Marketing a Freemium Product to Small Business

by francine Hardaway on August 12, 2011

Most tech companies who target the small business market know very little about small business, at least in the micro sense. Sure, they’re small businesses themselves when they start out, but they’re tech companies, and that changes the game for them immediately. Your average tech startup is not standing behind a counter waiting for a customer to appear, nor is he cleaning swimming pools or performing chiropractic adjustments. It’s just different for a tech company.

You just can’t build a business without knowing who your customer is and feeling her pain, so when the Jimdo team told me they were leaving the office to go on a road trip to get to know their customers better, I figured they would learn a lot. Especially Christian Springub, the co-founder, who moved here from Germany less than a year  ago. For Christian, driving north on I-5 from San Francisco to Portland, Chico, Redding, Salem, Eugene,  and Corvallis was his first chance to see the United States. He’s a quick learner. I debriefed him yesterday.

The entire office team left in Christian’s van on very short notice, so some things about the trip worked better than others.

Things that  did work:

Getting out of the office to see what businesses in other cities looked like, and how they operate. Once you see how hard small business owners work and how little time they have to be technically literate, you recognize why they hire web designers even when do-it-yourself  site creation tools are out there.

Meeting local business owners informally and hearing their stories.

Meeting with local business organizations and understanding their missions and what they do for small businesses. Some of the organizations  were better without a previous appointment, which would have been difficult to arrange. The Chambers of Commerce, for example, would meet immediately, but since they were interested in having Jimdo join each one, they would not have accepted an appointment  knowing that  Jimdo wasn’t a membership prospect.

Meeting with the Small Business Development Centers, who were thrilled thet Jimdo would produce a webinar for them.


Things that did not:

Local press outreach. The local press were not interested in out of town visitors on a road trip.

Meeting more than one customer.  In a week on the road, Jimdo met exactly one customer, although they invited all their customers to meet them. But Jimdo customers bought a self-service product, they’re happy with it, and they don’t have to meet the company’s founder. They probably don’t have time to meet the founder. In short, they didn’t care!

Finding partners in the local web development community.

Key takeaways from the Jimdo Road Trip:

Not every small business is interested in being a global business, or in doing business with a global business. Many people are proud of their cities and regions, and want to try to do business locally. There’s a growing “buy local” movement. Those people want a personal connection with their vendor, which is challenging for an online tool with a freemium model and a DIY message.

Social media is just arriving as a potential small business marketing tool in towns that are not tech centric.

The web design community in small markets is not interested in re-selling a self-service product, because there is no upside for them in empowering the customer.

Person-to-person marketing for a self-service product doesn’t compute in most people’s minds, and is not scalable. Many of the organizations Jimdo visited were surprised they’d even go on the road.

And yet, most non-technical small businesses also can’t comprehend building a web site all by themselves.

For Jimdo, this trip has meant testing telephone support for new customers, to help them get over their “fear of flying.” and establishing a web-based small business resource center.

When I work with a company, I expect them to be in permanent learning mode, but sometimes they are not. Jimdo is. And what’s more, they are excited about it. 





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Voyance en direct August 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

Really an original idea but the project seems
very ambitious.

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