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Technology + Social = a competitive strategy for 2012

For many companies simply maintaining existing revenues and customers over the last two years has been a major achievement.

However, business owners are cautiously preparing for growth. They would like to invest in their businesses and one of their preferred investments is in IT. They want to be online, clicked into social media and they want greater mobility in their internal and external systems.  They are prepared to upgrade their standalone applications but their head tells them its better to have integrated solutions.

If the next year does deliver slight improvements in business performance and in the economy, there are a couple of strategies for growth that companies should consider.

First, it’s time to streamline. If you haven’t already done so, look to your processes and see whether there are any opportunities to reduce time, error and effort through automation. Reductions in any of these areas ultimately translate into cost savings. More efficient processes will help to address operational cost concerns while improving quality, customer service and staff morale. It’s a way of making sure that you get the most out of your business.

Second, improve your understanding of business performance by ensuring you have accurate, timely business information.  It’s no good learning today that costs outweighed profits two months ago. You need to know this as it happens so that you can manage cash flow, plan production, purchasing and other growth initiatives, and accurately predict future requirements.  If you have a bumper sales month, it helps to know why.  Perhaps it’s a one-off result due to a client placing a large advance order that means they won’t need anything next month.  Alternatively, it may be a sign of increasing demand.

Each scenario has very different ramifications for inventory, sales and cash flow. Unless you can identify, analyse and understand these trends, you’ll never be able to respond accordingly. Technology can help on both counts. Good systems will provide the information you need to know what’s going on with your business, and can help to introduce industry best practice into your processes.

Then there’s the rapid emergence of social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn. These have changed the way that companies interact and engage with their prospect, customers and industry, how they control what is said about them and how they are perceived by those groups.

Social media is not a one-way communications medium that fits around other activities, it is an integral part of how companies should listen, engage and respond to prospects and customers. The challenge facing most businesses today is how to leverage social media technologies and channels to ensure they gain a competitive edge.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is now well established as a technology and strategy that enables an organisation to better manage the many interactions it has with both existing and prospective customers. Integrating social media activity with CRM can further harness the power of communication with your customers and prospects creating a meaningful community and building strong mutually-rewarding relationships.

For small businesses, social media has several key benefits including its ability to uncover leads and networking opportunities quickly and easily while at the same time extending conversations and collaboration with prospects and customers to social media channels. Users can also identify how online conversations are affecting their brand while identifying their biggest online champions and influencers. Businesses can build and strengthen relationships with their community of customers and prospects while providing internal marketing teams with the ability to extend and link marketing campaigns to social media channels

No matter what the outcome, taking action now to increase competitiveness by reducing your cost base, improving service, integrating social media with your overall business strategy and making more informed, more accurate business decisions will provide you with a sound basis for improved business performance in any economic climate.

If you’d like to get practical, email me Charles.Pludthura@sage.com