One of the sessions with panelists I was most excited to moderate was today’s session on the status and future of what we’ve come to know as CRM. On this panel today I was lucky enough to be able to engage with Adi Engel of vCita, George Bilbrey of SignPpost, and my long time industry colleague, Paul Donlan of Wix.
We launched the session by trying to understand if “CRM for small businesses” really means anything to the business owner. Adi talked about it from the perspective of a 360-degree view of their business with particular attention to payments. She believes the role of software is to enable small businesses to do more with their limited time.
To George Bilbrey, “CRM” is not what matters. What matters are the benefits that a business owner gets from a software solution or platform. Paul comes at it believing that small business owners are “time poor”. The relevant functionality that CRM brings to small businesses is helping them manage and drive more value from each customer. He thinks small businesses’ customer database is their number one asset.
Making Sense of Customer Data
I pressed the panel on how their companies can help small businesses manage their disparate customer lists — email, business cards, website forms. Adi doesn’t believe that things are much different today than they were a while ago. Small businesses have multiple places they store customer names and addresses. What Adi does believe is that small business owners must, and will, put in the effort to make these lists work together. Paul believes small businesses need help getting their lists integrated and they’re either incapable or lack the time to do it themselves.
We then moved into a discussion about the service layer that each of these businesses believes is necessary for small businesses to use and leverage their software. Paul wanted people to know that at Wix there’s an important service layer. But since the pandemic, there’s been a huge increase in the service staff to deliver the help small businesses require. At Wix, they see the importance of the activation layer.
As for an acceleration of software demand by small businesses, I asked the panelists. Adi pointed out that there’s a considerable uptick in existing users activating their solution. She also is seeing massive adoption of online shops by small businesses. This is happening even though many businesses aren’t designed to be online shops. She notes that every personal trainer in the U.K. thinks they can make an abrupt shift to online training. The hard truth is that is not going to happen. As Adi said, “This was not the time to tell a hairdresser that they should figure out how to cut hair over the Internet.”
George’s SignPost business has seen an acceleration of the use of payment or contactless payment solutions. George argues there was already a generational shift – with the young guns who have fully adopted technology and the older group who drive around in their truck with a file folder. COVID has accelerated the change for the business owners with a focus on contactless payments. Also, there’s an increase in the use of video conferencing – facetime or zoom – as a pre-visit step. He’s also seeing a lot more use of some of the marketing campaigns in the SignPost platform to drive more business out of the same customers.
Paul said a blessing of having Wix’s scale is that there are lots of customers making their needs known. He agreed that video has seen a huge usage increase among Wix customers. Paul sees a substantive change in the way digital products are used. And going forward, there will be many fewer business owners that will say, “Eh, I don’t really need these tools, my business is performing just fine.”
A Look at the Future
At the end of the session, I asked each panelist for a prediction for the next three to five years. Paul suggested that the digital shift we’ve been talking about and expecting for years has finally arrived. And he believes small businesses will utilize lots more video and the mobile phone will be the one tool that every single business owner uses. s
Adi’s prediction is that the current hype we’ve seen in digital adoption might come back a bit since many business owners don’t have the skill set to utilize the solutions they may have purchases. Payments will stick for sure. And not because it is really new. Most customers have wanted digital payments for a long time.
George is super smart about the space for having arrived just four months ago. He suggested that the way local businesses communicate with their clients will change considerably over the next couple of years. Consumers will now be able to use their channel of choice. George also believes AI and natural language processing will have a big impact in the coming years.
CRM – Now a Must Have, Must Use Solution
If you ran a survey and asked local, small businesses if they had wished they had better customer data – more accurate emails and mobile numbers – before the onset of COVID-19, the majority would say “yes’. COVID-19 exposed the deficiencies in customer information. And with the changes in consumer habits it is more important than ever for businesses to understand their customers. Will CRM finally really be used to help businesses build long term relationships with their customers and connect with them the way they wantSpeaker(s):
Adi Engel, vCita
George Bilbrey, Signpost
Paul Donlan, Wix