Tis the season for new tech trends and predictions. Today, we’re interested in one of the most overlooked parts of American economy: the small-to-medium sized business, or SMB.
Constantly overshadowed by news on global enterprises and trendy startups, today’s SMBs are quietly evolving from the mom and pops that we once knew. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of smart SMBs embrace technology, automate their operations and expand their reach. They’re staying ahead of the curve, and more importantly, ahead of their competition.
How have they done it? Here are three key principles that SMBs have been taking advantage of in the last two-to-three years that have made a huge difference.
1. The design differential.
Savvy SMBs know just how powerful good design can be for a company’s bottom-line. Well ‘designed’ technology makes every job easier, from hundreds of employees who are managing operations, to the thousands of customers who are trying to purchase your goods.
Enterprises have known and leveraged this time and time again, from companies like Amazon, who designed the simplicity of 1-Click Shopping, to Apple, who figured out how to make using smartphones an enjoyable experience. Neither was the first-to-market in their respective fields, but both used a design differential to challenge, leapfrog and dominate their competitors.
How do you do it?
The obvious challenge is finding the time, resources and insight into improving something that is already functional. Knowing you can’t overall all of your company’s digital touch points at once, how do you prioritize? At a high level. You need to break it down into three V’s – value, volume and visibility.
- Value: Prioritize time and effort first and foremost where you’ll receive the greatest short-term fiscal value. If most of your revenue comes from upselling to existing customers, your attention should on re-designing anything related to customer retention.
- Volume: Second, design better high-touch point systems. Whether its something customer facing or even just a time-tracking system that every employee uses multiple times a day, improve your highly repetitive systems so that you reduce digital fatigue.
- Visibility: Finally, use design to differentiate your most visible presence, which often are platforms like your company website or marketing campaigns.
2. Data-driven insights.
Data-driven insights are insights made rooted firmly in the past, present and forecasted data that businesses generate. This means going far beyond top-level digital statistics that come from tools like Google Analytics. Today’s SMB leaders combine internal and external data from a variety of resources to make better choices about the growth, direction and focus of the business.
Whether you’re building a new pipeline for your business, or trying to understand why particular customers are spending less with you, using DDI forces SMB execs to rely less on gut-feelings, and more on parsing together seemingly unrelated information to create a complete picture of your business health.
DDI is a highly challenging task that involves extraordinary discipline, but ultimately the best SMBs use it because it makes them impervious to the ebbs and flows of daily operations, allowing them to set forth long-term strategies without panicking about the short-term. Use the 3Cs to drive DDI: Capture, Collate & Calculate.
- Capture: The first rule of thumb is to capture as much data as you can about your organization. Whether its your sales, your marketing or your ops department, focus on quantifying your business into some sort of database. In simplest terms, it means trying to eradicate any paper-processes.
- Collate: Over time, you’ll find numerous (large) databases of information that don’t set well with each other. If you’re lucky, most will be in easily accessible systems you own, but don’t be surprised if you find a few very critical spreadsheets mixed in there. Your goal should be to collate data where you can, warehousing information so that you can access it from a single source when possible.
- Calculate: Proper DDI leverages the experience of data scientists. Ideally, these are members of your team who are are familiar with statistical analysis, data modeling, visualization and industry specifics. By stringing together apparently random parts of your business you are far more likely to, make astounding discoveries that can help you innovate more or make decisions that address core problems, rather than just treating the symptoms.
3: Business SaaS-ification.
SaaS, or “software as a service,” is a popular term to describe companies that let you pay subscription fees to use their goods. While the term has become popular in recent years, it’s built around the idea of subscription-models, which has been around since long before the digital age.
In essence, SaaS companies let you rent out the tools or goods they own so you avoid worrying about the logistics of hosting, maintaining or troubleshooting those services. Popular examples to day are companies such as Uber, with car rides, and Netflix, with DVD rentals.
The SaaS-model doesn’t require you to completely overhaul your business model but it does require you to think about resources differently. When in doubt, follow the 3 P’s: package, process, platform.
- Package: How do you sell your business to customers? Packaging your company into discrete value-adds is essential to SaaS. It’s the easiest way for customers to quickly assess a potential purchase. A great example of packaging a service: Amazon Prime. Today, it’s known for two discrete values: Free Shipping & Quick (2 day) Delivery.
- Process: SaaS lets your handle more customers with the same resources because you’re completing repetitive, highly predictable tasks for them. Doing the same thing over and over means that you need to optimize your business process to ensure that there’s no wasted effort in servicing your customers.
- Platform: SaaS also means your business will have to deal with a greater number of customers. Taking them on requires a method (typically a cloud software) where they can connect with you, and manage their requests & ultimately pay for your services.