The number of British Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is currently growing at an unprecedented rate. With SMEs now accounting for the majority (60%) of UK private sector employment, these businesses are undoubtedly driving the UK economy. However, in order to sustain this growth and ensure they are operating at full potential, it is crucial for sales people to continue selling services that promise to deliver innovation to their prospects as well.
The benefits of innovation for SME sales staff are countless. By having access to the latest technological developments, these businesses can level the playing field and equip themselves with the ability to achieve scale and compete successfully with businesses of all sizes. Customer-centric sales people can benefit from innovation to drive their quotas, customer expectation and experience and increase trust within the sales cycle. It is therefore unfortunate that innovation is a commonly cited obstacle to SME growth, with research from the Department for Business Innovation & Skills reporting that SMEs are facing significant barriers to innovation.
While internal business struggles – such as reluctance to invest in new technologies – do play a part in the innovation challenge, a key issue is a lack of external infrastructure. The UK requires a digital foundation that can support SME innovation and enable UK businesses to compete in a connected economy. Despite being home to the largest number of billion pound high tech businesses in Europe, mobile service and broadband coverage in the UK still significantly lags behinds other countries, posing a huge challenge to effective customer service and other sales initiatives. Recently, the Institute of Directors conducted a survey with 1,211 of its members, which found that almost half (47%) wanted infrastructure, such as the internet, to be the Government’s top priority – with broadband connectivity top of the list.
Unfortunately, while the Government’s ‘emergency’ Budget announcement did address some of the critical infrastructure issues hampering long-term growth, there were no further details regarding broadband-related announcements, from previous Budgets.
In today’s connected world, digital connectivity has become a crucial part of the infrastructure. The good news is that it appears the Government has recognised that its investment in digital plumbing is essential to supporting the nation’s enterprise growth. In the March Budget, it was revealed that a £10 million contribution to the superfast broadband programme in the South West would be part of the Government’s ‘Superconnected Cities’ programme. This offers businesses in selected cities up to £3,000 towards the cost of installation of superfast broadband, an initiative that is a significant step forward to enabling SMEs to ramp up their operations with this technology capability.
The programme has been a lifeline to many businesses that could not previously afford the installation of such services, and has boosted productivity for a variety of companies. Not only will implementing a new broadband line improve sales productivity and morale – but their infrastructures will be future-proofed too. Slow connections are truly a thing of the past and will no longer inhibit business. Much of the latest business software available today is dependent on a reliable and fast internet connection; meaning that without one, often this software becomes redundant, has poor performance or is truly unusable.
The increase in the use of solutions that transcend the internet, such as cloud computing and unified communications, means that broadband connections must be able to process and manage this traffic, as well as it’s high-bandwidth data demands. Cloud computing is a key example of a technology that has had a turbulent relationship with SMEs despite being one of the most important innovations of the past decade. While many fear the associated investment and infrastructure overhaul, they fail to see that in actual fact, the benefits for businesses of their size far outweigh the costs, as it allows them to rent out computing resources as and when needed.
For the sales function in particular, the personal benefits they can gather from cloud computing outside of quota, customer intimacy and trust, include areas like maintaining consistent market knowledge and the ability to drive into new customer bases. It also enables salespeople to get their company’s service, product or idea in front of the customer rapidly, which ultimately improves the speed to closure of opportunities. Those sales people who embrace these principles that are made possible through innovations such as cloud computing will increase their effectiveness and value through the sales process and will create an improved customer experience. This effectiveness can be measured against avoidance of the typical pitfalls of scope creep, tangible differentiation over the competition, race to zero pricing challenges and delivering outcome based sales messages that have demonstrable value to the client.
Furthermore, with the wider availability of superfast broadband, deploying services like virtual desktops will be much cheaper and easier for SMEs, making the usually frantic lives of sales people easier to manage.
Regardless of what industry an organisation operates, superfast broadband is a commodity that sales people can no longer do without. In order to support Britain's burgeoning technology market, the Government needs to go beyond offering kind words and continue to deliver real, tangible support to ensure the nation's emerging businesses don’t go unfounded. While the additional £10 million is a promising step forward, this must be rolled out further to ensure all UK businesses have the digital plumbing to take advantage of technology innovations that benefit enterprises. Only then can UK SMEs hope to succeed on a global stage.