One of the opportunities we have as we travel around the world working with organizations of different sizes and from virtually every business sector is that we get to observe the macro-trends that are redefining the way we do business. One of the macro-trends we’ve identified is the rise of entrepreneurship and intra-preneurialism.
In other words, pieces of large corporations are peeling off and becoming start-ups as employees become business owners, and internally, corporate culture is scrambling to develop this kind of free-thinking enterprise in a world where playing safe is the new risky.
This requires a big shift in the way we think about work and just as importantly what we consider is necessary to have an impact at scale.
Much of this is being driven by the digital revolution that is quite literally making the “two people in a garage” scenario a credible and ever-present threat to the big end of town. Whatever the reasons behind this shift: what’s immediately obvious is that these are indeed interesting times for small business owners with big ambitions.
In this environment, those who do well, those who stand out from the competitive chaos and establish a strong hold in their industry are those who demonstrate a new set of critical skills.
So what are these new skills that SMBs require?
1. Love someone better than anyone else does
We all like to feel like we’re important, like we matter, that we’re special and respected for our individuality. But this is scarcely the experience most of us enjoy from the commercial entities we interact on a daily basis. When we do have this kind of experience, it is not only noteworthy, it seems extraordinary.
The café that has the regular’s names printed on cups and hung on the wall so they feel a sense of “membership”, the photography school that specializes in teaching new and expecting parents how to take amazing photographs of their newborns, the florist whose database keeps a log of your important dates and prompts little acts of thoughtfulness with a text so you never miss a birthday, anniversary or special occasion. These are the businesses that develop loyalty beyond reason (to draw on the language of Kevin Roberts).
2. Understand the business you’re in, not just the job you do
This is a problem businesses of all sizes often find themselves in. It’s easy to be so distracted by the day to day activity of our “job” that we forget the business we’re really in.
Hairdressers, for instance, may cut your hair, but if they hope to justify a premium pricing, they had better be in more than the business of shorter hair!
It’s useful to think not in terms of the service or product you provide, but rather in terms of the value your customers or clients gain from this experience.
Sometimes, this is as simple as being clear about where the money trail leads. At the risk of sounding like Cuba Gooding Jr in the movie Jerry MacGuire, show me the money can often be sage advice. For instance, those optometrists who make considerably more money in selling frames than from their medical consults are in fact in the retail fashion business, not medical services. This distinction should inform the way their store in designed, how they communicate with customers and also the language their staff use in store.
3. Design “nowhere else” experiences
In many ways, these experiences are the very things that justify the existence of your business in the first place. This should be more than a superficial point of difference and should define the way you would like to see your industry change.
It’s the restaurant with the “arrogant” chef who tells you what you’ll have and kicks you out if they see you perusing a menu (in doing so a “weakness” becomes uniqueness), the jeweler who shows the little girl choosing a charm for her bracelet the same attention of an engagement ring shopper and the airline that makes those monotonous safety warnings at the beginning of a flight more tolerable. These are the experiences we remember and importantly, want to share.
4. Create stories worth sharing
As word of mouth has become word of mouse, the stories, experiences and opinions our customers share about us have become increasingly important and either an incredible asset or else a pressing liability.
Social media has largely been a distracting annoyance for a lot of small to medium businesses, where perhaps the thing we should be focusing on, is not the channel, but in generating stories that a worth sharing, then making them easy to share.
5. Focus on the boring bits
Too often we become distracted by the “big” things in our business. This makes logical sense, but these are often areas that small to medium businesses struggle to find a competitive foothold. We fight to compete on range, or pricing or distribution, simply because scale makes this factors an easy win for the big end of town.
However, it is the small things, the areas in which SMBs can perform, that are often overlooked by big corporates. More importantly, they are often the friction, or “breakage-points” that drive customer dissatisfaction where SMBs can stand out by paying more attention.
6. Understand who you help them to be
All human behavior is ultimately driven by our sense of identity – this affects us at a far deeper level than simple logic or emotion. In fact, human beings can be compelled to commit incredible acts of heroism or cruelty, things that defy logic and can even cause emotional pain, simply by aligning these actions with our underlying definition of identity.
However, this is rarely the level at which businesses seek to engage their staff or customers. Key in this process is asking the question, “Who do we help them to be?” By engaging with our business, using our services or buying our products, what do they project to the rest of the world about who they are?
This is critical, not just to inform our sales and marketing strategies, but also how we attract, inspire and lead members of our team.
The point is, SMBs can punch above their weight and stand toe to toe with the big guys, so glove up and start punching!
Kieran Flanagan & Dan Gregory are behavioral researchers and strategists, specializing in behaviors and belief systems–what drives, motivates and influences us. They have won business awards around the world for Innovation, Creativity and ROI working with such organizations as Coca-Cola, Unilever, News Corp and the United Nations in Singapore. They are passionate advocates for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership. Published by WILEY, Kieran and Dan’s new book Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available in paperback RRP $22.95 from www.selfishscaredandstupid.com.