Small business suffering from ‘inertia gap’

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At the Warrillow Summit in Chicago last month, marketers discussed strategies for disrupting the inertia that often exists at small and midsize companies in order to influence the adoption of new products and services.

The summit, presented by advisory services company Warrillow & Co., attracted more than 400 marketing professionals who are trying to reach the SMB market.

"Disrupting inertia provides a tremendous opportunity," said John Warrillow, president of Warrillow & Co., during the opening presentation.

According to a Warrillow survey of more than 1,000 small- business owners, an "inertia gap" exists between their awareness of online business applications and their adoption of them. The survey was conducted online in April.

Among the survey findings were the following: Sixty-four percent of small-business owners are aware that they can buy search terms, but only 9% are actually doing so; 92% are aware that they can access business e-mail remotely, but only 43% are doing so; 59% are aware of the ability to use software as a service, but only 17% are doing so; 84% are aware of using online applications for customer service, but only 49% are doing so; and 97% are aware of the ability to pay bills online, but only 65% are doing so.

"The inertia gap is significant," Warrillow said. "If we could start moving the needle a little bit, we could have a significant impact on their business."

Of those small businesses that have not adopted online business applications (6% of respondents), the top reasons cited for not doing so were: They do not trust the Internet (37%); they are "mom and pop" shops (28%); they have no need for 24/7 access to information (21%); time and complexity (9%); and a preference for paper (5%).

Among small-business owners who have adopted new online business processes, the top reasons given for doing so were: the ability to have remote access 24/7 (26%); saving time (25%); having a reporting dashboard (23%); saving money (13%); avoiding a call center (9%); and fixing a broken process (4%).

Panels of small and midsize business professionals discussed business pain points and how they had resolved some of them.

Romella Ferguson, director of sales and marketing at Bankier Cos., a plastics manufacturer with about 175 employees, said the company faced technology issues when it recently opened an office in Costa Rica.

"There was fear that people wouldn't have clarity on the phone system, and we were also looking at how much we were spending on our phone service," Ferguson said.

The company solved this problem by implementing Skype, a VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) system.

Other problems were not so easily solved. The company put in a new server and the hard drive crashed. "We lost all our data for a period of several months and had to enter it all manually," Ferguson said.

John Nelson, managing principal at architectural firm Harley Ellis Devereaux, which employs about 450 people, said his company faces the same problems when implementing new technology.

"That is the greatest fear we all have. Every time a new version comes out, there is a learning curve. Every employee needs five days of training, and we can't bill for those five days," Nelson said. "There's also the 'glitch' factor. The stuff never works as well as it's meant to."

However, he added, "If you don't change, you don't remain competitive."

Nelson said one of his company's biggest pain points is operational integration. With offices in Bakersfield and Riverside, Calif.; Chicago; Detroit; Los Angeles; and San Diego, the firm has challenges, such as cultural differences and working with different technology systems. "The technology is never as seamless as it should be," he said.

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