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For Small Business Week: Practical Tips for Transforming into a Social Enterprise

This week is Small Business Week 2012, and business and academic leaders will be working together across the Internet and with in-person events to help small businesses compete more effectively, find customers, and grow their businesses. and -- two small companies that have recently become part of Salesforce -- co-wrote this post with the goal of helping SMBs appreciate the benefits of creating and nurturing a Social Enterprise. We're big proponents of merging a social culture into every aspect of business, large and small.

We think we have some useful information for all SMBs seeking to find the right path and the right tools for their Social Enterprises. We'd love to hear about how the week goes for you. Have a great week of learning and fun!

Social Enterprise: The Way Business Is Done Today

Just a short while ago, “social business” was a sea change in the way people interacted with their favorite brands. But today, “social business” is just the way business is done. For small and medium sized organizations, it’s business as usual.

Tune in to any webinar with a panel of experts from forward-thinking companies, and you will see that social is front and center.  Social affects the way we engage with everyone we meet through business. Business is a vibrant conversation—rather than just pushing messages to customers, businesses are interacting in lots of ways, and on lots of channels.

The Social Enterprise and What It Means to Small Businesses

Social enterprises do a better job of listening, engaging, collaborating and providing service to customers. For SMBs, it’s particularly important to understand the tenets of the social enterprise, because they need to be superefficient and organized. SMBs usually have small teams, and all the members wear lots of hats.

Social enterprises protect and enhance businesses by putting the customer at the center and getting everyone in the organization involved with a culture of keeping them there. A social enterprise is designed to "flatten"  organizations and take advantage of the expertise of each team member.

"In a flat world with global access at our fingertips – companies of any size can compete to win. But, just putting a virtual presence out there will not be enough. ...The way to stand out will be to incorporate customer centricity into all your commerce processes. This is not a new concept… but in today’s marketplace it is the difference between thriving and going out of business." - Laurie McCabe, partner SMB Group

A Focus on Social Enhances “Moments of Truth”

Captivating your customer’s attention at the right time and in the right place can turn customers into evangelists. How and when customers interact with your company, employees, or brand has been shown to affect loyalty. Since it costs much less to service and support existing customers, this is a worthy goal.

Real time encounters with your brand, called "touchpoints" or “moments of truth,”  can help build your brand, generate sales, and retain customers. To take advantage of these opportunities, you need to instantly leverage social activity clues and then respond with content that makes sense based on where the customer reached out.

Becoming a Social Enterprise means breaking down barriers between you and your customer. And breaking down barriers requires collaboration. The end result of effective collaboration? Processes and workflows are more efficient, faster, and replicable--and customers will take notice.

New Customer, New Expectations

One of the biggest opportunities today is the ability to use social apps and data to insure a great experience for your customers.

This is what the new generation of empowered customers expects, and it is an expectation that small businesses are even better able to meet than enterprise companies. A new generation is on the march -- the Millennial Customer -- digital natives who live and breathe their technology and sleep with their smartphones. These customers crave engagement with your brand. Small businesses are more agile than big businesses and can address these customers more efficiently in many cases.

What Are the Next Practical Steps SMBs Can Take to Become a Social Enterprise?

Conquer the Fear of Social

Social isn't a minefield if you use simple good judgment and a few basic tenets:

  • Acknowledge errors or problems. Don’t fear the negative, sometimes how you react to it leads you out into the sunlight.
  • Inform/don't obfuscate.
  • Be genuine and human. Let your team be themselves, within clear boundaries you set.
  • Don’t be stupid. If you wouldn’t say it to your Great Aunt Agnes, don’t say it do a customer.
  • Common courtesy rules. Say please and thank you, and always follow up.
  • Turn complainers into evangelists by respectfully listening and conversing. Then you can mobilize these influencers by using the right tools to build the relationship with them over time.

Compete by Using the Right Tools

Businesses of all sizes are facing massive demand for customer service. Customers are appearing everywhere, on all the channels. They’re talking to you and about you everywhere, and they expect answers quickly and on the channels they like.

But the good news is that it's now an affordable prospect for SMBs to address the opportunities that come from being a social enterprise. Affordable, cloud-based, on-demand tools are available and plentiful. It's never been easier to meet or exceed the abilities of on-premise software at much higher pricepoints.

Tool tips:

  • The busier you are, the smarter your tools need to be. Don't get stuck in 1999. There’s no reason to use complicated, unwieldy tools. There are lots of agile, efficient applications out there to match your team, your skill level, and your business goals.
  • Collaboration tools today are the cheapest they've ever been. Small businesses can appear as large and significant as some of the largest companies in the world.
  • It’s a mobile world. Mobile apps make it possible to take care of your customers 24/7,  to provide support even when you’re not at your desk, or outside normal business hours.
  • Remember, tools don't do all the work. They enable you to spend time on the tasks that mean the most to your small business. They streamline your path to productivity.
  • When you use a tool that is collaborative, its power increases geometrically because your team can be on the same page and make it possible to deliver progress and exceptional customer support .
  • The right tool gives you the ability to scale the number of customers you can handle with fewer employees. This is invaluable for small, growing teams.

Choose your view of the landscape. The right tools are available. Consolidate, track, and manage all the data in one place to get a socially relevant view of both your business and your customers.

Start with and!

It’s never been as easy (cloud computing), affordable (on-demand apps), or fun (e.g., and to transform your small business into a social enterprise! A social productivity app and a social customer help desk are obviously at the heart of serving today's customer.

We’d be honored to have you start today with our companies and see what a difference great tools make! Please give us feedback on the tools that make your life easier as a small business owner.

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