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Scaling Account Growth Strategies to the Small Business Market

By Kristina LaRocca-Cerrone | June 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

MarketingContent Marketing and ManagementCustomer Acquisition and RetentionMarketing, Consumer, and B2B Insights

With more and more B2B marketers and CMOs saying their organization is shifting focus to account growth, it’s  no wonder Gartner analysts – myself included – are getting more questions about the tactical side of cross-sell and upsell.

For many, the question “what does drive cross-sell and upsell?”  is complicated by the fact that B2B organizations often sell to both large businesses and small businesses (defined by the US census as a business of fewer than 100 employees, often making revenues of under $1M gross). The strategies and tactics that are effective for large enterprise account growth aren’t always feasible for small business account growth.

The Gains from Small Business Account Growth

Yet, the juice is still worth the squeeze. In part because growing accounts is more cost-effective than constantly seeking net-new customers. And in part because growing small business accounts helps reduce churn. Small business owners are highly inclined to continue shopping around post-purchase, even those who describe themselves as loyal customers, or who are tenured customers. And as more disruptors and competitors enter the field, the barrier to switching is lower than ever.

Even loyal or tenured small business customers are still shopping around.

Source: Gartner Research. August 2018 Small Business Owner Stickiness Panel, n=916 N.A.

Smart account growth strategies help mitigate this shopping around behavior by redirecting owners to your products and services instead of the competition, and by affirming their decision to partner with you in the first place. The more connected an owner feels to your brand, and the more confident they are that your brand was the right choice for their business, the easier it is for them to buy more – and the more they buy, the more connected and confident they feel over time.

In order to grow small business accounts effectively, without over-investing marketing or sales efforts, you need to find ways to take existing account growth strategies and apply them to the small business segment.

Let’s look at a few popular tactics:

Three Ways to Drive Account Growth

These are a few of the tactics B2B marketers commonly take to drive growth for large business accounts. For each, we’ll consider how the core principles of that tactic might be scaled to the small business market.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM): 

Account-based marketing is a strategic approach in which marketing and sales focus their account growth efforts on a few key accounts that have been identified as strong prospects for the brand.  In a B2B world, this is often highly personalized, with a 1:1 approach predicated on deep understanding of the customer organization and stakeholders.

In the small business world, this may not be feasible. So, instead of a 1:1 approach, take a 1:many approach. Examine your existing “best” customers – what products do they have with you? What order did they buy those products? Or what order should they purchase in? What kinds of business do want to target? What size? What industry? What pain points do they have?

Your marketing can be personal; that is, it can credibly and authentically reflect the needs and pain points of most of your best/ ideal customers without being personalized.

Instead of making highly tailored recommendations to owners, you might instead message that “other businesses like you ask these questions…other businesses like you often find they need these products”. Such messages can be spread through content marketing, or through onboarding materials that familiarize a new customer with the range of products you offer and how they support an owner’s business goals.

Buyer Enablement:

Buyer enablement is content focused on helping customers complete the tasks they need to complete in the purchase journey. Its purpose is to help individuals in the buying group  feel comfortable and confident that they’ve asked all the right questions and gathered sufficient information to move forward in decision-making.

And buyer enablement is just as essential in the small business market. A small business owner often has even less expertise, or access to expertise, in decision-making than a buying group. What does a baker know about buying health insurance for their employees? What does a doctor know about financial services? Neither the baker nor the doctor have a CFO or an HR rep to turn to: they’re all on their own.

The success of buyer enablement lies not in teaching a customer about what you do; but rather, in teaching the customer about themselves and how their goals are advanced by the product you are trying to sell. What does your small business customer buying journey look like? What questions should they ask, that they may not know to ask?

Scale comes from two places here.Some of these tasks and questions may be the same for large and small customers, so start by examining your existing content to determine which pieces can easily be ported over to the small business segment (a conversation with a Gartner analyst can help with that).

Secondly, in the small business market, our research has confirmed that the kind of great content that helps owners grow with you – content that helps them feel confident in their choices, that makes them feel connected to your brand, that helps them learn something new about themselves or their needs through you – is the same content that helps win new customers to begin with, meaning both your new customer acquisition efforts, and post-purchase initiatives to drive retention and account growth are served by the effort.

Live Channels and Relationships

This is probably the most common question I face when working with marketers who want to scale their account growth strategies to the small business market: “how do I do it without live sales reps?” Often, your larger B2B accounts may have a an account rep, or at least, the focus and attention of a sales team. In the small business market, that strategy doesn’t always make sense.

Yes, you may  have live reps who are trained to understand the small business mindset and who build relationships with their customers. But those individual people don’t really scale that well. And when turnover happens, live reps can take customers with them.

Going digital seems like the obvious answer. But the question remains, will it work? Can digital channels still enable that feeling of “connectedness” that makes customers more loyal, less likely to shop around post-purchase, and more likely to buy more?

The short answer is yes:

“Connection” is Channel Agnostic

The relative impact of connections on owner loyalty, by channel.

Source: Gartner Research, August 2018 Small Business Owner Stickiness Panel, n=916 N.A. *Stickiness index comprises equally weighted likelihood to repurchase/ renew, buy more, recommend, advocate for supplier, (reduced likelihood to) seek out additional suppliers, loyalty scale

“Autonomous” channels here mean any channel an owner can engage with on their own, without a live person present (e.g. the website). And they’re not only nearly as effective as live channels at delivering feelings of connection, their impact increases at practically the same rate, meaning the more “connection” you add on an autonomous or digital channel, the “stickier” your customer becomes: more likely to repurchase or renew, to buy more, to recommend you to others, to advocate for you internally, to become more loyal, and less likely to shop around post-purchase.

So account growth does scale to digital channels – you don’t need a live rep to create relationships with customers. You can enable those feelings through your website, your content marketing, through mobile, through social media, through video content.

It’s all about presenting your brand as trustworthy (unbiased, dependable), personalized (recognizing owner needs and goals), and offering self-affirmation (making the owner feel confident their business will run smoothly and that their interests are protected).

What’s Next

As you think about scaling account growth strategies to the small business segment, as always, look to your customer first to identify synergies between what they need and how you support them compared to the needs of your large enterprise customers.

ABM can be applied to the small business market, but you can also take a 1:many approach by tailoring messaging to small business needs at a higher level (their core values, drivers, pain points). Buyer enablement can serve both a large and small audience with some versioning, or can be created for the small business segment in a way that drives both acquisition and account growth goals. And feelings of connection can be enabled over digital channels, without requiring heavy investment in live reps.

To get a sense of what all this looks like in real life, to have a conversation about account growth strategies for small business accounts, to see examples of buyer enablement for small business customers, or websites and digital content that create stickier small business customers, reach out to us!

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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