"Pop quiz, hot shot." (Bonus points if you can name the movie from which that quote comes; the answer is at the end of the article.)
Question: What does the company Right Networks do?
Whether or not you can answer that question probably depends a lot on what you do. If you are an accountant that services small businesses, or perhaps you own a small business and you have a financial mindset, there's a decent chance you've heard of Right Networks. If "accounting" and "finance" are swear words in your vocabulary, you've probably never heard of Right Networks.
Right Networks is a fairly small business based in Hudson, New Hampshire. But they are the world's largest provider of hosted QuickBooks, as well as an expanding line of hosted desktop and Office 365 cloud services. Among accountants and financial professionals servicing small businesses, awareness is high. Outside of that audience, awareness is low. But it doesn't matter—and that's the point of today's column.
Targeted Versus General AwarenessNext week is "National Small Business Week" in the US. So often, small businesses aspire to reach the awareness level achieved by their bigger corporate brothers and sisters. Let's face it: Everyone has heard of Apple, Dell, Google, HP, Microsoft, and other enterprise-level technology companies. So why wouldn't small to midsize businesses (SMBs) dream about enterprise-level awareness? Right Networks and hundreds of other smaller companies illustrate an important point: Success as a small business comes from targeted awareness, not general awareness.
Whatever your industry or job role, there are products and companies you are aware of that your neighbors have never heard of. That point is obvious. What might not be so obvious: that's a good thing for those products and companies.
When Too Much Awareness is a Bad ThingFor those of you who work for a small business, what is your annual revenue? Would you like to double that? Triple that? Sure, but in what timeframe? In five years? Two years? This year? Six months? The reality is, most companies can't afford to grow too quickly. They can't hire enough quality talent overnight. They can't evolve their internal systems and processes to take on more production, more customer service, and more sales. Yes, you want awareness, but you should want the right level of awareness today for the company you want to become tomorrow—not the company you want to become in five years.
Furthermore, if you become caught up in the goal of broad awareness, you run the risk that you will overspend inefficiently. Often, broad awareness is expensive, both overall and especially in terms of "touches" with your target market. Few small businesses have the luxury of overspending, so you have to be targeted in your approach and spend.
So, how can you, as a small business, "right size" your awareness following the examples of a company like Right Networks? Here are four ways:
1. Partner BigConsider partnering big. Though you may be small, you likely have some business partners in your ecosystem that are much larger. (Okay, stated more accurately, you are in their ecosystem, but hey, pat yourself on the back and consider it your ecosystem for the time being.) Right Networks partners with Intuit to fill an important need in the QuickBooks market. As a result, Right Networks benefits from the marketing and awareness generated by Intuit's name recognition and marketing.
Who are the bigger players in your market (not necessarily the ones you compete with but the ones you complement and potentially can partner with)? Do your services round out their catalog of offerings? Can you partner with them to draft off of their demand-generation activities and spend?
2. Partner SmallRegardless of whether or not you partner big, you definitely need to partner small. Despite your desires, you may not be able to partner with the bigger players in your market. But, chances are, you can partner with some smaller yet still very influential companies.
Right Networks also follows this strategy. In addition to partnering with Intuit, Right Networks partners with Rootworks. Rootworks provides a subscription or retainer-based consulting service to help accounting firms learn and adopt best practices. Just as Right Networks is very small as compared to Intuit, so is Rootworks tiny as compared to Right Networks. And yet, Rootworks is an important influencer among potential Right Networks customers.
Can you find smaller partners in your ecosystem that provide services that complement your offerings? By teaming up, you can each provide a broader range of services and gain awareness with a broader, yet still focused, audience of potential customers.
3. To Protect and Serve SupportProvide a level of service that enterprises can't match. The motto of the Los Angeles Police Department is "To Protect and to Serve." That motto has been adopted by many other police departments. A local police department often has the ability to serve its community in ways that a state patrol or the FBI can't dream of. Similarly, small businesses can often provide a level of service and support that bigger companies can't match.
Right Networks accomplishes this through 24/7, US-based phone support. As ironic as it may sound, larger companies often can't afford to provide (or aren't willing to fund) the same level of support that smaller companies can provide. Larger companies simply have too many customers, and high-touch support is expensive. But, if you are a Right Networks customer, you can pick up the phone anytime, day or night, and talk to a live, US-based support rep.
In what ways might you be able to provide a higher level of support for your customers? Are there things your larger competitors aren't doing in the way of service and support? Can you compete on quality despite your inability to achieve similar levels of quantity?
Of course, it isn't enough to provide great support if your goal is targeted awareness. You need word-of-mouth marketing to take advantage of your awesome service. What websites provide reviews of products and services in your industry? (If you work for a software or cloud-services company, PCMag recently launched a Business Software Index that summarizes products across many software categories.) How can you encourage your customers to provide reviews of your products and services via those websites?
4. Embrace and ExtendOnce you've achieved a level of awareness and success in your core market, embrace your strengths and extend your services to related areas. Right Networks is doing this with Office 365 and Exchange Online.
Even if you're not an accountant or financial professional working in or providing services to small businesses, it should come as no surprise that small businesses not only need financial and accounting software, their businesses also need email and productivity tools. Right Networks was already a trusted technology partner for many small businesses in one area (finance) and so it embraced its strengths (hosted desktops, cloud-based apps, and great support) and extended those strengths into new areas (cloud-based email and productivity tools).
Where are you strong, either in terms of products or product lines? What logical extensions can you create for your customers? Even if you haven't extended your services yet, your customers may already be asking for you to expand. In my own line of work, we started out creating marketing content (white papers, datasheets, brochures, and the like), but content is useless until it lands in a customer's hands. It was our clients who pushed us to expand our services to create marketing campaigns to distribute that content, and provide contract staff to manage that content.
In the case of Right Networks, its extension into cloud services from Microsoft has led it to be able to partner with Microsoft. This is enabling Right Networks to start the whole process over again of partnering big, partnering small, providing great support, and so forth—thus creating even more awareness.
Stay FocusedTogether, these tactics—partnering big, partnering small, providing quality support and service, and extending into related offerings—can help even the smallest of businesses gain sufficient awareness to grow at the right speed. Of course, there are dozens of other tactics but, as you explore which awareness tactics are right for you, keep in mind that your goal should be focused awareness with your target market, not general awareness. (And, for those taking the pop quiz mentioned earlier, the movie title answer is italicized in this paragraph.)