Small businesses are far more likely to single out in-person interactions as their most effective marketing activity than any other tool available to them, according to [pdf] an August 2012 report by Constant Contact. Of the items they find effective, 46% of small businesses ranked in-person interactions as their most effective marketing activity, with B2B companies more likely than B2C companies to have this attitude (59% vs. 40%).
Websites were the next-most effective marketing tool, rated most effective by 28% of respondents overall (33% in B2C, 20% in B2B).
Business-to-Business Is More Personal
The consumer-focused B2C market may feel more personal (with its ads for diapers and personal banking), but B2B companies with their trained salespeople and long-tail sales cycles are far more reliant upon in-person marketing. To put this into perspective, B2B small businesses were roughly three times more likely to say that in-person interactions were their most effective marketing activity as to say the same about second-place websites (59% vs. 20%). The largest proportion of B2C small businesses also rated in-person interactions as most important, but at 40% of respondents, the gap was far narrower with websites (33%) than for B2B respondents.
Still, digital tactics are more buzzworthy, and perhaps less labor intensive and costly. However effective is in-person interaction, the most popular marketing tactics used by B2B companies (not just small businesses) are digital, found Sagefrog Marketing Group in a July survey. When asked which of 16 common marketing tactics they use, 94% of B2B marketers pointed to websites, followed by email (76%), social media (68%), and SEO (58%). In-person methods rated far lower, including seminars (44%) and telemarketing (just 17%). But, marketers rated referrals their top source of sales leads.
In the Constant Contact survey, small business respondents (B2B and B2C) were more likely to say that in-person interactions were their most effective activity than to say the same about email marketing (20%), traditional advertising (17%), online advertising (17%), events (11%), and social media marketing (11%).
Email, Websites, In-Person All Effective
Personal interactions may be ranked most effective for small businesses, but marketers changed their tune when asked which marketing activities they find effective in general. 84% of B2C marketers ranked email as effective, followed by websites (72%) and personal interactions (64%). 81% of B2B marketers cited email marketing as effective, followed by in-person interactions (76%) and websites (70%).
As might be expected, more B2B respondents ranked phone calls as effective (40%) than B2C (23%). Also unsurprising – more B2C respondents found traditional advertising like print, radio and TV effective (22%) than did B2B (10%) companies.
Lowest in both areas were online surveys and polls, rated as effective by just 5% of B2B and 4% of B2C respondents.
Small Businesses Need Help With Social Media Marketing
Interestingly, despite getting high ratings for effectiveness, 40% of small businesses are looking for help with email marketing, and 30% with their websites. While only few need help with more established marketing activities such as direct mail (11%), in-person interactions (9%), and traditional advertising (9%), many believe they need some assistance with their social media marketing, at 59% of respondents overall (66% of B2C companies, and 47% of B2B companies).
This aligns with a separate survey released in August by Constant Contact UK, which found British small businesses to be confused about their Facebook marketing.
Facebook Most Effective Social Media Tool
According to the Constant Contact US survey, while LinkedIn and Google+ may appear more “business-like,” among both B2B and B2C marketers who ranked social media as one of their top 3 effective activities, Facebook was overwhelmingly favored as their most effective tool. Three-quarters of these businesses overall rated Facebook their most effective social media channel, including 83% of B2C and 55% of B2B companies. B2C ranked Twitter second (just 6%), while B2B ranked LinkedIn second (25%) in effectiveness.
For all the noise about video, YouTube was a mixed bag. Just 3% of this group of respondents ranked it their most effective social media channel, with B2B respondents more approving than B2C (6% vs. 2%).
Marketing Spend Remains Steady
Although attracting and engaging customers is a top concern for small businesses, 63% reported keeping their marketing budget the same so far in 2012, although more have increased than decreased their budgets (29% vs. 12%). When asked how their organizations have fared so far in 2012, 59% said revenues have increased, while 30% said revenues have remained flat, and 11% report that revenues have decreased.
About The Data: The Constant Contact-sponsored survey was administered in May 2012 to 1000 participants in the Constant Contact Small Biz Council, a research panel of US small businesses and nonprofits recruited from the Constant Contact customer base. Results include responses from 728 respondents across a range of business-to-business and business-to-consumer industries.