Forget building brands and forget market positioning for a moment when considering how to reach the owners of SMEs to sell to them.

Forget about creating downloadable content for your business social media account on Facebook and trying to gain the attention of industry influencers.

Forget about your website, pay per click, and search engine optimisation.

They all very much have their place (and you’ll find loads of content about it on our sister site) but, for the next five minutes, I’d like you to concentrate on the often-forgotten very high returns delivered by three of the oldest and most established promotional channels around – email, phone, and post.

This is a world where your advertising efforts can influence and dictate how quickly a small business buys from you rather than waiting for an enquiry from your website.

This is a world where you choose who you market to, what your target audience sees, and how and when they receive your message.

This is a sales-driven marketing strategy which has nothing to do with brand building.

This is the world of cold approach direct marketing.

And, even in this digital era, the cold approaches you make to B2B decision makers still produce the greatest return on advertising budgets – far greater than most other advertising strategies.

To find out more about our direct marketing services, please call 0330 010 3495 or you can click here to email us.

So, what is direct marketing and why does this more traditional form of advertising to businesses continue to be so successful?

What is cold approach direct marketing to SMEs?

Direct marketing involves the communication of an offer you decide delivered to targets you’ve selected based upon how interested you believe they are likely to be in your products and services.

When you use cold approach direct marketing, you contact the SMEs you’re targeting regardless of whether they have heard of your company before.

The three main cold approach direct marketing channels are:

  • email advertising,
  • telephone campaigns, and
  • postal marketing.

To create a successful direct marketing strategy, you need to:

  • know the businesses most likely to need what you sell,
  • understand exactly how your product or service solves a problem or creates an opportunity and be able to explain how in a short space of time,
  • purchase or build a list of the small business buyers who have the authority and budget to purchase from you,
  • send targeted messages to each of the SMEs you want to sell to frequently, and
  • follow up immediately on any leads which your campaigns generate.

In this article, we’ll share with the tips, tactics, and insights used by our direct marketing specialists when we either sell our clients data or run their advertising campaigns for them.

Who is your audience and what do you say to them?

The first major element in the creation of any successful direct cold approach strategy is to know what value your products and services to SMEs and to know which SMES this value will be of the greatest benefit to.

Step 1 – know and research your audience

Sometimes, what you sell will appeal to companies in many different sectors and, other times, what you sell will only appeal to a narrow band of potential clients.

You will enjoy the greatest direct marketing success possible first by identifying and choosing to contact the small businesses which have the most to gain by working with you.

Second, carry out research into the types of small business where the benefits of having your product or service greatly outweigh the cost.

Sending out promotional messages to these unproven sectors is risky but these sectors may open significant new profit centres for your business.

Equally, it may be that your marketing efforts to these sectors though do not produce a return but the way decision makers within these small businesses interact will provide your marketing team with valuable insights into how what you sell might be later adapted to make it more appealing to them.

Your goal when selecting the SMEs you target is to stack the odds of success in your favour by targeting where your most likely wins will be. The lower your expenditure and the more precise your targeting, the higher the number of quality and closeable leads you receive and the higher your likely return on investment.

Step 2 – understand value (or how your product or service solves a problem or presents an opportunity for SMEs)

SMEs spend money on other companies’ products and services only when they deliver one or more of the four following outcomes:

  • greater revenue – they can make more money from the products and services they sell without a noticeable diminishing in the quality of outcomes to the end user (can you offer a business something they already buy but at a cheaper price and of an equivalent quality and efficacy?)
  • cost reduction – can you help companies make more money with less staff or by becoming more efficient?
  • competitive advantage – does what you sell give your clients a noticeable and positive point of differentiation over its commercial rivals?
  • regulatory compliance – can you help a client adapt to incoming regulations with minimal extra expense or disruption?

Sometimes, the benefits of a product or service may straddle two or more of the above.

