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Why Enterprise Marketing is a Word-of-Mouth Problem

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CoffeeDogThere’s a recruiter (a really good one) who focuses on the Shop.org and Internet Retailer 500 communities. His name is Harry Joiner. He estimates that there are about 5,000 candidates, tops, in his space. Those are the decision-maker, GM-type roles that he places. If you sell into e-commerce, those are your prospects. It’s not a lot of people. It’s roughly the population of a small town like Bastrop, Texas.

If you opened a coffee shop in Bastrop, Texas, there are a few things you could do to succeed. You could put up a billboard, I suppose. You could engage a local SEO expert to ensure that your site always got found for “Bastrop coffee shop.” You could put up a Facebook page, send coupon codes over Twitter, and Instagram your latte art. You could even get a list of Bastrop phone numbers and call every single household in town (the ones that still have landlines, anyway…that may not be everyone, but it’s probably better than the fill rate for phone number from most purchased lead lists of enterprise buyers).

If you did all those things and nothing more, you would fail. If you did one thing, you would succeed. What’s that one thing?

(I assume that you have good coffee and excellent customer service, BTW. That’s not the one thing I’m talking about).

The single best marketing trick to ensure success in any enterprise space is this: driving word-of-mouth. Why? Every one of those 5,000 drives by the billboard daily…and soon stops noticing it if it’s not relevant to them. 5,000 people doesn’t equate to a lot of Web searches for “Bastrop coffee shop.” What percentage of those 5,000 people will Like your Facebook page and admire your Instagrammed latte art? Probably not enough, on their own, to make the business successful. (You should still do all those things, of course, because each impression on a prospect counts).

But in a small town, people talk. When they want to know where to get a cup of coffee, they ask their neighbor. When they think the product or service in a local establishment is poor, they tell each other, and they stop going. How, beyond good product and service, do you drive word of mouth? Lots of ways. That’s not what this post is about (but feel free to check out Andy Sernovitz on the topic).

What this blog post is about is this: the 5,000 e-commerce decision-makers that Harry places are a small town, just like Bastrop. Virtually any other enterprise space (in-store digital experts, corporate security decision-makers) is also a small town of a few thousand. There are consumerized plays to get into these spaces (Solarwinds’ method of selling to individual network engineers rather than CIOs comes to mind). Those are valid and game-changing go-to-market strategies that ultimately get the CIO to buy. But they’re not what most people are talking about when they say “enterprise marketing.” Most people using that term are talking about a small (in number of decision-makers) and focused target market.

If your target market is small and focused, as it is for most enterprise-focused companies, the people in that small community all know each other. They hang out at a few town squares (Shop.org and IRCE for Harry’s 5,000, it may be different for your group). They read the local newspaper (Internet Retailer, for Harry’s town.) They listen to the local “mayor of main street” (aka industry influencers…one of which could be you, if your content marketing is excellent). And they all talk to each other.

What are you doing to get them talking about you? Are you listening to what they’re saying? And are you courageous enough to focus on doing the right things to drive word-of-mouth in an environment where CMOs are increasingly pushed to focus only on the most measurable things?