Digital-first behaviour is here to stay as consumers shift their base online: Sunil Jose

Technology and digital transformation will be the key priorities for SMB leaders post-Covid, says Sunil Jose, Senior Vice President, Salesforce India

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Oct 30, 2020 9:18 AM  | 5 min read
sunil jose

Salesforce released its fourth edition of Small & Medium Business Trends Report recently, capturing insights from Small and Medium Business owners and leaders worldwide. This research was conducted by The Harris Poll in two parts, with a study in March 2020 and a follow-up study in August 2020, providing insights from Small and Medium Business (SMB) owners and leaders at the beginning and in the midst of the pandemic.

According to the report, 31% of SMB respondents in India implemented a CRM solution in the last year, and 66% have an existing CRM solution and meeting customer expectations is the top constraint on operations for SMB respondents in India. Other important pointers included financial management being the top challenge SMB leader respondents personally face and reduced customer demand is the top constraint on future growth.

The report further talks about the expectations of SMB leaders post COVID 19. It says that 30% of the SMB leader respondents in India expect business to be as usual and 48% believe it would be slightly modified. 

For more insights, exchange4media caught up with Sunil Jose, Senior Vice President, Salesforce India.

Edited Excerpts:-

How has the pandemic altered customer behaviour? What are the broad trends seen?

During a time when uncertainty and confusion reign, brands have an opportunity to reinforce the trust they have earned from loyal customers and attract new customers. According to our State of the Connected Customer report, Indian customers estimate 60% of their interactions with businesses take place online this year, compared to 47% in 2019. The report reveals, that though a string of crises has affected all facets of life, including a fundamental shift in how customers connect with brands, factors like empathy, personalization, convenience, and digital transformation are the keys to customer relationships. Digital-first behaviour is here to stay as customers develop new habits that will shift their behaviour online for the long term. As digital engagement grows, customers expect companies to digitize their operations to facilitate multi-channel, high-touch interactions. Realizing such digital engagement involves sensitive personal information, customers are also calling for enhanced data transparency and stewardship.  Customers want brands to demonstrate values. A variety of social, economic, and environmental disparities have come to the fore as the world grapples with a public health crisis. Customers want businesses to play a role in solving these issues. 

How pandemic and racial injustices affect the motivations, challenges, and goals of SMBs?

According to the Salesforce SMB trends report, 30% of SMB respondents in India expect business to be as usual post the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst a challenging business environment, SMB leaders have displayed remarkable strength and resilience with only 16% of SMB respondents in India expecting an entirely new structure post the pandemic. This demonstrates that SMBs in India are resilient and positive of business continuity ensuring they get back on track. 

How demographics shape entrepreneurial experiences and outlooks?

SMBs are major drivers of economic growth, representing more than 90% of the business population and 60%–70% of employment in developed economies. So, while the businesses may be small, their collective impact is mighty.  Demographics help in segmenting the population that is being surveyed. In this case, when surveying SMB leaders characteristics such as company size, the business model, region, revenues and roles within the company play a crucial role in determining how SMBs will chart their next course of action to sustain themselves during a crisis.

 What has been the role of digital transformation in driving business resiliency?

COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation in all aspects of our society. This trend was already happening but now, it’s imperative to the very survival of a business. Leaders now recognize the level of risk that their companies will be exposed to if they don’t have a digital strategy in place – cut-off from their customers. Nationwide, SMBs are spending larger portions of their revenue on technology.

Effective use of technology can be a business differentiator across several fronts, especially for growing SMBs. In fact, more than half of growing SMBs say technology drives their customer interactions (55%) or the growth of their customer base (51%), significantly higher than their stagnant/declining competition.

 According to the SMB Trends Report, more than 7 in 10 SMB leaders (72%) believe that one centralized application to manage business functions like sales, marketing, and support would be helpful. In addition, SMB leaders have been steadily using fewer apps over the past year, suggesting small businesses want to consolidate their technology. Not only are SMB leaders considering short-term changes, but they are also preparing for future crises by adopting technology and digitizing operations. Leaders of growing SMBs are more likely to prepare for the future by digitizing three key areas: customer interactions, internal communications, and workflows.

 How SMB leaders are planning for recovery and growth post-COVID-19?

SMB leaders are preparing for the next normal with technology and digital transformation as key priorities. SMB leaders are considering short-term changes, but they are also preparing for future crises by adopting technology and digitizing operations. Here are some measures SMBs have taken to plan for the road ahead and be better equipped for future crises – 

  • Adopted technology to help digitize customer interactions and offer contactless services
  • Adopted technology to help digitize internal communications
  • Started to scenario plan
  • Started to set aside an emergency fund
  • Shifted their business model


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