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Office Depot's Carrie Jacobson Conducts Business as 'Unusual'

By Chad Brooks
Business.com / Entrepreneurship / Last Modified: October 6, 2017
Office Depot's Carrie Jacobson

"Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy," Jacobson said. "Ignore them at your peril."

If your goal is to attract small business customers, it can't be business as usual. In fact, Carrie Jacobson, vice president of tech services for Office Depot, said it needs to be business as unusual.

As a keynote speaker during day two of the inaugural business-to-small-business (B2SMB) Summit, Jacobson provided attendees with some insight into the importance of adding small businesses to your stable of clients -- and how best to do so.

"Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy," Jacobson said. "Ignore them at your peril."

The problem Jacobson sees, especially in large organizations, is that they don't understand the needs of small businesses.

"We are not helping these people be successful," Jacobson said. "We are treating them like enterprises."

Instead of simply trying to sell small businesses your product or service, attracting small businesses requires you to solve their problems. While this might not show immediate results to your bottom line, Jacobson believes it does pay off in the long run. Jacobson pointed to Office Depot's recent acquistion of CompuCom, an IT service provider, as an example of how businesses need to focus on problem-solving for small business customers.

"It's about solving the problem to get the loyalty," she said.

Small businesses take note of what their peers are saying about the businesses they work with. They read reviews and see what's being said online about the organizations they are considering working with. Jacobson said it is critical you focus on having a positive customer experience and that you pay attention to what they are saying about you online.

"A bad customer experience with social is a horrific experience," Jacobson said. "No longer can you let [your customers] walk out unhappy."

Jacobson was one of nearly 30 company leaders who spoke about how companies can meet the needs of small businesses during the summit's final day. The event also featured a forum on building the ultimate small SMB platform, with panelists from Microsoft, DocuSign, LinkedIn, GoDaddy and Web.com.

During that forum, Sam Artmann, a senior vice president with Web.com, said it is important to give small businesses the personal attention they crave. He advised companies to have conversations with potential small business customers to learn more about what they are trying to achieve. Establishing this personal connection can go a long way to forging a long-term partnership.

"Treat [small] businesses as individually as possible," Artmann said.

The panelists also highlighted the importance of setting proper expectations for your customers so they have a clear understanding of the value you provide. That expectation can serve as a benchmark moving forward, according to Artmann.

"Set the right expectations allows [you] to perform to that level," Artmann said.

When marketing to small businesses the key is to focus on building an audience, Rob Levin, CEO of RSL Media. Levin said research has shown that less than 10 percent of potential clients are looking to buy a product or service right now. If you are putting out only offers and other promotions, you are alienating the other 90 percent that could be your customer next week, next month or next year.

Levin said focusing on building audiences with content can help you win over customers in the long run.

"The key with the content is that good isn't good enough anymore," he said. "The content has to be great."

Since small business owners listen so much to one another, Levin said, an impactful way to promote how you are solving problems for your customers to share customer success stories.

"Your customer loves it because they get exposure," Levin said. "The business owner loves it because they are getting to see how another business is solving a problem and you are going to love it because you are getting the content that small businesses are going to want."

Dan Gliatta, co-founder and managing director of Cargo, said you can't look at marketing to small businesses as simply a transactional play. He said small business owners aren't a group that can be sold to.

"It is the most emotional buying group out there," Gliatta said. "To move the mind, you have to first move the heart."

Other highlights of B2SMB Summit's second day included keynote addresses by Jonathan Cherins, an executive vice president and partner with Yext, and Brett Tolbert, vice president of small business marketing and data science for Comcast Business. There also were presentations from Scott Gifis, vice president and North American general manager with AdRoll; Sandy Lohir, CEO of MatchCraft; Gordon Hendry, chief marketing office with DexYP; and Raj Mukherjee, senior vice president of product for Indeed.

Additional panels featured Tehsin Daya, senior director of strategic partnerships with ReachLocal; Jed Allen, go-to-market lead of the small business segment for Cisco; Christal Bemont, senior vice president of global small businesses with Concur; Sandi Thomas, vice president of strategy for Infor; David Turner, senior director of product management for NeuStar; Bob Armour, chief marketing officer for Jellyvision; Steven Handmaker, chief marketing officer for Assurance; and Peter Steger, head of business development for Kabbage.

In all, the two-day event featured more than 40 speakers, including the day one keynote speaker Erik Day from Dell.


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