In any direct cold approach campaign, you need to be able to quickly and clearly quantify in some way the financial or operational difference that your products and services deliver.

Step 3 – separate the benefits from the features

A feature is a quality that a product or service possesses while a benefit is an advantage that a products or service delivers.

Benefits are nearly always much easier for prospective SME clients to understand and appreciate than features during the sales process. It’s only with really technical products and services where features are sometimes more important close to the point of decision.

But remember that marketing is not there to sell – the job of marketing is to deliver a message of interest to target customers with the purpose of generating a lead. It’s then the sales team’s job to take the lead and to close it.

In every campaign, make sure that the benefits are clear and understandable to a lay person if you want the greatest number of leads from your campaigns.

Step 4 – build your social proof

More Than Words has helped 1,000s of SMEs find brand new customers in the education sector. Why? Because schools control their own budgets, they’re not price-sensitive, and, most importantly, they are a domino marketplace.

When you get your first school client, the rest follow quickly. That’s because head teachers within schools report good and bad experiences with suppliers regularly to each other. Senior leadership teams within schools always search for new suppliers with a view to improving the quality of the education they provide and the efficiency with which a school is run.

When you’re advertising to small businesses, it’s always more effective if you can provide examples of how your products and services have helped similar SMEs overcome a problem or exploit an opportunity.

When you do, the audience you’re targeting will know you have the tools, the insights, the experience, and the expertise to help them as well.

More Than Words note – you may wish to re-use some of the content from your website in your direct cold approach campaigns to SMEs.

For example, do you have a video testimonial from a customer in the same line of business or industry? Do you have blog posts and case studies explaining the detailed and bespoke nature of your solutions and showing that you’re not a one-size-fits-all supplier?

Make sure you re-use and re-purpose the ones which reflect the commercial interests and needs of the customers you’re targeting.

More Than Words note – for more information on marketing to the education sector, click here for our UK schools database, our managed email marketing campaigns to schools, and our managed telemarketing campaigns to schools.

Finding your audience with cold approach direct B2B marketing

First, the types of companies

Now you know which small businesses you’re targeting, you need to source the data for your direct marketing campaigns.

In addition to line of business, you can choose which SMEs to target by…

  • geographical location,
  • number of employees,
  • number of branches,
  • turnover,

…and more for your campaign.

Second, the types of buyers

In most cases, the senior contact within a small business will have all of the purchasing responsibility although they will often be aided in decision making by experienced senior managers they trust.

Within medium-sized companies, you may wish to create separate campaigns not only for the senior decision maker but also for subject-specific decision makers like finance directors, sales directors, and more.

When selling to larger SMEs, marketers generally recommend that each decision maker involved in a potential purchase be contacted individually to give you the greatest chance of finding an ally during board meetings where your sales rep is not present.

More Than Words note – In addition to the senior contact, we also have tens of thousands of records for SME owners and employees with the following responsibilities. The job roles we hold are as follows:

Third, choose your contact method

Ideally, you should stretch your budget to include all three main direct marketing channels – email marketing campaigns, telemarketing campaigns, and postal marketing.

We cover this later but, of all three, digital email promotion to SMEs is the most responsive and most affordable followed then by telemarketing followed finally by direct mail.

Where can you source company and buyer data?

You can source the data you need for your targeted campaign from either a data owner or a data broker. To speak with a data specialist at More Than Words, please call 0330 010 3495 or you can click here to email us.

Data cost

Marketing data is normally charged per 1,000 records. Business to business mailing list data is the cheapest followed by B2B telemarketing data followed by B2B email data.

Outsourcing your marketing

If you lack the infrastructure to carry out your own email and telemarketing campaigns, many companies, including More Than Words, will carry them out on your behalf.

When you get in touch with us, please ask us about our outsourced B2B email marketing campaigns and outsourced B2B telemarketing campaigns.

