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Automation Crucial to Growing Your Small Business

There’s a tale of two small businesses. They’re the same type of business with one big difference. One is growing and another is stagnant and making more work for itself than it’s worth.

The reason for that big difference: automation.

That’s the gist of the new Small and Medium Business Trends Report from Salesforce. Salesforce surveyed nearly 500 small business owners and leaders for the second annual report. Companies between 2 and 199 employees were included.

According to the report, small businesses that are automating certain processes are growing. Businesses that aren’t, are floundering.

The survey reveals that small businesses automating their processes in some way are 1.6-times more likely to be growing than those that don’t. Likewise, growing small businesses are twice as likely to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) as stagnant businesses.

That’s not to say that all small businesses that fail to automate processes and adopt AI tech are doomed to never grow. But for companies finding themselves in a rut, it appears automation may be a solution.

“When we look at SMBs in the category of ‘growing businesses,’ there are more than a few common characteristics; they’re more likely to prioritize CRM in their budgets, to use helpdesk software, and to focus on providing consistent and personalized customer experiences,” notes Marie Rosecrans, Salesforce’s senior vice president of Small Business Marketing.

Take, for instance, those two similar small businesses — the growing business and the stagnant business (those that showed a 1 percent drop in revenue over the last two years).

Salesforce finds that it’s most likely they’re undertaking the same processes. That includes tracking customer data. The Small and Medium Business Trends Report finds that 95 percent of all small businesses are aware of the benefits of doing this.

How they accomplish this is a different story.

The growing business is likely using automation via a CRM platform, like Salesforce, to track customers. However, only one-third of small businesses surveyed by Salesforce actually use a CRM platform.

The rest are likely tracking their customers using non-automated technology, like a spreadsheet. And they’re tracking communications through their inbox.

It’s CRM where the growing business sees the need to automate. Salesforce found that growing small businesses are more than twice as likely to pick CRM as their top automation priority.

A small business that adopts automated CRM can provide more personalized customer service without a lot of the hassle of tracking conversations with customers and having their data at the ready.

Brent Leary, the co-founder of CRM Essentials, reviewed the data from the Small and Medium Business Trends Report and notes, “Many small businesses aren’t addressing customer acquisition and retention issues as if they’re at the highest levels of importance, or possibly don’t equate CRM as a solution to those challenges.

“The importance of providing customers quick answers to questions they have cannot be overstated, as it can be the difference between a one-time customer transaction, or a long-term customer who not only spends more with you, but also refers business to you – thus lowering customer acquisition costs,” Leary added.

The irony is that automating key business processes is designed to save small companies the time they desperately need. Of those responding to Salesforce’s survey, 66 percent of small business leaders say they’re responsible for at least 3 parts of the company.

And more than half of the companies asked (55 percent) say that time just isn’t on their side when it comes to accomplishing what they need to do every day.

Automation is clearly the answer. Small businesses spend an average of 23 percent of their day manually entering data into different systems. That’s nearly 2 hours of an 8-hour day!

So, what’s the problem here?

A stagnant small business that fails to adopt any automated processes is struggling to keep up with its own pace. It’s so bad, it’s dragging the business down. And the company’s team can see a competitor automating and growing. What possible reason is there not to automate the key business processes?

In a nutshell, the Salesforce Small and Medium Business Trends Report finds that the stagnant business doesn’t have the time or budget to implement an automated process like CRM.

Price was picked as the main reason a small business doesn’t adopt automated technology. Right behind that is how easy (or not so easy) it is to get a small business started using an automated process.

Sixty-two percent of the small businesses surveyed by Salesforce say that training would help them adopt automated technology faster. However, the same small businesses that say they need training on adopting and implementing automation don’t have time for it or can’t afford it.

Just 26 percent of those surveyed say they have more than one IT person on staff to help with that training and implementation.

Leary suggests these reasons for not adopting automation and AI at stagnant small businesses should not be excuses. He says, “The willingness to invest in automation, AI, and other technologies to improve customer engagement, and the ability to consistently provide valuable experiences over time, separate growth oriented small businesses.”

Image: Salesforce

This article, "Automation Crucial to Growing Your Small Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

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Dreamforce 2017 Agenda

We’re less than a month out from Dreamforce 2017 and if you’re attending the marquee Salesforce event, prepare for an event featuring big names, keynotes on business growth and break out events focused specifically on small business.

Headlining the keynote roster are former First Lady Michelle Obama, actor and noted investor Ashton Kutcher, the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA Sylvia Acevedo and former First Daughters Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush.

Dreamforce 2017 will be held in San Francisco from November 6 to 9. This year, more than 175,000 people are expected to attend the event. And if you think that’s a lot, wait until you see what’s in store.

