Small Businesses Must Leverage Latest Technology in Order to Compete

It’s a safe bet to assume that most small or mid-sized businesses are are asking the same questions: How can we find and keep new customers? How can we run things more efficiently? How can we plan and scale for the future when the present is keeping us so busy?

Technology innovation can help with all these concerns, of course. Yet, some businesses are still turning to manually intensive tools, such as email (44%) and spreadsheets (41%), to store and track customer information, according to Salesforce’s 2016 Connected Small Business Report.

Ultimately, business owners that embrace the benefits of modern technology are better positioned to succeed. Conversely, those that do not take advantage of innovation are likely to cede competitive advantage to those that do.

To survive and thrive in today’s hyper-connected market, it is imperative to incorporate innovation into business plans from the very beginning. Here are a few tech tools to get you started.

Harness the Power of CRM

Enterprise-class businesses have long leveraged customer relationship management tools to track and interact with their clients. Your business needn’t be left behind.

With hundreds of contacts and interactions to track and manage, new deals to pursue and close, and new relationships to cultivate and maintain, as a business owner, you’re pulled in different directions every day.

This is where CRM can help.

One of the many reasons CRM solutions are so effective is that they use data to give you actionable insights and the ability to identify the best path to forge ahead. CRM tools also give you robust analytics, detailed reports, and easy-to-read graphics while ensuring that you have a 360 degree view of your customers so you can anticipate potential issues before they actually happen and act quickly on the ones that have already occurred.

Whether you’re on your own, maintain a large staff or add new employees every month, the right CRM solutions will not only help you keep the customers you have but also free up more of your time to help you win new ones.

Embrace Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is the concept of having machines “think like humans”—in other words, perform tasks like reasoning, planning, learning, and understanding language.

Whether you realize it or not, almost everyone with a computer, mobile phone or other smart device is already using AI to make life easier. Amazon, for example, recommends products using machine learning algorithms. Waze, meantime, suggests optimal driving routes using a combination of predictive models, forecasting and optimization techniques. And Facebook recommends photo tags using image recognition technology.

Now, if you’re like most small or mid-market business owners, you probably think AI isn’t for you. Indeed, 61 per cent of SMB owners say they aren’t ready for AI, and 51 per cent believe it’s too complex. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Simple implementations, like automating e-mail marketing send-times based on when those e-mails are most likely be read or delivering automatic recommendations for customers can make a big difference in half the time. AI-driven marketing efforts can also track and learn from customer behaviour to tweak the process toward what works well and away from what doesn’t – all without human intervention.

Consider the Cloud

According to the Connected Small Business Report, 62 per cent of SMB owners trust the cloud, but few are using cloud-based technology services to their full potential. And when it comes to business process automation, just 49 per cent are taking advantage of these time-saving solutions. This needs to change.

Cloud technology removes the need for your business to manage computer hardware and software so you can spend time on the things that matter most to you like finding new customers and growing your business. The cloud is also scalable, so it can grow as your business does.

Business owners must take a long hard look at the cloud-based solutions available to them including analytics, CRM, mobile solutions, AI because they’re absolutely critical in today’s digital landscape.

Leverage Mobile Messaging Apps

Given how many people carry smartphones these days, it only makes sense that every business connect with customers and prospects through mobile channels. But just 33 per cent of them are, according to a recent Canadian Federation of Independent businesses survey.

The CFIB research suggests some companies may be holding back because they see mobile technology as too complex. Few have developers on their payroll, and most don’t even know where to find that kind of talent.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. There are resources available, like AppExchange, the world’s leading business app marketplace, that make mobile app development easy. Don’t just think about mobile apps as something customers use, but how you could run your entire operation from your smartphone.

To succeed today, businesses of all sizes need to do whatever it takes to get up to speed on key technologies that can help drive their business—and they need to do it now. There’s never been a better time for Canadian businesses to embrace new technology tools and innovate for future success.

Dave Borrelli is the vice president of commercial business for Salesforce Canada.