Launching a small or medium-sized business might inspire a common image of what growth looks like: hiring more staff, opening up additional locations, maybe even becoming so well-known your brand is practically a household name.
Growth is obviously a good thing. It is not, however, the same thing as scaling.
You may not discuss “scale” very much if you’re running an SMB outside of the technology industry space, but it’s often what drives startups to seek additional funding from venture capitalists or other sources. When a company focused on scale has what it needs to execute successfully on its mission, it begins to generate more revenue without necessarily having to add on a lot of additional resources.
Unlike growth, which you might picture as an office building getting bigger in size, scale might best be illustrated as the “hockey stick” graph where revenues (and possibly the number of customers) is going up and to the right. You may still need to add additional resources in order to keep up with demand, of course, but it will likely be at a more incremental rate, such as hiring a dedicated head of sales or marketing.
SMBs that want to achieve scale might assume they need a lot of up-front money in order to get there. A solid financial foundation is certainly critical, but it’s not the only characteristic of companies that scale quickly (sometimes called “scaleups” versus the startups that are still in the early days of their development). In fact, a lot of it may come down to the outlook and choices their leaders make about how they work and the tools they use to do the work.
While some stories of successful scaling will differ from others, here are a few traits you’ll want to develop if this is the way you want your future as an SMB to unfold:
One of the things that makes growth challenging for some SMBs is the unexpected nature of what triggers it. Say you manage to land a major new customer. It’s great news -- until they place more orders than you can fill with your existing organization. Having to suddenly scramble and hire more bodies, purchase additional equipment or other hurdles can make growth seem like an exercise in risk management.
Scaling, on the other hand, works in the opposite way. Instead of being taken by surprise, SMB owners with a focus on scaling use data in more strategically, which allows them to set goals and respond to changes with greater agility. Instead of having to start from scratch every time you see a sales opportunity, for instance, using artificial intelligence (AI) tools like Salesforce Einstein allow SMBs to plot their activities based on the sales opportunities that are most likely to turn into closed deals. These opportunities can then be managed through a CRM like Sales Cloud and let an existing sales team work smarter.
The true innovators don’t just develop a great product or service and then do nothing but force it upon the market. They remember that they started an SMB because they were drawn to solving a particular problem.
Whether it’s helping those working in real estate be more productive, assisting health-care professionals in processing paperwork or doing design work for major banks, successful scaleups never stop looking closely at the challenges their customers face every day. Then, they not only make sure their portfolio can address those problems, but that they communicate how they’re focusing on them -- even if some solutions are still being developed.
This is the essence of great content marketing, and when you use marketing automation tools like Marketing Cloud, you can reach a larger pool of potential customers faster and measure their response to what you’re saying. Customers who see this approach tend to become fiercely loyal, and tell their friends -- which is one of the quickest ways to scale in a cost-effective way.
Most companies aren’t good at everything, but their customers don’t want them to be terrible at anything that really matters to them. Customer service is a great example. No matter the sector in which you operate, being able to help customers out when they run into difficulty is not a nice-to-have. It can make or break your business.
If you’re not an expert in customer service, however, growing often means adding additional resources like contact centres to offload some of that workload to other people. Sometimes that works well, but sometimes even the largest customer service teams leave customers waiting on hold or dissatisfied with how their issue was resolved.
True scaleability, however, means you can not only stick to what you do best but that you use whatever tools are available to do a great job on the things that aren’t your core competency. Service Cloud automates a lot of what used to make customer service time-consuming and manual, for instance, while also offering capabilities to use chatbots and customer portals that allow self-service options to customers.
The end result of scaling means that what started as an SMB will begin to look and operate like a much larger company, but not necessarily by growing into the size of a large company with a headcount of thousands and a huge overhead.
Instead, the art of scaling means you’re using technology to ensure key functions like sales, marketing and customer service are so turnkey that you are only doing things that lead to higher, more predictable revenue.
This may not look like the the future you’d originally had in mind when you started the business, but if you get the fundamentals right, it could be even better -- without a lot of the headaches that come with traditional approaches to business growth.