Listen To This Article
Boston-based Smarketing Institute connects local small business owners with local sales and marketing experts by offering free advice and tools via its online platform and live events, as well as access to vetted local sales and marketing experts. Co-founders Tom Libby and Susan McKenney share how the convergence of sales, marketing and small business can grow local economies in the digital age.
SBT: What is the Smarketing Institute and how does it help local small business owners?
Susan: Smarketing Institute is a community that puts local sales and marketing experts in touch with local small businesses. We’re helping small businesses find trusted experts that will give them specific help to their unique sales and marketing challenges, as opposed to trying to peruse through the Internet to find answers.
SBT: What inspired you to create this local community?
Tom: Most people who are in the sales and marketing fields feel that they are two separate entities. You’re either a salesperson or a marketing person. When we started the Diversified Sales Solutions, which focused solely on sales, we realized clients either needed marketing support or, in some cases, needed marketing before we even got involved with sales. We started collecting marketing partners who we could introduce to our current clients and that’s when the “A-ha” moment came . . . If we’re already bringing in these partners, we might as well do something with that network and make it more formal. We created Smarketing Institute based on needs that we were hearing in the field.
SBT: How do you define “Smarketing”?
Tom: We intended the meaning to be a little bit different than its original reference to smart marketing. We see “Smarketing” and the Smarketing Institute as where sales meets marketing. Instead of having smart marketing we think you need smart everything. It’s the convergence of smart sales and smart marketing.
SBT: People tend to operate in their own silos but what it sounds like you’re saying is that it’s far more powerful to work together as a unified team?
Susan: Right. When you take that down to the small business level, where these companies often don’t have those silos, business owners ask us questions about marketing when we’re talking to them about sales, or when we’re asking clients questions about marketing, they’re going into the sales side. Combining sales and marketing makes the process more seamless and effective.
SBT: What are some of the top advantages of connecting these small businesses with local sales and marketing experts, resources and tools?
Susan: We are bringing people to people, as opposed to people Googling everything. Instead of finding out information from friends, family or other business people, it’s finding local experts that you can actually see face-to-face and answer questions that are pertinent to your situation, not just in general.
Tom: You can go onto Google and search for “social media marketing expert” and find 100,000 of them across the country. You might go through hours of vetting but wouldn’t it be better if you could find two or three of them that you can actually meet with and say, “Tell me about yourself. Give me some examples. Show me what you are doing”?
There’s a lot of trust that can be gained in front of somebody versus sending them information over the Internet or doing a virtual conference call. There’s a lot of people that know what they’re doing and are good at what they do. If you can find three people that all know the same information, one’s in California, one’s in Florida and one’s down the street, where would you rather give the business? I’d rather see the local economy giving business to the local economy.
SBT: I love that you’re really focusing on that local piece. What are some of the big problems that Smarketing Institute is helping local small businesses solve?
Susan: We help our clients avoid wasting time, money and precious resources. You only have so much time and money, and if you’re not that versed in sales and marketing, outsourcing it and getting advice from somebody will ultimately be a better way to do it as opposed to failing.
Tom: Even though we sometimes use multiple Smarketing Institute contributors on the same project, business owners have one point of contact to manage the project for them, which alleviates a lot of stress. They can’t keep track of all the pieces of what’s going on with their social media marketing campaign, their email marketing campaign and how their website layout is going, nor should they.
SBT: Can you share a specific example?
Tom: We’re working on a large project that entails a redesign and redevelopment of a client’s website. We’re also redesigning part of the intake process for their leads. They need to implement the new CRM that they weren’t using before. They need landing pages and other online marketing programs. Their social media marketing is almost non-existent, so we’re going to implement that too. This company has been around for 25 years and their sales process is actually in its infancy. They don’t really have any written documentation about how they’re supposed to handle onboarding clients. I’m the point of contact, that being said, the business owner has access to everybody else on the team. He tends to go through me for most everything because we know we’re on the same page. He and I have had conversations about making sure that he understands the direction that we’re going because I’m leading the direction through his guidance. It’s a lot of moving parts he doesn’t want to keep track of on a daily basis. Sales and marketing cannot be his primary focus.
Susan: I have another client where my contact went from a very large company to a smaller company. He has to overhaul the sales department and had no idea what processes to put in place. He knew what to do but didn’t know how to find the information he needed to make his own process so he can hire and onboard them. We came in and helped him implement some processes around that.
