and the individual business owners responded uniquely to many of the questions. But there were some striking, common themes.

It’s about time, not money: While most smaller SMBs are cost-conscious, money isn’t the driving consideration behind much of their decision-making about software and marketing. Time and efficiency emerged as much more important in most cases. They have to-do lists that are too long and they said consistently that they’re not getting everything done. In one case, marketing was characterized as a “nice to have” because the daily requirements of the work consumed all their time.

Hell yes, do-it-for-me: The majority of panelists were using various online software tools and most of them were DIYers. Just as the conventional wisdom and considerable survey data indicate, these businesses are managing numerous operational and marketing tasks mostly without outside help. Essentially, all of them said they’d gladly turn over their marketing to a third party if they had confidence and trusted that entity to deliver as promised.

They want a sense of trust: As just suggested, trust was another key theme. This is not a surprise and has shown up in LSA research and SMB discussions multiple times in the past. Business owners want to work with trusted partners who can take some of the burden off of them. But they’re skeptical and cautious and their trust is hard to win, whether because they’ve been previously burned or because the sales contacts and pitches they’re receiving don’t inspire trust.

Know them and listen: Repeatedly, the panelists said they were on the receiving end of generic pitches from companies that wanted their business. It was clear that vendors hadn’t done their homework. Demonstrating even limited knowledge of these businesses would go a long way to establishing trust, they said. They want to be known and heard. They want sellers to listen and understand their challenges; they don’t simply want to be “sold to.”

All of this makes sense and may even be well understood by marketing providers and SaaS companies. However, in terms of execution, most vendors in the market aren’t delivering. When scale is the primary consideration, it’s challenging to execute the medium-to-high touch approach these SMBs were asking for. This may be a kind of “structural” challenge in the market. But it’s also where ML/AI may be able to offer some help in the future as well.

Roughly three years ago I wrote about customer service as a kind of substitute for conventional ROI in the context of digital marketing services. What emerged from the session this week is the notion that delivering time is another “ROI” consideration for these SMBs. If you can sell them their time back that’s a powerful incentive to work with you.

But that’s not enough. Gaining their trust by demonstrating some knowledge of who they are and reflecting sincerity or authenticity in approaching them is also a critical factor in winning their business.

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