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7 Local Business Incentives to Offer Instead of Amazon Gift Cards

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7 Local Business Incentives to Offer Instead of Amazon Gift Cards

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

If you sell software, marketing services, or other goods to local business owners, it’s time to reconsider offering Amazon gift cards as incentives. According to ILSR’s 2022 survey of independent business owners:

  • 65% of your customer base views Amazon’s market dominance as a challenge to the existence of their business

  • 70% want the government to either break up or regulate Amazon

When budget is allocated to increase sign-ups or improve retention with a douceur, we want recipients to feel intrigued, recognized, engaged, welcomed, and understood. It turns out there are much better ways to sweeten a deal than sending a gift card with a logo on it that stands for a threat to the livelihood of the community we want to serve. Quotes from survey participants indicate how hard they are struggling, and how forgotten they can feel:

“Hard to understand how the growth and survival of small businesses has taken such a back seat in both political parties over the years.”

“Make Amazon […] pay their taxes. I have to pay mine, they should pay theirs.”

“We frequently have the opportunity to bid on school district purchase orders, and we lose them when Amazon’s prices undercut our margin.”

“Amazon is killing the independent office supply industry.”

“If our cities and towns lose small businesses, we lose essential and culturally significant institutions. If large retailers continue to … monopolize industries, we as individuals also lose the ability to make meaningful choices with our purchases.”

Clearly, with distress signals like these being emitted by the majority of the local business sector, the last thing that will make them feel championed is the sight of an Amazon gift card in their inbox.

Better news via awareness and allyship

The better news is that survey data like this empowers our agencies to ditch vague assumptions that “everyone loves Amazon” in favor of some truly nice, thoughtful, useful alternatives that will demonstrate awareness of clients’ reality! Here are seven Amazon alternatives to suggest at your next marketing huddle:

1) Free consulting with your experts

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Experience has taught me that the one thing local business owners may appreciate more than any other incentive you can offer them is a little bit extra of your time. Yes, the time of the experts at your company is very valuable, and you need to charge for it, but you can make a sales campaign much stronger by bundling it with some gratis consulting. Generously helping small entrepreneurs power through a session of their most important FAQs also turns out to be a great way to forge new relationships based on meaningful conversations. You will find out that you learn a lot from the experience that can be of use to your agency. Win-win, indeed!

2) A local business book bag

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Offer a tote holding a selection of excellent books for small entrepreneurs. Topics could include economics, tech, marketing, DEI, environment, advocacy, history, and something just for fun. Choose titles that you feel will be of real help to SMBs learning to set up, improve, and market their business. And don’t forget to throw in a copy of “How to Defeat Amazon and Why” by independent bookstore owner, Danny Caine.

3) A ticket to an online local business event or training course

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Image credit: Lynn Friedman

Offer a free pass to a virtual conference which business owners can attend from anywhere, a ticket to a post-conference video bundle, or access to an SEO training course like Moz Academy. The chance to learn from experts can take a local business owner to the next level of proficiency in their marketing skills and contribute to their success.

4) Paid subscriptions

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How about an offer to pay the company’s subscription for a year to whatever their local newspaper is? We all know these outlets are really suffering with 2,100 local papers having closed since 2004, and this promotion could help both the business owner and their community at the same time. Alternatively, a subscription to one of the larger national publications will give SMBs access to paywalled financial and marketing advice they might otherwise be unable to afford. If doing appeals more than reading, consider paying a few months’ subscription to software or tools to get the business moving forward with their operations or marketing.

5) Grocery gift cards

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1 in 5 Americans don’t have enough to eat and of those going hungry, nearly 12 million are children. Even in households where people are still managing to get by, the 7.4% increase in grocery prices over the past year is being felt by most of us. When we refine these overwhelming statistics to a story about just one person, we can easily imagine a mother or father who has a good local business idea which they do not have the ease to pursue because the struggle to put food on the table is all-consuming. Offering a grocery gift card could be a very practical, inclusive, down-to-earth way to create that tiny bit of breathing room a small entrepreneur needs to take the next step in their business plan.

6) Philanthropic options

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When your customer base is independent business owners and not the rich, it’s good to remember that multiple studies indicate that the less people have, the more they tend to give. A philanthropic offer could be the perk that helps a local business choose your service over a competitor’s. I’ve seen some good marketing lately. Salesforce, Timberland, Clifbar and Microsoft are planting millions of trees. 4Ocean pulls a pound of plastic refuse out of the sea every time you buy from them. Everlane’s 100% Human clothing collection is underpinned by a 10% donation to the ACLU and Bombas gives clothing to homeless shelters for every piece of apparel you buy. Buy a toothbrush from Mable and they’ll match it by giving one to a child, buy bedding from SolOrganics, and they’ll give you a few bucks to donate to the charity of your choice.

The ROI of cause-driven marketing varies. One survey found that 87% of people will buy a product because the vendor aligns with a cause that matters to them. If your agency has an authentic conviction about a particular cause, extend the opportunity to do good to your potential customers so that benefits flow beyond the narrow confines of a single transaction.

7) General gift cards

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If you feel that a gift card to a large, general marketplace is really the best fit for the

audience you’re trying to attract, Etsy has historically been more in keeping with the small business ethic than Amazon. Etsy’s sellers are nearly all small entrepreneurs, with over 90% operating from home and over 80% identifying as women. If you tend to associate Etsy with random crafts, check them out again. There are all kinds of useful office supplies, executive gifts, custom tech goodies, and other items on offer that would be appreciated by most business owners.

Unfortunately, the April Etsy seller strike due to the marketplace raising merchant fees by 30%, despite the brand pulling in record profits, is dimming the once-shiny small business rep of the brand. If this concerns you, you might consider a GoldBelly gift card, with its emphasis on gourmet food, an Ultimate Green Store gift card for a wide selection of eco-oriented merchandise, something from the GiveandGetLocal directory, or simply a pre-paid card from Visa, American Express or another vendor to allow the customer to spend where they choose.

It really is the thought that counts

It was Winston Churchill who said that we make a living by what we get but that we make a life by what we give. When your agency is seeking to give something to the local business community, survey data like ILSR’s can help you choose a gift that will make customers respond with that magic phrase, “This company really gets me.”

A final tip is to reach out for potential partnerships with other companies once you’ve narrowed your selection down to the gifts you’d most like to offer. Vendors will sometimes come up with a good deal for you if you’re using their product or service as part of your agency’s promotion, which can be a great opportunity to further grow your own B2B relationships.

Local business owners are already longing to make a life beyond Amazon, and with a little thoughtfulness, you can demonstrate your brand’s awareness and support.


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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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