Customer behaviour has evolved significantly in recent years. Armed with mobiles, tablets and an insatiable appetite for social media, they do most of their research online – and an increasing proportion of customers are buying online too.

Along with this shift in behaviour comes a shift in expectations. Customers expect you to have a robust, useful online presence; they expect you to know their likes and dislikes. It is a race to not only meet the increasing customer expectations but exceed them.

The good news is that it is easy for small businesses to establish an online presence.  The not-so-good news is that many small businesses stop there – unwilling to invest any further in technology that can deliver a great customer journey.

This causes a problematic disconnect. There’s a widening gap between what customers are doing online and how small businesses are able to respond. Businesses are losing potential customers and stifling their own growth, even though there are simple solutions at hand.

It’s easier than you think

So why aren’t more small businesses investing in technology to get closer to customers and drive more revenue?

A hurdle for many businesses is the misconception that technology is too difficult or too expensive. In reality though,the solution is not nearly as complex – nor as costly – as many may think.

There are some incredible customer relationship management (CRM) tools on the market now that are very easy to self-deploy. With rich features like artificial intelligence doing a lot of the thinking for you, these tools will tell you exactly what you need to do next in the sales cycle to win or retain a customer.

Among other things, these CRM tools can be used to:

·        Capture online behaviour patterns of customers and potential leads

·        Deliver personalised marketing campaigns

·        Provide a personalised web experience

·        Implement and monitor social media campaigns

In other words, they can quickly, simply and smartly transform your approach to sales and marketing – closing the gap and facilitating growth.

Closing the gap

Today, buyers only engage with a brand 60% of the way through the sales cycle . Having done their research via forums, comparison websites and social channels, these customers know what they want by the time they come to you, leaving very little time for you to influence their decision.

So the question becomes, how can you sway customers buying decisions when they’re not talking to you directly?

The key is to embrace the same channels as your customers are using to research their purchases. Given that the vast majority of customers are online, it’s about replacing your legacy tools – typically a combination of Outlook, Excel and a basic contact management system – with intelligent marketing automation tools that disseminate the right information, at the right time, to the right customers, all via online channels.

Disruptive businesses like Uber and Airbnb are proof that a tech-first approach and an unwavering focus on customer experience is the secret to rapid growth. Locally, Australian tech start-up Recomazing is another great example of how quickly an investment in technology can pay off.

"As a tech startup we know that investing in digital technologies is crucial to scale for the global expansion of Recomazing. In today's environment no business can compete on a mass scale without a solid digital foundation," Marc Cowper, Founder and CEO, Recomazing.

Building corner store loyalty

Not only are digital tools vital for customer acquisition – they can play a large role in retention, too, by nurturing your existing customer relationships. With the right technology behind you, you can serve great content to these customers to boost loyalty, increase their spend and grow your business.

Payment gateway provider eWay is a great example. This company processes one in every four dollars spent online – previously, its call centre was a significant cost to the business. eWay now uses Salesforce to automate the sign-up process and beyond into the entire customer journey. The burden on the call centre has been halved, and customer satisfaction has improved. As this example shows, an investment in technology sets you up for tangible results.

A recent Deloitte reportThe Digital Race for the small business customer (See my previous blog post HERE) found that for every 1% that businesses spend on online services, they reap a 2.9% increase in revenue growth. The earlier in your business lifecycle you can invest in technology, the quicker you will reap the rewards.

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