DMS ’11: How (When) Will SMBs Transition to Mobile and Social in Full Force?

Today at BIA/Kelsey’s DMS conference, the evolving local merchant was dissected by MerchantCircle founder Ben Smith, Halogen Media Group Chairman Peter Horan and Reply.com CEO Payam Zamani.

SMB savvy is accelerating as a function of the business owners’ role as tech consumers, said Smith. Using tools like the iPhone opens their eyes to the opportunity to get business leads from it. Use of Facebook has had a similar effect.

“Years ago at Citysearch, they had a building full of people uploading pictures of SMBs,” said Horan. “Now they can do it themselves because they do it on Facebook every day.”

But mobile, is where the acceleration is really happening, not only because it’s tangible to SMBs, but also because the adoption is happening faster.

“PCs in the small business took 22 years from introduction to ubiquity,” said Smith. “The Web took 15 years, and mobile is about five.”

In addition to speed of adoption, the technology is also getting closer and closer to the business owner. PCs and the Web were mostly used by technical, support or operational staff, while business owners of all stripes (think plumbers out on a job) have smartphones.

This theme of simplicity and tangible results carried forward to contentions about what tools are working. Google AdWords didn’t have the SMB splash Google would (and continues to) hope. That has a lot to do with the fact that a click is an opaque concept to many merchants.

Facebook has some deficiencies from an SMB perspective but it certainly has the vanity factor built in — things like images, communications and having people “like” you. That vanity factor can’t be discounted as a driver for SMBs, said Smith.

But self service versus a hand-held sale continues to be the billion-dollar question. The answer of how or when is a function of this issue of SMB savvy. And perhaps more important than a given technology and its complexities is how it’s packaged.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to meet a small business who knows what a ‘cloud based advertising’ solution is,” said Smith.

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