Working at a startup, we are always looking for new ways to learn and grow. Therefore, when a customer of ours told us about a boutique conference called the Small Business Web Summit we decided to explore what it could offer. Arriving in San Francisco last week, we found a collection of SaaS companies from startups to goliaths all focused on selling to SMB. The result was a exceptional salon where we could exchange information on marketing, sales and partner development.

Taking on the challenging SMB market

There are many different ways for companies to go to market – outbound, inbound, partners, app exchanges, etc. And companies have many different models – freemium, free trial, direct sales, etc. The one common theme I heard at Small Business Web was that businesses need to find better ways to reach the SMB market, as traditional approaches aren’t working well enough.

Common questions/challenges I heard were:

  • What is the right channel to focus on for growth?
  • How do I find the right partners to work with?
  • How can I enable my partners to drive business for me?
  • Which ecosystems and integrations should I focus on?
  • How do I break through the noise and get the attention of SMBs?

Mike McDerment, CEO of FreshBooks stated that “SMB is the hardest market to go after, and yet the one with the best opportunity”. It is so difficult because it is hard to pick a target (so many industries), there is lots of churn and a small wallet share. For FreshBooks, their success has been about being micro-focused on a narrow target and connecting with that persona via marketing acts and product innovation that’s fixated on their needs.

It wasn’t just FreshBooks that gave sage advice on how to go-to-market:

  • Andrus Purde, CMO of Pipeline discussed how they entered the US market and stated that “the only 2 things to focus on are getting referrals and being findable.”
  • Dropbox, who is famous for growing via referrals, was represented by Thomas Hansen, Global VP of Revenue, who discussed how their next layer of growth will come from developing a multi-channel approach with MSP Ingram Micro.
  • Kevin O’Brien, VP of Strategic Alliances for JazzHR discussed how he developed a network of partners to drive referral business first at Constant Contact, then Hootsuite and now at JazzHR.
  • Eric Groves, CEO of Alignable, told us about the Constant Contact vs MailChimp story. His advice was, “Embrace and enable customers and they will help you sell.”
  • Our own CEO, Larry Angeli, got on stage with Randy Fahrbach, Sr. Channel Mgr at LogMeIn and discussed how to leverage referral partners for scaling SMB growth.
  • Lars Helgeson, CEO of GreenRope discussed how they grew by going direct and using niche resellers.
  • Stéphane Donze, CEO of AODocs discussed how they grew via the Google ecosystem.
  • And many more SaaS executives told their stories on winning, losing and the battle to grow.

My takeaway – everyone is looking for better ways to connect to SMB and grow revenue. It is no wonder that the conference is seeing tremendous growth, as it is the only conference dedicated to this space. The President of Small Business Web, Sunir Shah, also announced that they will be rebranding the group to be more in line with the problems they are trying to solve. My vote is to have “connect” in the name, because fundamentally you can’t force your way in to SMBs, you need to connect your way in.

If you share that challenge and would like to be part of this incredible networking event you can check it out here:

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