This sponsored post is produced by Salesforce. 

Every company claims to care about its customers, but small businesses are actually walking the walk. That’s according to new research surveying 300+ small business principals, conducted by Salesforce and Bredin Business Information. Consider their top three sales objectives:

  • Acquire new customers.
  • Create deeper customer relationships.
  • Grow the value of existing customers.

Every answer includes the word “customer.”

This customer focus is not limited to sales. In our survey, which included companies with fewer than 500 employees, “customer satisfaction” emerged as the #1 marketing metric, and retention and customer experience among the top business drivers for customer service.

Our conclusion? Small and medium-sized businesses are customer-obsessed. And that’s a good thing. But showing your customers they’re #1 doesn’t stop at customer focus. Regardless of your industry or business size, the next step is actually making your customers successful.

Leaders of small and medium-sized businesses know this. In our survey, they listed the need to “help solve business problems” and “measure value based on outcomes” as their #1 sales challenge — not price. In other words, your ability to close a sale might hinge on your ability to convince a customer that you can deliver a holistic solution — not just a standalone product —  that meets a key need or solves a key business problem, not on the discount you can offer.

So how do you create a vision for success that shows your prospects and customers that you’re focused on their success? Using these new insights, here are three suggestions:

Build a long-term strategy

Small businesses are busy. There are always a million things to do, and everyone wears multiple hats. Finding the time and space to step back from the daily grind and build a long-term strategy isn’t easy. When thinking strategically, consider where your customers and prospects spend their time — and how your sales team can most effectively meet them where they are.

The businesses we surveyed see, on average, around 30 percent of sales coming from field sales, another 17 percent from brick-and-mortar stores, and 12 percent each from partners/distributors and e-commerce. (The survey included a representative distribution of companies and industries across the U.S.) Interestingly, most expect minimal change to this breakdown over the next 12-18 months, and virtually no increase in the share of sales coming from newer channels like email, connected devices, or online marketplaces like Amazon and Google. Field sales might be the best way to maintain relationships with your existing customers, but is it the most efficient way to prospect?

Listen to your customers — but not too much

This should sound both obvious and surprising. It is, of course, important to listen to your existing customers. But as Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen wrote in The Innovator’s Dilemma, “Blindly following the maxim that good managers should keep close to their customers can sometimes be a fatal mistake.” Why? Because your customers are already your customers. Presumably, they buy from you because they value your solution.

Your prospects are a less-known quantity. Why haven’t they bought from you? It might be that they haven’t heard of you, or that your competitor delivers a better solution, or that they don’t think your product or service is something they need.

When it comes to growing your business, your job is to not only keep delivering what your existing customers like and want, but also to figure out how to reach new audiences with new messages. Between 35 and 40 percent of the SMBs we surveyed don’t plan to use mobile marketing tactics (text messaging, push notifications, apps, location-based mobile tracking, etc.) in the next 12 months — even though the share of people accessing the Internet using mobile devices surpassed desktop internet use last year. This doesn’t mean you need to build a custom app — but it does mean you might consider asking for text message opt-ins when you ask return customers for their phone numbers.

Get smarter about customer relationship management

Delivering a holistic solution requires the ability to manage your customer relationships with a single, unified view of each customer or prospect. What does that mean? In terms of finding new customers, it means knowing how and when someone became a lead so your sales team can reach out in the right way, at the right time. In terms of winning sales, it means automating follow-ups so you’re keeping relationships warm until prospects become customers. In terms of keeping existing customers happy, it means informed customer service, targeted marketing, and continuity over the course of a customer life cycle.

One-quarter of the SMBs we surveyed don’t have a customer relationship management (CRM) system; another 31 percent listed spreadsheets and email as their CRM solution. In reality, CRM is much more than a spreadsheet with a list of your customers and prospects; it’s a way to intelligently track your customer interactions so you can deliver true, consistent customer success. And customer success, in the end, is how you’ll show your customers they’re #1.

Tricia Gellman is VP, Demand Generation at Salesforce. 


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