Small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are expected to increase their digital ad spending in 2016, with growth forecast for both managed “do-it-for-me” (DIFM) and “do-it-with-me” (DIWM) models, as well as do-it-yourself advertising.

This is good news for the market overall, but it also comes amid rampant churn in the SMB space.

According to data from Thrive Analytics, the main reason SMBs spend less with partners is because of poor ROI and/or a general disappointment with their marketing outcomes. The trouble is that almost 75% don’t use any kind of tool to actually measure their performance, as Greg Sterling recently pointed out for the Local Search Association.

Many SMBs are unaware of the status of their advertising campaigns.
Many SMBs are unaware of the status of their advertising campaigns.

Everyone wants to confront churn, and the obvious solution would seemingly be for the advertising sellers to offer better attribution and ROI measurement tools. But that’s only addressing a symptom rather than the full problem.

The SMB churn problem isn’t simply about measurement. It’s a matter of education, and how service providers convey the value of advertising throughout the sales process.

Selling to large enterprises is a completely different sales pitch than selling to SMBs. Enterprise advertisers have resources to devote to vetting and testing different technologies and methods of reaching consumers, and historical data to benchmark against.

The SMB space is very different. The majority of these businesses have fewer than five total employees and are in the early stages of their life cycle. They may be experts in plumbing, or cupcakes, or gardening, but they are certainly not marketing experts.

These business aren’t looking for a piece of technology to help them hit monthly goals, because the overwhelming majority don’t know what their marketing goals are, or even what they should be. These companies are looking more for a trusted consultant who can help them get more customers, and not the latest platforms or marketing buzzwords.

Advertising sales reps need to fill this consultant’s role, beginning at the earliest point of contact in the sales process. This starts with explaining the value of advertising for the business, and not pushing the latest tactics included in their monthly sales plan or quarterly spiff programme.

The education should include the value of branding and how different channels — such as display, search and television — can work together to reach the advertiser’s desired audience with more impact. The package of services that is eventually sold depends on the business and its short- and long-term goals — not its advertising goals, but its business goals.

Is the business having its grand opening? Does it want to expand to new locations? Get new customers from a broader geographic area? These are the things that SMB advertisers are thinking about, not what technology is used to buy ads. The seller needs to tie the actions generated by the advertising channel — whether those clicks, or view-throughs, or form fills — to the business goals of the small business owner.

Only once these advertisers are educated on the value can service providers come in with the final measurement piece. After all, measurement is only meaningful when the advertiser has an expectation and understands if that expectation was met.

As the data demonstrates, SMB marketers are churning through partners because they’re not happy with the results. It’s safe to say that much of that disappointment comes from a failure to set any level of expectation early in the process.

When advertisers can anticipate potential outcomes before they even invest a dollar, they have a much clearer understanding of their success at the end of the campaign. Advertising sellers should indeed offer increased ROI measurement services, but those measurements will only take hold if advertisers have some context about what they mean.

Churn will never go away, but it can be reduced by acting as trusted advisors who educate small business owners on what’s possible with advertising.