The challenges of staying connected. Look forward five years and ask yourself: What will be the most common platform small businesses will need to best engage with their customers? As consumers become increasingly connected by digital technologies, the way small and medium businesses (SMBs) engage and transact with their customers is changing: In fact, 70% of connected consumers – those that are connected to the internet – use three or more devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, to discover brands and research products. These new technologies (and there will, of course, be more to come) are disrupting the way consumers are communicating with businesses, and traditional channels to engage with them, such as print and broadcast advertising, may no longer be the best tactical choices when it comes to a SMB’s marketing strategy. The digital adoption trend amongst customers, its continued growth and what it means for SMBs are among issues analysed in a new report – SMBs in the digital race for the customer – commissioned by Salesforce Australia and that looks at how high performing businesses are succeeding in a rapidly changing business landscape. For example, around half of all Australians access social networking sites on a weekly basis – with 24% saying they use social media to find information about a particular business, and 20% saying they would use it to research products and services. The rising popularity of social, and shifting consumer behaviours online, presents new challenges, as well as opportunities, for SMBs to communicate, sell, and provide services to their customers. Opportunities reach beyond delivering superior customer experience. The ability to nurture customers’ advocacy on behalf of the business, for example, could significantly increase market reach and effectiveness and the delivery of superior customer experience. The profound shifts and trends we are seeing are rapidly changing how SMBs operate. In just five years, SMBs predict that more than half of all sales activity will involve some form of ‘digital tool’, including mobile apps, email, company websites, and social media platforms (Chart 1.2). Yet despite the clear benefits, most SMBs are falling behind. Analysis of a survey of over 500 SMB leaders that has informed the report reveals that only around 20% of these businesses are using social media, for example, to actively engage with customers. These digital tools are also driving investment decisions by savvy SMBs (that are then reaping the benefits) in terms of significant performance dividends. In fact, SMBs that communicate with their customers over multiple channels enjoy revenue growth around 4.8 percentage points higher a year (nearly $160,000 a year for the average SMB). Further, SMBs that provide customer service over social media can deliver a superior customer experience, including faster and more personalised responses. Those SMBs that integrate social into their customer service strategy are able, on average, to respond to customer queries nearly six hours faster. As more SMBs take advantage of digital strategies such as customer loyalty schemes and online customer engagement – and more are planning on using digital channels over the next five years – those that don’t risk being left behind. Discover the other trends and edge out the competition in the ‘digital race’ for the customer.