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What It’s Like To Be An SMB In 2020

What It’s Like To Be An SMB In 2020

You can’t keep a good small or medium-sized business down, even when there’s a global pandemic disrupting everyday life as we know it. Almost from the moment COVID-19 began, there were worries that temporary closures and enhanced safety protocols would significantly impact all but the largest and

You can’t keep a good small or medium-sized business down, even when there’s a global pandemic disrupting everyday life as we know it.

Almost from the moment COVID-19 began, there were worries that temporary closures and enhanced safety protocols would significantly impact all but the largest and most established companies. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), it was assumed, would probably be unable to adapt quickly enough to the changes coming their way.

The data in Salesforce’s fourth Small and Medium Business Trends Report offers a solid rebuttal to those assumptions, and serves as a reminder that SMBs should never be underestimated.

In fact, after surveying more than 2,300 SMB owners around the world, 72 per cent said they were optimistic about their future as recently as this past August. That was down less than 10 per cent from 80 per cent back when the pandemic began in March. This was true across several categories, including consumer products, technology and health-care SMBs.

Of course, SMBs are also realistic about the considerable challenges they face, both now and over the next year, as we continue to ride out successive waves of the Coronavirus. Demand for some products and services has dropped significantly. Compliance with new and existing regulations is hard work, and some aspects of their operations may be restricted for the foreseeable future.

This is why it’s worth looking at the data within the report in more detail, particularly the responses from the more than 250 Canadian SMBs who participated in the research. You’ll not only see that local SMBs are rising to the occasion, but how they’re using the technologies and tools available to continue executing on their business plans.

The data shows that Canadian SMBs are:

1. People-oriented

Cash is understandably a top concern for Canadian SMBs, but it’s not the only one.

Money and access to capital was closely followed by finding the right talent. Canadian SMBs recognize they need to hire people with the right skills, including proficiency in identifying and using technology.

Similarly, the top personal challenge for business growth among Canadian SMBs was acquiring new customers, followed by retaining existing customers. Much like they want to cultivate the right team, entrepreneurs know they need an outstanding relationship with those who do business with them.

No wonder almost half (48 per cent) said they are putting more effort into their customer communications and expanding the ways customers can reach them.

Hiring and keeping up with customer experience expectations also took the No. 2 and 3 spot under future concerns. This is probably because of how they relate to the most-cited challenge of maintaining financial growth.

2. Digitally forward

SMBs are sometimes quaintly described as “Mom and Pop shops” that operate in an old-fashioned (read: analog or manual) manner. The study dispels any such illusions.

Almost half (46 per cent) of Canadian SMBs say technology drives their customer interactions, and four in 10 say it drives the growth of their customer base. This is not a matter of simply acquiring technology for the sake of it: entrepreneurs here are savvy buyers who put impact on the customer experience, ease of use and price as their key purchasing criteria.

Perhaps as a result, tools like a CRM have proved vital. Fifty-three per cent of Canadian SMBs have deployed a CRM already, and 24 per cent implemented one within the past year.

By ensuring they have a central way to collect, manage and analyze customer data, Canadian SMBs are in a far better position to stay ahead of expectations and increase the share of wallet they have from their most loyal buyers.

3. Experience focused

The best way to contend with the disruption that’s taken place is to empathize with customers as deeply as possible. Fortunately, Canadian SMBs have no problems doing so.

They know, for instance, that they not only need to provide great products and services, but that customers can enjoy them without risk of infection.

That’s why the top customer experience challenge was implementing the necessary safety and sanitation procedures. Next on the list, however, was keeping up with demand, which suggests that if they can contend with the necessary protocols, SMBs continue to see a viable market for the products and services they offer.

“Bringing innovative offerings to market,” meanwhile, was the third customer experience challenge cited in the report. Canadian SMBs know that changing conditions will also probably lead to experiences that demand new additions to their portfolio, and they are taking that responsibility seriously.


It was becoming difficult to articulate what “business as usual” used to mean for an SMB for a while now. Even if you take the pandemic out of the equation, SMBs were deeply immersed in forces that changed everything about the way they served customers.

They were already shifting to an omni-channel approach where they could market, sell and serve customers in whatever way they chose. They were harnessing analytics and even artificial intelligence to shape their strategies, rather than learning on anecdotal evidence or gut instincts.

The events of this year are only magnifying and speeding up the rate of those changes. It’s why only one-third of Canadian SMBs expect to return to business as usual, and why one in 10 say their business will have an entirely new structure.

What does it feel like to be an SMB in 2020? Definitely not easy, and perhaps even scary occasionally — but also important. Canada’s economic health has always been based on the contributions SMBs make. We need them to not only survive, but continue to thrive in markets across the country.

To learn more about how the similarities between the Canadian SMBs face versus those of their international peers, check out the complete fourth edition of the Salesforce Small and Medium Business Trends Report.

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