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What are the trends for small and medium-sized businesses in the digital world in 2021?

For the fourth year in a row, Salesforce surveyed small business executives around the world to determine business trends.

For the fourth edition of its ” Small and Medium Business Trend Report,” Salesforce surveyed more than 2,300 small and medium business executives worldwide in two rounds of polling: in March and again in August 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic therefore played an important role in the questions asked and the feelings of these business leaders. Three major trends emerge for 2021: security is a key issue, optimism is the order of the day, and digital is as essential to success as ever.

Customer security, a major issue for SMEs

As the COVID-19 pandemic has strongly impacted our lives, it is logical to see that it is a pervasive topic for SMEs. The priorities that emerged from the situation include the application of health and safety policies (64%), local public health measures (59%), but also the implementation of contactless services (48%). The challenges are very customer-centric. First of all, it is necessary to market innovative solutions to be able to adapt to the situation. In second place, we find the satisfaction of the demand. And in third place, the personalization of customer engagement. The challenge of digitalization is therefore very strongly reflected in these challenges, whether it is a question of how to sell or how to interact with customers. At a time when physical or close contact is becoming more difficult, it is essential to find new ways to maintain the link.

Executives optimistic about the future of their companies

The activity of small and medium-sized companies has been inevitably impacted by the situation. The top challenge to business development is acquiring new customers (cited by nearly one in two respondents), followed by long-term planning and customer retention (one in four each). The obstacles that will be felt are primarily financial, but also the ability to meet customer expectations, recruit the talent that will drive the business forward and adopt the right technologies to meet new needs. These obstacles have caused major problems, starting with a drop in sales (56%) and a decrease in demand (54%). Despite this, SME managers remain optimistic about the future of their business. They were 80% so in March 2020, and 72% in August. The figure is higher in medium-sized companies than in small ones.

Digital, the key to coping with the crisis

This may seem obvious, but the numbers prove it once again. Technology and digital are key solutions for SMEs to successfully adapt to this challenging environment. At the top of their influence list, executives cite stimulating customer interactions (51%), ahead of the ability to continue doing business (46%) and helping to grow the customer base (42%). But despite its interest, more SMEs are slowing down their investments in this area (43%) than speeding them up (24%), due to financial problems.

The top 5 tools most used by executives within their companies are emailing software (52%) ahead of customer service software (50%), collaboration or project management (49%), e-commerce (48%) and marketing automation (41%). Among the criteria for choosing a solution, ease of use dominates (74%), followed by supplier reliability (73%) and price (71%). CRM adoption, meanwhile, continues to climb, from 45% in March 2019 to 56% in August 2020. Its main advantages: a more efficient and responsive customer service (63%), ahead of a unified vision of the customer (45%) and accessibility by several users (43%).