Open for business for SMEs

As a SME business where do you find your main customer base? Now I appreciate that your answers will be many and varied depending on your business size and market place. After all, with SMEs covering everything from one man bands to 249 employees it is hardly surprising that a recent EU publication referred to SMEs as “the backbone of the European economy, providing a potential source for jobs and economic growth.”

That said, would it surprise you to know that The Government itself is proving to be a growing marketplace for SME businesses? In fact, according to Crown Commercial Service SME representative Emma Jones, the Government is on track to meet its target of seeing a third of contract expenditure go to SMEs, either directly or through the supply chain.

The spending target is backed by an “open for business” campaign which aims both to increase awareness of the availability of government contracts and to make it easier for SMEs to bid. To this end contract application processes have been simplified and cash flow concerns have been addressed with a guarantee that valid invoices are paid within thirty days.

Admittedly, despite the initiative a good proportion of the Government’s SME spend is indirect with analysis from the 2016/17 financial year revealing a £5.2m direct spend against a £5.9m indirect spend. Nevertheless that is money going into the SME economy which otherwise would have remained the preserve of big business.

Whether you are able to attract Government contracts or not, having a good understanding of your potential customer base can help businesses to make the right decisions which will lead to ongoing customer loyalty. These decisions aren’t simply about product or price, although undoubtedly these are important. But if you are going to attract your desired customer base then the entire organisation needs to be aligned to customer outcome. So those decisions need also to be about infrastructure and support systems, about staffing and training, about communication and telephony as much as about the product itself.

And yet, it can be all too easy just to plump for the first telephone number offered or to opt for a telephone package simply on the grounds of price. But that can be a false economy. Do you really want all of your calls going through a one-stop switchboard which rings as engaged if one other person is on the line? How many times will your callers try before they hang up and look elsewhere? And is an answerphone really a good solution when you could be diverting calls to other landlines or mobiles; thereby instantly connecting with your customer base.

Once your callers get through do they have to play ‘pass the parcel’ before they finally speak to someone who can help them. On the other side of the coin do your employees really have to spend all of that time on the phone answering questions about opening hours or admission fees; something which could as easily be delivered via a company information line?

Perhaps our opening question should not have been where do you find your customer base but rather how aligned your systems are to meeting the needs of current and potential customers?  Government or not, across the board alignment can make a measurable difference to business outcomes.

Written by Alison