Direct marketing’s three channels and how to use them

1. Making the most of email marketing to your potential customers

B2B email marketing offers companies an average turnover return on investment of £42.24 on every £1 spent, according to the UK Data and Marketing Association.

So, what makes a successful email.

What should your subject line be?

Your subject line should not be overtly “salesy” but it should provoke interest in the contents of your email.

Using internal or 3rd party statistics of interest and use to potential customers drives open rates as does the use of suffixes like “- update” or “- latest”.

What should be in your email?

Following up on the promise of the subject line, the headline should deliver information and insights of real value straight away to the reader.

You have 1-2 seconds to grab the reader’s attention with the headline after which you should use the email’s opening sentence or paragraph to begin to tell a simple, relatable story about your product or service and how it solves a problem or unlocks an opportunity for your clients. You should also link in your images and in your text to a page on your website.

At the bottom, there should be a call to action – preferably a telephone number and email address so that recipients can leave you their details for follow up.

What should your email look like?

Your email should focus on legibility – the headline and the written content must be easy to read. If you use imagery, make sure that, unless the appearance of your product or service is particularly important, that its size and placement does not obscure the written sales message.

Over half of B2B emails are now opened on portable devices so please make sure that your design is mobile compatible before you send it out.

How often should you email small and medium sized businesses?

You should email at least once a month however we would recommend, if possible, once a fortnight.

You should vary the content of your emails each time making sure that you offer something of value in addition to the information about your product or service to make sure recipients continue to open them.

What should you do when a campaign is over?

Most activity on email campaigns happens within 72 hours of the send.

So, if you email your audience on a Tuesday, run the report on Friday. You will get valuable marketing insights from each report and you should especially do telesales follow up with the SMEs which open your emails and click through to your website the most.

2. Successful telemarketing to small business owners

Unlike email and direct mail, telemarketing offers you the opportunity to open two way dialogue with decision makers within SMEs, to book appointments, and to find out important marketing information on each of the small businesses you get in touch with.

When should I contact potential customers by phone?

When they’re at work. Few owners of SMEs like to be contacted about work when they’ve left the office. It’s generally easier to get in touch with decision makers at the very start or end of their day.

B2B telemarketing is particularly useful for sectors which work non-office hours (like the night-time sector) or which require travelling (tradespeople and contractors).

What should be the aim of the call?

Before you or your staff pick up the phone, you should decide what the outcomes you want from each call are on a sliding scale from making a sale to collecting information on a particular SME.

Follow-up email containing contact and social media details

Every time you’ve spoken with a decision maker, regardless of whether the call was particularly successful or not, you should email the person thanking them for their time and your email should contain your direct contact information together with an invitation to follow you on social media.

How often should you engage with small and medium businesses by phone?

We would recommend that you stay in touch with SMEs by phone at least twice a year.

What return should I get on my money with telemarketing?

Telemarketing returns £11 worth of turnover for every £1 spent on it, according to the UK Data and Marketing Association.

3. Lead generating direct mail campaigns to your target market

Direct mail marketing is the most expensive type of marketing but being sent something tangible and of high quality opens doors better than email and telemarketing especially on high-ticket items and items of critical importance to an SME (like an accounting system, manufacturing machinery, and so on).

Isn’t direct mail marketing dead?

According to the UK Data and Marketing Association, postal marketing achieves a response rate of 4.4%. Compare that with email marketing’s average response rate of 0.12%.

How often should you use postal mail campaigns to generate new leads and sales?

Given the much higher costs involved in postal mail marketing, you should do it as often as you can afford it to enjoy the highest returns. However, more so than email and telemarketing, you need to vary the message between each mailing to sustain higher returns meaning that you will pay more for copywriters and designers.

Using B2B direct marketing channels – tips and tactics to increase the likelihood of ongoing success

A campaign doesn’t stop when the first lot of emails or letters have been sent or the first telephone calls have been completed – that’s when the work begins.

