With COVID-19, labour shortages, and now the impact of geopolitical conflict to contend with, businesses are losing confidence fast. New and considerable risk factors to economic growth and inflation are causing unprecedented levels of volatility and unpredictability.
Rising costs, such as energy and goods, are shrinking budgets, which is resulting in a polarised reaction from businesses: accelerate digital transformation plans or stop and take stock.
It may seem counterintuitive, but businesses must fight the urge to batten down the hatches in the wait for what comes next, says John Cheney, CEO, Workbooks.
To grow revenues and reduce costs, investing in ways to improve productivity and remove inefficiencies from business processes is more crucial than ever – especially given the added complexities of today’s hybrid working model. The right technology can help future proof a business against the unknown – joining up processes across the entire business, tailored to achieve its specific goals, with the flexibility to adapt and grow.
The speed with which the economic outlook has changed has taken many businesses by surprise. In January 2022, companies were fretting about managing growth in the face of the great resignation and endemic skills shortages. By June, they were experiencing raging inflation and rapidly reducing customer demand. Is it any wonder so many businesses are rewriting growth plans and looking to ride out the next few months in the hope that 2023 will bring better economic news?
But that approach will not succeed. With almost 500,000 UK small businesses ‘at risk of going bust within weeks’ according to the Federation of Small Businesses, this is no time for procrastination. Change is essential. Indeed, with global economic volatility set to endure for years to come, business success, even business existence, will demand a proactive approach and rapid decision making for the long term.
Companies must get to grips with the new economic realities. And that means achieving a far greater level of insight into customers and prospects; eradicating inefficient manual processes; and finding effective ways to manage and engage the post-COVID hybrid workforce.
Insight Driven Revenue
Opportunities have not vanished overnight. Indeed, the downturn in demand is far from consistent: while manufacturing as a whole is being hit particularly hard by cost increases and supply chain disruption, businesses involved in electric car development, for example, are still buoyant. As a result, businesses need to be far more insight driven and assess the implications for both customers and prospects if they are to both maximise opportunities and minimise wasted activity.
Can the business identify customers that are still good opportunities and could be encouraged to buy more? Is there any way to identify customers at risk – those that may not just stop buying but could be on the brink of failure, potentially with unpaid invoices? Is the company evaluating prospect buying behaviour to understand the new digital buying cycle and assessing when best to engage? Without this insight, companies will struggle to quickly adapt to the new economic reality.
But where is this insight? Without a CRM system, transactional information will be locked up in finance systems – which means sales and marketing have no access to buying and payment history. Individual salespeople will likely know the state of play within specific customers – but if a company lacks the tools and processes to capture and utilise that information, it will be very difficult to identify either opportunities or problems.
Empowering a Hybrid Sales Team
Additionally, of course, companies are still struggling to recruit and retain skilled staff. Management is still coming to terms with the challenges created by a hybrid workforce – a model that adds time and complexity when it comes to onboarding new employees. Not only is vital customer and sector knowledge disappearing but the remaining workforce is under huge pressure to be more effective and efficient.
Businesses need to capture vital customer and prospect information, but also ensure processes are in place to actively and consistently use the information to drive revenue and support business decisions. For example, it is now a priority to implement a customer risk process to better manage customer interactions. Combining the insight within the CRM to identify a customer at risk of leaving with a workflow to manage the process – for example by colour coding customers, Red, Amber and Green – will highlight the level of risk and ensure sales teams know which customers to prioritise.
Using a CRM platform to record information is a good step. However, transformation is achieved when a company changes its language and culture, and uses that information to identify business opportunities and better manage customers. For instance, in the current market, it may be prudent to undertake a customer credit check earlier in the sales process to avoid wasting time on a prospect that would represent a high risk.
Embracing Essential Change
Companies need to adapt fast to these new challenges. What will provide an edge over the competition? Is there an opportunity to trial a different approach in one part of the business? Those that recognise the power of CRM to both capture data and support effective, consistent processes are well placed to respond quickly to the new economic volatility.
Agile businesses are leveraging CRM to automate business workflows and reduce manual effort – such as the life insurance company that has replaced manual processes with digital customer onboarding, online application forms and email reminders. Or the shutter company that has replaced its face-to-face sales model with a fully integrated online solution that is faster and more efficient for both customers and the business. Companies are using digital transformation to create a new sales and marketing playbook, automate processes, and ensure individuals are both effective and efficient: taking the right steps at the right time to maximise opportunities.
With every change, these businesses are using the data captured within their CRM to assess performance. What are the metrics showing? Are certain individuals within the remote sales team underperforming – if so, early intervention is key both to safeguard the sales pipeline and minimise the risk of losing a member of staff who is, perhaps, struggling with too much time working from home and missing collaboration.
In a good market, selling is easy. With a recession looming, however, successful businesses need to stand out and outperform the competition. From products to services, sales to marketing, it is those companies that identify and respond to any opportunity to be best in class that will both survive and thrive.
But that requires immediate insight. In a changing market, companies need to know what is working today and what isn’t working. Where are the risks? Where are the opportunities? With great business insight, companies can adapt and make the right decisions in what will continue to be a difficult trading environment for some time.
It may be daunting, but businesses – especially smaller businesses – need to be brave to survive. There is no room for procrastination. Doing nothing is a fast track to failure. Investing in change today will future proof and arm the business with the ability to stand out from the competition.