Do your competitors know something about technology that you don’t?
Maybe they do, perhaps they don’t.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know, definitively, what your peers and anti-peers are up to when it comes to investing in technology for their businesses?
You’ve come to the right place. The results of a recent Gartner survey1 are full of insights into small business owners’ reported technology needs.
Read on if you want to know which software or technologies you should invest in now, which are just “nice to have,” and which you can put on the back burner.
Remember: the question of which technology a small business should invest in is highly subjective. The right decision can increase your revenue, while the wrong choice could sink your company.
Our survey provides insight into what small business owners and employees view as the crucial technologies for running their businesses, as well as the unnecessary technologies they could live without.
Table of Contents:
- Survey methodology
- Technologies that small businesses are currently using
- Technologies that are critical to conducting business
- Technology that is beneficial, but not necessary
- Technology that is not necessary to conduct business … yet
- So, what does all of this information mean for your small business?
In June 2017, 699 individuals across 14 industries answered a questionnaire asking business technology-related questions. Of the respondents, 499 individuals were identified as small business respondents (with business revenue of less than $50 million annually).
One of the survey questions was, “How necessary are each of these technologies to your business?” Respondents could select multiple options from a pool of 17 technologies (including “other”) and categorize each as “critical,” “beneficial,” or “not necessary” for them to conduct business. We also ascertained which of the 17 technologies the respondents were using at the time of the survey.
Technologies that small businesses are currently using
The following chart shows the current, wide adoption of certain technologies among small business owners and employees at the time this survey was administered.
Respondents were asked, “Which of the following technologies is your organization using or planning to use in the next 1-2 years?”
68% of respondents said they are already using data and information security technologies at their place of business.
This statistic is particularly surprising considering the uptick in data breaches over the past few years. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, data breaches for businesses alone constituted 54.7% of the total breaches in the United States in 2017. How many stories of businesses losing money from hacking do people need to see before they take action?
Especially with the recent implementation of policies to increase oversight of data and information security—such as the General Data Protection Act (GDPR) in the UK—small businesses everywhere stand to lose money from fines (on top of any potential hacks) if they don’t protect their data correctly.
Key takeaway: If your business doesn’t have a data management or information security solution in place, it is well past time to invest. You must safeguard client and employee data to avoid fines and subsequent revenue loss. Get on the data security train immediately.
59% of respondents said they are currently using website implementation or enhancement at their business.
This response indicates that over half of the small business owners and employees surveyed have some web presence.
Key takeaway: If you’re a small business owner and don’t have a web presence yet, it’s time to change that. Don’t despair at being behind: there are plenty of free website building options and accessible content management tools out there to help you create an engaging website for your business.
59% of respondents said they are currently using cloud computing for their business.
Storing information and performing transactions via cloud technology makes companies more agile and scalable than businesses using traditional methods. In a follow-up question, 51% of respondents said that cloud computing was “critical” for them to conduct business.
Key takeaway: When will you know it’s time to move to the cloud? Watch for these indicators:
- Your budget for maintaining systems in-house is increasing beyond what has been normal over the last few years (or months if you’re a startup).
- You’re spending more time waiting for your data to populate than you are using it for work.
- Your data filing system has outgrown what your in-house solution can handle.
For most businesses, it’s already time to move at least some of their work to the cloud. That’s where the future of small business is.
Only 56% of small business respondents said they are currently using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
- How are they presently managing their leads and nurturing their customers if not by CRM?
- Do they want a CRM tool, but just haven’t found the right one yet?
(In a later question, we found that the latter is most likely correct.)
Key takeaway: Choosing a CRM for your business can be a complicated and lengthy process, but you should still consider investing in one. Start by looking at the most popular CRMs out there.
55% of respondents said they are currently using HR software at their small businesses.
While being an Excel wizard might work when you’re a one-woman startup, it’s not a sustainable method once your team starts to grow. HR software is a set of tools that allows you to manage your employees better than any spreadsheet can. If you’re looking for an easy way to manage your employees, HR software is your answer.
Key takeaway: If your team is growing beyond what you consider manageable, it’s time to find an HR software option or tool to help you keep track of employee benefits, scheduling, and performance.
49% of respondents said they already use mobile business applications at their business.
A little less than half of respondents are currently using mobile business applications; adoption varies widely across industries. Typically, people who use apps have 25 to 30 apps on their phones but only heavily use five of them.
What are the chances your app is going to be in that top five when you’re competing against everyday-use apps?
Whether or not you have an app, your website should be optimized for mobile devices. You’ll miss out on customers if you don’t.
Technologies that are critical to conducting business
These are the technologies that respondents said they needed to do business across all industries.
The bars highlighted in orange are covered in the following section in detail.
73% of respondents said that a CRM was critical for them to conduct business.
Do you want to communicate with your customers in a way that makes them want to come back and buy more from you? Of course you do.
Customer relationship management software is the way successful businesses nurture their customers and lead them further down the sales funnel. Without a CRM, your small business will be stuck in the days of using spreadsheets to keep track of building consumer relationships.
While only 56% of respondents were currently using CRM at the time of the survey, those who use it rated it as the most necessary technology of all possible options.
