While there are plenty of technology options to choose from, many business owners don’t know where to start or how to leverage the flood of devices, applications and online tools coming their way. Even if they did, who has the time?
There are roughly 1.2 million small businesses in Canada (98 per cent of all businesses), and most find their employees spending far too much of their day grappling with repetitive, menial actions that distract from more priority matters – such as finding and retaining customers, innovation, and hiring. In fact, small business owners cumulatively lose more than 4 billion hours each year on administrative tasks.
The 2016 Connected Small Business Report from Salesforce found that being pressed for time is one of the main issues keeping small business owners up at night (the economy is a close second). Yet ironically enough, most do not take advantage of modern technologies like business process automation, customer relationship management tools or artificial intelligence, to help them work smarter and faster. The report revealed that a reason for this is that small business owners perceive these technologies to be too complex for their needs. Fortunately, adopting new technologies is not as daunting as it may seem.
Here’s how small businesses can shed the manual, outdated processes that encumber them so they can connect with prospects and customers in new ways and drive innovation and growth:
Make automation your new friend
Less than half of small business owners surveyed in the Connected Small Business report said they are taking advantage of technology to automate processes, such as billing and finance, answering basic customer inquiries, marketing, operations, and production.
While the importance of working smarter is generally understood, many small business owners still perceive business automation as too complex and hard to implement on a tight budget.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of today’s finance, marketing, and customer service automation tools are built so almost anyone can use them. What’s more, they’re still powerful enough to scale to the needs of a growing business – with or without an IT team behind them.
Start by identifying business processes where employees spend inordinate amounts of time and look for products offering simple and affordable automation solutions. For example, if your customer service agents are flooded by incoming inquiries or cases, consider leveraging a tool like Desk.com, all-in-one customer service app that helps teams automate a majority of processes like auto-assigning incoming cases to a different department, allowing agents to work more efficiently. By saving time on repetitive tasks, businesses can free their teams to focus on more strategic tasks – like nurturing new business opportunities.
Invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions
The Connected Small Business Report report found that while small business owners appreciate the value of tracking and nurturing customer relationships, 44 per cent are still using email, 41 per cent rely on spreadsheets, and 21 per cent do not use technology at all to sell to their customers.
Only nine per cent of small business owners said they had implemented CRM solutions.
The fact is that many small business owners are either intimidated by CRM – viewing it as a costly and complex system used by big companies – or think they don’t need it.
Yet CRM solutions are now easier and more affordable than ever for businesses of all sizes. Once implemented, small businesses typically find the difference to be remarkable. Instead of spending time on inefficient emails, spreadsheets, and paper documents, they’re able to find customer contact information, leads and opportunities with just a few clicks.
Embrace artificial intelligence
Anyone who browses Netflix shops Amazon or asks Apple’s Siri a question has benefited from artificial intelligence (AI). This new technology has significantly changed consumers’ expectations. They are no longer willing to call a customer service hotline and wait for the next agent to help them, they now expect a company to anticipate their needs and engage with them on their preferred channels. And as companies look for ways to deal with these changing expectations, AI will continue to blossom as Forrester predicts investment in AI will triple in 2017.
What can AI do for your small business?
AI solutions can help small businesses find patterns in their businesses and predict customer needs, recommend best actions and automate many of those actions for them – essentially helping you works smarter and faster. AI should be woven in throughout all your business processes. Fortunately, small businesses have much less weaving to do when accommodating new technology.
Take time to futurecast
Most small businesses are so focused on keeping the doors open, the lights on and finding new customers that it’s difficult to look to the horizon. The world of technology is moving fast, which is why it is so important to consider products that can scale to the growth curve of the business and easily integrate with other solutions.
Consider how mobile devices completely changed the game for businesses. In Canada, 76 per cent of people owns smartphones today compared to 55 per cent in 2014, according to a Catalyst study. Small businesses that didn’t embrace the smartphone revolution early enough have been playing catch-up ever since.
New technologies arrive on the scene every day, which can be overwhelming for any business owner already strapped for time. Many cling to outdated technology while foregoing modern, efficient and cost-effective solutions emerge. Don’t let that happen to you. It’s ultimately the small businesses that embrace technology and the benefits of innovation today that stand the best chance of succeeding and growing tomorrow.
Dave Borrelli is general manager for commercial business at Salesforce Canada
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