There's no question that digital transformation has become a bigger priority for SMBs during COVID-19. While some businesses buckled under the pressure, some have leaned on technology to find solutions to the new challenges the pandemic has presented. In fact, one study from September 2020 reported that "SMBs that have accelerated technology adoption and investments are 42 percent more likely to have increased their revenues since March than SMBs that decelerated in this area." How are SMB technology priorities changing? Four key trends hold the answer — consider these as you plan for 2021 and beyond.
SMB owners are investing more in technologies that support customer-facing initiatives and teams
One might argue that it has never been more important to attract new customers and maintain strong relationships with them than it has been during the pandemic. Since it's less likely that traditional marketing or in-person customer service strategies will be as effective, there are several technologies that can help you accomplish your goals from a distance.
One of those technologies is a customer relationship management (CRM) software, which will consolidate your customer service records, sales interactions, and digital marketing efforts into a single platform. The growing popularity of this kind of tool is evident in the 24 percent of SMBs that have adopted a CRM system since March 2020, according to a report from Salesforce. CRM tools make it easier to identify sales opportunities and automate interactions with your customers where appropriate. Depending on your budget, your ideal CRM might have basic customer interaction features or more advanced reporting and automation capabilities. Top CRM vendors for small businesses include Zoho, HubSpot, and Salesforce. To find the best fit for your business, check out TechnologyAdvice's CRM Product Selection Tool. Fill out the form with your information and an expert will match you with personalized recommendations for CRM solutions.
Also read: CRM's a Priority for Growing SMBs
An emerging trend that reimagines the customer experience is augmented reality (AR). This technology enhances your customer's existing physical environment with text and images, usually without any specialized technology beyond a smartphone. Larger companies are already using AR in creative ways, like Target's See It In Your Space feature that helps customers visualize how a piece of furniture or décor will fit in their homes before purchasing.
AR isn't just for the big organizations, however. Even SMBs can use AR to provide a unique experience to customers exactly where they are. While it might not be practical to hire a full-time AR design and development team, companies like Blippar and Roar offer more affordable options to create an AR platform for your business. Or, if you're looking for a smaller-scale AR opportunity, consider leveraging the capabilities of existing platforms like Facebook Spark or Shopify.
COVID-19 has amplified the need for cloud-based technologies
The widespread shift to remote work has also necessitated technologies that are easily adaptable and can be accessed from anywhere. In fact, 37 percent of SMB survey respondents said COVID-19 made them more likely to select a cloud solution when considering new app investments. This is largely because cloud technologies are more flexible and can adjust to meet any of the business's needs. If this pandemic has proven anything to SMBs, it's that a business's agility is a deciding factor in whether or not it can stay afloat.
Particularly for small businesses with lean budgets, the emphasis on cloud-based technology has a direct relationship with the growing market of Managed Service Providers (MSPs). Cloud services like cybersecurity, infrastructure, and disaster recovery allow businesses to experience the productivity and performance of cloud technology without an advanced degree of technical knowledge in-house. When a business is able to outsource their IT needs to a third party, it also allows them to reprioritize their time and money to support other goals — like pivoting during a global pandemic. This is largely why MSPs that deliver cloud services are expected to account for 17 percent of SMB IT spend by 2025, according to Analysys Mason. MSPs make it easier for small businesses with lean teams and small budgets to manage IT operations.
Digital transformation escalates security vulnerabilities
The rise in cloud-based technologies and digital customer engagement means your teams and operations can be more efficient and connected than ever before, but it also has a dark underbelly. If you don't consider your system's security at every step of the digital transformation process, you may be missing a way for malicious figures to gain access to sensitive information. To make matters worse, businesses have seen a surge in security threats since the onset of COVID-19. A recent report from Forbes indicated that there was a 238-percent increase in attacks on financial institutions and a 600-percent increase in attacks on cloud servers during the first four months of 2020 alone. At a time when SMB owners have so many pressing concerns, it's important to make sure that security is at the top of your list.
Thankfully, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning features within cybersecurity tools can help minimize security vulnerabilities by analyzing computer systems for threats and suspicious activity. These tools study your business's expected operations and alert you when something seems out of the ordinary. This makes it easier for you to focus on other priorities while ensuring that your system hasn't inadvertently been exposed to an attack. Vendors like Crowdstrike and SentinelOne provide 360-degree protection to your business's data, so you don't have to worry about a costly data breach in our increasingly digital world.
WFH will stick around after the pandemic
Regardless of the size of their organization, many employers and employees have experienced a culture shift in attitudes about remote work since the beginning of 2020. Not only does working from home offer more flexibility and contribute to a more desirable work-life balance for employees, but it also reduces business owners' real estate and utility costs associated with maintaining a physical office space. However, remote work policies usually take several months (or even years) of planning to institute effectively and without significant disruption to the business.
This timeline was dramatically shortened when COVID-19 social distancing measures meant office workers who could work remotely started doing so at a moment's notice. But while some organizations experienced a few bumps in the road, many businesses were able to adapt to the new norm quickly. In fact, 84 percent of respondents in an Intermedia survey said they are reliant on video conferencing tools (like Zoom) to facilitate important meetings and, in some cases, customer interactions. The same survey also found that employees have experienced a bump in availability and both job and life satisfaction since the beginning of the year. While there are some challenges that telecommuting presents, working from home has shown that businesses can save on in-office expenses without diminishing employee productivity.