Why innovation and technology are key to SMB survival

 David Mills, CEO at Ricoh Europe
- Leadership - Jan 15, 2019

David Mills, CEO of industry-leading document management solutions and services provider Ricoh Europe shares his thoughts on the state of the market for SMB's. 

This is a particularly tough time for Europe’s SMBs. Regulatory requirements and economic shifts are fundamentally changing markets. Meanwhile, rapid advancements in technology and innovation are transforming customer expectations.

Customers have come to expect access to relevant content and products anytime, anywhere. And with new players entering the market that do things a little quicker, slicker or smarter, customers are spoilt for choice.

This threat to SMBs is highlighted in research commissioned by Ricoh Europe called Generation Innovate. In this study, we found that 24% of SMB leaders expect to sell entirely different products and services within the next five years, in order to remain competitive. With changing customer demands dictating their future direction, 59% of SMB leaders claim innovation is now a top priority. But while 92% recognise the impact of the digital disruption in their sector, 59% haven’t been able to take advantage of such benefits.

This all signifies the scale of the challenges facing ambitious SMBs looking to evolve and thrive. Technology is developing faster than ever. Hype and uncertainty are becoming SMBs’ worst enemies. Any business that misjudges how to adapt their processes and strategies for the future risks leaving their success and survival to chance. It’s time for SMBs to take a proactive stance, facing disruption head-on. Here are three key areas where SMBs should be applying technology to overcome the challenges of digital disruption.

Building stronger customer relationships

One of the key findings from our research was that 54% of SMB leaders know they need to develop more meaningful and ongoing relationships with their customers. This is crucial in today’s digital-first age, as the impact of developing stronger relationships spreads further than ever.

However, while 47% actively look to seek feedback from customers so they can become more innovative, only 32% actively bring partners and customers into the product development and creation process.

SMBs need to prioritise time to truly understand their customers. Bringing customers closer allows them to become a trusted advisor. Here, they become more than just a partner or vendor; they’re invested in their customers’ success and satisfaction. As customers’ demands change, so should SMBs. They can do this by using technology to access insight into changing customer expectations. They can then draw on that insight to directly inform product and service development.

Implementing smarter workplace technology

To succeed in a crowded landscape, SMBs must be agile to stand out from the pack. So, it’s no surprise that 62% consider themselves to be innovative – but, of course, that means 38% don’t. If these businesses are to prepare themselves for the future, now is the time to get to grips with what it really means to innovate.

How an SMB innovates depends entirely on its context. It could focus on the inner workings and processes that deliver a service to clients, or on creating a whole new product or service line. There’s no right or wrong way to innovate. What is important is that a business is willing to look for and make changes. Once SMBs have a clearer picture of what innovation really means for them, they can chart their course towards the future. For example, as remote working becomes increasingly prevalent, leaders should assess whether staff have the tools needed to work easily and effectively across different locations.

Placing people at the heart of innovation

According to Generation Innovate, only 48% of SMBs are bringing more technical and digital skills into the business to improve innovation. But 42% want to encourage safe spaces for experimentation to see if ideas are successful.

Many businesses attribute their success to their people. So, who better to turn to for new innovations and fresh thinking? A business that recognises this will be able to harness the true potential of adopting an innovative culture. The more SMBs empower employees to innovate, the more scope there is to grow and thrive.

Innovation is necessary for survival

Businesses in every industry develop a set of assumptions about how they should function and what they need to do to succeed. However, the wider market in which they operate is continually changing. SMBs must constantly strive to understand and keep on top of their evolving playing field. Knowing how to apply innovative technology to engage employees and customers, or experiment with new products and business models, is crucial.

Our Generation Innovate research tells us that the opportunities for progress and success are there, but SMBs need to develop their current approach. Once they have the people, technology, partners and processes in place, only then can SMBs truly level the playing field against their larger rivals.

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