Small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) have come a long way from the neighborhood “mom and pop” outfits of the 1950s, according to a new research study from Forrester Research

Findings from “Driving SMB Revenue in a Tough Economy” indicate top-performing SMBs have reacted to the “Great Recession” of recent years by adopting leading-edge online and social marketing tools and strategies.

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The report surveyed 208 businesses with 50 to 2,409 employees and identified as top performers the 56 percent that beat their financial goals and grew revenues faster than planned despite increased business closures and decreased consumer spending. Only 33 percent of  top performers cut marketing budgets while 27 percent increased them. Even more importantly, while 84 percent of all respondents use digital marketing tactics, top performers were far more likely to call online marketing a “game changer.” 

Only 36 percent of the total survey population cut budgets in response to the economic downturn. Thirty-five percent kept marketing budgets steady, while nearly a quarter of respondents opportunistically increased budgets.

SMBs Favor Traditional Marketing Techniques

All performers reported using a similar mix of marketing tools and strategies. Interestingly, Forrester found that SMBs were most likely to use traditional, but difficult to scale, techniques such as personal relationships (95%) and trade shows (89%), perhaps showing some residual habits from the “mom and pop” days. Easily scaled techniques favored by large enterprises, such as email marketing (72%) and social marketing (69%) were less popular. 

SMBs that do use social marketing follow generally accepted trends, with the most established social channels such as Facebook, Twitter posts, video marketing such as YouTube and LinkedIn pages far and away having the highest levels of engagement. Large percentages of SMBs using all of these social tools says they’re not sure how well they’re working, another sign of SMB lag in the area of social marketing. 

For example, 32 percent of SMBs using Facebook say they don't know if it's working, compared to 4 percent who know it's working and will continue usage at current levels and 28 percent who know it's working and will increase usage in the next 12 months.


SMBs Manage Leads

SMBs are much more likely to cite converting more leads into opportunities and closing more deals from existing lead flows as top marketing challenges than generating new on-target leads, showing a greater emphasis on lead management than lead generation.

However, top and bottom performers still separate themselves in this area. Forty-four percent of top performers consider converting leads into opportunities as a top challenge compared to 34 percent of bottom performers, while 51 percent of bottom performers focus on increasing sales from existing customers compared to only 34 percent of top performers. 

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