7 Ways Small Businesses Can Compete With the Big Guys

by Mark Roberge, SVP of Sales and Services at Hubspot

Big vs SmallI like inbound marketing because it favors the companies with more brains, not more bucks. But the more a company grows, the more brains they bring in-house –so at a point, Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs)  are competing on not just marketing budget, but marketing talent, too. It can make gaining headway against a big competitor seem pretty untenable.

So I think it’s hard, but not impossible, for SMBs to hang with the big industry competitors. You just don’t see it that often, because most SMBs are focusing on the wrong things. You have to think about the advantages that big companies lose as they grow that you still retain, and use those assets to throttle the big guys. Here are the opportunities that I see for SMBs to compete with the bigger competitors in their industry.

Start niche and expand later.

You can’t win against the big guys if you don’t have big resources to back you up – but you can win in a niche to which you’ll dedicate all of your attention. Big companies trying to juggle tons of products and services often tend to give them all “some” attention, but never as much as they probably deserve. Win by giving your one niche all the love the big, distracted company can’t. Once you’re the established subject matter expert on that niche, you’ll have the audience and credibility to expand on from there into more product or service offerings that let you compete on a higher level.

Be better than them at service.

Big companies typically have a more cut-and-dry approach to customer service. It isn’t very personal, and usually only memorable because of how bad it is. Have a personality – a likeable, friendly one – and differentiate yourself based on how pleasant you are to work with. If you’re in a recurring revenue business, this will help you keep your churn under control from the onset, too. That’s one less problem to battle a few years down the road, and yields more ROI for your sales and marketing investment.

Think scale now and save time later.

Lots of big companies are bogged down today fixing mistakes they made a few years ago, because they weren’t solving for scale. For example, I’ve seen too many enterprises going through painful, disruptive CRM transitions because they pinched pennies buying a CRM that would only last them a couple years.

Try to solve for scale without locking yourself in for more than you need in the foreseeable future. Taking HubSpot as an example, we sell marketing software for businesses at all levels; so for the little guy without a CRM, there’s still a basic package he can use, and then upgrade to a more mature version when he’s looking to do more complex things with lead intel and nurturing. That small business is buying what’s right for him now, but will leave him room to adapt swiftly in a couple years.

Leverage your agility.

The bigger you get, the more people and processes you’ll have in your way. Some SMBs try to act like a big company, thinking if they act big they’ll be big. But the ability to be agile is worth way more. Act fast while you still can. All those little opportunities only SMBs can jump on add up fast, getting you closer to that “big guns” status at a rapid rate.

Work in iterations.

You don’t need to, nor should you, build anything at a grand scale at your first try. Ship new things—content, site navigations, product improvements—all the time. See how they work by looking at user feedback and data, and make improvements from there. If a few iterations are total busts, it’s alright; you didn’t put too much into it, and your user base isn’t going to dump you over one or two little changes they find disagreeable.

Pull the biggest lever you can pull.

There are a million things you could do to grow your business. You don’t have to do all of them, and you can’t, anyway. Focus on the biggest opportunity in front of you, and do that thing ridiculously well. The more things you do ridiculously well, the more resources you’ll have to do even more things… bigger, better, and faster than before.

Keep tabs on your competitors, but don’t obsess over them.

Keep an eye on your bigger competitors to see what they’re doing, but don’t let that guide your strategy. If you’re in reaction mode, you’re inherently going to be one step behind at all times. Innovate in spite of them, and your business will carve out its own valid reason for existing that naturally attracts customers to you.

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