Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Michael Haynes who is a B2B Strategist that helps small businesses grow using customer-driven strategies. He is also the author of Listen Innovate Grow to help small businesses drive growth through B2B. For more info: www.listeninnovategrow.com.
SmallBizlady: Why should Small business owners pursue business-to-business (B2B) markets?
Michael Haynes: B2B markets have fewer competitors which can make it easier to exploit their weaknesses and gaps in their offerings. Also, usually once business customers find a product or service provider that meets their needs they usually become very loyal. This is because the product or service often serves important purposes such as helping to meet strategic objectives or being a key production input. And finally, large companies are recognizing the benefits of working with small business owners such as getting products and services that are better tailored to their specific needs as well as their willingness “to go the extra mile” for their clients and customers.
SmallBizlady: WHAT IS THE STARTING POINT FOR A SMALL BUSINESS IN DETERMINING HOW TO INNOVATE?
Michael Haynes: The first thing small business owner must do is to obtain an in-depth understanding of the industries, markets and business customers that they are focusing on. In terms of the markets and industries, you want to gain an understanding of the market trends such as new technologies, customer trends, legal and regulatory changes both within your current industries and markets as well as adjacent ones.
Small businesses owners also want to understand their business customers and prospects in terms of their objectives, priorities and strategic intent. However, you must understand the key characteristics and dynamics of B2B markets. By doing so, you will be able to identify opportunities to innovate which will help small businesses grow their business.
SmallBizlady: HOW SHOULD SMALL BUSINESSES VIEW THE CONCEPT OF INNOVATION?
Michael Haynes: Small businesses must regard innovation as being more than simply creating new products or leveraging new technology to create a digital platform or application. Innovation must be viewed by as either introducing something new or making improvements across one or more of the following areas: Products, Services, Organizational Methods, Marketing Practices and Business Processes. Innovation viewed in this broader context is regarded as BUSINESS INNOVATION. It is about more creating value as opposed to just creating things which can be applied in many areas across a small business owner.
SmallBizlady: WHAT ARE THE 3 LEVELS IN WHICH BUSINESS INNOVATION CAN OCCUR AND WHICH ONES ARE MOST RELEVANT TO SMALL BUSINESSES?
Michael Haynes: Business innovation can be “new to the world”. These are ground-breaking and while they rarely occur it is what most people think of as innovation. “New to the market or industry” business innovation involves taking a concept from one industry and applying it to another.
And finally, business innovations can also be “new to the company”. This is about developing the capability to better product and market products and services by applying one of the 5 types of business innovations. “New to the market” or “new to company” innovations are most relevant for small businesses.
SmallBizlady: WHY IS INNOVATION IMPORTANT TO DRIVE GROWTH?
Michael Haynes: Innovation across more than one area leads to greater earnings. Studies have shown that innovating in just one area will result in low to modest growth. However, small business owners that are high growth companies (which is defined as having 20% revenue growth for at least 3 years) are those that undertake 3 or more forms of innovation. However, most small business owners do not innovate and if they do it is often process innovation by leveraging new emerging technologies.
SmallBizlady: WHAT ARE WAYS SMALL BUSINESSES CAN UNDERTAKE SERVICE INNOVATION?
Michael Haynes: Small businesses should consider 3 approaches.
Determine if there are opportunities to convert your services into a mobile or web-based offering which will allow customers to “self-serve” at their own convenience.
Consider expanding and creating new services that compliment what your business is already doing and meets customer needs such as training and workshops.
Consider creating a comprehensive customer solution (or “package”) consisting of your company’s main product or service offering as well as additional services and customer support such as problem solving, consulting/advice, service level guarantees and choice of service delivery channels.
SmallBizlady: HOW CAN SMALL BUSINESSES UNDERTAKE ORGANIZATIONAL INNOVATION TO GROW THEIR BUSINESS?
Michael Haynes: Small businesses should consider collaborating with other small business owners, start-ups as well as larger organizations such as universities and corporates. Through collaboration, small business owners can gain access to leverage new ideas, skills and technologies. It can also help them to develop new products and services as well as provide them access to customers and influencers which are both key to growing a business. Look for ways to identify opportunities for collaborating by conducting research to identify companies with the skills, customers and resources that can complement their business. Small businesses should also reach out to innovation or co-working hubs where they can connect and meet other businesses which may be a good complementary fit.
SmallBizlady: WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO ADOPT NEW MARKETING INNOVATIONS IF THEY WANT TO ACQUIRE BUSINESS CUSTOMERS AND GROW THEIR BUSINESS?
Michael Haynes: While traditional marketing approaches such as advertising and social media can be effective to generate awareness, they are not effective in getting business buyers to buy. Recent studies have shown that the majority of today’s business buyers know at least 3 suppliers at the start of the buying process. Therefore, small businesses must focus on creating awareness and engaging the buying groups with their customers and prospects before they start looking to buy. This can be achieved by providing customers and prospects with advice and recommendations or by identifying opportunities that address their needs, priorities and help them growth their businesses.
SmallBizlady: WHAT 2 FORMS OF MARKETING INNOVATIONS SHOULD SMALL BUSINESSES CONSIDER ADOPTING TO DRIVE GROWTH?
Michael Haynes: Any small business that wants to grow through B2B markets should incorporate advocacy marketing and influencer marketing. Advocacy marketing is about using existing clients and customers who are strong advocates (i.e. fans) of your company to endorse and promote your products and services. This is done primarily through the use of referrals and recommendations. Advocacy marketing has proven to be very effective as business customers find peer to peer dialogue to be more trustworthy and relevant. To get the most out of advocacy marketing, a formalized B2B customer advocacy program should be implemented. Influencer marketing is where leaders and experts in your niche/industry promote and endorse your offerings.
SmallBizlady: WHY SMALL BUSINESSES NEED TO HAVE A STRATEGY?
Michael Haynes: Most small businesses have limited capital, staff and resources. Having a strategy enables a small business to identify sustainable and profitable opportunities and avoid pursuing opportunities that are not suited to the company. A strategy helps a small business owner stay focused on ‘where it can” and avoid spreading resources too thinly. It will also ensure that any innovation undertaken is done within defined focus areas.
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