DMNews talks with Gary Slack, chairman and chief experience officer, Slack Barshinger

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Gary Slack
Gary Slack

Q: Where should one begin when speaking about b-to-b marketing?

A: B-to-b marketing really represents a huge marketing spectrum — everything from small businesses, which like consumer marketing often involves mass media; to middle marketing, where you may only need to talk to several thousand companies; to large enterprises — basically, the ultimate number of companies b-to-b marketers need to talk to is in the hundreds. For the latter group, it's easier to database your audience, and much more importance is placed on developing a proprietary database of the right decision makers and the right influencers. When you need to talk to only 1,000 to 2,000 people, it's easy to justify investing in that proprietary database.

Q: In which of these segments are you seeing the most growth?

A: While we always want to have the ability to help companies target businesses of all sizes, the growth area for us has been in helping large enterprises target small business. Many of these big companies are focusing on small businesses in a way that they haven't in the past, because they see there is a lot of growth or untapped potential there.

Q: What should firms remember when marketing to small businesses?

A: Sometimes companies make the mistake of viewing the small business market as monolithic and notunderstanding that there are various gradations and segments, For example, reaching a single proprietor that has one or fewer employees can be very different than companies with five employees or 100 employees. Some companies define a small business as fewer than 1,000 employees and typically market to all of them the same way. What I would say to them is that you have to get much more granular. The waybusinesses of different sizes think and the way they make purchase decisions can be very different. In direct marketing, if you are targeting businesses across these sectors, your language is going to change.

Q: What is challenging about finding the correct names to target in b-to-b?

A: In consumer marketing it's usually one person or a married couple making the purchase decision. In b-to-b — especially when you get into higher ticket items — you are going to have a longer buy cycle and somebody who's ultimately making the decision, but you are going to have a whole lot of other people that we call influencers. What can be very difficult for companies to do is to try and find out who all the influencers are.

Q: What's changed about how companies are making buying decisions?

A: The communications pathways that you use to reach top-level executives are traditionally offline media tactics. However, e-mail and digital efforts have a mixed record with junior executives. The generation of decision makers 10 to 15 years ago often reserved decision-making for themselves. Now, we have the boomer generation in many decision-making roles today, and they can generally be categorized as more conciliatory and interested in the input of others. It is important to find the right mix of investing between the decision maker (typically offline media) and the influencer (typically digital media).


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