Selling to SMBs via Peers and Influencers

Small and mid-sized business owners (SMBs) rely on their peers more than almost any other source of information to learn about, research and make a final purchase decision on products and services for their business. But how can you capitalize on SMBs’ desire for peer advice?

To find out, we recently surveyed over 300 U.S. SMB principals. The results are instructive; there are some great learnings on how SMBs define peers; when they rely on peers most; how (and how often) they engage with their peers; and how companies can provide SMBs with peer advice. There are also new learnings on how SMBs think about influencers; which topics they are most likely to turn to influencers for advice; which influencers are top of mind; and the effect on your brand perception, purchase intent and loyalty of providing advice from peers and influencers.

The role of peers in the sales cycle

We asked SMBs to rate 35 different sources of information they might use to first learn about, conduct research on, and then make a final purchase decision for products and services for their business. Out of all of those, SMBs rate peers highest for awareness, second highest (after search) for research, and highest for making a purchase decision. That means that peers have more influence on SMB purchases than your sales reps; your web site; events and trade shows; and content, social and mass marketing.

The value of peer advice

Another way to gauge peer advice is to ask SMBs about the value of advice they get from different sources. Who’s #1? You guessed it: peers. 42% of SMBs rate the advice they get from peers as valuable or very valuable, compared to advice from their CPA (37%), business partner (32%), spouse (32%), and attorney (30%).

How SMBs define peers

For SMBs, a peer is first and foremost “someone who runs a business in the same industry as mine;” 76% or SMBs agree or strongly agree with that definition. To a lesser degree, SMBs define a peer as someone who runs a business the same size as theirs (68%), or simply a fellow owner or principle of a small or mid-sized business (67%).

When do SMBs rely on peers most?

SMBs rely most on peers at the awareness stage of the sales cycle. 75% are likely or very likely to rely on peers then, 57% at the research stage, and 23% to make a final purchase decision. 45% rely on their peers most for business management advice, such as tips on hiring or managing cash flow.

How SMBs talk to their peers…

SMBs are most likely to engage with their peers in person; 66% are likely or very likely to connect with peers, for example, over coffee. 50% are likely to connect over the phone, 45% via email, and 36% at networking or other live events, such as trade shows. The least likely way to connect with peers? LinkedIn or another social network, tied at 19%.

…And what they talk about

SMBs are most likely to discuss new products and services for their business with peers, along with industry news and trends (tied at 43%). They are next most likely to discuss technology (39%), law and taxes (37%), and sales and marketing (32%). They are least likely to discuss time management (20%), HR (18%), and import / export (16%).

How SMBs want you to provide peer advice

How can you capitalize on SMBs’ desire for peer advice? Facilitate in-person meetups. 34% of SMBs prefer this tactic to foster peer communication, followed by presenting content written by peers (31%) and enabling chat with “reference” customers (27%).

What’s the payoff of providing peer advice? Brand perception and revenue. 66% of SMBs feel more positively towards companies that provide access to or advice from their peers, 59% are more likely to do business with those companies, and 65% are more likely to remain customers of those companies.

Influencers

Independent business experts are another important source of business management advice to SMBs. 24% frequently visit the sites or blogs of independent business experts, 44% trust them for advice on products and services for their business, 28% have clicked on a banner ad on an independent business expert’s site or blog, and 39% have read or viewed content on a vendor’s site that was authored by a third-party business expert.

As with providing peer advice, using influencers to engage with SMBs can have a big payoff; 64% of SMBs agree they feel more positively towards companies that provide advice from independent business experts, and 59% say they are more likely to both do business with and stay customers of those companies.

Want regular SMB insights?

Subscribe to the Bredin Report for monthly research and advice.

We will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

About Stu Richards

Stu is responsible for setting Bredin strategy, as well as day-to-day management of company operations including marketing and business development, partnerships and alliances, product development, finance, operations and HR. A frequent speaker on marketing to SMBs, Stu has more than a decade of technology sales and brand marketing experience at IBM and Nabisco Brands. Stu holds an MBA from the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth College.