Nimble small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are in a unique position to beat larger corporations for significant growth. Here’s how to manage small business growth while remaining agile.

SMEs are nimble, flexible and able to develop personal relationships with customers and clients in a way that most larger corporations can’t. They can differentiate themselves from larger corporates easily and, using those points of difference, win business away from enterprise.

On the flip side, once a smaller business becomes a success its managers tend to become focused on the needs created by growth. They report that they constantly struggle to drive growth rather than shaping the business.

When this happens, decisions are made on the fly. If the business is struggling to cope with the number of customer calls then their immediate reaction is to hire somebody, even if the problem is effectiveness rather than capacity. They seek solutions reactively to fill holes as they appear.

These reactive solutions, apart from being expensive and mostly ineffective, tend to stifle growth rather than support it. They certainly don’t support the anticipated needs of a growing business.

So, how does an SME create an environment in which its people can be as effective as possible, allowing the owner to work on the business rather than in it?

1. Stop wasting time

It's fairly common for SMEs to use search engine marketing to help their business grow. This is a good, cheap way to get leads rolling in. But how do you handle those leads?

Do you go through them in order, one by one, hoping for a hit? Or do you know which ones to prioritise? Are your salespeople making 100 calls, hoping for 15 high-value leads?

If much of the introductory work including branded and personalised email responses can be automated, if actions that are a result of those emails can be tracked and followed-up on different channels, if technology can help you prioritise leads, what would happen to your sales team’s productivity?

If you can see which leads come from a regular buyer, which ones come from audiences you targeted because they're lookalikes of your regular buyers, and which leads are simply window shoppers, how many calls do your salespeople need to make to reach those 15 high-value leads?

This is what I mean by ‘making your people as effective as possible’. Rather than dealing with 100 random leads, if you instead feed a salesperson 15 high-value leads, then the entire business benefits.

Smaller companies often think CRM technology is only for the big end of town, but for high-performing businesses of all sizes it’s as essential as a phone and a laptop. With this technology in place, managers can focus on their growth strategy above dealing with new challenges and problems.

2. Don’t be reactive – anticipate your needs

CRM technology brings more benefits than just boosting a sales team’s success. It allows SMEs to see into the future and be proactive. It highlights patterns and trends so you can anticipate your business’s needs rather than making reactive decisions on the fly. It means you can easily identify seasons, markets and regions in which your products are selling.

And it mean decisions like hiring the right talent at the right time become informed by real projections of your business’s upcoming needs, not reactive.

3. Delight your customers

Believe it or not, customer service can be a pleasure – talking to your business can be a delight for customers instead of a chore. With a CRM platform underpinning your business, when a customer phones to discuss an issue, it doesn’t matter who answers the phone – they can pick up where the last conversation left off rather than having to re-explain, avoiding a waste of your team’s time and the customer’s.

The responsiveness and options offered by a great CRM system offer reassurance to the customer that they’re dealing with a professional business, and one that puts the customer front and centre. It makes a business appear larger than it is, without throwing away the small business’s point of difference – flexibility and personal relationships.

You can also create communities of customers that turn your existing customers into brand ambassadors. You can collaborate with them, they can communicate with each other, and these communities – led by your customer service team – can answer each other’s questions while giving you deep insight into their concerns and behaviours.

When your customers are delighted to deal with you and have become your ambassadors, you can be pretty certain you’ll keep enjoying their business.

Is it too soon?

When should a business seek CRM software? I’d recommend from day one, the same time they have their mobile phone contract set up. That’s how vital it is. To avoid the problems caused by a reactive approach to growth, your need to be proactive – ready to scale before you actually need to scale.

A great example is one of my very first customers, eWay. They brought Salesforce in when they had less than 20 people; they are now up to around 300 staff and have just been sold to a US business. Salesforce allowed them to give the impression the entire time that they were larger than they really were. And it meant they could grow swiftly as staff were being effective, rather than reactive.

When people running a business are offered the capacity to think strategically, amazing things can happen.

To learn more about how you can manage your business’s growth, download our free ‘5 reasons your growing business needs smart relationship management’ ebook today.