Superfast broadband opens the way for smaller businesses using online technologies to compete with larger or more established brands. Of course you need to find a niche that appeals to your market and is sufficiently different from companies of the same ilk. But thereafter competitive advantage is likely to go to the most dynamic and forward-thinking.
This guide will help you to stay relevant as customer expectations evolve with changes driven by the internet. It will reveal you don’t need to be an expert in cloud technology to build a winning reputation. And it will show you how to focus on delivering better business practice and customer service than your competitors so you can avoid the slippery slope of price wars.
2. What benefits might I expect?
Controlled costs: Cloud software and data storage use a pay-as-you-go model that can immediately be scaled to suit your current and future needs.
Sharpened reflexes: Because many SaaS applications integrate fairly easily, you can react to market needs and make changes quickly and cost effectively.
Healthier collaboration: When systems collaborate across departments and divisions there is an opportunity to analyse and act on stronger market data.
More sales: A cohesive strategy that runs across all marketing channels makes it easy for customers to recommend you and encourage exponential growth.
Increased customer loyalty: You can increase retention using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and social media to build relationships.
Better customer service: You can also use CRM reports and analysis to plan marketing campaigns and deliver enhanced customer support and services.
More productivity: Cloud-based applications allow off-site staff to update information in real-time rather than having to come back into the office.
Smarter choices: Switching face-to-face to virtual meetings allows you to minimise costs, reduce fuel consumption and win back lost travel time.
3. Real life example
A precision engineering firm from North Wales is celebrating its expansion across lucrative markets and a 20% increase in revenue over the last 12 months. “In our industry, it’s imperative that we are one step ahead so we felt we should align our business operations with our reputation for delivering high quality components”, says Josh Harris, IT Manager for Flintshire-based Tarvin Precision.
As a large number of Tarvin’s clients are global, upgrading to a Superfast Broadband connection to increase download speeds to more than 80Mbps has made their communications far more reliable. This translated into a 50% cost saving for their annual telecommunication budget, which will increase to 75% once the cost of financing the investment has been met in around 12 months’ time.
These capabilities have driven efficiencies in other areas of the business, including inbound call-handling, marketing and the day-to-day management of client data, which can now be sent and received easily regardless of how large the data files are. This has been particularly important to several key client accounts, who have also been reassured by the secure connections for staff to access its server remotely.
4. Creating competitive advantage
The introduction of Superfast Broadband allows businesses to save money, improve sales and boost business growth.
Next are several ways how this can be achieved.
5. Going Mobile
Internally, mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets can give remote staff access to core business systems for faster updates on product and stock information, and job tasks. Externally, websites configured to mobile devices give customers a streamlined and secure experience which is likely to generate loyalty.
The right mobile strategy will enable processes and transactions to take place in a secure and integrated environment, boosting staff productivity and efficiency, and enabling more profitable customer relationships.
6. DIY apps
DIY systems are geared up for the needs of small businesses with minimal or no development resources. The most successful apps give customers real benefits. These include localised offers and vouchers, bill payment and purchase options, easy-to-complete application forms, information they can share across social media, and simple access to product documentation, tips and advice.
Remember, this is a business decision. Do some market research into what your customers would like to have on their mobiles. Then use your apps to help generate business, open marketing possibilities and help to streamline customer service.
7. Business Process Management (BPM)
BPM is a systematic approach to making an organisations’ workflow more effective, more efficient and more capable of adapting to an ever-changing environment. Forget the misconception that BPM is only for large enterprises that can afford expensive specialist software.
Investing in BPM is a great way to get a complete view of how your business is running. Use it to identify bottlenecks and inconsistencies which might cost you time and money. Benefits could include improved profitability and having good information to hand for making business decisions.
8. Online Marketing
Online marketing is definitely something to consider if you want to achieve competitive advantage. There are many methods to this, including websites, social media and email marketing.
But successful online marketing does not happen overnight. It takes a long-term, consistent approach of customer engagement to reap the benefits. But get it right, and it will open many doors to reach larger target audiences, produce operational benefits and cost savings too.
9. Cloud Computing
Just about any core business system – financial, HR, CRM, office productivity – can be sourced and implemented via the cloud.
This could reduce license, maintenance, upgrade and operational costs for small businesses – not least because it avoids the need to invest in expensive infrastructure and servers. It also makes previously unaffordable enterprise systems available to SMEs.
10. Search engine optimisation (SEO)
SEO is great for any business owner who is serious about building and developing an online business in an increasingly competitive environment.
However, unless you have in-house expertise, working with a partner that specialises in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is probably the best solution for a small business. They will help you to make sure you are enjoying the advantages of the latest thinking and tools in this fast-moving area.
11. Outsource your IT
Finding an IT support partner to take on hardware and systems maintenance and provide help desk services is an increasingly popular way for businesses to cut back on operational expenditure.
The key is to find a service provider that understands the needs of your business and can offer an appropriate service level agreement (SLA) that will ensure system availability, business continuity and disaster recovery when disruption occurs. This will allow you to reduce your dependence on in-house expertise, making you leaner and more competitive.
12. Customer relationship management (CRM)
CRM is a way of working rather than a product or a technology, although the providers of CRM systems include big names such as Microsoft, Sage and Salesforce.
At its simplest level, an application such as a contacts database is a form of CRM, because when shared by all your employees it can provide one of CRM’s most important benefits: the centralisation of all information about each customer, or potential customer, in one place. This gives everyone access to up-to-date customer details, so work isn’t duplicated and errors are avoided.
There are various types of CRM, including:
Salesforce automation: supports the sales team by providing a single repository of information where all customer details and contacts are recorded.
Customer service: software for customer service can be used to track contacts with a call centre, provide agents with up-to-date information, and manage their workflow.
- Marketing: CRM for marketing can be used to analyse customer data, as well as monitor customer satisfaction to identify need for improvement.
13. Managing your online reputation
It is now very normal for customers to talk about businesses and their products and services online. And whilst this sounds scary, it’s a huge opportunity to engage in more focused and responsive customer relationships.
Not responding to a specific criticism or observation, or even by failing to acknowledge a positive recommendation – is a missed opportunity. And the last thing any small business needs in a competitive marketplace is negative feedback.
Use of a proactive, integrated online reputation management strategy will allow businesses to generate positive communication with its customers and build credibility as a customer focussed organisation. For detailed advice on developing an online brand, it’s worth reading through our guide about online marketing.
14. Recommended action points and tips
Customer relationships are essential: keep in communication with your customers to understand what it is they value from your company because anything else is essentially waste.
Understand your competitors: analyse your competitors’ online accounts and track their activity and engagement with other organisations which could help you understand what your competition is doing.
Market research: spend time online connecting with people, monitoring social media and getting to know your current customers, loyal followers and identify future potential.
Monitor trends: be the first to turn that trend into a commercial opportunity through online research and data analysis.
Streamline and stay lean: by improving efficiency and reducing costs, businesses can expect better margins to boost profit.
15. Additional information
Use the Superfast Business Wales Software Directory to explore the software that could help you run your business.