Technology has played an important role in helping many small and medium businesses successfully navigate through the challenges and uncertainties surrounding the pandemic—and will continue to provide many benefits into the foreseeable future.
Technology is increasingly intertwined with business performance. From time savings and efficiency gains to better data and insights for decision-making, SMBs can gain significant advantages from automating and digitizing business processes.
Our research found that SMBs that said they have accelerated tech adoption during the pandemic were about 1.6 times more likely to forecast that their revenues would rise than peers that decelerated or made no changes.
Here are six examples of how technology has helped SMBs to not only survive through the pandemic but also to strengthen their businesses for the future.
#1 Cloud Computing
Cloud computing adoption has grown steadily over the last several years, but it became the obvious choice for many SMBs when COVID-19 struck.
Almost overnight, SMBs had to transition millions of workers from the office to remote work. Those that were already using cloud computing solutions had an immediate advantage: employees could go home, login, and continue to perform sales, marketing, bookkeeping, project management, and many other tasks just as easily as they could in the office. Many SMBs also added new cloud solutions to adjust to new challenges that the pandemic created.
As a result, the advantages of cloud computing have come into sharper focus. SMB Group research reveals that 71% of SMBs are likely to select a cloud/SaaS solution the next time they need to buy a new application. The inherent advantages of the cloud—in terms of deployment, user access, mobility, onboarding, collaboration, centralized and real-time data, security, scalability, and more—will continue to drive SMB preferences for cloud computing.
Ready access to relevant data about what’s going on in different areas of the business is vital to gauge performance, uncover new opportunities, identify potential problems and make better decisions.
During the pandemic, analytics solutions have provided SMBs with insights into shifting customer, partner, supplier, and employee requirements, enabling them to more readily adapt to new conditions.
For instance, COVID-19 became a priority for many companies. SMBs could use analytics tools to optimize their websites to drive traffic, move users through the conversion funnel, increases sales, see how visitors navigate through their websites and optimize popular pages with different keywords to make it easier for people to find them online.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies can help you get things done faster and more intelligently across many business functions. While these technologies would be very difficult for most SMBs to build and deploy on their own, many cloud application vendors have built AI and ML into their solutions, providing SMBs with an on-ramp to powerful and pragmatic benefits. As a result, according to In SMB Group’s SMB Directions for the Future of Work Survey Study, 54% of SMBs believe that it’s important that vendors embed AI and ML functionality into their solutions.
For example, customer service solutions often include chatbots that use AI and ML to understand customer requests and respond appropriately. Over the course of the pandemic, many SMBs have changed how and where business gets done, opened and closed locations, changed schedules, created online ordering and pick-up options, and more. By using chatbots to address common inquiries and problems about these changes, SMBs can free up employees to handle more complex issues—sometimes guided by AI-infused recommendation engines that provide employees with suggestions to best handle different situations.
Ecommerce and digital sales channels have been a lifesaver during lockdowns, partial reopenings, and other challenges to conducting business in the physical world during the pandemic. At the outset of the pandemic, many product-centric SMBs added and expanded their e-commerce operations to provide customers with more online shopping alternatives. Similarly, service-centric SMBs—from gyms to healthcare providers—introduce new online services to replace or augment in-person services. Businesses of all types took advantage of virtual solutions such as video conferencing to replace in-person sales calls, meetings, events, and classes.
In the two years since the pandemic began, these virtual alternatives have become mainstream for most customers, and often a preferred channel due to the convenience they offer. With these new preferences now formed, SMBs will need to continue to enhance their e-commerce and virtual sales and service channels to meet market requirements.
One of the major changes that we have seen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is that more and more businesses have been transitioning to online remote working. SMB Group research shows that 70% of SMBs now have a remote program; and that SMB employees are about evenly split between remote only, company location only, and hybrid workplaces.
Cloud collaboration solutions have helped many SMBs to better manage their more distributed workforces. As a result, SMBs say that remote working most often has a positive or neutral effect on employee productivity and retention. As the concept of the “workplace” further evolves, collaboration solutions will continue to provide SMBs with the flexibility required to adapt and grow.
#6 Contactless Payments
Contactless payments give shoppers a no-touch payment option to pay for goods or services: no swiping, PINs, or signature required.
Contactless payment solutions, such as Apple Pay, PayPal, Stripe, Square, Google Pay, Venmo, and others were available prior to COVID-19. But the pandemic accelerated and sometimes necessitated SMB adoption of many of these solutions—which became a lifesaver for many businesses during the pandemic.
The popularity of contactless payments among customers will only continue to rise because, in addition to being touch-free, they’re often quicker and easier to use than other payment methods. SMBs need to be able to process payments the way customers want to buy to improve the shopping experience and ensure that customers don’t take their business elsewhere.
COVID-19 forced many SMBs to quickly shift gears to adjust to the “new normal.” In many cases, these shifts would have been next to impossible to achieve without technology.
After two years of dealing with the ups and downs, it’s clear we’re not going back to the “old normal.” While no one really knows exactly how things will play out, it is clear that technology will play an increasingly important role in business strategy and operations going forward.
SMBs that accelerated technology adoption during the pandemic have already seen strong returns. Digital solutions have enabled many SMBs to pivot and expand their market footprint, create more flexible work environments, and get the insights they need to drive more successful outcomes than less proactive peers. Looking ahead, these trends will continue to accelerate and strengthen going forward, creating an imperative for all SMB decision-makers to chart and execute plans to become digital businesses.
© SMB Group, 2022