By Marie Rosecrans
Here’s my master-of-the-obvious statement for the day: It’s tough for small businesses to compete with larger ones. But while smaller businesses may not have the money or manpower of larger enterprises, there are plenty of advantages to being small. Agility, for one, which is so often a roadblock for larger corporations—but also lower overhead, less red tape, and financial flexibility, among many other things.
The reality is that technology has leveled the playing field over the last decade, and small businesses and large businesses now have access to the same tools and strategies. As a smaller company looking to grow, you can host webinars, leverage artificial intelligence, and use cloud-based technologies to work from anywhere—just like your larger competitors. You can set up social accounts, create email campaigns, and host multiple websites—just like your larger competitors.
Here are five more ways you can use technology to help your small business compete with bigger ones.
1) Test drive new software for free
You know new software can help you increase efficiencies, but what’s going to give you the most bang for your buck? Today SMBs can test-drive new technology without the financial investment—whereas in the old days of on-premise software, you had to buy. So do a little research. Find technology tools that might benefit your business and read their online reviews. Then try before you buy: Sign up for a free trial to see exactly how that tool will work at your company.
Pro tip: These trials give you anywhere from a few days to a few months of service, so you’re on the clock once you sign up. Be sure you’re devoted to test-driving the software during that time, or your trial will expire without any real answers.
2) Load up on training
Training videos used to be all cooking demos and home workouts, but now there’s a training video for everything under the sun (a quick YouTube “how-to” search yields more than 260 million results). Every growing business wants to find, win, and keep more customers, but many don’t know where to start; so instead of paying big bucks for a class or consultant, try searching online for skills training that can benefit you and your team. At Salesforce, we truly believe in the transformational power of education and training—see what earning a Salesforce certification can do for you, or check out Trailhead, the free, interactive training site on all things Salesforce.
Pro tip: Once you’ve chosen a training session, block out some time on your calendar and set a reminder. This will help you stay on task and prevent you from pushing it off into the future abyss.
3) Enable your customers.
Knowledge bases and online communities empower customers to quickly and easily find answers to their questions. And for growing businesses, these self-service options are a win-win: According to Forrester, consumers overwhelmingly prefer to use a company’s website to get information rather than by phone or email. Bonus: Self-service is also by far the most cost-effective form of customer support.
Pro tip: Build your online community into part of your brand. Online communities are a great way to improve customer relationships, secure honest feedback and test new ideas.
4) Use real-time reports and data.
Do you know how your business is doing? Can you project your sales for next month, or next year? How satisfied are your customers? Every business leader should be equipped with up-to-date answers to these essential questions, but too often, growing businesses aren’t measuring their data. A data-driven approach to business not only tells you how your business is doing, it also helps pinpoint any trouble spots. Where in the sales pipeline are deals getting stuck, for example. If you know what stage in your sales cycle converts the least, you can investigate roadblocks and implement fixes to get more deals done.
Pro-tip: You don’t need a big-time data scientist to crunch the numbers. Just find a CRM solution with an analytics tool. A basic one can give you reports, dashboards and plenty of ways to help you glean insight from data, just like larger companies do.
5) Automate, automate, automate
Want to make your team more productive? Big companies have big systems that boost efficiency via dispatch notifications, change alerts, auto-emails and workflows. But you can get the same capabilities with smaller software packages, too. Simple automations help you save time by handling the mundane or routine tasks that still need to get done. Welcome emails, purchase orders, performance reviews, and more. Automating those tasks will give your team the extra time they need to focus on activities that move the needle.
Pro tip: Identify an area of your business that takes up a lot of administrative time and would be great to offload. Then start your technology search to see if there are tools to automate those processes.
Use size to your advantage.
Big businesses always seem to grab the headlines, but startups and small businesses are also hotbeds of inspiration with interesting new products, dedicated teams and enviable cultures. Make sure your business keeps up with your enterprise counterparts and perhaps one day soon you’ll be among them.
Marie Rosecrans has worked at Salesforce for nearly ten years, holding various leadership positions in product marketing and customer success. As vice president of SMB marketing at Salesforce, Marie focuses on ensuring SMBs have the tools and resources they need to succeed. Before joining Salesforce in 2008, Marie held support, professional service, product marketing and program management positions at Oracle, Peoplesoft, Evolve and Primavera.