The 21st-Century Small Business Maven

Today, every buyer's journey, whether for consumer goods or a business purchase, begins with a Web search. The new generation of top-performing SMBs has turned this into an opportunity by embracing digital marketing. As a result, they are reaping new benefits, often surpassing their own revenue goals.

As revealed in a recent Forrester study, there are five fundamental actions top-performing SMBs have adopted that are helping them take their business to the next level and establish themselves as part of the next generation of top marketing and revenue performers. These can be accomplished without having to expend additional resources or budget.

These actions can improve business, marketing, and revenue performance and can help SMBs compete more effectively in the marketplace. Today's SMB mavens are following these five steps.

1. Don't reactively cut the marketing budget in a down economy. Top performers have shown that maintaining or increasing investment will pay off in revenue performance. Decreasing marketing budgets in a down economy is like saying "I will add less wood to the fire when the weather gets colder." It's not a winning strategy.

2. Take lead generation as seriously as lead management. The top-performing SMBs have demonstrated that a little bit of process rigor in lead management yields great results. SMB marketers should carefully manage every lead, vetting, qualifying, and nurturing them before handing them off to sales for the close. But robust lead management seems to have come at the expense of a commitment to fill the top of the funnel. Keep in mind that while successful pipeline management is more than just a numbers game, it does all start with a lead!

3. Get online and start using digital marketing techniques. SMBs need to venture out of their comfort zones when it comes to marketing techniques. Though print advertising, trade shows, and events are still good for business, they are not as scalable, efficient, or metrics-driven as some of today's more modern forms of digital marketing, such as social media, Webinars, downloadable content, and advertisement retargeting.

4. Get serious about social marketing. Social channels are no longer used just for sharing personal content, monitoring conversations, or discovering new people to follow. Stop thinking about social media and start thinking about social marketing. SMBs need to follow in the footsteps of their larger enterprise counterparts, who have proven that "social" is not just an abstract and immeasurable buzz-generating tool. It's an integral part of their lead-to-revenue management process—an engagement strategy that can have a measurable impact on lead generation.

5. Use marketing automation to complement CRM. SMBs have begun to automate their sales process with CRM, and now it's time for them to improve execution of the entire lead-to-revenue process by automating marketing. Marketing automation vendors have engineered their solutions to optimize the processes of lead origination and nurturing, to deliver better results with less labor. In addition, these systems minimize the managerial overhead of executing, monitoring, and measuring, which is a great aid to the overstressed SMB marketer.

Moving into 2013...

In 2012, marketing experienced a fundamental shift, with emerging digital channels such as social media and mobile creating lucrative opportunities to reach a new generation of customers more quickly, efficiently, and directly. Despite the evolution of online marketing, traditional channels such as in-person, email, and direct mail aren't going away any time soon.

Moving into 2013, SMB marketers will adopt more sophisticated, multichannel marketing techniques to accommodate today's buyers' behavior—with all purchases beginning with a Web touch, and influenced by social channels. Buyers are channel agnostic, which means the new Holy Grail will be a seamless, consistent customer experience across multiple channels. The market-savvy organization will sharpen its digital marketing efforts and heighten its social media presence and engagement to ensure that the brand is positioned in front of the prospect with the right message at the right time, using the right channel.

This explosion of growth in digital marketing means SMB marketers are faced with the challenge of presenting a consistent voice and brand image to customers across old channels as well as new ones, advancing technological barriers and managing more data than ever before.

Marketers will quickly notice that the manual marketing processes and disparate point solutions they once used will no longer scale with their organization's growth, and eventually will look to marketing unification as a way to get their objectives in order. Having fragmented systems means that customer data is not reconciled, and eventually leads to fragmented customer experiences. To avoid negative customer outcomes, small business mavens will take the suite approach and begin consolidating their marketing technologies into a single marketing automation platform. (According to a recent report by Gleanster, 85 percent of top performing organizations are currently implementing or plan to implement a systems consolidation initiative in marketing.) Having one dashboard to create, execute, and track integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels will prove powerful to small businesses because it will reduce the amount of time and resources once required to run reports and monitor campaign performance. Just as important, marketing automation software will enable SMBs to more readily compile customer data to track trends, deliver sophisticated, targeted campaigns, and improve ROI in 2013.

Atri Chatterjee is chief marketing officer of Act-On Software. He has previously held senior roles at Symantec, VeriSign, McAfee, and Secure Computing. He was a member of the founding team at Responsys and an early employee at Netscape.

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