SMBs Refocus On The ‘Four Ps’ — Especially Payments

It is the smallest of firms, the stores that dot Main Street, that are struggling the most with the great digital shift.

And in a fireside chat led by Sara Wardell-Smith, North America head of Visa Business Solutions at Visa, four small business owners and executives said small steps are the key to navigating the large-scale changes demanded by the pivot toward contactless interactions — and contactless payments.

Panelists included Ngina Shulman, owner at Lotus Media; Ryan Alovis, CEO at LensDirect; Nick Nicholas, owner and technical director at Genesis Water Technologies; and Tina Wells, CEO and founder at RLVNT Media.

Each of the panelists noted that smaller companies are being put to the test amid the pandemic, adapting with urgency to the new digital reality.

That means digitizing all aspects of their businesses from marketing to all facets of daily operations, from consumer-facing outreach to payments in the back office in order to stay connected to consumers and communities. (Visa recently introduced the Visa Small Business Hub, “Street Teams” and other new programs and resources to help SMBs in their recovery efforts.)

The discussion came against a backdrop where PYMNTS research has shown that as many 85 percent, 84 percent and 80 percent of consumers who have shifted to digital for shopping for groceries, shopping for retail products and ordering food from restaurant aggregators, respectively, will keep those activities digital. The Visa Back to Business Study, Holiday Edition, shows 52 percent of consumers are looking to do at least some of their holiday shopping online.

Fine-Tuning Marketing And Reinventing The ‘Four Ps’ 

As the numbers show, the urgency is there to beef up an online presence. As a result, small business owners must accelerate their digital marketing efforts, or reinvent the ways they market to consumers who are changing their shopping patterns in a great digital shift.

As Wells noted, at a high level, “all of us are in the business of marketing. If we have a product or service, we’re marketers.”

She said that in the digital age, companies must refocus and redefine the traditional “four Ps” of marketing — product, place, promotion and price. Revamping product and place means repositioning assets such as brick-and-mortar locations and digital storefronts, which can undergo a refresh using relatively inexpensive software tools.

“The idea of place means something different now,” she said. “And when we go to promotion, do you need a different message for these times?”

Shulman said digital marketing efforts have allowed firms such as hers to position themselves as a “mom and pop” shop while expanding a global (web) presence and taking incremental steps to link to social media and networking sites.

The key, she added, has to focus on what the company does well, and leverage those strengths across the internet.

“With a few changes to Google search, we could change how people search for us, and not just locally,” she said, adding that “since April … we have expanded our business to service customers as far [away] as Hong Kong.”

The B2B Shifts 

The pandemic has also upended the way smaller firms approach sales and strategy and find new customers.

As Nicholas of Genesis Water Technologies said, “There’s been a shift from the traditional trade shows, conferences workshops, and in-person events that had been mainstays of marketing for our industry to a more digital-centric approach.” The new normal includes webinars and direct, over-the-web interactions with clients to learn about and respond to their needs.

Even for firms that have been well-entrenched in the online realm as “digital-first” operations, there have been new challenges to navigate, especially in terms of fine-tuning communication.

Alovis, of LensDirect, said that “when March occurred, we were sort of in the perfect storm to reap the rewards of a very horrible situation. Our business has completely changed from pre-COVID, post-COVID,” and he noted that “it wasn’t about sales anymore. It was actually about operations and communication.”

From a communication perspective, LensDirect has always done the checklist of marketing initiatives, SEO, paid search, social and other means.

“But what we have learned and what we saw was a lot of our customers were not responding as well as we had hoped to email,” he said. That spurred a greater focus on SMS text messaging — with the net result that roughly 12 percent of customers that had been texted were in fact placing orders.

“People want to text their order. They want to text their questions,” said Alovis. While “drip” marketing — preset campaigns — can and do work, he recommended that emails be personalized.

“A handwritten note is the greatest thing in the world and it shows you care and it’s all about empathy,” he said, adding later that it’s good for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to “think as if you were the customer and think about what they would want out  of your business.”

Drilling Into Payments 

The great digital shift also demands that payments be a seamless part of the B2B interactions between buyers and suppliers, panelists said.

According to Shulman: “The whole process, from the beginning of my first customer interaction, through the end of the customers’ paying me, that should all have a similar look and feel. It should all be as easy and it should all have the same messaging.” More customers are asking about the ability to pay by mobile means, she said — a method that is gaining momentum.

Alovis noted that it’s been important to offer a range of payment choices beyond cards, adding that PayPal represents as much as 15 percent of LensDirect transactions, “and it’s growing by the minute.” RLVNT Media’s Wells said that there’s been growing encouragement from clients to integrate Stripe.

Amid the great digital shift that is changing the small business landscape, according to Alovis, “you have to take baby steps. You have to do what’s comfortable for you because if you don’t, you’re going to be completely swept away.”