How small business CEOs improve their sales

The tailwinds of a strong economy are propelling growth for 92% of small and midsize businesses (SMB), with 28% realizing multiple-year double-digit growth. Against this backdrop, Vistage Research, in partnership with Salesforce, surveyed and analyzed responses from 1,377 Vistage SMB CEOs, surveyed in August of 2017. In “Customer Growth: Decisions for the SMB CEO,” we detail the decisions they face, the investments they are making, and the winning initiatives they are deploying to continue double-digit growth.

Key learnings

Both high- and no-growth organizations are doing many of the same types of initiatives. It’s not that the underperforming organizations aren’t trying; it’s rather that the higher-performing companies are executing much more effectively while activating more initiatives. They are able to execute more consistently across multiple winning strategies.

They also tend to have dedicated leadership in place. We anticipated that as you go from small to big, even within the continuum of small business, you would see a logical correlation to when managers were added. But it turned out there was no connection between size of company and having those roles in place. Rather it was having a dedicated manager in marketing, in sales, in customer service, who made the difference in performance and the ability to execute.

That translated into a really powerful effect in terms of not just the use of technology, because everyone’s using technology of one flavor or another. We found that those high-performing organizations had a 56% higher likelihood of being more effective or highly effective in the use of the technology. Fifty-nine percent of no-growth businesses said they were ineffective in using the technology.

It’s not a single factor; it’s a combination of factors. And a lot of it, I believe, has to do with the ability to impart solid leadership, and the leadership’s ability to execute.

Transition to transformation

A broader trend has been in play with sales technology, and that is the movement from tools of individual productivity — like a spreadsheet, PowerPoint, or Word — to tools that drive organizational execution. Like the ability for an organization to impart a common language and a common approach in terms of how it describes customers and customer phases, and then having the discipline to use technology to capture and analyze that data. We can each individually build our skills as we choose with individual tools, but we must collectively develop and execute our shared skills for true organizational gain.

The challenge SMB CEOs face today is moving from digital transition to digital transformation. Meaning, as I move from paper to spreadsheets, or spreadsheets to an application, I’m just transitioning my analogue processes onto a digital platform.

True digital transformation is looking at what the platform has modeled in terms of established best practices on a vertical, business-size basis, and adapting what you do to technology. Because if you don’t believe that technology is the change agent of our generation, you may quickly find yourself unable to complete.

New clients

As simple as it sounds, high-growth companies are also much more likely to go after new clients. They get 29% of revenue from new clients as compared with 19% for no-growth companies. Evaluating the revenue mix between existing and new, high growth companies are 53% more likely to rely on new customers. So, we focus on those new customer strategies:

Relationships: Traditional face-to-face selling. With small or midsize businesses, you’re always doing business locally — sometimes regionally, nationally, or globally, but always locally. So, the ability to have face-to-face relationships, especially in long-term, traditional small businesses, is at the top of the list.

Defined sales processes: High-growth SMBs maintain an organizational understanding of how their customers want to buy, and have been able to translate that into measurable, definable sales actions and steps. With that common sales process comes common sales language. Meaning we don’t reinvent how we sell every time we sell. Rather, we’re now able to capture, document, and then put some resources behind it.

Referrals: Referrals remain a critical growth strategy, especially in a small or midsize business. It’s who you know, and can they connect you to the next person. Or more importantly, are your customers out actively promoting and referring you? That’s who your prospects listen to most closely. The positive vibe from customers just radiates into the market.

Case studies

High-growth SMBs are out-executing their competitors. There are no new secret strategies for customer engagement. The leading initiatives of high-growth SMBs succeed because of execution and the effective utilization of technology. In the August 2017 study, we captured the leading initiatives for marketing, sales, and customer service. At Dreamforce 2017, we shared the results of this study in two sessions where three Salesforce customers, Pixability’s CEO Bettina Heintilr’s COO Summer Crenshaw, and Bespoke’s President Paul Leary, shared their winning initiatives for customer engagement.

To hear more of the research and insights on customer growth for high-performing SMB CEOs, listen to my Quotable podcast, where I do a deeper dive into how SMBs need to think about customer engagement, AI, technology, and more.

This article was originally published by Salesforce. 

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About the Author: Joe Galvin

Joe Galvin is the Chief Research Officer for Vistage Worldwide. Vistage members receive the most credible, data-driven and actionable thought leadership on the strategic issues facing CEOs. Through collaboration with the Vistage community of…

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