The Ways Marketing Vendors Fail to Deliver to SMBs and How to Avoid Them

The shift to digital media has created a bit of an obstacle for SMB advertisers. Rather than buy ads in newspapers, on TV or on radio stations, these businesses must now figure out how to get their ads visible to consumers across a mix of local and national websites and apps. As a result, SMBs are turning to a wide variety of marketing services vendors and tech companies to help them get their messages online and in front of both active and prospective customers.

Of course, a majority of SMBs don’t understand marketing on a deep level, so they’re required to put their complete trust into the partners they choose. New research by a company called Alignable looks to give SMBs more insight into their vendors by asking SMBs which vendors they’d recommend and compiling a Small Business Trust Index. While this is a step in the right direction, it only illuminates some larger underlying issues. Case in point: many of the digital mar-tech providers have negative trust scores.

As Marketing Land says, this likely reflects “SMB dissatisfaction and disappointment (and maybe some unrealistic expectations).” If marketing services providers -- be they agencies, local media providers or mar-tech companies – want to be trusted, valued partners to SMBs, then they’ll need to address the following.


You have to spend money to make money,” goes the old saying. While it’s certainly true in marketing, advertising has never been a panacea for growing a business. In other words, investing in advertising won’t automatically and instantly grow revenue.

Unfortunately, when vendors market their services, they often push case studies and exciting ROI figures, trying to capture SMBs’ attention with the promise that all of the money invested will flow right back into their businesses. When the actual campaign results fail to meet the lofty expectations, it’s not a surprise that the SMBs will have negative feelings. Service providers need to be more realistic with their potential clients on the kinds of outcomes they can expect, and how all of the campaign pieces will work together. Of course, that requires some time on the vendor side spent examining the businesses themselves, which brings us to our next point.

Failure to Understand SMBs’ Needs

Mar-tech is not a one-size fits all offering. The basic foundations – ad serving, automated buying, mobile-friendly formats – are universal, but the strategy, creative, audience and investment level will all vary depending on the advertisers’ businesses and their needs. Throw in other services such as websites and logo development and it’s clear that every engagement must be customized. A failure to understand the client businesses and their goals is only going to result in failure on the side of vendors.

Failure to understand can take so many different avenues. SMBs know their businesses and they know their target customers. Marketing service providers understand marketing, and that’s the expertise they should provide – they can’t be dismissive of all the other experience and knowledge the people on their SMB clients bring to the table.

There’s also the classic misstep of pushing products that SMBs don’t need. The wide variety of offerings in digital are enticing, but certain products aren’t right for certain advertisers. It’s the vendors’ job to understand what the SMBs need and which products and services will actually help. Then they must come up with plans that will help the advertisers achieve their goals at their budgets.

Too Much DIY

Many SMBs are the product of entrepreneurs. That spirit can extend through all facets of the business, right down to marketing, which makes do-it-yourself (DIY) products enticing. But even if DIY tools give SMBs a sense of control over their marketing, they can still end up disappointed. Some DIY tools simply put more work into the hands of SMBs than expected and sometime DIY campaigns or efforts are abandoned completely.

What many SMBs may not realize is that they actually want something closer to a do-it-with-me (DIWM) or do-it-for-me (DIFM) model, whereby the services or mar-tech providers help the SMBs, or take over the completion of tasks after taking instructions from the businesses. The end result is that the SMBs have contributed much of the strategic thought, but haven’t over-invested in time.

There is clearly need among SMBs for marketing tech and service providers that can help them grow their businesses. The trick for these service providers is to listen to the SMBs’ needs and help them with marketing and advertising plans based on them. If service providers start small and help the SMBs achieve their goals, they will likely be rewarded as SMBs continue to invest and grows their budgets.