Alain Mevellec, CEO of Sellsy, discusses the importance of strategic investment in technology when team resources are tight
Tech may be increasingly important, but securing investment to fund it is increasingly difficult. VC deals in the UK have collapsed in the first three months of 2019, there is a clear hesitancy from partners or investors to invest in UK businesses with Brexit looming. According to a report from KPMG released earlier this month, just 161 deals were completed in the UK between January and March this year, compared to more than 300 last year.
At the same time, start-up or small and medium-size business owners are under pressure to streamline processes in order to reduce costs as well as invest in technology to appear attractive for investors and fulfil requirements. Often the same person can be looking after disparate job sets: sales, marketing, customer service and elements of finance.
So, what technology should they invest in when team resource is tight? And at this critical time, how can they make sure they invest in the right technology, to support and compensate for the team members these businesses may be lacking?
All for one, and one for all
Due to the size of SMEs, a single employee can end up being responsible for a number of entirely different functions – duties which would otherwise be shared across multiple departments in a larger company. Anyone from the CEO, Head of Marketing or even the office manager could find themselves tracking leads, scheduling invoices, issuing marketing communications or chasing late payments. Leaving one person to handle all these tasks, will lead to operational burnout – a result no one wants.
To avoid this, companies need to evaluate the broad range of technologies available, such as an updated CRM system or email service provider, which can take care of some business needs entirely or, at the very least, make the most monotonous of these tasks a little easier. Increasingly, businesses will find that, as the use cases for automation and AI grow, technology will increasingly become their team.
A trend towards consumption-based pricing models has made this an even safer investment for small businesses. New modular, SaaS-based systems operate in a Lego-like manner so that SMEs can select and build a tower of services that best fits their needs at any given time. Services – or bricks – (to take that analogy a bit further) can be dialled up and down dynamically in line with fluctuating business needs.
So, what are the job functions that can most benefit from this trend towards lego-like software?
Green brick: Don’t get bogged down in admin
It doesn’t seem to matter how far advanced you are in your career, it’s impossible to shake the admin. Administrative tasks are the most painful, repetitive and monotonous but tend to be the most time-consuming. In today’s fast-paced work environment, SMEs are already feeling the pinch. Businesses have a limited number of resources and staff to prepare product and services catalogues, proposal and quotation templates, stock management, and online payments. These can now all be managed and completed by implementing an online system that assembles layers of functionality that can be removed or added depending on demand and customer flow.
New technologies and the introduction of automation processes means these admin tasks can happen 10x faster and in a much more cost-effective way. SMEs need to take advantage of tools which can prevent difficulties in quickly issuing quotes or invoices, getting contracts signed and invoices paid. Automation can enable small business owners to save time and money they can then invest in other areas of the business.
Blue brick: Staying compliant
GDPR has impacted a lot of industries and is one area that cannot be overlooked. Complying with GDPR means having to understand the data residency requirements for each geographical market across Europe, triple-check assurances from third-party service providers and ensure that all employees are trained and adhering to the latest guidelines.
Businesses must ensure they remain fully compliant or face penalties. Obliged to manage data, SMEs need to have a solution that natively provides them with all the tools they need to manage access rights, collect and log consent, remove inactive contacts, or highlight any inconsistencies – a tall order for a single person to take care of!
With the same person running between tasks to put out one fire after another, it’s not difficult to see why compliance and proactivity in response to a changing industry can fall to the bottom of the pile.
SMEs need a customer lifecycle strategy which brings product, HR, finance, IT and marketing together. Only with a holistic view of business operations can a small business weather the regulatory storm that is GDPR.
Yellow brick: Catalysing customer advocacy
In a world governed by GDPR, the protection of personal data makes the mass acquisition of leads more uncertain and difficult. Now, your network is your biggest asset. All entrepreneurs know that a satisfied customer can generate one, two, three or even ten others. However, very few SMEs put the right tools and programmes in place to optimise this vital channel, which usually provides the best leads and the easiest to sign. Conducting research into Net Promoter Scores (NPS) not only identifies essential prospects, but also shows you the most marketable parts of your process. Find out what’s working for you with real-world data and emulate it fervently throughout 2019. Increasing brand awareness does more than driving sales, it associates you with the right crowd, establishing you in the perfect echo chamber. Utilising NPS and sponsorship to boost advocacy is the most effective way to drive referrals and secure high-quality leads.
A Lego-lined future
With scalable, collaborative technology SMEs can reduce time on admin and coordinate different functions, to aid smoother operations. Small business owners need to make sure they have the technology infrastructure to remain compliant, enable collaboration and support marketing. Investment in the right technology in a modular fashion means that these resources can scale or be easily removed in line with business needs.
Without the budgets of large organisations, SMEs need to take a step back and look for technologies and systems that will best integrate with their existing systems and enable for a more fluid, admin-light business.