With 28 million small businesses in the US - which account for 54% of all domestic sales, according to the Small Business Administration - it can feel like your company is continually battling competitors.

And you’d be right. After all, small businesses are popping up at a rapid pace; in fact, their numbers have increased 49% since 1982.

As a result, staying competitive and capturing sizeable market share has become a real challenge. But there are number of ways your small business can stand out, especially if you approach your marketing and sales strategy from a different angle.

Let’s take a look at some actionable steps your brand can take today to become differentiated:

1. Focus on Loyalty

It's generally known that the cost of acquiring a new buyer is significantly more than the cost of retaining an existing one (although I don't have a study to prove it), so a chief focus of your sales strategy should be generating buyer loyalty. Honing lasting relationships with your target market doesn’t have to be complex, though.

For instance, you can launch a buyer-specific e-newsletter, one that details the latest discounts, upsell and cross-sell opportunities, and interviews with company subject matter experts. You can also hold in-person events to fuel your buyer relationships (think open houses, seminars, and one-on-one appointments). To bolster brand loyalty, develop a retention plan that complements your existing marketing and sales strategy.

2. Communicate With Your Market

There's no better way to stand out in a sea of competitors than to communicate frequently with your target market. It’s a good idea to leverage content marketing—an integrated marketing campaign that uses blogging, email marketing, white papers, case studies, etc.—to spread brand awareness. Content marketing can improve buyer engagement and increase customer retention and loyalty. Whether you want to make your mark with segmented email marketing or serialized webinars, consider how best to communicate with your target market.

3. Stay Current With the Competition

To remain a step ahead of other players in your market, you have to understand where they are in terms of converting your collective prospects. To stay current with your competitors, consider  participating in the same industry trade shows; checking their websites to get a feel for their marketing strategies, or subscribing to their e-newsletters (although some companies block the corporate email addresses of known competitors.) There have been many times when I've seen a competitor's white paper or webinar topic and thought, "Why didn't I think of that!" If you know how your competitors operate, you might be able to pinpoint market openings for your brand. Don't, however, be shady and engage with their sales representatives to learn about their offers or get a demo of their product.  

4. Embrace Your Small Business-ness

Many smaller entities are so worried about losing market share that the try to take on more than they can chew—trying to play like a large enterprise with a small business team and budget. But one of the unique benefits of doing business with a small company as a buyer is that level of intimacy you can receive from that brand.

Instead of being like your other competitors—who are trying to mask themselves as large corporations—embrace your small business size. Use it to develop deeper relationships with your buyers and to really highlight the nuances of your brand’s tale. Remember that, at the end of the day, people still prefer to do business with people they like; so pay attention to how your brand’s personality and marketing and sales approaches can get you the win.

Before you can determine how to best stand out in your marketplace, you have to understand where you currently fit in the puzzle. For instance, do buyers know about your brand? How would they describe it? Who are the major players in your space? Once you understand your overarching landscape, your place in it, and buyer expectations, you can take a hard look at your marketing and sales strategy and figure out what kind of facelift can better put you on the map.

Tracey Panek is a Marketing Manager at Dun & Bradstreet. She has been with the company since 2008 and spent her first years as a Hoover's editor. Now she focuses on content marketing, lead generation, and helping small businesses succeed.

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