Developing any business-to-business (B2B) strategy relies on having feedback and validation from your customer base. Many enterprise companies allocate the majority of their account managers to enterprise clients, yielding regular feedback and insights that are used to drive retention and growth. SMBs (1 to 1,000 employees) are often left as an unmanaged group, limiting the ability for ongoing, purposeful feedback. With the continued growth of the SMB sector, tracking attitudes and behavioral trends is no longer a nice to have, it’s an essential investment.
World Bank research estimates the small and medium-sized business (SMB) sector makes up 95% of existing businesses, and can expect continued growth through 2017. Along with this growth, technology presents opportunities for SMBs to increase their competitive position. Developments such as; cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and collaboration tools are allowing SMBs to increase the focus on their core business and compete against bigger more established companies.
Access to quality information on the attitudes and behaviors of SMBs can be challenging. Intensely busy individuals, SMB stakeholders are notoriously difficult to engage in ad hoc research. If they are going to invest their time they want to know what the benefit will be, otherwise why bother? They have more than enough work to do.
Community-based research establishes long-term, ongoing relationships. Communities are a place where people can share ideas, create better products and services, and engage with companies they work with in a meaningful way. They provide rapid and ongoing feedback to drive informed decision-making, and facilitate the sharing of relevant insights and information with stakeholders. This two-way dialogue creates strong engagement, enabling important customers to have a stake in your mutual success.
Here are 5 tips for engaging with SMBs in a community environment.
- Focus on value and outcomes. Engaging the SMB audience in a setting where they believe value is created is critical. Sharing back information can help SMBs drive their business forward making community participation very compelling. This dialogue also builds trust – an important factor in promoting active participation.
- Set expectations. SMBs have little time for participating in research studies. Clearly establishing the cadence of requests and the variety of research activities will help set realistic expectations. Not every stakeholder will be able to participate in every study. But knowing that other opportunities to participate are forthcoming will help keep interest high.
- Iterative learning is the way to go. Having people always available to give you input is one of the great benefits of an insight community. By getting into a virtuous cycle of asking, learning and digging deeper, you are able to learn much more than you can by trying to cram everything into one large study. It also allows you to keep studies shorter, which improves the quality of response. Shorter surveys with feedback on prior studies also helps keep business people engaged.
- Promote structured and unstructured discussions. SMBs often consult peers and colleagues for advice on what products or processes are best suited for their businesses. In addition to structured in-depth research, it is valuable to have unstructured conversations between SMB stakeholders. This type of interaction can help with professional development, drive interest in the community, and yield spontaneous insights worth further exploration.
- Engage with research experts. It is important to enlist the help of a research team with broad experience in B2B research. Understanding the SMB’s mindset is critical to designing research that is well received and results in stronger participation. This vital segment of the B2B market is ever-changing, and conducting research that generates high quality insights requires in-depth knowledge and experience with SMBs.
At Maru/Matchbox we believe a community-based research solution is perfectly suited for extracting insights from the SMB audience. Establishing a community of SMBs will improve the insights obtained by realizing the benefits of an honest two-way dialogue. Communities are managed by experts that have a deep understanding of the SMB audience as well as the drivers and trends that make the space so unique.
- ‘Counting the value of SMEs to the global economy’, Baker Tilly International, August 2014