SMB’s Are The Next Business Battleground
The excitement of hyperlocal has been brewing for some time, but where do I think the promise really is? I’d take it all the way to the storefront level.
While the battle so far has been largely outside of the store’s four walls, it will soon move inside. Understanding individual customers, finding effective ways to bring them in-store and engaging them while there, is going to require new approaches to the way SMB’s attract, retain and stay connected to their customers.
Trends and Indicators: Mobility Is Key
Mobility is first and foremost changing the way SMB’s are doing business, even if only because consumers are demanding it. Mobility is accelerating the pace at which consumers move through the purchase funnel and is varying the points at which they enter and exit.
Mobility is also the biggest enabler of Social. Consumers are leaving a trail of breadcrumbs everywhere they shop, eat or entertain. From Foursquare check-in’s to Instagram photos they record their every move. Interestingly, this is also creating more consumer generated content that SMB’s can use, though so far, most do not.
Among consumers nearly 50% are also using mobile devices inside of stores to get product info, read reviews, communicate with friends and family about products and compare prices.
While the trends may be difficult for individual business owners to see, they are clearly evident to those who provide products and services to the SMB market.
SMB’s will face an increasingly competitive risk from the stores around them, even when those customers are within their own four walls.
The Next Business Battleground Is Inside The Bricks & Mortar
As trends in mobile and social continue to push the battle indoors for service providers, opportunities will arise to solve the problems SMB owners will face.
Store owners will need to better understand the individual customer and how to engage them, inside their store and out. Some of the more obvious things SMB’s will need to know about their customers are:
- Who is in their store right now?
- Who is nearby?
- How much to they spend?
- How often do they visit?
- Who is in their network?
- How can existing customers help drive new customer acquisition?
The list goes on but the point is that most SMB’s are not able to answer those basic questions right now much less take action on them.
What Tools Do SMB’s Really Need ?
There are a lot of technology and service providers that focus on only one stage of the purchase funnel. As the battle builds, a technology arms race will come, and along with it more confusion for SMB owners. Differentiating yourself from the crowd will become even more important to reaching the SMB, and that will only happen by making your product simple and intuitive, while still providing in-depth problem solving.
Bricks & mortar stores will need more intelligent systems like CRM point-of-sale (POS), solutions for social management and tools to help provide a superior in-store customer experience. They’ll also need help for intelligent, targeted and time sensitive marketing, not just tools that generate more leads. The objective should be to use technology to make the interaction more personal and relevant – period.
SMB’s also need better content.
Local Search is key for SMB’s and when you combine the knowledge that 80% of all transactions happen within 15 miles of home, with the knowledge that 82% of local searches follow-up with an in-store visit, phone call, email inquiry or purchase, it becomes pretty clear that being found in the local context (geography and relevance for search) is significant for SMB’s.
Equally important is ensuring that content which leads to discovery via search (hours, contact info, map info, etc…) is accurate and up to date. Your content is a product, and as we mentioned earlier customers are already helping create it, but that content still needs to be harnessed and applied.
Startups and innovative companies have an incredible opportunity in the brewing SMB battleground to provide products and services that will transform the way small businesses operate and connect with their customers.
What other opportunities do you see in the businesses you visit? What problems would you solve inside an SMB’s four walls?