This year has been quite the journey for small- and medium-sized business (SMB) owners and leaders, to say the least.
Our latest research, the Fourth Edition Small and Medium Business Trends Report, sheds light on exactly how COVID-19, racial injustice, and other crises have affected SMBs over the past six months.
While this year’s overlapping crises have hit a lot of businesses hard, many small businesses remain optimistic about the future. And some SMBs — many of which we categorize as “growing” — have managed to pivot, keep their business alive, and set themselves up for the future. In our research, we’ve identified growing SMBs as those with a 1% or more increase in revenue over the past six months.
What are growing SMBs doing to remain resilient that other businesses can do as well? Three things jump out from the data.
1. Prioritize customer flexibility and customer relationships
Customers are dealing with unprecedented safety-related concerns and restrictions this year just like the businesses they frequent. In response, growing SMBs are finding new ways to make things easier on their customers.
- Offer contactless payments, curbside pickup, and more delivery options: Safety remains paramount in consumers’ minds, and growing SMBs are responding in kind. From expanding online ordering and pickup/delivery options to installing contactless payment systems in stores, businesses are finding success by making customers feel safer while they shop.
- Extend return policies and offer flexible payments: For businesses with the cashflow to do so, extending flexibility around transactions can turn an impulse buyer into a customer for life. Nearly half of growing SMBs (49%) say since the pandemic began, they’re offering more flexibility to customers.
- Communicate with transparency: Customers want to be informed, and they want transparency about how businesses are adapting to COVID-19. Over half of SMBs (55%) say they have been more careful about how they communicate with customers since the pandemic began.
2. Embrace technology to drive customer interactions
With everyone at home right now, leaning into digital technology is the natural way to drive customer interactions. Though the strategies might look a little different for SMBs who sell to consumers versus those who sell to other businesses, the main idea is the same: your customers are spending more time online right now, so meet them where they are.
- Lean into your digital presence: Digital transformation was changing consumer behavior before COVID-19, and the pandemic is only accelerating the process. Consumers expect small businesses to transition to digital experiences, and growing SMBs are stepping up. Over half of growing SMBs (55%) say technology drives their customer interactions.
- Communicate more: From social media and email marketing to good ol’ fashioned websites, digital tech offers myriad ways to keep in close touch with your customers from afar. Growing SMBs understand this: almost half (49%) have expanded the ways customers can get in touch with them since the pandemic began.
- Leverage business technologies: Survey data also shows most growing SMBs (68%) embrace business technologies like customer relationship management (CRM), and that they’re 65% more likely than stagnant/declining SMBs to have accelerated the pace of tech investments during the pandemic. Those who use CRM most commonly say a benefit of the technology is delivering better and faster customer service.
3. Plan for future crises
Growing SMBs generally have more ability to navigate short-term adversity and plan for the future than stagnant/declining SMBs do. Notably, growing SMBs are more likely to have leaned into digitizing their operations, and to have started an emergency fund.
Here are three specific ways growing SMBs are using technology to prepare for future crises.
- Digitize customer interactions and offer contactless services: As mentioned above, safety usually gets prioritized during times of crisis. Investing in customer-facing technology can help keep operations running when business as usual gets disrupted. More than 4 in 10 growing SMBs (45%) have adopted tech to help digitize customer interactions and offer contactless services, and they’re 32% more likely to do so than stagnant/declining SMBs.
- Digitize internal communications: Growing businesses recognize the upside of digitizing internal communications, including for crisis preparedness. Taking internal comms online makes it easier for teams to stay connected and work together over distance. 40% of growing SMBs adopted tech for digitizing internal communications — 25% more than stagnant/declining ones.
- Digitize workflows: As with communications, digitizing your workflows — moving critical business processes and operations online, so teams can get things done whether in person or not — makes it easier for employees to work from anywhere. Whether during times of crises or to support remote work, digital-forward SMBs enjoy greater flexibility in the ways they can do business. Thirty-nine percent of growing SMBs adopted technology to help digitize workflows during the pandemic, which is 26% more than stagnant/declining SMBs.
How one SMB uses technology to keep customers close
Like many retail businesses, bridesmaid and bridal dress shop Brideside had to close its showrooms when the pandemic took hold. A combination of technology and innovative thinking helped them find more ways to serve existing customers, and build relationships with new ones, in the months since.
Co-founder Sonali Lamba believes Salesforce helped smooth the transition from in-store to virtual customer appointments with minimal extra work on her end. “When our customer appointments shifted from in-store to virtual, it was easy,” she said. “There was no development work and we didn’t lose any insight into our data.” The tech made it easier for Brideside’s team to lean into their digital presence, and, as time went on, to alert customers when showrooms in their area were set to re-open.
For more on how other SMBs navigate the present and prepare for the future next normal, download and read our latest Small & Medium Business Trends Report. Plus, find out the new technology trends reshaping the business world and see how they can help set up your business for growth.
Salesforce helps you find more customers, win their business, and keep them happy so you can succeed. Learn more about our small business CRM solutions by following us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
For more business and leadership inspiration, check out our entire Leading Through Change series.