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SMEs and the case for integration

By Fiona Ness on Tue 11 November 2014 in CRM

This blog is taken from Andrew Ardron’s keynote speech at our recent Silverstone event.

Running a successful business has its struggles regardless of size. But having to compete with larger, often better known, brands whilst running at 100 miles an hour, with the added stress of limited resource and budget, means SMEs are at a disadvantage. I don’t just say this because we spend our time travelling the country meeting with SMEs, but because we are an SME – we can empathise with these struggles.

If we’re looking for areas that will help us work on our business and combat these struggles we might go right back to the 1960s and look at the 4 Ps: product, price, place and promotion. If you get these things right it should result in a more successful business. However, it wasn’t long before we started seeing people adding to these 4 Ps with physical evidence, people and processes. In addition, Lauterborn introduced the 4 Cs: consumer, cost, communication and convenience. You’ll notice that there are crossovers here, it is necessary not only for a business to know about their products, know what their customer wants and where, but also the addition of convenience which we are seeing more and more with developments online. Ultimately I think this boils down to just one, which I like to call the 5th C – competitive. Addressing all these areas should lead to a far more competitive business on many fronts. But surely we can’t be good at everything, especially with the time and resource constraints of an SME?

The good news is, SMEs are naturally good at knowing their product, what their customers want, and offering great service with it. This is true of every customer I visit. They tell me that their products are the best. Much better than the bigger or better known competition. They can clearly articulate and rationalise their claims. And, I believe them. Wholeheartedly. Every time. Not just because they are our customers, but because I’ve seen this in action.

So why is it that these same businesses continue to struggle with growth, profitability and attracting new business?

Well unfortunately the likes of cost, communication and convenience don’t come so naturally. This is for a number of different reasons, after all no SME is the same. However, Michael Gerber, author of the eMyth, says that the main problem is “Most entrepreneurs fail because you are working IN your business rather than ON your business.” Yes, you have the best knowledge and can therefore offer the best service, but there is only so well you can do organically. You need to make time to step back and fix the problems and inefficiencies – work ON your business.

The real question: How do we get better at the areas of business success that don’t come naturally?

Technology isn’t a solution to all problems, however both technology and automation are closely associated with increasing efficiency and reducing cost, mastering mass communication to attract business and convenience not just for your customers, but your staff as well. Coincidentally, these are all areas that do not come naturally to SMEs.

“So what’s the catch?” I hear you asking.

Well, get technology right and there shouldn’t be any.

It would be naïve of me to say that businesses don’t all face technology challenges. From deploying the wrong technology that doesn’t deliver, to resistance to change and a fear that becoming more efficient will make jobs redundant, we have all been in the situation where we’ve taken 1 step forward and 2 steps backwards. But ultimately we know that technology does work. You just have to look around to see how it has made day to day life easier.

Imagine creating your business from scratch, better yet, imagine you’re creating a competitor. Ignoring any objections, you currently face, what does your new business look like? I’d imagine you would choose better systems, more automated and integrated processes, maybe even less people to reduce your costs.

Amazon are a great example of this. When they got into the book market they completely reinvented it. They took away all the costly inefficiencies and focused on the product, books, and what the customer wanted, convenience. By eliminating excess staff, telling the customers about the product and selling they became the most successful retailer of books in the world. Nothing about the product changed, they just focused on becoming more efficient. This allowed them to offer a better price, the time to focus on effective communication and the customer’s need, in turn making them more successful.

Before I go any further let’s talk about the elephant in the room… redundancies. Although the likes of Amazon eliminated the need for many customer facing roles, this is an unlikely change in SMEs. Rather than redundancies, adopting a more efficient way of working will reallocate wasted hours spent on manual and admin tasks, to tasks that make you money – selling, customer service, lead generation and better, large scale communication.

With that out of the way, keep in mind the technology challenges that we’ve all faced in the past, how do you get it right?

Something we learnt a long time ago is that lots of technology isn’t enough. In fact, adopting a number of different solutions across your business is likely to add barriers to communication, increase cost and inefficiencies and reduce convenience. All areas that we know we have to get better at to compete.

Think about it like this… your business isn’t one process in isolation. It’s a whole load of processes that need to be able to talk to each other, and that you need to be able to get the bigger picture on.

The reality is, disparate systems hinder your attempt to improve cost, convenience and communication. They quite simply fail to deliver on promises or help with our challenges as SMEs. What’s worse is that integration is becoming more and more important.

We promised you the case for integration so here it is…

Technology is great, but if you opt for a non-integrated solution you will soon start to see the cracks emerging. Instead of becoming more efficient and in turn more successful you’ll develop new problems and additional barriers to your already prominent struggles. However, an integrated solution promises to deliver more efficient processes throughout your business.

Becoming an integrated business may seem like a challenge, there can be data issues, people issues, infrastructure issues, and so the list goes on. But in reality it’s easier for SMEs than large corporations with legacy systems. And our advice is to act now. Integration is already moving past an internal focus to external integration with suppliers and customers. The longer you wait, the harder this will be to achieve.

If you joined us at Silverstone, we’d love to see you again to chat about how ProspectSoft CRM and eCommerce, with integration to your Access Dimensions, Sage 50, Pegasus Opera and Exchequer accounts, could help you reduce the issues you currently face and provide you with a more efficient business. If you couldn’t join us at Silverstone we’d still like to see how we can help you. Contact one of our advisors on 01494 486301.