General Manager of Global Small Business at Dun & Bradstreet, overseeing the company’s small to mid-size business portfolio.
As the pandemic drags on, I’ve come to realize how many of my business engagements now overlap with my personal life. With 24/7 internet access and working from anywhere (subscription required) becoming more common, it’s not surprising that businesses are approaching customers in their “personal space” — i.e., at home. And, with peer-to-peer telecommunications applications like Zoom becoming our main source of client and personal interaction, I’ve been considering the many lessons small businesses can learn from these platforms.
Take, for example, the recent Valentine’s Day holiday and the many dating sites that are now available at the touch of a button. These applications use data provided by subscribers and run it through proprietary algorithms to give customers their “perfect match.” It’s not all that different (or shouldn’t be) for small businesses.
Not every potential customer out there is a good fit. That’s right. I said not every customer is a good fit. You want to find customers who actually need your product or solution, who can afford it and who have the potential to remain loyal patrons for years to come.
We recently surveyed nearly 800 managers and senior managers of small businesses with less than 250 employees in the United States, and 32% of those who responded said that finding new customers was a top challenge for 2021. It’s not surprising that it might be difficult to find new customers when there is so much volatility in the marketplace. But by using data and analytics to really understand and target potential customers, something we help many of our clients to do, small businesses can overcome that challenge and even realize efficiencies in the process.
Below are three ways small businesses can improve their success in finding new customers.
1. Build a profile of your ‘ideal’ customer.
As budgets continue to be cut and small businesses try to do more with less, focusing on the accounts that will lead to the most revenue has become increasingly important. This approach starts with clear and efficient targeting strategies and requires regularly updated, advanced data.
For long-term results, look for a data solution that will allow your business to input and target attributes that you know translate to revenue and then find more customers like those. For instance, maybe you know your best customers are businesses located in the Midwest that have three or more subsidiaries and have been in business for over five years. It’s in your best interest to find more customers that fit that profile to fill your roster with the customers who have the best chance of bringing in the most revenue.
Once you’ve identified your “ideal” customers, the next step is to make sure you are focusing on customers who are in the market for your product. There are tons of digital signals that customers put out as they are moving through the purchase process. We call these “intent signals” because they can indicate the intent to buy. By narrowing down your target list and focusing on those who are in the market, you will likely save time and resources, hopefully shortening your time to revenue.
2. Evaluate the value of doing business with that customer.
Not all customers are created equal. Just because a potential customer fits your profile doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to make money for your business. You need to evaluate the fiscal stability of the customer and, especially in volatile times like these, the risk of doing business with them. A good place to start is by checking their business credit scores. This will give you a good indication of whether they will be able to pay their bills in a timely manner.
If your company is business-to-business (B2B), you have to remember that you aren’t just doing business with your customers, but with your customers’ customers. That means you also need to evaluate the pipeline risk of those potential customers. Are they in a market that has been hit hard by the pandemic? Are their customers having trouble paying their bills? If so, this all trickles down and may leave your customer more vulnerable to defaulting on payments and leave you with less revenue than you expected.
3. Customize your outreach.
You’ve done the work, and you have all this rich data on your potential customers. You know they are a fit for your business and in the market to buy. There is still one more critical step: customizing your marketing campaigns to reach each potential customer with the right message in the right channel at the right time.
As the business and professional worlds have merged, I’ve found that more customers, even B2B customers, are seeking a more personal approach from marketers. This becomes an exercise of connecting what you know about the account to what you know about the purchasers within that account. Again, there is data available to help you make these connections, and it’s increasingly becoming easier for small businesses to access it in a way that was previously only available to enterprise organizations.
I know it’s tough right now. I know small businesses are struggling to pay bills and keep employees on the payroll, and they can’t do that if they don’t have new customers bringing in revenue. The good news is that the data and insights needed to find those customers are becoming more and more democratized and available to small businesses that are savvy enough to understand its value. While it might take a bit more work upfront, in the long run, a more data-driven approach to customer outreach can save your business time, make your processes more efficient and bring more qualified customers to your doorstep.
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General Manager of Global Small Business at Dun & Bradstreet, overseeing the company’s small to mid-size business portfolio. Read Joe Pascaretta’s full executive profile