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The ILM:10 conference in Santa Clara ended with what is arguably the most important topic of the conference. How can businesses take all of the incredible users experiences emerging in local and social media and convert them into SMB sales?

Tackling this subject were Court Cunningham, CEO of Yodle; Todd Rowe, head of global channel sales, Google; Gleb Shaviner, director of marketing and strategy, Advertising, Media and Entertainment Division, Amdocs; and Geoff Stevens, executive VP and GM, global business development, WebVisible.

Below are some of the responses to questions posed by moderator and BIA/Kelsey president Neal Polachek.

Polachek  began by noting BIA/Kelsey data showing “clarity” as the determinant in SMBs deciding whether to use self-service. Given that, he asked the panel what is being done around the notion of clarity?

Google’s Rowe noted that in the local SMB market, “simplicity is the killer app” when it comes to self-service and SMBs. Using pre-built templates, wizards and so on are crucial to making it easier for SMBs to engage in self-service advertising.

“People pay with their time or with money,” Yodle’s Cunningham says, noting that many SMBs that choose to use self-service are cash strapped, and therefore have elected to “pay with time.”

Are customers starting to get all this (local online marketing)?

WebVisible’s Stevens says unequivocally yes. “There is an unfair belief that SMBs are not sophisticated,” he says. “That is not the case.”

Cunningham said there are a still a large number of SMBs that need help. He noted that 30 percent of SMBs still have no website. “I was in an office on a sales call where the owner asked his assistant to tell him how to turn on computer.”

Shaviner noted that there is a lot of effort underway among publishers to define how best to assemble multimedia pages for SMBs.  He stressed the ongoing need for education, noting that many SMBs remain very confused.

Does channel specialization make sense in the current environment?

Cunningham says specialization tends to work better around verticals rather than products. He notes that Yext, G5 Search Market and Yodle work with a limited number of verticals, at least compared with Yellow Pages publishers. He says Yodle works with between 80 and 100 categories.

Stevens said WebVisible also takes a vertical approach. “We will work with customers to tailor the right offer” based on their vertical.

Are publishers transforming channels as fast as they need to?

“We use direct channel as mechanism to help our reseller partners,” Stevens said. “Fast enough? They are as engaged as they should be.”

“It is all about tools,” Shaviner said. “Improving organization. Changing to sell a variety of products. Team selling, packages. More investment in planning what to sell to whom and how. Optimizing the whole process.”

Are churn rates getting better?

Rowe said Google’s partner churn numbers are down.

“This is exciting to see. In North America, it is improving. Outside of the U.S. it is a mixed bag,” Rowe said.

The other panelists said churn is improving but offered no specifics.

What does 2011 hold?

Google’s Rowe sees a dual segmentation of SMBs on the horizon. He also expects much more migration of usage from desktop to mobile search.

Cunningham said, “We will consolidation across the board, not just among directories, but also SEM providers.”

“We will also see a fair amount of product innovation that attacks the [local] problem from a different angle [than search].”

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