EHK Chats with Salesforce Simon Tate
Simon Tate, is the Area Vice President, Commercial Business Unit, Asia of Salesforce.
This interview with Simon Tate was conducted and condensed by EntrepreneurHK (EHK).
1. SMEs have been around a long time. What’s different now in the SME business climate, and is it harder to compete with bigger companies?
With technologies like cloud, social media, mobile, data science, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it is in fact easier than ever to engage your customers, and reach new consumers in the global marketplace.
Cloud technology, for example has vastly shortened the innovation lifecycle for companies today, and shrunk many business hurdles for startups and SMEs, allowing them access to more opportunities and resources than ever before. Cloud services can be set up quickly, accessed from virtually anywhere in the world, and scaled up or down based on the level of support customers need without incurring additional costs. All these factors grant SMEs greater agility to respond to new market opportunities and customer demands.
Success also depends on SMEs’ ability to differentiate themselves by engaging with customers the right way. The customer of the future is one that is hyper-connected, super-mobile, and they make decisions based on their experience with a brand.
For SMEs to win in such a reality, they need technology that will help them find, win, and subsequently keep this new type of customer. This would mean changing the way customers are engaged by extending customer support across more channels than restricting it to just a service hotline.
The way companies approach data also needs to change, to give businesses access to real-time insights about their customers’ needs so they can deliver the best customer experience. With customers at the heart of the business and technology as their enabler, SMEs gain an invaluable edge over larger competitors that can propel them to greater success.
2. What are three pieces of technology all SME’s should be looking at?
IoT and the proliferation of mobile and wearable devices have vastly increased the number of touch points businesses can have with their customers. The resultant deluge of customer data gained across all these platforms is one of the key drivers for data analytics. IDC’s recent report revealed that the big data and analytics-related services market will nearly double by 2019, and 53 percent of companies surveyed consider big data and analytics important to their business.
Consequently, there is a greater need for powerful data analytics tools that can capture and analyse large amounts of customer interactions and translate them into real-time, actionable insights. These insights need to be accessible to any business user across all channels at scale. With the right data analytics platform in place, SMEs can ensure greater efficiency and flexibility in the way they respond to end-user requests and market opportunities. Today, such a platform, catered to SMEs’ needs is available to enable SMEs the ability to practise data analytics, adapt to market changes more nimbly, thereby delivering greater customer satisfaction.
The second focus for SMEs lies in cloud technology. With the speed at which businesses move today, the ability to pre-emptively move into any market would provide SMEs a greater chance of success. Cloud technology levels the playing field for smaller companies to compete at scale with their larger competitors, providing them access to the same kind of technology and market opportunities that they would struggle to get otherwise.
Finally, with wearables and mobile device ownership on the rise, the physical and digital worlds are merging, causing people to expect personalised, consistent brand interactions across every channel and device. Consumers don’t just want an individualised experience; they expect it. That’s throughout their entire encounter with a brand. Whether shopping from their sofa, on the go, or in-store. This has created a shift; consumers are now far more in control of the relationship they have with retailers because engagement opportunities are no longer one-way. The brand no longer dictates the terms of interaction with shoppers. Previously the brand led the conversation with their consumers – often targeting large groups with the same message. That’s no longer appropriate in today’s world where consumers now expect to engage a brand whenever it suits them and via their preferred channel or platform.
This shift is making the customer journey more important than ever before, and ultimately evolving marketers into customer experience designers. The last technology SMEs should focus on is solutions that are capable of chronicling the entire marketing journey and creating 1:1 personalised journeys for the individual customer. There is no longer an excuse for companies to provide poor customer experience, and consumers hold companies to the same expectation.
Through these solutions, businesses can place their employees where they are needed most, gain a deeper understanding of their customers and the markets they operate in, and stay ahead of the curve with innovative solutions and a unique customer experience specifically designed to fulfil their customers’ needs. Additionally, technology vendors increasingly recognise SMEs as a viable target audience and have developed solutions specifically catered to SMEs that are cost effective and easy to deploy.
3. How does Salesforce see its SME business growing in Asia?
The SME potential here in Asia is huge. With many countries in Asia striving to place themselves in the centre of the entrepreneurial scene, the support granted to SMEs and startups is immense. We have been seeing tremendous momentum across the board as companies make significant commitments to cloud computing, and embrace our vision for customer success.
Asia is leading the world in terms of cloud readiness, with countries like Hong Kong and Singapore scoring better in cloud than markets like the United Kingdom and United States. Mobile adoption is also on the rise here, with GfK listing Hong Kong as having the world’s most connected consumers for the second year running. All these contribute to building a vibrant SME and startup community in Asia, allowing disruptive, innovative companies like Grab and FoodPanda to flourish.
We see our SME business continuing to grow in Asia and count leading brands like Lazada and Shopline among the SMEs and startup customers we are helping.
4. Are governments in Asia doing enough for SMEs and entrepreneurship already?
SMEs across the Asia-Pacific contribute 20 per cent to 50 per cent of their respective nation’s gross domestic product growth, employ half the workforce and account for over 90 per cent of all enterprises, Apec data shows. Across Asia, there have been massive efforts from Asian governments to boost entrepreneurship.
Additionally, advancements in cloud, social, mobile, and data science technologies have brought about more opportunities and business models for companies to tap into. Countries like Singapore and Hong Kong are already equipped with the necessary infrastructure that enables a vibrant startup scene. With the additional support and funds thrown into the mix, the opportunity to succeed here is even greater.
However, there are still challenges that SMEs have to overcome in these markets. Hong Kong, for example, will have to overcome global competition, the mainland economic slowdown, the repercussions from Brexit and boost innovation in order to realise their goal. In effect, all businesses no matter big or small need to be concerning themselves with customer success, customer-centricity, and building the business around the customer experience even more than ever.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has been proactive in helping SMEs adapt to the new era of industrial innovation and stay ahead of the competitive curve. These include microfinance schemes and innovation and technology funds that provide seed funding all the way to venture-matching fund. They also include initiatives to help SMEs market their solutions more effectively and incubation programmes and co-work spaces tailor-made for SMEs. In the most recent budget, the Hong Kong government introduced concrete relief measures for SMEs. However, there have been calls to provide additional profit tax incentives to SMEs to further support the business sector as well as guidelines on which industries the government is expecting to promote in the near future.
While governments across Asia have been making big moves to help the SMEs in their respective markets, the current business climate and SMEs would always hope for more help. There continues to be potential for corporates to invest in SMEs and provide the necessary technology solutions and incubator opportunities.
5. What is your advice for an SME looking to get closer to its customers?
Customers today have easier access to information than ever before – information that would heavily influence their decision making process, creating a generation of customers who are smarter about what they want to buy, from where, and when. As a result, SMEs need to change the way they think about engaging customers, to ensure they are providing the right amount of information and access to solutions on the right platform, at the right time, and in the right way.
Consumers make decisions based on their experience with the brand, more than the product or service delivered. This means entrepreneurs today have to be very intentional about the way they engage with their customers. All these decisions should be driven by real-time information and customised for each customer, and this information should not be locked away in an Excel sheet somewhere on the company network, or logged into software that exist in silos.
What SMEs need today is a system where they can manage everything through a single platform, from data collection right through to creating a unique customer experience on all channels. This enables them to follow each of their customers throughout their entire journey, ensuring that they provide the necessary support and information when required for greater success. To make that possible, SMEs need to build a technology infrastructure that can scale with the company and its customers as it grows.
Ultimately, it is the customers that determines the future of SMEs. It is the experience customers get that fuels their loyalty to the brand, not the technology or funds they gain along the way.