Why technology is the key to growth and productivity for UK SMEs

SME technology

After the financial crisis, I started a business – a time when the major banks were forced to reduce their lending to SMEs as a result of strict new regulations.

My aim was to help business owners navigate a complex and highly varied market of alternative lenders quickly, so that they could find the best possible option for their situation and focus on growing.

Technology was at the heart of this aim, and almost a decade later, it still is. With a host of new challengers now competing to win market share against the larger industry players, choosing the right technology partner, alongside the right financial partner, is vital for any small business. Where large, established infrastructures used to mean stability, they can now mean reduced agility and flexibility. For decades, being “the little guy” has been a disadvantage, but not anymore.

Technology = productivity

Over the years, I’ve experienced a huge increase in efficiency brought about by technology. Implementing an intelligent CRM (Customer-Relationship Management) and automated lead nurturing was one of the smartest and easiest decisions I have made and one recommendation I would give to any business owner. I’ve been using Salesforce and it’s allowed us to reach out to potential customers at the right time in their lifecycle and to focus more confidently on the few customers that need expert intervention.

The vast majority of customers are able to go ‘straight through’ to the lender on an automated process. This is in sharp contrast to our previous process where every customer through the door was speaking to a member of staff after seeing their matches — which was fine when I wasn’t dealing with many of them! This journey has become so sophisticated that many customers find they can get finance in less than 24 hours.

Many small UK businesses still use one application for storing conversations with customers, another for alerting the sales team, another for marketing emails, and so on. Using a CRM solution puts all of these functions could be under the same umbrella, making processes more efficient and productive. Growing businesses should increasingly look to marketing technology to help them consolidate business lines, and with a more centrally managed approach, make it easier to spot where they need to invest and hire, and how they can keep growing successfully.

More sales, more growth

For most sales teams, success is determined by one key metric: how much business you bring in. By providing a central hub for all your sales tools, I learnt that an effective CRM solution can turn any small business into a well-oiled machine.

Previous opportunities can be re-engaged when customers open or click on an email, and repeat customers can be contacted to correspond with specific events. All of this happens automatically, so customers will only come into contact with your sales team if they re-engage with you.

We discovered that having such a system in place also means that businesses can take a much more proactive approach to selling. I picture a future where sales teams will be able to get alerts if customers are approaching the end of their financial year, have an upcoming VAT bill, or have recently filed accounts — prompting them to pick up the phone and speak to these business owners who may now be ready to make a decision.

The upshot of all this is that by automating the process around colder leads, sales teams in smaller businesses can focus on the highest priority leads and act fast, and in effect, provide a personalised service to thousands of customers. The data gleaned can also lead to much more resourceful and effective decisions, with rewards reaped in customer loyalty and long-term profitability.

Embrace the change now

It’s a brave new world for small businesses. Agility and flexibility have become major business assets, allowing SMEs to thrive – even against the biggest competitors.

If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s that you shouldn’t underestimate the ROI of a quality CRM. Once we’d migrated our existing data and got our staff up to speed, many of our scalability problems were solved.

My advice to small businesses is this – don’t be afraid to invest in new technologies. The right technology can turn an SMB from a niche player into a major threat. By helping to organise, support and enable small business, a CRM can help startups to punch well above their weight, and harness the selling power previously reserved for big business.

In nearly every industry, there is more competition than ever before. It all comes down to who is better organised, prepared and informed. It’s time for small businesses to align their processes so that they can sell with the poise and efficiency of a Fortune 500 company.

Conrad Ford, Chief Executive and Founder, Funding Options