Two Events Illustrate Widening Gap between Marketers and SMBs

Last week we held two back-to-back events in New York at Yelp’s offices. The first, Localogy, was for agencies and focused on advanced local marketing tactics and other issues, such as automation and machine learning. It was a great event and many of the attendees were especially appreciative of a highly technical presentation from Moz’s Russ Jones on data-driven landing pages.

Our SMB digital marketing bootcamp took place the next day. It featured similar topics, but presented in the most basic way to local business owners. Reflecting on the two events over the weekend I was struck by the widening gulf between the technical sophistication and demands of digital marketing and the struggle of small business clients to understand how everything fits together — let alone DIYing any of this.

While we do see some very sophisticated local business owners at these events, Friday’s gathering brought together a group of people who were grappling with issues at a basic level:

  • How to capture and respond to reviews
  • How to use GMB
  • Basic email marketing
  • Capturing customer information
  • Basic questions around Facebook advertising

As I have at all of these events, I spoke to numerous small business attendees. I’m always struck during my conversations with these folks by several things:

  • Business owners need basic, trustworthy information about online marketing
  • They don’t know where to get it
  • Even if they intellectually understand what they should be doing they struggle to execute because time and personnel constraints
  • Most of the people talking to local businesses don’t speak their language, they speak jargon

In fact, from my observation, most of the companies trying to sell services to local businesses owners lack basic “empathy” — to use the overused word. They see local businesses in terms of “acquisition,” “retention” and “churn.” They tend to see them as numbers in a spreadsheet or on a dashboard and not as human beings facing basic challenges.

It’s my conclusion that most of the SaaS companies and marketing companies serving the “SMB market” simply don’t care at a basic level about the success of their customers. They just want their money.

The logic of the market creates this situation; it’s not efficient to spend lots of time with SMBs — talking to them, understanding their issues and delivering a high level of service. That’s simply not profitable in most cases. I get it.

But these business owners really need help from people they can trust, who are truly trying to help them — not just sell them. And while machine learning and automation may make DIY online marketing eventually simpler for local businesses in some cases, I’m not optimistic. I don’t see a solution to the challenges facing SMBs any time soon.

3 Responses to “Two Events Illustrate Widening Gap between Marketers and SMBs”

  1. Maurice Smit says:

    Great article Greg,

    I could not agree more. Most SMB’s are so behind on what is possible online.
    The gap continues to grow. All I want for my customers is that they win from their competitors.

    I believe that if they win, it will be good for me too.


  2. You nailed it. I too am struggling with providing my customers with marketing solutions that they can understand, afford and easily implement. SaaS suppliers just don’t get it! Pity, because even though these small (micro) businesses are time consuming, they make up the VAST majority of SMBs in the USA! Seems to me that SaaS companies need to take a more lofty view of this market and come up with solutions that work for everyone.

    I’m not optimistic either!!

  3. Ziv Koren says:

    Truly insightful.
    So why do we vendors miss out on understanding SMBs real needs?
    I don’t think it’s just from lack of empathy or greed…
    Cracking the SMB market is a holy grail for many vendors but IMHO no one really manged to do it right so far (us included).
    Why? because making a simple to use tool that can address the growing complexity of acquiring and servicing consumers online a it is really a very challenging task.
    But I wouldn’t be so pessimistic 🙂
    Some truly good companies are wracking their brains trying to do just that and I’m sure that during 2019 we’ll see some interesting offerings; stay tuned!

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