As a small business, using technology isn’t about making headlines with a fancy, slick way of doing things. While it’s definitely great to feel like you’re doing things in a new, cutting-edge way, tech is ultimately a tool that helps you get the job done. We all wear several hats as small business owners, from chief financial officer to chief bathroom cleaner, so tools that can help you juggle all of your responsibilities and come out on top of the competition are the name of the game.
At the same time, the continued push into the cloud has made more technology available and affordable that can help small businesses get more bang for their buck. The right tech tools can help you streamline processes, get access to key insights about your customers to make more sales, and communicate with your customers like never before.
Keeping an eye on tech trends is the best way to know if something’s moved from being a “shiny object” to an essential piece of technology that every small business should be using. Here are some key tech trends for small businesses to take a closer look at in 2018.
1. Doing More with Data and AI
More and more business is done in digital spaces, and your website, social media presence, company apps & WiFi, and email list are all critical components of a successful business strategy.
With each of these channels, there is an opportunity to collect important consumer data that will provide you with important insights, and help you to create unique customer experiences and brand loyalty. You can use CRM services to track every interaction you have with customers, from the moment they first visit your website through their decision to buy and even further into any interactions they have with your customer service. You can use heat maps to look at which areas a lead gravitates to on your website and tweak the placement of your content, images, and call to action. The amount of actionable data you can generate is staggering, and sifting through it to get some actionable insights can feel like a full-time job in and of itself. This is where AI (artificial intelligence) comes in.
In 2018, we expect to see more and more tech developed around combining vast amounts of data with AI algorithms that can help you see patterns that you wouldn’t otherwise identify. Tools like Salesforce’s Einstein, Acquisio, and Crayon can help you make sense of all of the data that’s out there to make a plan of action that kickstarts your business.
2. Increasingly Focused Segmentation and Targeting
So you have a bunch of new ways of looking at your data, but how do you put those insights into action? One of the biggest trends in 2018 will be focused on our ability to take advantage of segmentation to put the right content in front of the right sets of eyes.
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram— all of these channels are ultimately about giving users the ability to curate their digital space to see only the exact type of content that they want to see. An ad or promoted post that doesn’t fit sticks out like a sore thumb in your feed. It’s no surprise, then, that these companies have been increasingly good at helping marketers create content that fits in with what their users are expecting to see when they crack open their app to check in on their timeline.
The account-based marketing trend is all about using the information you already have about people who have already bought from you to work backward and target the right people with the right pitch. If you combine this philosophy with marketing automation platforms that make it easier than ever to create customized tracks for each different group of leads, you have what you need to kickstart your business and boost your ROI.
3. More Options for Managed Services
In 2018, expect ubiquitous broadband and the increasingly common move of more and more core business services to the cloud. While that means you can access that data wherever you are, it also means that you’re increasingly dependent on your technology working seamlessly, and increasingly helpless if something goes wrong. It also means that more and more of your data is vulnerable to hackers, a risk that has become more and more of a reality for small businesses that find themselves in the crosshairs of enterprising attackers.
The facts around cyber attacks on small businesses are pretty startling. As CNBC says, in 2017, nearly 6 in 10 businesses reported that they had experienced a cyber attack. What’s more, attacks take companies an average of 146 days to detect. When the general wisdom for dealing with a crisis is to get out in front of it and be proactive, that time delay can be a pretty scary prospect.
The good news is that managed IT services are more affordable than ever before. You can get access to tools and services that only used to be available to large, well-resourced IT departments. For a relatively cheap price you get 24/7 network monitoring, immediate threat response, off-site backups, and support that’s there when and where you need it.
4. More On-Demand Services (Especially for B2B)
More and more businesses have been looking to on-demand services as a way to create a great customer experience. In 2018, we’ll be moving out of the obvious choices and into more and more options for things that you can get when and where you need them. Equipment rental, legal services, asset-checking, catering, and more are all moving to be a part of the on-demand revolution.
While we’ve seen on-demand services transform the B2C landscape in terms of what businesses can do for customers, expect to see this movement shift into the B2B landscape in 2018.
What You Can Do Right Now
As we start the new year, it’s important to reflect on everything that happened in the past year, but you also need to keep an eye on what tech trends are going to be important in 2018. Here’s what we think you need to keep your eye on in the days and months ahead.
Use AI to find actionable insights from your data.
Look at tools to help you leverage customer segmentation.
Think about getting tech help from managed services.
Consider new options for on-demand services.
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