To generate the greatest returns using direct marketing to SMEs, you need to do it constantly to both capture the sales from companies ready to buy now and to build up the credibility of your company and its products and services to businesses likely to need what you sell in the future.

Only 2-4% of your target audience will be ready to buy now

Not every business on the database you purchase will be ready to become your next customer just yet. In fact, 96 to 98 of the companies you approach will be in the market.

By approaching the same SMEs every month, you’ll capture leads and sales from companies which have just come into the right part of the buying cycle.

In addition, many business owners will contact you to discuss your products and services letting you know what they want and when they want it so that you can build a sales pipeline for the coming 12-24 months.

Respond vigorously to enquiries you receive from direct marketing

B2B marketing works best when there’s a sales team ready to confidently take over the handling of a future customer when they leave their contact details for follow up.

Every lead is sacred and the sales you generate from direct cold approach campaigns can often be more profitable and higher in value than sales you win through your website because, in many cases, you’re not pitching against the competition and the prospect has done less research.

Measuring the success of your marketing campaigns to SMEs

Keep a record of all the leads generated from your direct marketing campaigns to SMEs – within the space of three months, you’ll understand which channels work best, which offers work best, and which of your sales team is responsible for closing the most business.

Direct marketing, when done correctly, offers companies a predictable, reliable route to market and you can use the data from your campaigns to improve return on investment month after month.

Marketing to SMEs – FAQ

What does SME stand for in marketing?

SME stands for small- to medium-sized businesses. There are three types of SMEs and they fall into the following classifications:

  • Micro-business – 10 employees and less with sub-£2m turnover
  • Small business – less than 49 employees and sub-£10m turnover
  • Medium business – less than 250 employees and sub-£50m turnover

For more information, click for our list of SMEs in the UK.

Can I use direct marketing approaches via social media?

You may wish to allocate some of your marketing resources to making direct approaches on social media platforms. Cold approaches to owners of SMEs on Facebook don’t really work however many marketers have experienced good results from approaching owners of small businesses on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

For social media cold approaches, we’d recommend this general article from Neil Patel and this Twitter-centric one from Salesforce. If you do use these tactics, make sure that you have content you can send to each person who responds to your approaches to give your sales team the best chance of progressing the lead.

Should the direct approach be used in association with other types of marketing?

Yes – you should use direct marketing as part of a wider strategy including digital marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, online marketing, website marketing, and more.

You need to use every advertising channel open to you to search for and find the decision makers within SMEs most likely to need the products and services your company offers.

Should I used direct marketing to build my “brand”?

You shouldn’t consider direct cold approaching as brand-building if your intention is to make money from the campaigns.

Sharing information about your SME’s “brand” may marginally increase interest and engagement in your company but they won’t increase sales if you use all the space available to tell recipients about the support you provide to local charities or link to a video detailing your efforts to increase workplace diversity, no matter how laudable both are.

Only massive companies have the money they need to spend money on their brands. For most companies, especially small businesses, focusing on brands and branding is a waste of marketing resources.

If you are determined to build your “brand”, meet the cost of building it from the money you make from sales-driven, benefits-led direct advertising campaigns.

Direct marketing to small businesses – get your count and quote

Content marketing and online marketing works. It’s based upon the idea that your company and its products and services will easily be found on a SME decision maker’s buying journey.

However, although having an online presence is essential now for all companies selling to SMEs, waiting for leads and sales to come in seems a bit passive to many sales and marketing teams.

Direct marketing is different – it’s proactive and, through the use of intelligent and persuasive marketing backed by a talented sales team, you can find SMEs at the right part of the buying journey ready to purchase from you straight away. In addition, for those small businesses not quite ready to buy, you can promote what you sell and your expertise in delivery to those decision makers and begin to build a relationship with them.

To find out more about our services, please call 0330 010 3495 or you can click here to email our direct marketing team for help.

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Plan your direct marketing campaigns to SMEs

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