By Andrew Colwell, marketing director, b2group.
SMEs up and down the country are citing finding new business as their biggest barrier to growth, according to research we conducted recently.
The UK SME market numbers well over 3 million firms, and we estimate the market to be worth £3,000bn, but they are clearly struggling to find innovative ways of generating leads and turning those prospects into customers.
Our latest SME Voice poll, conducted in May and June 2010, asked people what would help them garner greater success. Top of the results came finding new business (38 per cent) – way ahead of the second-ranked response, cash flow (22 per cent) and rising costs (20 per cent).
However, if you put all these concerns together - and throw customer retention (8 per cent) and the impending rise of VAT (3 per cent) into the mix - it’s clear that SME owners are clocking up many a sleepless night as the economy continues to sputter.
Looking further at the results of our survey, however, SMEs are feeling more bullish about marketing despite the ongoing economic uncertainty. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) believe they will spend more on marketing in the second half of the year, with only 13 per cent thinking budgets will shrink.
While a majority (63 per cent) predicted the status quo, the fact that more business owners believe spend will go up than down is clearly encouraging moving forwards.
SMEs need to stretch their budgets to get the best bang for their marketing buck, and ensure that every penny poured into acquiring new customers is effective in delivering ROI. For that to happen, it’s time for companies to look beyond traditional lead generation techniques.
Marketing departments could rely solely on sales teams to drive leads; but often there is tension between the two, working towards different goals, and the overall vision of growing the business is lost. Alternatively, traditional lead generation has meant buying in cold lists and phoning each prospect in turn. But this approach can be scattergun and waste budget.
So if the traditional lead generation model is broken, how now can SMEs create new customers? Many B2B marketers are looking to mitigate risk by outsourcing more of the customer acquisition process to improve return and reduce fixed costs, but are not sure of the best way of going about it.
The next few months are likely to bring an influx of new solutions as the market adapts to the post-recession climate. Some will repurpose existing models, but others may change the course of B2B marketing for good - hopefully including our own Customer Acquisition Pyramid model, which takes lead generation through to sales conversion.
The pyramid differs from existing models all the way from the bottom to the top. Whereas the existing model simply involves raw data and a slew of ancillary database services offered by suppliers, B2Group’s model uses the UK’s first-ever ongoing national telephone survey of three million SMEs to underpin the process of creating customers for clients.
This means that corporates will know exactly when SMEs are in the market for products and services, and what type, thereby simplifying the procurement process for small to medium businesses.
This new lead generation technique can then be taken to potentially instant sales conversion through the use of hot-key technology to put call centre teams directly in touch with SMEs.
We are in a mature market, but there is no reason why it can’t be invigorated and rewound to a stage of growth through the injection of innovation.
Adding value to the bottom line is the core strength of the SME industry, and building on this we are confident that by 2011 lead generation and, as a result, the wider B2B marketing sphere will be in a very different place.
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