In the battle of personalisation, it's advantage small business

You should have a huge advantage if you have a small business - intimate knowledge of your clients and their needs.

I have spent years thinking about the adaptation of data and its application to growing relationships and market share through CRM, automated marketing and dynamic web content, but most of that has been from the perspective of achieving some level of mass personalisation of communications for a larger enterprise.

In a larger institution, you’re effectively faced with the issue of how to industrialise a personal relationship with your clients, or prospects. There is absolutely no alternative when you’re servicing tens or even hundreds of thousands of customers.

With increasing demand for personalisation - from delivering of something important like a personal financial plan or medical prescription, to providing the point of sale buzz around a can of Coke can with your name on it - small business has a massive advantage in being able to build much closer and less fabricated relationships with its clients.

In other words, the small business advantage is based on building a more detailed and nuanced profile of its clients - their important life events, hobbies and interests and, of course, their preferences within the range of products and services you’re offering. You should know when to contact them, with content that is tailored and relevant. Often, this is something as simple as a phone call or email. Often, nothing more sophisticated than this is required and it frequently works better.

There are many tools available now to enable you to manage and do all this more professionally, regularly and relevantly. I won’t list them all, but think low-cost email platforms like Mailchimp, survey tool, SurveyMonkey, and so on. All these can substantially enhance and even automate some of your client communications. Some of them also interface with each other, allowing you to, for example, embed surveys in your emails and web content.

But being a tech-savvy company is not your main game, simply an enabler or your strategy to build customer relationships to gain a real competitive advantage. You do this by focusing on building insights into your clients that are deeper rather than wider - in other words, data-based insights that provide you with an ever-deeper understanding and connection with your clients.

You could argue that with the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning, this advantage will diminish for small businesses. I suspect that over the long term, you are probably right but, from my experience, there is still a massive window of opportunity for small business.

Without wanting to digress too much, I suggest there are four principal reasons for this:

  1. Legacy systems in large enterprises - don’t underestimate the hurdle this is presenting to large corporations wanting to interface almost ancient technology with emerging open-architecture platforms. It will take years to overcome in some instances;

  2. Corporate silos - Sharing data across divisions in many large institutions is still fraught by internal territorial challenges and culture;

  3. Regulatory change - Recent changes to protect the privacy of citizens in Europe, requiring that companies obtain the consent of customers before sending communications will be watched and considered by regulators around the world, as people become more aware and sensitive to the protection of their data;

  4. Systems capacity - Once large companies start capturing data and personalising communications dynamically, the growth in demand for systems storage and processing power is exponential. Couple this with greater regulation around data security in situ and during transfer between platforms and you have some real constraints on speed to market and operationalisation of tailored, ‘in the moment’ content.

I detoured into these technical points to illustrate that if you’re running a small enterprise, there are good reasons to feel empowered about the advantage your business enjoys over some of your larger and possibly intimidating competitors.

Verbology is my third time in small business and jumping between self-employment and corporate roles has provided me with rich insights from both sides of the fence. Both sides enjoy their advantages, but capacity to personalise customer experience is still “Advantage small business”.

Photo: The Spaulding Marine Centre in Sausalito, California is a boutique business that has carved out a niche among wooden boat afficianados.