Selling Digital Marketing To SMBs: Tips For Publishers From Brad Petersen

June 19, 2015 · Uncategorized

Selling to SMBs - Three tips from MatchCraft's SVP Brad Petersen

How can large publishers and media companies grow their digital marketing services business by selling to SMBs? MatchCraft Senior Vice President of Business Development Brad Petersen offers three strategic tips based on his decades of sales management experience in local marketing. 


When it comes to online marketing, small business owners are skeptical. Publishers are dealing with the ghosts of vendors past – companies that have introduced products that were less than ideal and didn’t really meet the needs of local businesses.

Selling to SMBs is difficult because SMBs get pitched on digital marketing all the time, and they question the value they’re going to get, the products they’re being offered…everything. It’s very challenging for a rep walking into that conversation: How do I convince this client that we’re different? That we’re taking the high road, offering fully transparent products, leveraging the most effective technology and best practices in campaign management? That we’re focused not on grabbing the highest margin but on providing great value to our merchants so we can create a lasting relationship?

I’ve got three strategies I believe publishers and media companies must embrace to succeed in selling digital marketing to local businesses.

1. Go vertical – with products and sales teams

Traditional yellow pages companies or directories are horizontal players. For the most part, they’re selling the same product to every kind of business.

But when it comes to digital marketing, one size definitely does not fit all. 

On the product side, publishers need to look at the verticals they’re serving and truly understand the differences. What’s important to service businesses? Is that the same thing that’s important to restaurants? Probably not. Products need to be designed around the needs of each business category. A digital marketing package for a plumber should focus on search ads with call tracking because plumbers care about leads. A package for restaurants needs to include social media and reputation management. Different products for different verticals.

Sales teams, too, should be aligned vertically. This presents challenges for companies whose sales reps have always been divided by territories. But the conversation around digital marketing is a lot more complex than traditional advertising – it takes longer and requires a deeper understanding of the business’s needs.

Can one rep really understand plumbing, restaurants and retail to the level of detail that’s needed for successful digital marketing sales? The sales teams I’ve led that have aligned by vertical have been much more effective because the reps become true experts in an industry. The more they understand it, the better they can present solutions that resonate with the merchant.

2. Embrace a consultative approach when selling to SMBs

Transactional selling to SMBs just does not work for digital marketing sales calls. Sales teams need to act as consultants to the merchants they work with. Each sales call takes longer and requires a proper needs analysis to uncover all the company’s priorities and pain points. A rep can’t make assumptions that just because the merchant is a plumber he needs X and Y.

Has the plumber used search marketing before? If so, what was that experience like? Which particular services bring in the most money at the highest margins?

You have to ask a lot of questions to be able to bring the best solution to the table.

Small business owners are busy and reps have to earn the right to have that longer conversation. How do they do that? With proper pre-call planning. The more intelligence the rep brings to the first meeting, the more value he or she is delivering up front – and that’s what keeps the SMB listening.

Most companies now know that consultative selling is the best way to sell. But management has to understand that what used to be a 20-minute sales call turns into an hour. A rep who used to contact 200 merchants a week now talks to 40, or 20, or maybe even 10. The problem is that the first time a sales organization doesn’t meet its goals, the knee-jerk reaction is to revert to transactional selling – “I want you to talk to 200 merchants this week!” It’s a shame when that happens, and it rarely helps.

Organizations that have the discipline to stay the course will find that the long sales call only happens the first time: Once you’ve educated the client, once you’ve provided good products with excellent service, subsequent contacts are much shorter. And the closing rate and average value order are higher.

3. Set proper expectations

Sales reps need to make sure they’re giving clients a realistic sense for the results they’re likely to get. We’re dealing with the most quantifiable form of media the world has ever seen, which is great: We’ve got a ton of metrics and key performance indicators we can share with clients to show them how their campaigns are performing and how their marketing dollars are affecting their business. Click-through rate, cost per click, quality scores, conversions – these are powerful pieces of data.

Having an always-available online dashboard like MatchCraft’s Merchant Center really helps, because it’s so easy for SMBs to look at their numbers.

But sales teams need to know enough to be able to put the numbers into the right context. Sales reps are notorious for saying whatever they need to say to make or keep the sale, and the less scrupulous reps in our industry haven’t helped. Sales teams need to communicate to clients how long it will take to see results, what the products they’re investing in are likely to do for their business, and what kind of ROI they should be expecting.

Understand the different kinds of digital advertising, because they all need to be sold differently. When selling to SMBs, don’t tell a client that display campaigns will drive phone calls. Sell based on what the product is designed to do, and make it about the customer: Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s why it’s important, and here’s how it’s going to benefit you.

The key is transparency – that’s what’s going to earn back the trust of the SMBs who’ve been burned by other digital marketing companies in the past.

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