What are the trends for SMEs in the digital world in 2021?

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

For the fourth edition of its " Trend report on small and medium-sized enterprises" , Salesforce surveyed more than 2,300 small and medium-sized business leaders worldwide in two phases of the survey: in March and August 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic played an important role in the questions asked and the feelings of these business leaders. Three major trends emerged for 2021: security is a key issue, optimism is the order of the day, and digital technology is still essential to success.

Customer security, a major issue for SMEs

As the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on our lives, it is logical to see that this is a pervasive issue for SMEs. Among the priorities arising from the situation are the implementation 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, innovative solutions need to be marketed in order to be able to adapt to the situation. In second place is the satisfaction of demand. And in third place is the personalisation of customer engagement. The challenge of digitalisation 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 and more difficult, it is essential to find new ways of maintaining the link.

Managers optimistic about the future of their companies

The business of SMEs has inevitably been impacted by the situation. The top challenge for 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 turnover (56%) and a decrease in demand (54%). Despite this, SME managers remain optimistic about the future of their business. In March 2020, 80% were optimistic, and in August 72% were optimistic. The figure is higher in medium-sized companies than in small ones.

Digital is the key to coping with the crisis

This may seem obvious, but the figures prove it once again. Technology and digital are key solutions for SMEs to successfully adapt to this challenging environment. Leading the way in their influence, executives cite stimulating customer interactions (51%), ahead of the ability to stay in business (46%) and helping to grow the customer base (42%). However, 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 five tools used by managers within their company are emailing software (52%), ahead of customer service software (50%), collaboration or project management software (49%), e-commerce software (48%) and marketing automation software (41%). Among the criteria for choosing a solution, ease of use dominates (74%), ahead of vendor reliability (73%) and price (71%). CRM adoption continues to rise, from 45% in March 2019 to 56% in August 2020. Its main benefits: more efficient and responsive customer service (63%), ahead of a unified view of the customer (45%) and accessibility by several users (43%).

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