SBT: What are some of the fears and bottlenecks that hold small business owners back from growth?
Susan: Trying to handle something that’s not your expertise and thinking that you can. Sales and marketing are complex, your competitors are being complex. If you’re not [being complex], what are you missing?
Tom: Another example is going with the trend. All of a sudden everybody wants to do social media marketing but it might not actually be what’s best for your business. Many small business owners just go with it because they hear it all the time. We look at the whole company and find out what exactly you do need and what you don’t. Another thing we’ve noticed with service-based companies is that they don’t know that they’re getting in their own way. We go in and discover that a company has to take a step out of a process, for example, because it’s hindering sales, or they have to add a step in to help the process.
SBT: How do you help clients go from “winging it” on their own to taking and trusting your advice?
Susan: Some will, some won’t. The ones that do, move ahead. It’s tapping into the concerns already on their mind and showing them that there is someone else out there who can do it for them.
Tom: Also, owners of larger small businesses understand that they need to delegate more. With the example I gave earlier, that client knows he can’t do everything. He’s willing to let go of certain pieces as long as he is in the loop. In smaller companies, sometimes the bottleneck is thinking you have to control everything.
SBT: It sounds like you advocate that your clients move forward in their business and educate them on how to do that, right?
Susan: Yes. Letting go can be a big fear. Just letting someone else handle it. And when they let someone handle it they have to decide if they’re going to be hands on, and possibly too involved, or let someone else do it the way it’s supposed to be done.
SBT: What’s next for Smarketing Institute?
Susan: Growing the workshops and panel events by pulling together our Smarketing contributors and getting them in front of more small business owners.
Tom: Our ultimate goal would be to duplicate this model in multiple cities, taking the same philosophy of what we’re doing here in Boston and bringing that to New York City or Chicago or Atlanta. We want to start doing the same thing in that local area and find somebody there who can be the hub of that so that Smarketing Institute becomes a nationwide name. We want every small business owner to know that when they go to Smarketing Institute, they can find a sales and marketing expert down the street who can help them.
SBT: Any last thoughts before we wrap up?
Tom: Smarketing Institute isn’t about me and Susan. It’s not about one or two people. It’s about the community of people that we’ve collected to serve in this environment. Our team of contributors is up to 19 or 20 and we only launched a few months ago. Secondly, we are here to help. For the small business owner, a lot of what we offer is free, although if you find somebody that you really connect with and you want them to help you drive a bit more in person, you can hire one of the contributors. We love when our contributors get hired right off the platform to do jobs or projects with people, so it’s not always about free. It’s about what you’re looking for. We want to be the household name for sales and marketing, so rather than have people go to Google for sales and marketing, we want them to come to Smarketing Institute for sales and marketing.
SBT: How can someone find out more about Smarketing Institute, the contributors and your upcoming events and workshops?
Susan: Go to SmarketingInstitute.org. We have a calendar of all our events, information on all the contributors and lots of great tools.
Tom: For the small business owner who truly wants to try to do it by themselves, we have the tools that can help them get to a certain point. Then the contributors are there to pick up the slack if they can’t figure it out. Our contributor pages link to the contributors’ own websites and social media channels so, again, it’s not just about us. We also send out a weekly email with quick tips and tools so visitors to SmarketingInstitute.org can sign up for that too.
Susan McKenney and Tom Libby are the co-founders of Smarketing Institute, as well as president and CEO, respectively, of Diversified Sales Solutions. Smarketing Institute offers free advice, workshops and tools to small business owners, as well as access to vetted local sales and marketing experts. Susan and Tom collectively have more than 38 years of experience in sales strategy, management, leadership, training and coaching with start-ups, small businesses and fortune 500 companies. Tom has been a panelist on several Outsourcing Resources panel discussions, as well as a speaker and trainer at Business Boot Camp. He and Susan have also spoken at numerous networking events for entrepreneurs and business owners in Boston.
Gayle Nowak is a contributor to Small Business Trendsetters and Business Innovators Magazine covering influencers, innovators and trendsetters in business, health, finance and personal development. She also has contributed to Founderswire.com, an American digital news magazine and video channel that provides in-depth analysis and reporting on modern entrepreneurship and technology that solves global problems. She was previously a staff writer and contributor for several local newspapers in the Boston media market including the Ludlow Register, Ashland and Holliston TABs, MetroWest News and Taunton Daily Gazette.