Even SMBs need competitive intelligence

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Even SMBs need competitive intelligence
Even SMBs need competitive intelligence

Have you ever watched Kitchen Nightmares or Restaurant: Impossible, in which celebrity chefs rescue failing dining establishments beset by psychotic owners, thieving wait-staffs, and ornery cooks, and wonder, “Who on God's green earth would be crazy enough to open a restaurant?” The National Restaurant Association predicts growth for its industry this year, so apparently there are thousands of crazy people with a Ginsu knife and a dream.  Unfortunately, not all of them will have super-chefs Gordon Ramsay or Robert Irvine to assist them.

They will have Perry Evans, however, as will other small business owners fighting to get noticed amid rampant competition. Evans knows local. He was the founding president of Mapquest and started Local Matters, a search technology to help consumers find local businesses. Now he heads Closely, which helps local businesses track competitive local businesses with Perch, a local market research app.

Evans has spent a life working with local businesses, and he's seen their marketing options go from simple (Yellow Pages and Val-Pak) to complicated (Groupon and Living Social). “Small business has never been so assaulted by new options for dividing up their marketing spends. They receive, on average, 50 cold calls per month for ways to spend their dollars,” he says.

Those interruptions sap what little time small business owners can devote to marketing plans, as does their monitoring of other deals and online promotions being run by competitors.  Last month Closely introduced a free app called Perch, which promises small business people “a bird's eye view” of marketing activity going on in their local markets. They can list a dozen or so businesses they want followed, and the app aggregates their online activities sends a report about each.

“Small businesses crave marketing information, because they have to be wise with budgets that range only between $5,000 and $10,000 a year,” says Evans, whose company creates marketing programs for businesses through partners such as Entertainment Promotions. “If we serve as the lens, we're building a relationship with them, but we're also educating them on what makes sense for them to do.”

Specifically, Perch monitors businesses' Twitter and Facebook profiles, uncovers local check-in specials, tracks Yelp reviews, and notes new promotions as they are added. App users can also receive a regular email digest of the activity of targeted competitors.

“It's direct marketing for small business,” Evans says. “Small businesses tend to be more intuitive versus analytical. They are masters of their crafts, but they are not masters of marketing. Most think that if they get someone in the door once they've got a customer forever.”

If they spent less time watching Restaurant Nightmares and more time running their businesses, they'd have known that's hardly the case.

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