Study Argues Most Current SMB-Focused Sales Efforts Are Completely Ineffective

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It’s very noisy out there in the world of SMB marketing services. It has become harder to get attention and stand out in a crowded market where many of the products and services sound very similar — and it’s not getting any easier for marketing providers.

Alignable just released some small business survey data that explore “how local businesses are being sold to by vendors and Sales teams, and the effectiveness of current sales methods.” The following were the questions asked:

  • How many times a week, on average, are you solicited to buy products and services from others?
  • How often do you respond to unsolicited outreach by a sales person?
  • What’s most likely to get you to engage with a sales person?
  • If a fellow local business owner wants to meet you, how do you prefer they initiate a discussion?
  • Does the amount of people soliciting you impact your willingness to reach out and meet other business owners?

In terms of sales-contact frequency, 59% of the respondents said pitches were coming at least 4 to 6 times per week; 37 percent (of that group) said more than 6x per week. That means many SMBs are being solicited by sales reps — some of this is probably email too — roughly 20 to 30 times, or more, per month.

The data also show that business owners are generally unresponsive to these unsolicited sales efforts. Just under 90% said they either never respond or respond less than 10% of the time. Furthermore, all the unsolicited sales activity has a negative impact on local business owners’ relationships with one another and their willingness to engage with other local businesses, according to the survey.

Alignable sales study

What would get these business owners to engage with a sales rep? A referral from another business/owner was the top answer. Presumably this also implicates reviews and testimonials, though those variables weren’t explored in the survey.

The other interesting response from the question above was: “ability to test product/service with little to no investment.” Accordingly, a free trial appears to be a must. This is consistent with what a number of local businesses told LSA about what would get them to engage with marketing services providers.

These findings suggest that much of the current sales activity aimed at SMBs is almost totally ineffective. Perhaps as a result of this, many marketing services providers are turning away from conventional outbound sales tactics toward “in-bound” marketing or content strategy designed to generate leads.

The Alignable survey didn’t explore specific sales tactics: email vs. telephone vs. outside sales. But the survey data suggest that email and cold calling are less and less effective (please argue with me). Outside sales probably remains fairly effective — SMBs value in-person meetings — however premise reps are costly and going to be reserved for higher value accounts.

What’s your experience or reaction to these findings? Do you agree or dispute them?

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11 Responses to “Study Argues Most Current SMB-Focused Sales Efforts Are Completely Ineffective”

  1. Dave says at

    Greg:  Interesting findings.  Long before I joined with others to actively run some smb’s I was a commercial real estate broker….and we called on smb’s, and large companies, retailers, etc etc.   A LOT.  A real lot.  Cold calling, warm calling, referrals, etc etc.

    I worked for a very large national broker.  We initially learned more about sales than about real estate.  One of those lessons that sticks with me is that sales is about rejection.  It is.  

    Now I’m on the recipient side of all those calls.  I do take a lot of them.  And I do blow off a lot of them.  We get interminable emails.  I scarcely look at those.

    I do look for interesting revelations, or interesting sales pitches.  

    There is nothing new about that survey….for web marketing or any sales into any industry, from any industry.  Is it more or less successful, or more or less prevalent?   I wouldn’t know.  Anecdotally, I was doing my cold and warm calling a couple of decades ago.  I did a fair bit in person.   

    Mostly smb’s HATED it.  😀   In that regard, I’d say little has changed.

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    Interesting. But don’t you think the volume of sales calls/solicitations has increased over the years?

  3. Dave says at

    Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t.  I can look back at this with a sense of humor now, but as I would call on people, particularly with cold calling, I would get blown off, so often, and so often with exasperation from decision makers who hated the interruptions.  Was it less than, or more?  I can’t tell.  

    My current reactions to calls are similar to the reactions I received.

    But sales works.  I certainly got enough deals to make it work for me.   But clearly its on the low percentage side of all calls.

  4. Jason Wynne says at

    Greg : Interesting findings indeed. We have seen the volume of solicitations that SMBs receive increase dramatically over the years, with a rapid increase in the last 5. More often than not we experience one of these calls when sitting face to face with our prospects and clients, we have heard business owners say, “I get at least 5 calls per day from solicitors offering digital advertising solutions.” That said at Valpak we make a portion of those calls, we use phone calls, email, marketing automation, knock on doors, you name it we will try it because IT IS crowded out there.

    Today we had a good old fashion phone blitz, we made it fun with prizes and food and our team of 9 set 24 appointments with local business owners (primarily home services, restaurants, and personal services) in 3 hours. Our team works on sounding different on the phone and in email, it is not easy but we strive to not sound “salesy” and do our best to not get caught in the “game” of sales.

  5. Greg Sterling says at

    Curious on your thoughts re how to differentiate in this very noisy/crowded environment. Valpak has a brand that consumers and SMBs know so there’s an advantage there at least in getting on the phone.

  6. Dave says at

    Jason’s comments are interesting and frankly helpful to the sales groups out there.  I think it is advantageous and it has a better chance at working if you “sound different”.  Now how that is applied is up to the imagination of the sales team.

    When I was calling on folks, the thing that worked for me was providing tremendously different approach and VALUE.   I developed some unique ways to do so with our “products/services”   Cold calls became warmer more helpful calls.

    Giving value and/or information is usually very helpful.  Now that I’m on the recipient side I take the calls.  Are there more calls than in the past?  I don’t know. We’ve always gotten calls.  Endless.  Calls, drop ins, emails, blah blah blah.   

    One of the best ways to blow off sales people, especially marketing sales people is to quickly tell them you have NO money to spend on any of that stuff now.  None.  If the cold callers have the least bit of experience you have IMMEDIATELY unqualified yourselves.  If the cold callers have any sense they’ll hang up the phone and go to the next person immediately.

  7. Jason Wynne says at

    Our well known brand works for us and against us when prospecting. We hear prospects say they have been wondering how to reach us, they are fans of Valpak as consumers and want to learn how to use the envelope to benefit their business. We also hear, “we have tried that” as we are lumped in with all direct mail products, and of course “that’s not my image”. Having the brand is more beneficial than not, but it goes both ways.
    When communicating we differentiate ourselves by being very honest and customer focused, we are pleasantly persistent and communicate in many ways learning what works best for the prospect. Our AE’s goal of setting 10 appointments a week with SMB owners is not an easy task.

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks Jason. How may calls does it generally take to schedule a meeting?

  9. Jason Wynne says at

    If we are calling on the categories know to have had success in the past the average range on the phone is 9 to 12 and in person it drops to 7 to 9. We are starting to use more marketing automation and focusing our prospecting calls on those SMBs that have reacted to email messages.

  10. Dave says at

    Very revealing:  more so for those that are making the effort to call and sell.

    A rough range wherein it takes 7-12 calls to get an appointment.  ….and that is why I was initially taught that sales is the business of rejection.  When you make a sale hopefully you get paid a lot.   😉    and hopefully it works for the client.

  11. Dave says at

    Over the last week I’ve been very busy and focused on some projects that will eat up the next 6 weeks or so.  I’ve also been hit by 3 sales people.  Blew them all off quickly with a “Nothing is being done on new advertising for the next 6 weeks.”

    Worked like a charm. No muss no fuss, no extended conversations.  I killed those conversations in just a few moments each time.   That was great!!!!!!

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