Engaging SMBs via Resource Centers

Resource centers are an essential element of content marketing to small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). SMB-focused resource centers such as the American Express OPEN Forum, the FedEx Small Business Center, the Google Small Business Community, the Intuit QuickBooks Small Business Center and the Microsoft US SMB blog represent significant investments in content development and promotion, with the goal of engaging, acquiring and retaining SMBs.

Given their popularity – there are dozens of resource centers targeting SMBs – and their expense, how can you make the most of a resource center to build awareness and convert SMB customers?

To find out, we recently surveyed over 300 U.S. SMB principals. The results are instructive; there are some great learnings on what kinds of SMBs visit resource centers, what motivates their visit, how often they visit them and for how long, the topics and formats they prefer, which industries they want resource centers from, what’s important to SMBs about resource centers, and how valuable SMBs find individual resource centers – maybe even yours!

The role of resource centers 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 resource centers eighth for awareness, and third for both research and making a purchase decision. Resource centers can play a very important role across the whole SMB sales cycle.

Visit frequency and duration

Of 657 SMBs we surveyed, 40% never visit resource centers, 34% rarely visit them, 16% visit a few times a year, 8% a few times a month, 2% a few times a week, and 1% daily. We focused on the 26% who visit resource centers a few times a year or more for the rest of our research.

54% engage with two or three content elements (e.g. an article, video, blog post, quiz) per visit; 29% engage with four or five.

The net? A resource center offers a valuable opportunity for sustained engagement with your customers and prospects.

Preferred topics and formats

The most popular topic SMBs want to learn about is technology; 67% are likely or very likely to visit a resource center for information on this topic. Next is business development / sales and marketing (60%), followed by news about and trends in their industry (58%), and financial planning and money management (57%).

For formats, 57% of SMBs like videos. Next most popular are interactive tools (such as a calculator or quiz) and online eBooks or guides (tied at 54%), and checklists / worksheets and webinars / webcasts (tied at 53%).

That said, the topics you focus on should be what SMBs look to your brand for expertise on, and the formats that work for you may vary based on your specific audience.

By the way – don’t assume that SMBs only want business management advice in your resource center. In fact, only 12% do. The vast majority want some information on your offerings; the largest share, 40%, want an equal mix of advice and product information. Be sure to help SMBs understand how your offerings can help them achieve their business goals.

Who SMBs want resource centers from

SMB preferences for resource centers vary widely by industry. They most want a resource center from cellphone service providers (62%), followed by Internet access providers / website hosting companies (58%), tech hardware companies (57%) and software companies (55%). They are least interested in resource centers from travel services such as airlines (22%) and rental car companies (19%).

Keep in mind, though, that traffic to your resource center is driven more by the quality of your content (and promotion) than your industry.

Visit behavior

SMBs interact with resource centers in different ways. The plurality, 36%, have several “favorite” resource centers that they visit regularly. 26% are “interrupt-driven,” i.e. they only visit a resource center when prompted by an email newsletter or other referral. 16% only visit a resource center based on a search result, and 15% visit one “favorite” resource center regularly.

When do SMBs visit a resource center? When they need advice on a specific business challenge, such as finding new customers – 70% are likely to visit then. 64% visit a resource center when evaluating a company’s products; the same percentage visit when prompted by an email or a peer recommendation. And 50% just visit a resource center when they need a break, or have time to kill.

What device do they use? The big screen. Most SMBs (67%) visit a resource center on a laptop or desktop. 19% visit from their smartphone, and 14% visit from a tablet.

What SMBs value in resource centers…

56% of SMBs say that the tips and advice on resource centers in general is valuable. Specifically, the most important aspects of a resource center are relevant topics (83% rate that important or very important); the content is easy to understand (79%); the content is “fresh” or updated frequently (also 79%); the design is professional and easy to navigate (76%); and the content is high quality / valuable (75%).

…and their effect on SMBs

How effective are resource centers in generating sales and enhancing brand perception? Potentially very. 73% of SMBs are more likely to do business with companies that offer a resource center (and 62% have made a purchase based on a resource center visit), 71% are more likely to remain customers of those companies and 76% feel more positively about those companies. A well-executed resource center can drive traffic, transactions and trust.

And the winner is…

PayPal. 38% of SMBs rate the content on its Business Resource Center as useful or very useful. The runners-up are Intuit’s QuickBooks Small Business Center (34%), Office Depot / OfficeMax’s Business Solutions Center (30%) and the UPS Small Business Resource Center (27%).

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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.