SMEs are undoubtedly the backbone of the growing economy. In fact, the sector contributes 40% of GDP in emerging economies and 50% of employment worldwide, according to figures released by the World Bank. However, this sector is facing several challenges as the landscape relies heavily on digital solutions. A recent report indicates that while 60% of SMEs expect online sales to increase further, 33% believe customer service is a hurdle. Yatheesh Raj, product marketing manager at Zoho Corp is of the view that automation is the way forward for SMEs to address all these issues.
[Excerpts from the interview]
DQ: What are some of the common challenges faced by SMEs in the country?
Yatheesh Raj: Macro economic uncertainty has made SMEs even more conscious of how they spend their money. Reducing expenses and keeping the business afloat is currently the primary challenge for most SMEs. As the cash flow is reducing and businesses are looking for more ways to optimise their day-to-day processes, they are forced to cut down on their non-essential spending.
Additionally, from a technological standpoint, given that most small businesses have smaller IT teams, choosing the right tool and exploring its best practices becomes a challenge. Many organizations have their customer data stored in different applications, given that each function is being operated on individual applications that do not talk to each other. With customer data in silos, businesses have limited insight into their customer data. Given that they always have limited resources to manage a multitude of day-to-day operations, choosing the right solution for their business can make a lot of difference.
The need of the hour for every SME is to stay relevant to their customer needs and focus on adding more value to their service. More than ever before, small businesses today need real solutions to adapt to the latest changes, optimise their processes, and reduce costs. It also serves software vendors with a unique opportunity as customers will expect more value for money during this period and solutions which offer the best return on investment.
DQ: How can automation help address these challenges?
Yatheesh Raj: One of the primary reasons preventing small businesses from offering big-business-like customer experiences is the lack of automation in their processes. There is a lot that a small business owner has to focus on. However, repetitive tasks or processes end up taking more time. For small businesses, focusing on the bigger vision should become the priority, rather than sweating on the smaller tasks. Automation can act as a bridge here – once routine tasks are automated, small businesses can make their operations more efficient, remove redundancies and focus their energy on the big picture.
In a small business, limited people deal with a large number of customer data. Automation can therefore bring in better accountability and smarter decisions, resulting in faster actions and outcomes.
A feature like ‘Connected Pipelines’—which is a part of this update of Bigin, Zoho’s CRM for small businesses—enables businesses to automate the movement of data across relevant pipelines, making sure everyone works together towards solving crucial customer needs.
For instance, closing a sale is just one aspect of the customer journey. Imagine, you walk into a nearby showroom to get an air conditioner for your home and every tiny little process right from initial enquiry to sales to product installation and support is taken care of automatically by the service reps in the showroom without you having to constantly follow-up, at each step.
Not just that! Automation helps businesses with repetitive activities like setting up email workflows for their new customers, sending timely renewal follow-up emails, and even automating feedback collection after a product is sold. There’s a lot that automation can do for a business.
DQ: How important are CRM solutions for SMEs?
Yatheesh Raj: Every business starts small. To grow big and thrive, they need to choose and implement the right technology. CRM is the most important and essential piece of business software for managing relationships with current and future customers.
Take the example of a small law firm and how a CRM can help them keep in touch with clients constantly. A CRM solution helps them get complete information about each client ranging from basic data, such as address, phone number, etc, to the entire time line of their clients’ case details. They can also have a history of all email, phone and SMS conversations in one place and use email templates to send regular case updates to clients after every hearing. They can automate key processes, wherein if a client is not responding within a timeframe, they can assign it to colleagues and juniors to keep track of the follow-ups.
Automatic reminders can be set to collect client fees at particular stages of the case, dashboards can be created to track performance of associates (such as number of cases closed, tasks completed, etc) and every judgement can be uploaded inside their CRM for future reference.
This is an example of just one industry on how their day-to-day processes can improve. CRM solutions can help businesses of all sizes, from different industries nurture and grow customer relationships.
In a market which largely focuses on CRM solutions for bigger companies and large enterprises, Zoho launched Bigin as a CRM solution specifically for SMEs, back in 2020. Ease-of-use, right feature set and affordability are its core values. We have been largely successful with this approach as we’ve quickly scaled to serve over 20,000 customers worldwide in over 2 years. In India, we are seeing a great traction with a 74% YoY revenue growth in 2022.
DQ: How can the latest offering by Zoho corp help SMEs?
Yatheesh Raj: Most SME CRM solutions in the market currently have a single focus: sales funnels. However, given our experience of working with SMEs over the years, we understood that small businesses needed a unified platform which enables them to efficiently manage necessary customer facing functions.
The features in this update, like Team Pipelines, redefine the CRM journey of SMEs. A crucial aspect to business is their customer data, and Team Pipelines acts as a single source of truth of their customer data. This enhancement gives users a 360 degree view into multiple functions of their CRM operations. Empowering businesses to go beyond sales management and into other operations like onboarding, delivery, support, order management, feedback collection, etc while being able to analyse and make data driven decisions anytime.
A recent Gartner report indicates, businesses expect tools with features and templates customised for their industry and regulatory landscape. To offer curated experiences to our customers, we launched industry-specific templates back in 2021 and even with this release, we are introducing newer capabilities and third-party integrations in the form of ‘Toppings’, which can be added to their CRM anytime. We have also opened our developer network to enable developers and partners across the world to create unique customer solutions which will solve their industry-specific business needs and in return, developers can monetise their solution through Bigin’s Marketplace.
For example, the ‘File Cabinet’ topping automates the process of file collection where businesses can collect and store all their customer documents through unique, secure links. This is particularly helpful for businesses that deal with a large volume of files. Some example industries include real estate, legal, digital marketing agencies, travel.
To enable businesses to leverage Bigin on the go, we are focused on offering a mobile-first CRM platform, so that they have access to customer information anytime. The latest update brings all the new features to our mobile apps and also makes it compatible with Apple’s iOS16. Bigin was also an exclusive launch partner for Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4.