Key takeaway: After data and information security, a robust CRM should be your next tech investment. You can even find a free or open source CRM if your budget doesn’t allow for a paid version.
Even though only 68% of respondents reported current usage of data and information security, 71% of those using it believe it to be critical for them to conduct business.
Key takeaway: This is the most crucial tool in your small business technologies toolbox. Sure, your CRM can help rake in the cash, but if you can’t keep your information safe you run a higher risk of losing it all in fines or to hackers.
Technology that is beneficial, but not necessary
These are the technologies that respondents said were beneficial, but not necessary, to conduct business across all industries.
The technologies highlighted in orange are covered in the following section, while the technologies with the percentages highlighted in orange are worth noting because nearly half of the respondents indicated they are beneficial but not necessary for conducting business.
54 % of the 268 respondents currently using/planning/ or evaluating (excluding not sure) blockchain said it was beneficial but not necessary for conducting business.
Created to decentralize transactions of cryptocurrencies across multiple users, blockchain is used as a method of “removing the middleman” in records management and reduces records management costs, delays, and redundant processes.
Key takeaway: Blockchain is coming to an industry near you soon. Is it time for small businesses to take a hard look at blockchain? Not quite yet, but Gartner predicts (full research available to Gartner clients) that blockchain will have a significant impact on small businesses in the next decade.
Half of the 402 individuals surveyed who are currently using/planning/or evaluating (excluding not sure) business intelligence and analytics tools indicated that they were beneficial but unnecessary for their business.
Take note of this statistic, because over 50% of small businesses are going to begin using some form of data analytics in the next five years, if not sooner.
Key takeaway: If you want to obtain a deeper understanding of your consumer base, start exploring using BI and analytics software to drive your business forward.
49% of 291 respondents currently using/planning/or evaluating (excluding not sure) wearables said that they were beneficial but not necessary for them to conduct business.
Key takeaway: Wearables are a worthwhile investment for your small business if your workforce or client base is spread across multiple locations, and you need to gather data to ensure business success.
Technology that is not necessary to conduct business … yet
As you look at the next graph, consider the low percentage of responses in this category compared to the previous graphs. Small businesses are less likely to indicate that these particular technologies are not necessary—and thus less valuable—to them conducting business. This means all businesses are more open to considering technologies as potentially beneficial than not necessary at all.
In the following segment, we discuss a few of the exciting findings of which technologies small business respondents do not think are necessary for them to conduct business.
The technologies highlighted in orange are worth noting because more respondents consider these technologies as not necessary for conducting business.
28% of the 269 respondents currently using/planning/or evaluating (excluding not sure) chatbots said that they weren’t necessary for them to conduct business.
Many small businesses don’t need a chatbot to function successfully. The question here is whether this is a holdover from a time when phone calls were your only support option? How long will this remain true?
While the survey responses indicate that chatbots are still deemed unnecessary by small businesses, Gartner expects this to change in the near future based on the way Generation Z and most Millennials interact with the world around them.
Key takeaway: Forward-thinking small business owners will capitalize on their competition’s lack of non-traditional communication methods and provide a chatbot interface to route queries to “real-life” individuals who can help customers.
26% of the 224 respondents currently using/planning/or evaluating (excluding not sure) drones said that they weren’t necessary to conduct business successfully.
While a small business that deals in “intangible” things (such as SAAS or graphic design) might not need a drone to deliver their product, small businesses with a tangible product to deliver need to start considering drone technology as a way to fulfill orders without significantly increasing their labor bottom line.
Key takeaway: If your small business fills a space in a vital supply chain, it might be time to consider how drones can help fulfill demands at a lower cost than increasing your human workforce. Don’t jump into drone implementation, though, without familiarizing yourself with local FAA regulations.
So, what does all of this information mean for your small business?
- If you haven’t already, invest in some sort of data and information security technology. Protecting client and employee information should be at the top of your list.
- Caring for your customer relationships with the right CRM software is critical for business success. Don’t lose clients because you forget to add touch points into their buyer journey; adopt a solution that will help you make the sale and nurture repeat customers.
- Depending on your industry, you can do without blockchain and business intelligence, but keep them in mind for the future. BI, in particular, will become more attainable and start providing insights into small businesses’ customers in the near future.
- Small businesses are generally open to advanced technologies, but don’t see them as vital for doing business yet. As consumers adopt advanced technologies, however, they will begin to expect them in their business transactions. Once that happens, your business will need to jump on board.
Ultimately, the technologies in which your small business invests are determined by a complex combination of factors that are unique to your goals and circumstances. Think of these survey results as a pulse checker on the SMB market in general, and keep an eye on trends in your specific industry to avoid being left out or behind.
Interested in learning more about the top technologies highlighted in this survey? Start here:
- The Small Business Hype Cycle: Blockchain Technology
- 5 Easy and Affordable CRMs for Small Business
- 4 Ways to Prevent a Customer Data Security Breach
Information on Gartner’s Top Technology Trends for SMBs Survey
Gartner conducted this survey in April and May 2017 among 699 U.S.-based SMBs, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded nonprofit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers, or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.