Business-to-Small-Business Challenges & Opportunities for This Coming Year –
and What They Mean for You
Like most team sports, Soccer is a game of opposing forces.
The contest between combatants is frequently won or lost in the opportunities taken and the challenges confronted, the execution of offense vs. defense, the exploitation or the avoidance of mistakes.
As I started a month ago to write my version of “B2SMB Trends to Watch in the Coming Year” I was struck by how my list fell into two columns of opposing forces – one column filled with challenges, the parallel column filled with opportunities. Like soccer, my 2022 trends divided evenly, 11 vs. 11.
From my perch here at the B2SMB Institute – an organization for Leaders who must win, keep and grow Small Business Customers at massive scale – I can attest first-hand to the chaos of these last 3 years. I won’t trouble you with reminiscence on all that happened. Challenges continue to drag on the world’s entrepreneurs and those who serve them.
But in case you haven’t noticed, break-away opportunities are a counter-attack to the challenges. Speed, footwork and singular determination prevail.
Here’s my list of 22 forces in B2SMB that stand evenly opposed – head to head, as it were – as challenges and opportunities. Let’s play.
Now What? vs. What’s Next?
I’m wearing out the edge of my seat. I foolishly check in on the news several times a day – “Aww, NOW what?” – and I attribute it to the habit we all fell into during the early days of the pandemic, combing the web for the next “now what?” In our businesses, we necessarily became reactionary. But on the soccer pitch, the best players don’t chase the ball, no matter how brilliant their foot skills. The best players anticipate the open space, get to it and take their shot. Those who can re-frame “Now what” challenges into “What’s next?” opportunities will lean into their game, and seize their destiny.
Closures vs. Openings
Perhaps the greatest change in the SMB ecosystem comes in its population – millions of Small Businesses gone forever, and millions started. The upside is of course the influx of entirely new customers; the downside is the loss of so many old customers. Yet this is no “one-for-one” replacement. As new research suggests, new entrepreneurs don’t want the same products & services we ‘ve grown accustomed to selling. They do not intend to be satisfied with the old ways we offer. Those who deftly combo the newly born with the recently transformed will win on both sides of the ball. Too much to either side will miss the net.
Normal vs. New
Not surprisingly, the conflict between enhancing how we used to do things vs. re-inventing how we now do things is the C-Suite sub-conflict spreading with Omicronic speed. This as we quote “return to normal” end-quote. Stepping back, let’s state the obvious: people don’t like change, especially the change the pandemic forced upon us at gunpoint for two years. But with steady doses of reality, the change to a “new normal” is sinking in. The savvy Small Businesses are going a step further, embracing a “new way.” Those who help SMBs get skilled in the new will vastly outperform those who merely offer adaptation.
Fragmentation vs. Convergence
If you thought the SMB universe was made up of a million tiny points of light, embrace the cosmic chaos we now face. We will deeply envy those B2SMB pros who came before us – those who only faced a million variations in SMB target profiles. Is there any hope of finding convergence? Is there some form of segmentation that captures the SMB-ecosystem’s dynamic bio-diversity? I believe future success will be gravity-based, a combination of attraction-forces, made powerful by responsiveness and anticipation (in that order.) Those who design and deploy their offering as a convergent “center of the universe” have the best chance of harnessing a new world order post-Big-Bang.
For Now vs. Forever
As Leaders we are required to set a strategy and a plan. The challenge is the short-term if not painfully short-lived actions we’ve had to take over and again for 3 years. Don’t get me wrong – those close-in actions were a demonstration of our responsiveness and some were damned brilliant. But if you haven’t done the whiteboard exercise of “for now vs. forever” as relates to everything you did today, you are missing the opportunity to strategically and tactically focus on what’s most important tomorrow. I’m not suggesting we discard the myriad of things we do now that we think are temporary. I am suggesting we embrace new permanencies, and, well, make them permanent.
AI vs. EQ
Wait – is AI a challenge? Of course it is. From its design to its application to its “machine learning,” we best be careful that our business-Roomba does not get caught up in the dining room chairs. AI’s System & Process rules do not and should not place genuine (human) responsiveness. I don’t begrudge AI’s high IQ, but I do worry that our drive to make everything “smart” will leave us in a deep EQ deficit (see Joe Rogan.) There can be nothing genuine about artificial empathy, and as I hope we can all agree, SMBs need and expect a whole lot of empathy. Those who invest in deeper human connections vs. shallow shortcuts with their SMB customers will win.
Victims vs. Heroes
Every week our newsletter offers stories on the current state of SMBs. In equal measure of late, we’ve seen optimism duel with pessimism. Tales of death vs. birth, fear vs. hope, and recalcitrance vs. transformation abound. Most recently, I’ve noticed many stories tend to describe Small Business as heroes or as victims, and I worry that each POV elicits passive responses. Let’s not pity Small Business. Let’s not lionize Small Business. Let’s help them. For the Entrepreneurs who closed a business? Help them re-start a new one. For those that are on the edge? Give them a leg up. And for those riding a rising tide, put more wind in their sails. Our work here is just beginning.
Old Need vs. New Purpose
Take the world’s best soccer Player, Ronaldo. No one can doubt his success as a Super-Striker from a young age and at every club stop he’s played. But at the World Cup, Ronaldo confronted his own team’s formation that doesn’t include a Super-Striker, and he’s had a helluva global pout about it. Those who cling to the old needs they once served, however successfully, are headed for the sidelines. Those who instead focus on their ever-evolving purpose – and the purpose of their Small Business offering – will develop and deploy the biggest hits. Their success won’t be driven by an update or one more feature release, but by an all-in ability to fulfill what customers want to do now.
Assumption vs. Learning
I am both surprised and disappointed that many Leaders from major B2SMB brands still strategize from assumptions. I mean, lots of assumptions. Seems Zoom has only served to disperse the “Ivory Tower” into remote-based group-think, with muted head-nods de rigeur. Yes, you know what happens when we assume. We foolishly ignore new truths, new realities, and new opportunities. Now more than ever we can assume nothing. Nothing. Those who do the hard work of learning everything, as if for the first time, will graduate into a whole new brilliance. If you are a B2SMB Leader who has not gone to school with a real live SMB in the last 30 days, you get detention.
Branding vs. Advocacy
I’ve been a Brand Guy since 1983. For close to 35 years, brands were cleverly conceived, brilliantly deployed, tightly controlled, grounded in what we wanted the customer to love about us. Call me Stegosaurus. I submit that today’s Brands have lost all control – literally. Said another way, the beholder owns your brand. I believe a positive by-product of the last 3 years is an awakening to the power of advocacy. It goes beyond the affinity between enterprise and customer, or even that old chestnut, “I work for you.” The sooner you recognize your advocacy must extend well beyond your Small Business Customer’s wall or website, the richer your brand will become. And those who exponentially elevate their relationship with Small Business Advocacy Organizations will create a brand worth caring about.
Buy From vs. Buy In
We in B2SMB place enormous emphasis on the Small Business Customers “Buyer Journey.” Progressive steps from a dialogue, to a sales pitch, to a proposal, to a contract. We’re selling to them and they are buying from us. But ask your sales team – how’s that working? Let’s switch the field. Small Businesses are Joiners. They join review sites, online communities, trade groups, chambers and merchant associations. SMBs are no longer satisfied in buying from, they want a mutual buy-in. Those who think of a customer as a “member” are on the right track. The opportunity lies in the community of your customers, and how you build, foster, support and grow that community will create lopsided wins – on both sides!