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Digital-First Small Businesses Are Better Prepared for the Future

Being digital-first is an actionable mindset as much as a shift to a specific app or technology.

woman sitting outdoors working on a laptop: digital-first companies, digital first
Digital-first businesses are better positioned to adapt to unforeseen market changes. [Ivan Gener/Stocksy]

When it comes to staying ready for whatever lies ahead, digital-first small businesses have a leg up. We recently surveyed 200 small and medium businesses (SMBs) to learn how adopting digital work — with both their tools and culture — are better positioned to thrive than their less tech-savvy counterparts. 

Digital-first refers to businesses that have used at least 51% digital or cloud-based tools since their inception.

What does this mean? Digital-first refers to businesses that have used at least 51% digital or cloud-based tools since their inception. This includes email, video conferencing, document sharing, and — of course — CRM (customer relationship management). Ideally, these technologies are cloud-based, meaning core business data is kept safe on secure servers that employees can access anytime and anywhere from a computer or mobile device. There’s more to it than just software, though.

What being digital-first really means

Being digital-first is an actionable mindset as much as a shift to a specific app or technology. Digital-first businesses are always thinking digitally. Employees work online. Marketers and sales teams look to the web and social media to find their next prospects. Everything from lead generation to financial transactions is handled digitally, increasing efficiencies and decreasing costs.

The past two years showed how digital-first businesses are better positioned to adapt to unforeseen change. Remote and hybrid work, increased adoption of ecommerce, and leveraging social media to expand audience and customer base are just a few examples of how digital-first SMBs leaned into technology when doing business in person wasn’t possible.

But there’s more to the story than that. Let’s look at why SMBs go digital, and some actionable ways your business can leverage new business technologies.

Why businesses choose to be digital-first

The benefits of going digital-first are many, but three stood out amongst the businesses we surveyed: productivity, profitability, and customer service. Four out of five SMBs cited increased productivity as a benefit of being digital-first, followed by increased profitability (66%), and offering a better customer experience (62%).

Most of the businesses we surveyed (56%) believe using a cloud-based CRM helped their company increase revenue.

When it comes to finances, specifically, adopting a CRM solution has a big impact. Most of the businesses we surveyed (56%) believe using a cloud-based CRM helped their company increase revenue. Project management apps also topped the list of tools that helped these companies increase revenue. As an added benefit, CRM and project management tools also can decrease costs, which drives up the bottom line even more.

How businesses go — and stay — digital-first

Going digital-first is a choice, and staying digital-first is an ongoing process. Let’s look at some steps along the journey:

1. Starting out

The companies we talked to cited two main concerns when deciding what software tools to get started with. Relevant use cases from peers and competitors topped the list (26%), followed closely by budget considerations (25%).

Our small businesses found the initial ramp-up with digital tools to be a quick, and relatively easy, process:

  • 90% of respondents said it takes an average of three months or less to onboard users to a new software system.
  • Almost half of those (44% overall) said it takes just one month or less.
  • Action Item: Look for resources that can help onboard your team when getting started with new digital tools.

Once an SMB gets going with a new digital tool, the benefits come quickly. Almost half (47%) of small businesses said the impact of new software is typically felt within three months. Just over 20% said the impact is immediate.

See how Humu’s team used self-paced tutorials and Trailhead to get started fast with Salesforce.

2. Ongoing process

These small businesses made it clear that being a digital-first business is an ongoing process:

  • Over half (63%) of growing digital-first companies reassess their tech solutions at least every six months. Three in 10 reassess every quarter.
  • Action Item: Make a calendar for reassessing your software needs.

Some of these companies are always on the lookout for new tech, but most of them focus on a need when it arises. When they are actively looking, however, it’s usually because they want a tool that better integrates with their core tech stack:

  • 42% of respondents cited better integration with existing systems as their most likely reason to look for new digital tools. A need for new features was second, with a 25% response rate.
  • Action Item: Build a process for assessing new integration options. This is a moving target and should be evaluated every three to -six months.
  • Action Item: When a possible need for new features arises, first assess how the tools you already have are being used. Conduct an internal review of how your team members handle problems with existing software.

Sometimes, revamping your internal support channels can be a more effective fix than looking for new software.

Aviation company Jet It knew exactly what mattered most when looking at digital tools: staying connected to leads throughout their long sales cycle. Learn more about how they evaluated CRM and email marketing systems, and ultimately made the right decision to foster company growth.

3. Keep it simple and easy to use

Speaking of how your teams use software to solve problems, ease of use is a big factor in how growing SMBs evaluate digital tools:

  • Nearly all (97%) respondents said that easy-to-use tools have a greater impact on revenue growth than more complex software. 
  • Action Item: Consider building a process for your team to rate how easy it is to use the software you’re providing. They may be struggling in ways that hurt productivity.

It’s pretty easy when you boil it all down: Simple = Better.

SmartRent is a great example of a small business that kept a “simple is better” mindset when going digital. See how they use Salesforce Field Service to improve employee satisfaction and save thousands of dollars each month.

Digital-first SMBs are excited about the future

Technology changes rapidly, and digital-first SMBs are eager to reap the benefits of the best new business tools. More than two-thirds (69%) of the companies we talked to said their technology budgets are increasing in 2022.

What are they excited about? Artificial intelligence (AI) tops the list:

  • Just over half (53%) of SMBs think AI and machine learning will have the most impact on their future growth. 
  • Cryptocurrency ranked second (66%), with the Internet of things (IoT) following close behind (65%).

Today’s successful companies constantly think about evolving their business with technology and data. Learn how Loop & Tie leveraged the Salesforce platform to streamline their processes to prepare for the future.

Jumpstart your journey to becoming a digital-first business

More than half of the growing SMBs we talked to believe a cloud-based CRM can drive revenue growth. The Salesforce CRM Starter Pack is the easiest way to get up and running with a cloud-based solution that’s right for your unique business.

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