Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are driving the U.S. economy.
Let’s take a look at some facts. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), there are 28 million SMBs in the U.S. accounting for 54 percent of all sales. SMBs also are responsible for 55 percent of all jobs, and 66 percent of new jobs since the 1970s. Franchises alone account for 600,000 SMBs and more than 40 percent of all revenue, in addition to employing 8 million people. Small business is a big contributor to the economy, but it’s not easy to create a winning SMB.
However, SBA statistics also reveal that 66 percent of SMBs survive the first two years, or put another way, one in three fails. The five-year survival rate is closer to 50 percent. And of those SMBs that ceased operations, 17 percent actually were winning SMBs that elected to close their doors. Clearly, the SMB economy is strong, and growing stronger.
The Magic SMB Recipe for Success
No two SMBs are exactly alike, but there are common strategies that help ensure a winning SMB:
- Serve, don’t sell – What makes most SMBs different from the big-name brands is the quality of customer service. A winning SMB provides better, more customized service than its competitors. If you focus on listening to the customers rather than selling, you will be better able to meet their needs, which will give you a big advantage over your competitors even if they charge less.
- Focus on the customer – SMBs with a customer-centric culture tend to come out as winners. If you can identify your niche market and create a profile of your customers, including their roles, interests, and concerns, then you can identify what’s in it for them. Remember you are selling outcomes, not just services or products.
- Be there first – All winning SMBs get the customers’ attention early in the buying cycle. Be sure to contact prospects and engage with them early, and nurture those relationships until the prospect is ready to buy. In business, it’s the early bird that gets the sale.
- Work smarter, not harder – Another common factor that SMBs share is a lack of resources. Big companies have bigger budgets, more manpower, and more resources to throw at any problem so it’s difficult for you to compete on scale. Where winning SMBs take the lead is by being smarter and more agile in their approach. Technology has become a great competitive tool for SMBs. Cloud-based software, for example, gives SMBs access to the same marketing, sales, and business tools the big companies use at a fraction of the cost of enterprise solutions.
- Be more responsive – SMBs win in customization and personalized service. This is where technology can come into play. Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps SMBs get closer to customers and analytics help you understand them. Technology also promotes better customer communications. Today’s customers want to talk to vendors via email, social media, online chat, web queries, and other means, including the old-fashioned telephone.
The Importance of Prioritizing Culture
Successful SMBs tend to create a more customer-centric culture. That means understanding customer needs and being highly responsive. Today’s customers have demonstrated that they prefer using help resources, chat, email, and online tools to find what they need. Fifty-three percent of consumers say they abandon online purchases if they can’t quickly find answers to their questions, and 73 percent say they value good customer service. However, even though consumers say they prefer self-service, they still demand phone support to help answer questions and resolve problems quickly.
To promote a customer-centric culture, winning SMBs tend to be more collaborative, creating teams better able to meet customer needs. Collaboration is the key to efficient, cost-effective customer support, so winning SMBs are adopting the latest collaborative tools—email, instant messaging, chat, texting, and social media, as well as the telephone. The shared goal is to resolve customer issues quickly and efficiently, which means having ready access to information and access to team members who have the right answers.
The Power of Smartphones
That’s why more winning SMBs are standardizing on smartphones for communication. Smartphones provide every means of communication you need for collaboration and customer support—email, chat, web access, and more—available any time, day or night. And with tools such as Spoke, the smartphone can be transformed into a customer service or sales support line.
Spoke transforms employees’ smartphones into a virtual office phone system, complete with auto attendant, call routing, smart directories, and more. SMBs don’t need a call center to provide around-the-clock customer support; they can use Spoke to equip their customer support team and reroute incoming calls as needed. And Spoke includes features such as presence, call prioritization, conferencing, and others that make it easy to set up a virtual support center using employees’ smartphones.
The Importance of Customer Satisfaction
To have a winning SMB, you ultimately have to be profitable, with happy, productive employees all focused on a common goal. That all begins and ends with the customer.
Without happy customers, you can’t maintain any level of success. To create happy customers, you need to listen and be responsive to their needs.
In the age of the internet, too many SMBs try to take shortcuts with collaboration and customer service using email support, web bots, and knowledge bases. While these self-help strategies are cost-effective, they don’t always do the job. Applications such as Spoke can put you ahead of your competitors by promoting better collaboration and personalized customer service without adding overhead. Remember, the secret to becoming a winning SMB is giving customers access to the service expertise they need when they need it.