3 Ways SMBs Can Beat Competitors With Tech in 2021

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For small-to-medium-sized businesses, 2020 was a year where being nimble became paramount for survival. Around 100,000 SMBs have gone out of business since the pandemic started in early spring. And many of the surviving businesses have one thing in common — they have embraced technology. A recent study showed SMBs that accelerated tech adoption were 42% more likely to have increased their revenues this year compared to those that did not.

As Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff recently put it, digital experiences are no longer nice-to-have features but need-to-have services for all businesses. Let’s look at three important ways SMBs can meet this new digital imperative head on in 2021 while beating competitors down the street.

Digitize the store experience

Before the pandemic, business owners considered the entrance to their establishment to be a greeting center, a showroom, or a lobby for customers to check in for their appointment. Covid-19 changed all of that, of course, and SMBs need to acknowledge in 2021 that their front door isn’t what it used to be, and it will remain that way even after herd immunity is reached with vaccinations.

SMBs need to digitize the experience when people come to their storefronts. Car dealerships, as one example, should not only allow prospective buyers to schedule test-drives online but also offer a mobile-based way to keep the customer and the dealer’s assigned salesperson on the same page. Right now, people want to remain free of Covid-19 exposure, so streamlining in-person engagement is at a premium. No one wants to see scenarios with a lot of walking in and out of rooms.

Even after the pandemic is over, many customers will want that type of on-demand service as an option because it respects everyone’s time. They will also want the old-fashioned, in-person, rubbing-elbows type of service. It will be a hybrid model. The same ideas also go for hair salons, health clinics, psychiatrists, legal offices, among many other types of small businesses.

With all that in mind, text messaging software programs exist where a message can be sent the morning of an appointment, asking the customer: “Are you still able to make your 1 pm test-drive at Perry Ford in National City? Please reply Y or N.” This kind of system can pay dividends. Consider that 71 Toyota franchisees made an extra $192,266 per dealer in three months thanks to automated service appointment reminders.

What’s more, SMBs should use text-message, or SMS, programs to allow their customers to check in before getting out of their car once they’ve arrived at the establishment. That way, sales reps and other staffers can be at the ready as the customer walks to the front door.

Double down on social

Social media has been hailed as an SMB marketing tool for many years now. But don’t consider the social apps to be passé — Facebook and Instagram, in particular, are still the most powerful word-of-mouth tools going. As someone who has used them to help grow a company to 250 employees, I can attest to their power.

SMBs should be doubling down on not only Facebook and Instagram but also getting into TikTok, Snapchat and — especially if you are a business-to-business SMB — LinkedIn. TikTok is fascinating right now, as it is growing a suite of tools for businesses on the app. Believe it or not, creating dance videos for the mobile app could help achieve business goals, even if you only reach a sliver of its 800 million users who cannot get enough of its pithy clips.

At the same time, explore each of these social media apps, pick the best ones for your small business, and lean in hard. SMBs that back down on social media marketing during this pandemic will lose to the competition in 2021, I predict. I cannot tell you how many restaurants or stores I’ve supported in the last eight or nine months due to seeing a great-looking Instagram or Facebook post by the local business. And that’s an experience millions of us have had — because it works!

Consider dipping into voice tech

During this pandemic where so many people have worked from home, they’ve really gotten to better know their AI-based voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri. eMarketer estimates that 128 million Americans have been using a voice assistant at least monthly in 2020, up 11% from 115.2 million in 2019. Voice tech users now represent 44% of internet users and 30% of the total population, per eMarketer.

It seems like a big opportunity for SMBs to explore as a discovery tool that supplements Google search marketing. Nevertheless, most SMBs probably view gaining a presence on voice assistants as being out of their price range.

But recent profiles of small businesses like Wyoming-based Blacktooth Brewing and Diedrich Espresso, a 17-store chain in Washington State, suggest otherwise. Their owners have expressed delight at the age range and demographic profiles of people who have found their business locations after asking Alexa for information about their SMBs. And they say they’ve used affordable software services to make it happen.

In closing, all of these technologies include features that take care of real-life business problems that are here to stay. Even after Covid-19 is long gone, your in-store customers will continue to expect digital bells and whistles that put their needs first. And you will still need to be where they digitally are, whether that is on social media, voice assistants or any other emerging platform.

Dr. Kami Hoss is a San Diego-based orthodontist and dentofacial orthopedist, author, and founder of The Super Dentists and Howard Healthcare Academy.