The Internet is supposed to be the great leveler. Even the smallest company can compete on the global stage, and many customers won’t even know, or care, how small they are.

But to win you need to compete, and my research indicates that many SMBs aren’t.

I recently did a study of 196 companies with $10M to $100M in annual revenue (you can download the full report). All of these companies are headquartered in New England, the six states in the northeast United State that accounts for about five percent of the United States economy. All sell nationally and, in many cases, globally. Yet very few had a systematic implementation of modern sales and marketing programs.

I looked for the use of nine programs that can be seen from the outside:

  • Analytics
  • Marketing automation
  • Remarketing
  • Search advertising (pay-per-click)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Conversion optimization
  • Social media presence
  • Content marketing
  • Mobile-friendly website

In most cases I was able to see the existence of the program — for example, they had the Google Analytics tags on their site – but I couldn’t tell how sophisticated the use was (did they actually ever look at the data, or do anything with it?). So this was a baseline study: were they doing this at all? If I had been able to employ a five-point maturity analysis, the company got full credit for a two: one step above doing nothing at all.

Even with this incredibly easy grading (the specifics of what I was looking for in each case is detailed in the report), out of a possible score of 9 the average company score was 2.76, and the median was 2.

Google Analytics was on almost all sites. But beyond that, none of the other 8 programs was being used by even 40% of companies; most were far below that.  And I couldn’t look for important programs that aren’t externally observable, such as email marketing or predictive analytics.

Keep in mind that these are companies that sell nationally and, often, globally. They are big enough and have every reason to want to ramp up their revenue generation efforts. But few are.

These SMBs are an important market segment. There are about eight times as many companies with 100-750 employees as there are larger companies. They employ about a sixth of the people in the U.S. economy. Of course there are even many times more companies with fewer than 100 employees; just image what I would have found if I had looked into what they aren’t doing.


And I think that the New England region is reasonably representative of the country – in fact, with the Boston tech center, it may be more technologically savvy than many parts of the country. I did a spot check of three dozen other companies across the United States and found a similar pattern: a few SaaS and venture backed companies were using almost all of these programs, but once you moved outside of that world the adoption rates dropped off rapidly.

So what gives here? Why are the adoption rates so low for these important programs and technologies – programs that I and many people I know almost take for granted?

I think a major reason is that today over 1,000 companies are selling some form of sales or marketing technology, and a new channel (social, mobile, wearables, the Internet of Things) popping up almost every year. If you’re not deeply immersed in this world, and most people in business are not, it is overwhelming. Many may have written it off (too much choice has been shown to produce that effect), and even those who want to do it don’t know where to start.

And many of the companies that aren’t embracing modern revenue generation are older companies. They likely have a way that they’ve been doing things and, more than 20 years after the release of the first Mosaic browser they apparently aren’t about to change that very quickly. One had a website that was copyright 1998-2007.

I think that this should be a wake-up call for our industry on several fronts. After all, what’s the point of churning out more and more technology if 80 percent of the market isn’t buying it?

  • The industry in general has to do a much better job of educating people outside of The Bubble (as I have come to think of our digital marketing world) about what we’re doing and how it measurably contributes to revenue. And then we need to deliver on that.
  • Software vendors need to reduce their focus on delivering more and more features and replace it with a focus on improving usability and professional services. In other words, lay off a few engineers and add some more account managers and customer service reps. Instead of competing on features, compete on customer success.

And clients – you need to step up your game, too. It’s 2014! Stop partying like it’s 1999.

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