We have seen huge changes in South Africa recently. Just five years ago, we had a thriving platinum mining sector, good exports of commodities, no e-tolls, a rand dollar rate of better than 8:1 and peaceful universities.
All that has changed, with a significant effect on our SME sector. Imports cost more, finance is expensive and socio-political and labour issues disrupt business frequently.
Customers have changed too; many buyers now complete over 60% of the sale by Internet research. They make comparisons, shortlist potential suppliers and only ask for quotations when they are close to deciding on their supplier.
You could’ve fallen off the shortlist and didn’t even know it
Your company could have been a potential supplier and then fallen off the shortlist without you ever knowing about the lost opportunity. Customers no longer rely on sales staff to provide information about products and applications, and even the least tech-savvy customer checks prices and specifications online.
24/7 availability is now expected, and long delivery times become unacceptable. Customers assume you will be able to slot in unplanned orders efficiently. Loyalty is no longer a given; buyers will move to suppliers who provide better value, even if that supplier is overseas.
Lead through quality
Entrepreneurs should recognise that the way we have done business in the past might need modification; there is a risk of being overtaken by more agile competitors. Uber, Airbnb and Netflix are great examples of competitors changing the rules.
What is happening in your markets? What are your competitors doing? Do not just accept feedback from your staff — they are also in their comfort zones. Research competitors and new technologies; ask customers what they would like to see you change.
If you make a decision to update your business, there are several areas you could focus on to build a more agile business that gives better value for money. Technology, quality, customer service, IT, Internet presence, continuous learning and strategy review are among those. A few of the vital ones include:
- Use available technology. Check prices and terms from alternate suppliers, investigate IT solutions to provide flexible manufacturing systems, optimise inventory and give better response times for customer enquiries.
A good CRM system can track complaints, give basic data to spot new market trends and identify customers starting to move away from you. Develop apps to improve customer convenience or optimise sales calls.
- Increase quality in all respects, from your products to the accuracy of your invoices. Spend money on quality systems and business processes. You will get it all back in direct and indirect savings by having less comebacks of all types. Better quality in all respects increases your value proposition, and helps to justify your price.
Overhaul your customer service. Set improvement targets for order fulfilment, right first time repairs, shorter lead times, more convenient customer interfaces and all the other elements of great customer service. Then put plans in place and implement them. Financial returns will follow.
You need an effective and integrated Internet presence, with rich content, which means useful short pieces, not lots of content. Your social media presence must be integrated and support your brand and value proposition. Do not follow trends blindly because everyone thinks they are cool.
Revisit your strategy
Your company must be agile enough to change strategies and tactics to take advantage of market and competitor changes, rather than seeing them as threats. An outside facilitator helps.
All of this sounds like a lot of work and expense, but right now you may be using large chunks of time and money fixing errors, working around old systems, losing customers you should not lose and not getting new customers you should get. Stop all that and you will have time and money to create the new agile and informed company you could be, and stay relevant in your markets.