10 B2SMB Trends in 2019 – and What They Mean for You

As we all look out over this next year of opportunity and challenge, we’ve spent quite a bit of time considering the SMB trends that took shape in 2018 and what they will mean to the Business-to-Small-Business ecosystem we so passionately support at the B2SMB Institute.  Here’s our Top 10, all of which we’ll actively address at our Playbooks19 event in March, and at our Leaders’ Forum in June.

  1. SMBs Collapse Their Own Purchase Funnel

According to research from G2 Crowd presented at our Global Conference last fall, nearly two-thirds (64%) of small businesses engage a salesperson only after they have made a purchase decision. There’s no reason to believe this number will go down in 2019, or in the coming years, which means that the role of B2SMB sales professionals must radically transform to avoid irrelevance. The smartest B2SMB sales leaders are repositioning their teams to insure that these low-touch/no-touch sales stick. Think customer on-boarding, with product or service tailoring and upsell as primary responsibilities.

  1.  Influencers Become Even More Influential

Influencers, and the hundreds of thousands of SMBs they speak to every day, are now a substantial media channel in their own right – a required consideration for B2SMB marketers in 2019. Like many of their media investment choices, marketers will embrace both the effectiveness and efficiency of investing both time and money with influencers, from major players like Business.com to single voices like Ramon Ray’s SmartHustle. Building expertise, infrastructure and a genuine strategy towards SMB influencers is mission critical for all B2SMB brands, sooner than later.

  1.  SMBs Want Privacy, Too

When it comes to cybersecurity, SMBs are getting it. They also seem to be getting the dangers of ignoring their own customers’ privacy demands. Expect, then, that SMBs will begin to ask their B2SMB vendors how their own data as a customer is protected, and to become increasingly vocal on the privacy they demand. We’ll see SMBs push back on how their email address is used, where their business data is shared, and how their activity with a B2SMB vendor is both tracked and applied, especially beyond what is immediately visible. For a deep dive on this trend, check out our Playbook on Data Strategy & Privacy for B2SMB Companies here.  

  1.  Reviews Are the New Content Marketing

“Marketoonist” Tom Fishburne captured it well – we’ve known for years that the SMB content marketing “crap trap” is real, so much so that there’s now a glut of POVs on what Mark Schaefer called “content shock.” How to get out of the trap? Start with the content that actually is being consumed by SMBs: reviews. No, we’re not talking about creating faux-endorsements on your own behalf. We’re talking about using reviews as a springboard to explain, to teach, to improve by talking with SMBs, not at them. There’s gold in the rich, detailed content of a thoughtful response to a review.

  1.  PQLs Become SOP

Product-qualified leads (PQLs) – sales prospects generated via free product or service trials – are scary to many B2B brands. After all, it may be harder to create a “freemium” product than its paid superior. But reliance on MQLs – sales prospects created via massive marketing efforts to reach and engage SMBs – produces ever-diminishing returns. And as SMBs exclude salespeople from their purchase considerations, too, the opportunity to actually sell a prospect is disappearing. So smart B2SMBs are turning to product/service trials and the PQLs they generate as a more efficient and effective means of creating new paying customers. Watch for our Playbook on PQLs coming soon.

  1.  SMBs Are Facebook Canaries

Yes, Facebook faces a rising tide of pissed-off users, angered by a whole host of real and suspected abuses. But what about SMBs? Do they risk guilt by association if they continue to prioritize Facebook as their own customers’ social network of choice? If they continue to advertise on Facebook? Watch for SMB influencers to raise the questions that challenge Facebook’s authority first, then watch for SMBs to reflect the raised voices of their own customers who are already withdrawing their support of Mr. Zuckerberg’s colossus. Small businesses aren’t likely to remain Facebook’s biggest fans.

  1.  B2SMB Tech Grows Human, Literally

SMBs are learning to embrace tech-enabled assistance across their small enterprises, but watch for tech/human hybrids to break out in 2019. Think TurboTax’s “CPA Inside” offering, where real human interaction complements high-powered software to bridge DIY and Do-it-for-Me, a “Do-it-with-Me” hybrid. For SMBs who want it all – lightning-fast processing with expert advice and customized utility – smart B2SMB brands will respond, improving retention, referral and upsell with a wide range of “real human” interfaces (chat, call, video) to amplify their tech’s deliverables.

  1.  The Waves Break

Millennials. Minorities. Women. LGBTQ. These “emerging” segments amongst small business owners are rising waves that will finally hit the shore in 2019. If you have any doubts, just check out who’s being cast in the latest ads from the largest B2SMB brands. As the prototypical “white male 50’s” profile of SMB declines in numbers – many opting out of new tech and its associated advances – growth for B2SMB brands will directly correspond to their thoughtful embrace of the new small business owner profile.

  1.  Putting the Be into SMB

It is no longer sufficient to think like an SMB, or to fake it by speaking SMB. It’s time to BE the SMB. Savvy B2SMB brands are enculturating the best of small business qualities into their own massive organizations. Meaning, they are encouraging individual entrepreneurship, highly responsive customer service, and personalized marketing in a 24-7 offering that mirrors what the successful SMB delivers every day. Little things matter, as B2SMB brands like Ruby Receptionists, AWeber and Kabbage have all found as they’ve created an SMB mindset across their teams.

  1.  Snowflakes Can Make Snow Drifts

It’s a well-worn axiom among B2SMB pros: SMBs are snowflakes, and no two are the same.  While this remains as true as ever, consider that snowflakes can create snow drifts – aggregations of individual SMBs that offer opportunities B2SMBs crave to scale bigger and faster. Just be careful how you push those snowflakes around. As evidenced by Google’s recent abandonment of their nascent Small Business Community Message Board, SMBs remain reluctant to intentionally gather and share, instead, preferring to remain one-of-a-kind. Most successful are “passive networks,” like review sites, where SMBs gather to contribute and consume at the level of their choice, often anonymously. Lesson for 2019? Let drifts happen. Push snowflakes at your peril.  

Your thoughts are welcome!  Be sure to join us at the B2SMB Institute’s Playbooks19 and the Leaders’ Forum events, too.

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