What SMBs Want from Vendors
From monitoring how customers use their platforms to tracking requests for assistance to eliciting feedback and ideas, technology vendors have never had more ways to determine the wants and needs of their customers. So when I asked some executives about the biggest challenges their small-business customers say they are facing, a few common themes stood out.
THE SEARCH FOR CUSTOMERS: THE SAGA CONTINUES
The more things change, the more they stay the same. A theme I heard over and over again from vendor executives was summarized nicely by Marie Rosecrans, senior vice president of SMB marketing at Salesforce.com: “Small-business leaders are constantly looking for better ways to find, win, and keep customers so they can grow their businesses faster. They need fast, easy ways to connect with customers, that prepare them for growth and scale.”
According to Bess Yount, head of SMB marketing at Facebook’s North America division, finding customers “is the number-one thing we hear when we speak to small businesses.” And the search for customers doesn’t end at the border. “Facebook’s tools like International Lookalike Audiences can connect businesses with new customers that look like their best customers—but in other countries around the world. And one in four active advertisers on Facebook have run at least one campaign targeting people in another country.”
BETTER, FASTER PROCESSES
Part of the ongoing struggle businesses have with customer acquisition is having “consistent sales and marketing processes,” according to John Herrick, cofounder and chief marketing officer/chief sales officer of marketing automation platform provider Hatchbuck. “A lot of businesses go down the path of implementing new tech tools such as a CRM or marketing automation platform, only to realize they aren’t seeing the results they should be because their processes are broken or nonexistent.”
Process automation is the key not only to consistency but also acceleration, which is a challenge for many of Act-On’s customers, says the marketing automation provider’s CEO, Andy MacMillan. “Our customers are looking for us to help them increase their speed of business and marketing efficiency by delivering them solutions that are simple to use but powerful in their results.”
Bpm’online founder and CEO Katherine Kostereva hears similar things from her customers. “Today we see thousands of organizations worldwide are facing a challenge of implementing strategic initiatives and changing their business processes as fast as the market requires. They would like to have the ability to change faster, to be more flexible, and more dynamic when it comes to implementing new strategic programs.” But the reality is, a lot of midsize and large enterprises struggle with misalignment and broken processes that slow down execution.
GETTING CLOSER TO CUSTOMERS
Regardless of the size of the business, SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin says, everyone is trying to get closer to their customers to facilitate better business relationships. “For some, that might be gathering more data from external sources to better prospect the right kind of customer; for others, it’s about building tighter processes to ensure repeat business and being proactive along the customer journey.” This “relationship intelligence” goes beyond the transactional nature of CRM and into “leveraging more of the data around their customers to make better decisions at every stage of the customer life cycle.” But the bottom line is this: Businesses need to differentiate on experience and service to build strong relationships with their customers.
BETTER EXPERIENCES AND BEST PRACTICES
Speaking of experiences, Clate Mask, cofounder and CEO of InfusionSoft, hears his small-business clients say they need help with continuing to deliver great experiences to their customers as they scale up. “The biggest challenge small businesses face is delivering personalized customer services while they grow. And while they pride themselves on having personal connections with their customers, it becomes harder to manage the business and maintain that level of quality service when they start growing.”
And providing those experiences starts with well-trained employees. Act-On’s MacMillan says his customers seek guidance in building competitive marketing departments “through enhanced on-boarding and training opportunities for continuous learning and development.”
In the end, it still comes down to using the best available technology and practices to find, catch, and keep good customers. That is one thing that will never change.
Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based advisory firm focused on small and midsize businesses. He is also the author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses.
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