Are you losing out on sales and customers by ignoring new tech?
In this article, rather than talk about trends from a distance, we want to look at how the shifting world of technology can positively impact your business right now.
Small businesses aren’t always the most earnest early adopters.
Innovations like bitcoin, chatbots and robotics are seen as the domain of big companies. If they catch on, everybody else starts to take notice. Slowly, new software and gadgets enter the mainstream.
But is this the best way?
Implementing just one of the innovations described in this post will have a visible and sometimes immediate impact on sales and revenue.
So let’s dig in.
1. Messenger Chatbots
Want a pizza?
There’s no need to pick up the phone or fill out an online order form.
Just open the Facebook Messenger app and go from there. You’ve just ordered in a fraction of the usual time and saved Domino’s the cost of a sales representative.
More consumers are using messenger chatbots to make purchases, whether through Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack or one of the myriad other chat apps. Because people spend so much time glued to their phones, offering app-based purchase options can significantly reduce friction.
And less friction means more sales.
As Jiaqi Pan, CEO of Helloumi, suggests, “In 2018, I predict we will continue to see strong growth in conversational interfaces where some players will emerge as early winners of the market.”
How to get started: A host of inexpensive online tools simplify the process of creating chatbots. Services like ManyChat, ChatFuel and Chatty People enable small businesses to build powerful AI-driven chatbots with no coding experience.
2. Advanced Analytics & Insights-As-A-service
Every day, the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. That’s enough to fill 125 million iPhones.
We’re drowning in a sea of megabytes. There’s sales data, online analytics data, customer behaviour data, advertisement data, engagement data.
The list goes on.
There’s so much it’s virtually impossible to draw meaningful insights.
Small businesses simply can’t sort through and understand all the information they have, let alone think about utilizing data from third parties.
New SaaS (software-as-a-service) analytics platforms simplify the process of managing internal data. They generate actionable insights that small and medium-sized business owners can access and implement out-of-the-box.
At the same time, “Insight-as-a-service” tools give businesses the power to leverage not only their own data but also data derived from a variety of sources. The result can be a significant boost in understanding across a variety of key areas.
Nic Smith, VP of Product Marketing for Cloud Analytics at SAP, says, “By connecting to advanced data networks, users will access relevant external sources and combine those insights with internal data to offer new digital services to their customers.”
How to get started: Third-party analytics platforms integrate with virtually every type of software that collects data, from accounting to sales. Tools like KissMetrics, for example, enable businesses to draw actionable insights from the activity of their online audiences, while suites like Adobe Analytics simplify data from a range of sources.
3. Marketing and Sales Automation
By adopting automation tools, small and medium businesses with employees of fewer than 500 people (SMBs for short) can generate near-instant improvements.
One of the biggest complaints is that huge amounts of resources are wasted on menial but necessary tasks.
As machine-learning and AI extend the functionality of software, automation is set to become even more powerful. But many experts are saying that 2018 will be the year when smaller companies really start to take notice.
On a practical level, automation software can be integrated with existing systems to speed up everything from advertising and lead management to stock updates and re-ordering.
Ann Hadley of MarketingProfs says: “This is the year of “How can we get more excellent with our use of automation to enhance customer loyalty?””
They’re easy to set up and integrate seamlessly with existing software.
4. New IoT Devices and No-Touch Interfaces
The “internet-of-things” (the multiplicity of devices connected to the internet) is now being called the “internet-of-everything”.
It seems the potential for interconnectivity is limitless. If you had told me ten years ago that my boiler and radiators would be connected to the internet, I’d have thought you were mad.
There are two sides of this trend.
On the one hand, they can often be used to drive efficiency in your own organization by speeding up arduous tasks and cutting costs. On the other, they offer new ways to reach people.
The interfaces through which we consume information, advertising and entertainment are becoming more diverse, from smart watches to voice-activated “assistants” like Alexa.
Anne Mercogliano, VP of Marketing and Business Operations at IFTTT, says: “Take a look at your day-to-day, and identify one area where you’re spending more time than you’d like, and begin your IoT journey there.”
How to get started: Think about how smart devices can save costs within your own business. Whether it’s through saving energy, improving communication with project management apps or even utilizing new platforms, like Alexa Skills, for your own marketing.
5. Digital Currency and Blockchain
Blockchains are essentially electronic ledgers. Their decentralised nature means that transactions can be recorded with near-total reliability, in a secure environment, with a minimum of third-party fees.
While the technology underlying these innovations is complicated, the benefits are clear: security, speed and full control.
One of the best-known applications of blockchain is cryptocurrency, a form of digital currency which is stored on a huge network of buyers’ and sellers’ computers. If you’ve turned on the news recently you’ll have heard about Bitcoin, the most famous and widely-used cryptocurrency. Businesses have very little to lose by preparing for what some experts see as the inevitable move towards cryptocurrency.
Accepting crypto payments is as simple as setting up a wallet and integrating it with your POS or online payments system. An understanding of this small implementation will also act as a springboard for exploring the broader possibilities of blockchain.
Sean Stein Smith, assistant professor at Lehman College, says “The fact of the matter is that there are, actually, many alternatives to Bitcoin based on the same underlying technology — blockchain. While the specific trends and currencies may change over time, the underlying technology and implications of blockchain contain several implications that will influence businesses of all sizes.”
How to get started: Accepting digital currency payments through services like bitpay is one of the easiest ways you can prepare for the continued rise in the popularity of cryptocurrency-related payments.
6. Specialised Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) and Cloud Computing
SaaS might seem out of place in a list of tech for 2018. It’s been around for decades! But it’s worth remembering that this emerging field is still in its infancy.
And its full potential is yet to be realised.
All-in-all, SaaS companies have been slow to approach the small and medium business market.
And SMBs, with their continued dependence on legacy systems, aren’t helping things either.
But things are beginning to change. The range of tools on offer is staggering. And many experts are pointing out that SaaS is finally starting to wholeheartedly target the SMB sector.
And the reasons are obvious. With SaaS, small businesses gain access to cutting-edge technology, and all the appropriate updates and improvements, without the headache of having to actually manage the backend.
Cory Capoccia, president of Womply, says: “Despite the market’s chequered background with technology, many of the historical roadblocks are going away at an incredible pace, paving the way for a golden age of SaaS for small businesses.”
How to get started: Cloud computing, digital sales, POS systems, accounting, payment processing – all are opportunities to move online and get rid of software issues. Cloud computing, like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, can be the best place to start.
How You Can Bring It All Together
The torrent of new technology can be overwhelming.
As a business, it’s difficult to know which innovations to pay attention to and which to ignore.
But there’s a key point to bear in mind.
While there might be a little friction when adapting to new tech for the first time, the long-term outcomes can be significant. What’s more, you can directly and quickly measure the contribution it’s making to your bottom line.
It’s also never been easier to implement these innovations. We live in a world of software integrations and DIY tools that simplify processes that would have required expert knowledge only a few years ago.
Businesses worry about change. It’s normal. But when innovations can be implemented and tested this seamlessly, there’s really no need to.
Now, time to build your first chatbot.