How to Sell Marketing Services to Small Businesses

Small businesses are responsible for 70% of the U.S. economy and employment. It is a potential $40 billion market for companies selling marketing services, yet very fragmented. Companies such as Groupon have attempted to capitalize by hiring thousands of salespeople but that model is not sustainable or scalable without significant investments. And the average spend is marketing spend is $300 to $400 a month, which means companies targeting these owners have to figure out how to deliver enough value to warrant the price.

Groupon hopes to move from an email-based daily deals platform to a searchable deals database ideal for mobile browsing. The company is touting its mobile audience to small business owners, as more than 45% of all North American Groupon transactions were conducted via mobile devices in first quarter 2013, up from 30% a year earlier (

Groupon hopes to move from an email-based daily deals platform to a searchable deals database ideal for mobile browsing. The company is touting its mobile audience to small business owners, as more than 45% of all North American Groupon transactions were conducted via mobile devices in first quarter 2013, up from 30% a year earlier (

When it comes to small business marketing, in the past owners could simply buy space in the Yellow pages and take out newspaper ads to reach customers. Now there a numerous channels from search engines to social networks to business listings boards. But most owners don’t understand which are best for them, let alone have the time to become proficient.

In a survey of 400 small business owners, 21 percent cited a lack of responsiveness as their top frustration with marketing partners. Furthermore, 17 percent of owners accused partners of not understanding their business, while 12 percent said poor customer service was their major complaint. This means that 44 percent of brand marketing money from these companies is being wasted in attempts to reach small businesses. The problem is that the brands don’t really understand the owners’ true needs, so the messages are not resonating.

A recent study of nearly 1,200 small businesses, “The American Dream: What Really Motivates Small Business Owners,” revealed four distinct types of small business sales and marketing buyers.

  1. Maximizers invest more time on sales and marketing than other types, with 61 percent spending over $1,000 per month. They have the most diverse platform reach, with 49 percent using Facebook, 36 percent using Twitter and 31 percent using YouTube. However, 60 percent said they need help building marketing tools and 61% said they need assistance in evaluating effective marketing content.
  2. Strivers look for help overcoming their sales and marketing challenges, moving beyond their existing capabilities and supporting the growth of their businesses. The problem is that they often lack the time and resources to fully use their technology and end up dissatisfied with it.
  3. Supporters want to reduce costs and save time, with 57 percent of this group spending less than $1,000 per month on marketing and 34 percent spending between $0 and $500 per month. This group prefers Facebook for social media marketing (60 percent) and Twitter comes in second place at 31 percent.
  4. Customizers want to automate existing sales processes and scale their businesses without sacrificing their ability to deliver personalized customer service. They use Facebook and Twitter to market and leverage LinkedIn for networking. More than half said they need help developing effective marketing strategies and evaluating messaging, and 53 percent said they need help in selecting the right sales and marketing tools. Slightly more than half spend more than $1,000 per month on marketing.

Most of all, the survey shows that small businesses need better education and feel somewhat lost when it comes to finding the right solution for their specific needs. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to sell to small business owners and CEOs.

  • Talk about the here and now. Small business owners don’t necessarily have three- and five-year plans, so they don’t respond well to long-term ROI messages or claims about value received over time. They are mostly looking to solve an immediate problem. Your value timeline should align with the resources of your small business customers.

Vistaprint is a company that reinforces the advice to meeting current needs of owners. In an interview, Vistaprint CEO Robert Keane explained there are about 50 million businesses with less than ten employees in North America and Europe. Among those, about 90 percent are less than two employees and 80 percent are one-person enterprises. This means there are 40 million home-based or single-person firms. According to Mr. Keane, “The rise of digital and electronic means of communication has been huge, and I’m talking specifically about websites, email marketing and local search. Websites have taken over for brochures, email marketing has ousted postcard mailings and local search has taken over Yellow Pages. We realize that the way small business marketing happens is not what it used to be. Today we are really a company that does all things marketing for micro businesses.”

  • Vistaprint Video ImageSell value rather than price. Money is tight for small businesses and most have little interest in increasing their expenses. Not only do business owners distrust your brochures, they distrust their own ability to implement your products and services. That’s why it is critical to educate rather than sell. Explain why a product is a wise investment, with statistics and other means to substantiate your claims. Use testimonials, reviews, guarantees and third-party verifications. If you can prove that you understand owners’ businesses in simple, approachable language and will not cause pain, you can even command a premium price.

In February, Staples launched a new campaign aimed at drawing attention to its products for the small business customer that stressed the range of products and services as well as convenience. Steve Fund, senior vice president of global marketing, said: “The campaign highlights our vision of providing every product customers need as well as our unique omni-channel capabilities, which allow customers to shop in store, online, via mobile or a combination.”

  • Staples Ad Campaign
  • Accent the service. Understand that the owners need to trained or assisted with their new purchases and told what to do next. Think about every question new customers would have and answer them all. Your marketing cannot end with closed deals. Build the relationships and grow them over time. The best way to do this is to keep your promises or even exceed the expectations you set.
  • Use loyalty to your advantage. Small business owners are loyal to those companies and products that live up to promises. Once you have earned trust, they are likely to share your company with their associates, family and friends. Make it easy for them to do this (online, print or otherwise). In addition, because working with small businesses usually means you have access to the people with control over entire enterprises, you should make the most of it by being dependable, understanding and flexible . . . and you are likely to be around for the long-term.
  • Build quality content. Small businesses look for services that help them improve. Develop case studies that prove your statements and feature them in blogs and social media profiles. Create content that answers questions and solves problems because it will help you to show up in Google search results more frequently, resulting in small businesses reading about your products and services. The more visible your company is and the smarter you make your customers, the more they will buy.

For example, Deluxe has a small business blog that provides a wealth of information and guidance online.

Deluxe Small Business BlogAbout 25 percent of small businesses don’t have websites and about 90 percent have websites that are not mobile-friendly. And the majority of local businesses don’t put their telephone number on their website. Small businesses definitely need marketing help but first you have to educate, second you have to provide value for the price, and third you have to continue to offer support after the sale.

What methods have you found to be effective selling marketing service s to small businesses? Do you educate your contacts and, if so, through what channels?

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

2 Responses to How to Sell Marketing Services to Small Businesses

  1. Hi, Kelly, lots of valuable information about marketing services I got here! Thank you for sharing.

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