How business technology can help small businesses to build their network

Nigel Maine is the founder of Market + Motivate, a marketing agency specialising in small and medium sized enterprise (SME) B2B sales and collaborative lead generation systems and techniques. Helping your business to thrive, not just survive. He is also working on the Business Technology Handbook that will be published later this year. Jasper asked him some questions on how small businesses can use business technology to improve their business.

As an entrepreneur, can you tell us what you do?

As an entrepreneur, I help small businesses by showing them how to begin their marketing approach in order to achieve their true potential.

With so many new businesses, the owners are expert at doing what they’re good at (of course they are!), but where they come unstuck is being able to consistently generate new leads and enquiries.

A fundamental gap exists between working as an expert and finding new business. The SME business person normally has trained in the past to become really good at his or her profession, but that’s “doing the work”, not “finding the work”.

So, I help them with business to business marketing to bridge the gap to secure more new business, more consistently and more profitably. My unique strategies ensure they get their message directly to decision makers, increasing their reach by as much as 500% and also reducing their marketing costs by as much as 80% - we’re very different in our marketing approach to most other agencies!

Besides being the owner of Market & Motivate you have written “The Business Technology Handbook” that will be published this year. Why did you decide to write it?

Having spent 20 years running technology based companies, I was aware of the void between how salespeople were trained and the requirements of businesses, including my own.

Technology is an enabler; for marketing, sales, support, you name it. But the trouble with many vendors is the fact that their salespeople can’t genuinely empathise with business owners as they’ve never run a business. So, when it comes to making recommendations, the business owner doesn’t necessarily trust them and therein lies the problem.

One of the standard lines from many sales people, because of their inexperience, is that their solutions will save money. Who cares! We’re in business to make money not spend our time figuring out ways to save it, that comes with the territory. We’re all experienced cheque writers, therefore we use our judgement to not waste money, our job is to spend it wisely and make a profit.

So, the “mantra” for the book is, “if it’s not making you money, it must be called furniture!”

Any business owner reading the book will learn the essential aspects of employing technology systems to make money and at the same time ensure that the implementation of systems is done so effortlessly and successfully.

Are SMEs using business technology the right way? Or is there room for improvement?

I believe that businesses need to be guided on the one hand and need to trust their instincts on the other. Technology should to be thought of as a business engine. One that can be customised and connected together from a variety of different sources. When it’s complete, it can generate, create and manage the majority of tasks needed to be successful and more importantly, profitable.

As I mentioned, business owners don’t want to waste money, but if they’re shown a definite ROI then there’s no excuse to not invest.

In order to keep sales staff at a minimum and maintain a competitive edge, businesses need to substitute manual prospecting activities and implement automated marketing solutions.

On line lead generation is becoming more widespread, but still many small businesses are not aware of the serious financial benefits.

The plain and simple fact is that the “prospects” wants to satisfy themselves. They don’t want to be cold-called; they just want information when they’re good and ready. From the vendors perspective, odds of 100-1 to connect with a decision maker is ridiculous so they need a new angle to stay ahead of the competition.

The trouble is, most of the directors and managers of technology companies achieved their positions by selling the “old” way. The fact of the matter is, the market hasn’t changed, just the way we can evaluate it (i.e. via Google and information available on line etc). Therefore, if many of the vendors aren’t using the technology, how can SME’s expect to be advised differently?

By using technology, businesses can significantly improve their operations, efficiency and profitability. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions and finding the right suppliers. Don’t forget, you can have anything you want, if you want to pay for it. And, technology is a one-off revenue expense. It doesn’t have a holiday, rarely gets sick and works 24/7.

What advice would you give start-ups and small businesses when it comes to business technology?

Understand that relationships are what help you get new business, but be acutely aware that these days, you will probably have to develop your relationships online before you can meet face-to-face.

Businesses investigate new products and services on line, when they first become aware of their possible problem. Therefore, start-ups and small businesses need to “hang out” where their customers are going to be.

A prospect will find you via the written word, i.e. your article on a web page. Once they arrive at your site, be aware of the strategies required to keep their attention such as web site conversion optimisation. When they start to like you and are prepared to give you their contact details, make sure that the technology processes and systems you implement are well thought out and deliver what they customer wants, not what you “think” your customer wants. If you’re not sure, ask them!

Use technology wherever possible, read up on it, ask questions, go on forums and join discussion groups. Failure to do this will result in higher costs, more stress and lower profits.

Mobile technology is great and its evolving day-by-day, but, depending on your business model, office/web based technology will significantly improve your chances of business success, irrespective of your size. Thinking that technology is not for you because you’re too small is a big mistake.

The technology to investigate is Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Auto-responders, Email Automation and Demand Generation software. In addition, SMEs need to be aware of hosted SIP VoiP telephony, CTI, Contact Centre software including media blending and voice recording (not just for security, but to make sure you and your staff sound professional on the phone!).

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