“You can be overwhelmed because there’s so much going on,” says Brent Leary, the co-founder of CRM Essentials and a Dreamforce veteran. He attended his first Dreamforce back in 2004. “You want to look far in advance and map out what you want to see early … camp out almost.”

As a small business owner going to Dreamforce for the first time or on a return trip, there’s plenty to keep you occupied the whole week.

You’ll want to check out the Dreamforce website to get the full lay of the land for the event. There’s literally too much to cram into one article. To help you better navigate the event, Salesforce is launching an agenda builder at the Dreamforce website to help you pick the events that best suit your business and needs.

Salesforce senior vice president of SMB product marketing, Marie Rosecrans, tells Small Business Trends, “Dreamforce provides a unique opportunity for small business customers and prospects. You can connect with other people at Dreamforce but we will also have 100 breakout sessions specific to small businesses.”

The one big event you must attend, Rosecrans says, is the Small Business Essentials keynote.

Rosecrans and Salesforce executive vice president of SMB sales Tony Rodoni will deliver the  Small Business Essentials keynote at Dreamforce, “Gear Up for Growth”. They’ll be joined by Salesforce customers including Stella & Dot CEO and founder Jessica Herrin, Code.org CEO and founder Hadi Parvoti, and Kabbage director of sales strategy and growth Alfredo Jimenez.

The Small Business Essentials keynote will be held on the second day of Dreamforce, November 7, from 11 to 11:30 a.m. (Pacific). Even if you can’t attend, this address will be one of many events livestreamed on Salesforce Live and available for free to anyone checking in online.

Attending the keynote, while vital to the Dreamforce experience, is just one of the many things you should plan to do. To get the most of your trip, small businesses should take advantage of the expert help and networking available to them.

“I always want customers to walk away from Dreamforce inspired,” Rosecrans says. “The way you can do that is not only attending our keynote but then also to go to the sessions and identify two to three takeaways you can implement when you get back to the office. (Small businesses will) not only walk away feeling inspired but they’ll get some productivity tips that they can employ immediately.”

So, which sessions are right for small business? Keep in mind, there are more than 2,500 different sessions and group discussions and keynote addresses being presented during Dreamforce. Here are the events geared right to your small business.

If there’s just one you can attend, small business owners would be remiss if they didn’t take advantage of the one-on-one sessions being offered by Salesforce.

“Don’t pass up on this unique opportunity,” Rosecrans says.

These one-one-one sessions with Salesforce pros last about a half-hour and you can walk away with those couple things you can take right back to your company to start better using Salesforce right away.

“For folks who are actually going to be there, take advantage of the one-on-one sessions,” Leary says. “There are some really cool opportunities.”

Leary says small businesses should identify their pain points in sales, customer and lead gen, and other areas and prepare to address them with Salesforce pros or other customers at Dreamforce.

Rosecrans adds that Salesforce dispatches its top experts to provide advice to small business customers of theirs during these sessions.

Outside the one-on-ones and keynote addresses by some of the most recognized names in business and beyond, the biggest opportunity for small businesses like yours at Dreamforce is the chance to network with other companies and professionals using Salesforce.

Rosecrans tells Small Business Trends, “There’s a lot of tools and resources we’ve made available to customers. There’s nothing better than walking around and meeting customers who are just like you.”

With thousands of chances to meet someone just like you or in a similar situation as yours, you can find out how they’re using Salesforce.

“There are some really fascinating people and companies all in one place,” Leary says.

All small business activity at Dreamforce will be centered at the Small Business Lodge, located at the Marriott Marquis hotel. The lodge serves as the base camp for small businesses during the event. And that’s where the one-on-one sessions will be held.

At the lodge, small businesses are also going to find workshops offering advice on using different Salesforce products. These workshops will focus specifically on how small businesses can use these tools to spur growth and even sessions for companies just getting started with Salesforce.

One area where Leary says small businesses should be paying particular mind at Dreamforce is the development of artificial intelligence (AI). He says Salesforce’s AI tool Einstein is one example.

“I would want to find out as much as I can about how (AI) can impact my small business. Everyone is talking about AI,” Leary says. “It’s time for small businesses to fully understand how to implement it in what they do. Try to understand AI because it’s not going away.”

“(Small businesses) should be implementing AI,” Rosecrans adds. “It just makes them smarter. It allows them to focus on the right leads and the right opportunities. Einstein can benefit them because it’s built right into Salesforce CRM.”

This article, "Dreamforce 17 Will Feature Keynotes on Growth, Small Business Breakouts, Big Names" was first published on Small Business Trends