Today, motivating the world to beat a path to your door requires significantly more than just building a better mousetrap. Many business leaders now advise that you:
- Market your superior mousetrap via Instagram
- Provide round-the-clock tech support for mousetrap-related troubleshooting
- Accept Venmo payments for 10,000 customized mousetraps to be drop-shipped to multiple locations in the Far East
It can start to feel like opening any small business requires the owner to have multiple certifications in IT. Add in this year’s wave of 5G-enabled products and services, and it can be tempting to throw in the tech towel altogether.
But there’s no need to panic, at least not yet.
Providing quality products and services is still the single best form of marketing, so that needs to remain your primary focus. After that, it’s wise to develop a business plan that includes line items for small business tech needs.
With just about everyone using a laptop or smartphone to find what they’re looking for, a well-developed digital presence is a must. Whether you tackle these requirements in-house or outsource them, here are the seven tech capabilities you’ll need to address going forward.
1. Payment Flexibility
As a business owner, you invest considerable time and money into moving customers toward that magical moment when they make a buying decision. Unfortunately, many businesses still make it unnecessarily difficult to accept the customer’s preferred form of payment. Even if you’ve done everything right up to the point of sale, a negative experience at checkout will leave a lasting negative impression.
Lay the necessary groundwork so that your customers can pay you using cash, debit card, credit card, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, etc. (And don’t forget checks — yes, some people still prefer to use them.) If there are stipulations attached to the method of payment — minimum charge for credit cards, fees for bounced checks, etc. — post them prominently.
2. A Mobile-First Website
Websites are a lot like cars. They’re great to have until they stop working. As a new business owner, your website “stops working” whenever it fails to connect interested parties to your products and services. You might wait patiently while your designed-for-desktop website loads onto a smartphone, but the people you want to reach won’t.
Statistically, well over half of your potential customers will be looking at your site using a phone. Make sure your developer is optimizing your website for speed and mobile browsers. Regularly check bounce rates, user devices, and frequent search terms to ensure that you aren’t losing revenue to poor site performance.
3. Support for Location-Based Shoppers
In the 19th century, the question may well have been, “Who’s building the best mousetrap?” Today, your potential customer’s search string looks more like “Who’s building the best mousetrap near me?”
Location-based marketing is the key to connecting with these mobile users. Your first step should be to list your business in the directories of major search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) With their built-in map services and the GPS data from your prospects’ phones, these directories let people know where to find you. Then you can use location-based coupons or a well-timed text to lure them in.
It may seem obvious, but it’s critical that if Google says your store is open, then it needs to be open. If there’s any dissonance between your online presence and your store IRL, word of mouth around your business will take a serious hit.
4 Customer Relationship Management Software
Any CRM package worth its salt will allow your small business to develop a unique, helpful, and ongoing relationship with customers and prospects. There is a fine balance to be struck between collecting relevant data and “knowing too much” for a customer’s comfort. The guiding principle should be to collect only what is truly needed and then to guard customer privacy with vigilance.
Everyone likes to feel that they are known and valued. A good CRM package will allow you to record customer preferences, past interactions, service calls, spending patterns, and so forth. By making this information available to all of your employees, you empower them to provide an impressive level of service to each customer.
A sign of a robust CRM system will also allow you to integrate with third-party hardware and software. As an example, many businesses use people counters, which sense and log foot traffic entering buildings. These hardware devices can transmit the data and the CRM module can import it into the database. This will allow for running of foot traffic (sometimes called “foot fall”) numbers alongside sales numbers.
5. Personalized, Automated Email Marketing
The deployment of any successful CRM package should also allow your business to automatically generate and send targeted emails based on customer preferences. These timely, personalized messages should not require any additional expenditure or effort on your part.
Say a prospect calls, emails, or stops by and wants to purchase a product that’s currently out of stock. Your best information at the time indicates a waiting period of six weeks. When the product shows up two weeks early, your CRM software can automatically generate a brief email informing the customer. If the customer is still interested, you have a sale.
The “death of email” has been grossly exaggerated. People are indeed tired of being spammed with information they don’t care about. But research shows a high rate of response to emails that have been specifically targeted to address a consumer’s real need. A prospect might have zero interest in receiving your monthly newsletter or catalog. But they’re far likelier to open messages that mention them by name and provide information relevant to their interests.
6. Multi-Channel Social Media Marketing (With Video)
Too many business owners continue to cut themselves off from current and potential customers by failing to make themselves known through social media. Whatever your personal feelings might be toward this 21st-century tech trend, you need to meet your customers where they are.
It’s possible to dip your toe into the social media pool by using services that allow you to schedule and release posts consistently. Before long, however, prepare yourself to match the creative use of video by your competitors. Video represents the future in online media, so be sure to invest in video marketing with high production values. This is not the time to goof around in the warehouse and post head-scratching content to Twitter.
7. 24/7 Digital Assistance
As a small business owner, you probably work long hours, but you can’t be available for troubleshooting and customer assistance 24/7. The problem is, customer expectations have risen, and consumers increasingly demand instant answers to their questions. That’s why many businesses have chosen to implement digital assistants and AI-powered chatbots to fill the gap.
You might think such high-tech solutions are financially out of reach, but many companies have rolled out chatbots tailored to small businesses. It doesn’t hurt to ask for pricing — one of them may be an affordable solution to your customer service needs. And you may be pleasantly surprised by the uptick in customer satisfaction and decrease in the amount of time your employees spend answering inquiries.
Small business owners are often tempted to set aside technology concerns for “Sometime later, after we’ve opened.” But this is no longer a winning business strategy. In 2021, your success will depend on the ways technology coaxed a potential customer to make your business their option of choice.