- Salesforce’s annual business trend report reveals the pandemic-induced obstacles SMBs are facing.
- Business owners are prioritizing employee needs and focusing on customer relationships.
- Tech investments are growing, with particular emphasis on CRM, task-management solutions, e-commerce, and data security.
- This article is for business owners who want to assess current industry and tech trends amid fallout from the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many changes and challenges onto small and medium businesses (SMBs). Still, there’s a general feeling of optimism about business growth and positive future planning, according to a recent Salesforce report.
Released in September 2021, Salesforce’s Fifth Edition Small and Medium Business Trends Report surveyed more than 2,500 small and midsize business owners worldwide. Salesforce says its annual report explores “the challenges SMBs around the world face, how they move forward, and their visions for the future.”
We’ll highlight the report’s findings and show how SMBs are shifting mindsets and strategies to succeed in the face of unprecedented obstacles.
Prioritizing customers and employees
Successful SMBs understand that a business is only as good as its employees. The majority of businesses that experienced growth over the last year have made conscious efforts to prioritize employee needs during a time of immense uncertainty.
Surveyed employees said they expected employers to provide flexible schedules, enforce mask-wearing and social distancing at the office, and conduct daily workspace sanitation. They also prioritized remote work capabilities.
Successful businesses prioritized employee needs and preferences in the following ways.
- Flexibility: The Salesforce report showed that 50% of growing SMBs offered employees flexible working arrangements, compared to 38% of their stagnant or declining peers. Flexible working arrangements include allowing employees to telecommute, instituting reasonable paid time off (PTO) policies, and allowing compressed work schedules.Remote support: Growing businesses also invested in the best HR software platforms to ensure employees could access support remotely. Communication: Notably, 51% of businesses said the most impactful action they’ve taken to earn employee trust is communicating transparently, particularly during such an unpredictable time.
Customer retention was also a priority. Businesses that grew over the past year focused on customer needs during the pandemic. Nearly half (47%) say they’re more careful and aware of customer relationships, while 42% have increased the ways customers can reach out to their business, and 71% said their customers expect online transaction availability.
With a remote workforce, the best free remote working tools – for communication, file-sharing and more – can help your team stay connected.
Investing in technology
New technologies are constantly changing and fueling how business is conducted, and that was made clearer during the pandemic.
Over the course of the pandemic, it was crucial for small businesses to drive sales from anywhere, particularly if they depended heavily on a local economy. Mobile and online transactions became critical, as did software and online tools for customer outreach.
According to 71% of respondents, technology allowed them to survive the pandemic, while 66% said their businesses could not have survived using technology from a decade ago. Notably, 42% of respondents said their technology investment pace has accelerated over the last 18 months.
These were some of the most common tech investments cited.
- CRM: Growing small (67%) and midsize (78%) businesses relied on the best customer relationship management (CRM) systems to negotiate online customer service and employee remote work during the pandemic. Project management tools: Among growing SMBs, 62% said they relied on the best online project management software and task management tools to organize their teams’ work in a central location. E-commerce software: As online transactions became critical, 61% of growing SMBs say they invested in e-commerce software and platforms to ensure online translation capabilities.Tools for attracting new customers: Business owners also reported looking to technology to attract new customers. The top two marketing investments included the best social media marketing solutions or marketing automation tools (57%) and the best email marketing software (63%).
Some of the best tips for successful email marketing are segmenting your customers, personalizing your emails, and including a call to action in your messages.
Given the move to digitization, e-commerce, and remote work during the pandemic, 54% of successful growing small businesses invested in the security of their data.
Nearly all SMBs surveyed (90%) said at least a portion of their operations moved online during the pandemic, so many felt it imperative to protect their customers and employees. Most (95%) growing businesses invested in data security measures as opposed to their stagnant or declining counterparts. Specifically, 47% of growing businesses invested in IT operations and cybersecurity services.
Effective cybersecurity measures included the following:
- Creating and managing strong passwords through a password manager
- Blocking malicious sites before they target customers
- Storing the minimum customer information required
- Using cloud-based technology to back up and store data
- Updating applications regularly
- Using two-factor authentication
To improve your cybersecurity in an hour, conduct a cybersecurity audit and train your employees to spot threats.
Planning for the future
Many SMBs (75%) surveyed said the steps they took over the past year will benefit their businesses in the long term. Most SMBs (79%) plan to offer contactless services permanently, particularly businesses in the consumer goods, retail and technology industries.
Additionally, 77% of growing businesses say they have created scenario plans to prepare for any future disruptions or crises, as opposed to just 65% of stagnant or declining businesses.
According to the survey, the top characteristics for successful businesses going forward include market knowledge, problem-solving skills, flexibility and agility.
Andrew Martins contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.