It’s become more and more challenging to stay on top of them, let alone figure out what’s worth your time, investment and effort. So, how can businesses, especially small businesses, choose smart technology that helps them compete?
It’s an important question, given that most small businesses in Canada—61 per cent— indicated they planned to invest in computer hardware, software or e-commerce in 2017, according to a BDC study. And most SMBs (74 per cent) will spend up to a quarter (25 per cent) of their annual budget on technology, according to a recent Salesforce small business report, commissioned by Harris Poll. With 64 per cent of small and medium business owners saying the most important factor when making a new technology purchase is implementing a solution that meets long-term needs, making the right decision is critical.
As with most projects, it’s important to prioritize based on need and what will make the greatest impact on your business versus trying to “boil the ocean”. Here are three smart technologies that will help many small businesses get up to speed and ready to compete, not only against other small businesses but against larger competitors as well:
- Keep your head in the game, and your data in the cloud. While many small business owners might not freely admit it, more than you might think are still using Excel spreadsheets as a form of database. In fact, the 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study found that 85 percent of SMBs still use Excel or email for sales and contact management. While these tools have their place in your toolkit, using them for tracking data is not an efficient, accurate or practical way of running your business as these documents can become information silos with errors that may not be spotted for a long time. This method is also time-consuming, with more than half of Canadian SMBs (54 per cent) stating they spend up to a quarter (25 per cent) of their workday inputting manual data.
Instead, turn to the cloud. Cloud software is the easiest way to shake off those inefficiencies and boost your technology game. Cloud-based CRM like Salesforce, for example, keeps everything in one place, providing your team with a single source of truth. It opens up visibility into sales activities and keeps data handy for improving customer interactions on email and social media.It also provides access to your data from anywhere, including mobile devices, making your entire team more productive and prepared. If you haven’t done it yet, now is the time to get your business off the ground and into the cloud.
- Buy into bots. It’s no secret that small business owners are strapped for time. For this reason, you should consider an automated service to answer customer service or sales questions and help you run faster. Bots may be the right solution for you. Popping up automatically on many websites, bots provide users with an easy way to get their questions answered. The quality of bots is improving rapidly—many times it’s hard to determine whether it’s a person or a bot behind the conversation, which is exactly the point. The bots handle the initial discussion and then transition over to a human when engagement needs to become more specific or elevated.
Companies, both large and small, that use chatbots have found that it’s a useful way for customers to interact with their brands. Because the bots handle frequently asked questions, small businesses can avoid those repetitive tasks and focus on more valuable efforts, making it a smart investment. Look at what bots can offer and see if they would make a difference in your organization.
- Jump into AI. While artificial intelligence might still seem like a futuristic business solution, the fact is that we all use AI in our everyday lives without even thinking about it. For example, Uber uses AI to predict traffic patterns; Facebook uses AI to suggest friends to tag in photos, and Gmail uses AI to filter spam away from your inbox. So, why are so many small businesses brushing off the importance of AI?
The Salesforce report revealed that half of small and medium business owners consider AI to be “not very important” (25 per cent) or “not at all important” (25 per cent) in evaluating new technologies for their businesses. But when you consider the benefits that AI can bring to a business, its capabilities aren’t a nice-to-have, but rather a must-have for companies wanting to stay ahead of the pack.
AI can be used to gain customer insights, uncover and track business patterns, recommend appropriate actions, and even automate many of those recommended actions. For example, if your sales team is overwhelmed with leads, AI can parse the data and search out patterns among the leads that previously converted to sales. This helps sales reps make smart decisions quickly, focusing on making the right calls and converting more leads.
With smart technologies tools readily available to small businesses, the gap between small companies and large organizations is closing, and the small businesses that jump on the tech train will realize this benefit quickly. It’s the smart thing to do.
Adam Krish, is area vice-president of Salesforce Canada
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