Well, here we are, about to embark on a new year; a time that is fraught with predictions about what the future might hold. I presume that this is likely considered the peak season for most futurists. Not one to be left out, I thought I would share some trends that are evolving with our top clients and more importantly discuss how some small- and mid-sized businesses are adapting and embracing these trends to help grow their business.
Here then are the top ten trends affecting business growth as we enter 2013:
1. I want it my way. If the fast food industry was the first to coin the term, 'I want it my way,' then we can blame them for the influence they have had on creating a culture of consumers who want everything customized to their taste. Our appetite for getting what we want has been further fuelled by conglomerates like Amazon and Google, who use algorithms to determine our online preferences and in turn, we have become accustomed to our demands being met. It is a vicious cycle. Companies like Zappos, who have found a way to efficiently offer a broad range of products or services that will suit virtually every customer's needs, are the very companies that are thriving.
2. Now means right now! This year I have done most of my holiday shopping online for the sake of convenience. When I visited a store this past weekend, I was shocked at how little patience I now have for standing in line at a crowded store, waiting to give someone my money. I am not alone. Technology is increasing our demand for immediate gratification. Finding methods to quickly satisfy customers in new and innovative ways are the best means of capturing additional market share. How can you offer products or services in a way that customers can access it quickly, when it is convenient for them and in a way that allows them to process quickly?
3. Segment or die! Understanding customer behaviour has long been the foundation of marketing and sales, but segmentation has typically fallen by the wayside as something that is only complete when a new market is entered. The problem, however, is that customer behaviours today are changing rapidly, and not understanding these changes can lead to diminishing sales. Who is buying? What are they buying? How frequently are they buying it? Segmenting and understanding customer buying habits is something that should be done quarterly if you are to invest wisely in a marketing campaign. If you haven't reviewed customer-spending data in a while, now would be the time.
4. Eleven times lost. The number of times the average person changes jobs during their career has been estimated at 11 by the U.S. labour statistics bureau; a number that is trending upwards. Finding a method to retain expertise within a business is critical to ensuring that investment in training and education of staff is not lost. Solutions vary from the simple, such as written documentation, to the more complex and costly solutions such as knowledge management software. Either way, capturing staff knowledge is the key to ensuring that the revolving staff door does not impact the level and quality of customer service.
6. Crowdsourcing versus Google. In the past year I have found that as people build their personal networks on social media (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) more are relying on their personal networks to help them make decisions. Thinking about buying the latest technological gadget? Why not just tweet to your friends and ask for their thoughts versus relying on Google's algorithm? Are you on Twitter or Facebook? How can you build your own business network to help advise these 'crowds' of the value you provide customers?
7. Sustainable? Prove it! If you claim to be sustainable, but you aren't, or at least you can't prove it, then consumers will be onto you. No longer is it acceptable to simply identify that your goods are sustainable; customers in both the retail and industrial sectors are seeking proof. The transparency that we have become accustomed to in food products is now making its way into other areas, and fast. Companies like Patagonia are taking the lead in providing their customers the opportunity to see the story behind the goods they are purchasing and the impact that production has on the environment. If you aren't clear on the origin of the goods you are selling, you had better start researching.
8. Near field communication. It's safe to say that plastic has taken the once-cherished crown from cash as being king. This trend, however, is again shifting as companies like Apple invest in technology that will facilitate near field communication (NFC) for payment transactions. The ability to buy goods will be done through the use of smartphones versus debit or credit machines. If you want to get ahead of the crowd, keep an eye on what your credit card merchant is offering in the way of NFC technology. Launch of this new phase in payment processing is just around the corner.
9. Being social is no longer an option. Social media continues to emerge as one of, if not the most, dominant means of influencing buyers, for both small and large organizations. Social media, however, is emerging beyond a marketing tool and becoming even more relevant as a tool for customer retention. If you are not using social media as a means to connect with customers and obtain feedback on how your services or products could be improved, what are you waiting for? For all you know, someone might be complaining about your product right now to their network of friends, but you aren't listening.
10. My shopping cart. As consumers become more engaged in making purchases online versus in store, the face of retail is changing. It is no longer necessary to have bricks and mortar if you want to sell consumer goods. Our clients in the retail sector understand this shift and are quickly re-thinking their strategy to meet these changing demands. More importantly, however, this will change how business-to-business buying patterns evolve. Companies today who are purchasing from distributors are beginning to seek supply from Amazon. Presuming you have a website, and it's up to date, have you engaged an online shopping cart? Better yet, do you have live chat options to facilitate discussions with consumers who are considering investing in your products or services? If not, you should.
So there you have it; a take on what is emerging and what will influence business growth in 2013. In the new year I will take a retrospective look at these trends to see what has emerged versus what fizzled.
Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Co., a consulting firm focused on helping businesses improve operationally for increased profitability.