There's no shortage of available advice for small businesses looking for ways to remain competitive in a crowded space. Usually, that advice entails observing what larger organizations are doing to be successful and adapting those tactics to a small business's unique needs.
But why do we assume it's always the little guy (or gal) who needs to follow in the footsteps of a larger competitor?
Learning the strengths and weaknesses within your own market is a benefit to every business, regardless of size. Even enterprise-sized businesses have room for improvement.
Moreover, in an era where customer experience is king, it's the small businesses that have the most to teach the big guys—not the other way around.
So now it's the enterprise’s turn to learn and emulate. What do small businesses do better than large organizations do that helps them fight—and win—on the customer experience battlefield?
Here are three areas enterprise businesses need to focus on to remain competitive:
1. Agile Innovation
Enterprises are notorious for being slaves to processes and hierarchy. However, small businesses are inherently more agile because they don't have the same structures and organizational procedures slowing them down.
That transparency and freedom of movement provides SMBs with the frictionless collaboration required to adapt quickly and innovatively meet the specific needs of their markets. Large businesses that cling to legacy solutions or ingrained processes find it harder to scale innovation—which means they also lose out on ways to connect with and win new customers when the market changes.
It's important for enterprise organizations to break down the barriers that keep departments siloed and that stifle collaboration. An effective customer relationship management (CRM) tool and strategy can provide a unified view of customer information and processes.
Once all teams—from customer service to sales and marketing—are armed with the same, detailed, updated information, they will be able to make course corrections more quickly and easily to meet the ever-changing needs of customers.
2. Local Purchasing Habits
Every community is a microcosm representing unique tastes, perspectives, and preferences. Large corporations using only demographics data are often missing this integral insight.
Small businesses, on the other hand, are uniquely positioned to understand the local climates, cultures, and individual customers of the communities they are part of.
For example, a national clothing retailer in Southern California may start offering incentives to buy heavier winter clothes in early fall because national statistics show that's when people are looking to prepare for winter. However, a local clothing boutique would know that customers in this area typically ignore the changing seasons until they feel the difference in the weather—usually much closer to December and the start of winter.
That understanding of local purchasing habits provides small-business owners with the knowledge that discounts will be more effective if they wait to offer them until customers begin to feel the cold.
Moreover, a larger business will probably look to grow in local areas by offering sweeping discounts and competing on price, but a small-business owner will know when to compete with those discounts and how to appeal to the local area. That local insight is what customers appreciate and respond to.
3. Genuine Engagement
Dedicated, larger businesses looking to make an impact in individual markets will understand the overall demographics and needs of those areas, but that data is often more intuitively understood by small businesses.
SMBs go more granular and get to know their individual customers as people with specific wants and needs.
For example, if a large organization is looking to recruit gym members in Denver, it may cater to the overall demographic by focusing on core strength equipment that helps with winter sports like snowboarding.
However, a local gym owner down the street may be taking the time to get to know his customers on an individual level and learn that there is a sizable group of local Gaelic football enthusiasts. This insight allows the small-business gym owner to provide access to uniquely engaging amenities (like showing Gaelic football games on gym TVs or providing equipment associated with the sport) and also create a personal connection that builds brand loyalty—something that general demographics could never accomplish.
* * *
Consumers are savvier and more discerning than ever about who they do business with, which is why small businesses often have the upper hand in earning their favor.
Smart, forward-thinking enterprise organizations would be wise to look at how small businesses successfully play the engagement game and focus on emulating them for long-term success. They will resist the urge to throw their money and size around and not assume that their vast resources alone will win them market share.
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