A remarkable trend in the Internet age has been the growth of self-service platforms that service small-medium sized businesses (SMBs). The theory behind self-serve platforms for this cohort of businesses is good — there are approximately 26 million businesses in the US right now and most of them are SMBs—but organizations generally cannot service SMBs cost effectively. Why? Because the amount it costs to sell to the SMB, plus the amount it costs to service the SMB can often be greater than the corresponding revenues the SMB provides. But, it is an enormous market so many companies have explored how they can reach SMBs effectively. The solution most companies have settled on is to provide the SMBs with self-service tools, platforms or other mechanisms.
For some SMBs, these solutions have worked remarkably well. For example, over 4 million US-based users use Intuit’s QuickBooks platform for their small business accounting needs. In general, self-service platforms like these allow larger companies to effectively service SMBs, grow their business, and stay profitable; they are clearly doing something right! But in the online marketing world, I would contend that self-service platforms do not work, nor will they ever work, for the largest segment of SMBs: the smallest SMBs.
Why is that? Because SMBs are too busy running their business, delivering services, and selling products to their customers and do not have the time to use a self-service marketing platform. Take a local plumber, for example: she may be interested in establishing an online presence to attract new customers, but her business only grows when she receives phone calls and leads, not clicks and impressions. While she may be skilled at providing plumbing services, she does not necessarily have any knowledge or proclivity to build a banner, identify keywords, write add-copy and then put them to use in a marketing campaign, let alone monitor, optimize and improve the campaign over time. I am not a plumber, and based on the number of plumbers who have visited our 15 year old house over the past couple of years, I cannot solve the simplest plumbing problems – why should a plumber suddenly be able to do all of the marketing things I take for granted? The simple truth is that most SMBs do not have the time or desire to run their own marketing campaigns, yet the marketplace continues to insist that self-serve platforms are the right solution for their businesses.
The same is true for a local florist, who needs to have an online presence to grow his sales, but does not have the time or resources to manage his campaigns or hire an additional employee to do so. Any budget allotted to an online marketing campaign should reward the florist with more orders, more customers, and increased customer loyalty, not more work to be done in addition to his normal duties of running his small business. As is true with the example of the plumber, a florist may not have the knowledge (or interest!) to execute his own marketing efforts, but current solutions for SMBs require do-it-yourself work.
SMBs need to have access to online marketing and with the growth of mobile marketing the urgency has been heightened. While self-service platforms eliminate financial hurdles that prevent SMBs from entering the online marketing space, most SMB owners cannot operate their own marketing campaigns even with the best self-service platforms. Current solutions that require business owners to take on the burden of executing their own marketing campaigns do not serve SMBs well. For precisely this reason, SMBs need an automated solution where the technology does all of the legwork—not an individual within a business— from keywords to ad copy, all with a goal of optimizing to leads, phone calls and ultimately, revenues for the SMB.
Completely automated online marketing solutions for SMBs are in their infancy but the value they provide to SMBs is real and will only grow over time. While self-service platforms may work in some parts of small business management, for online marketing they just do not serve the SMB best.