Technology is enabling small businesses to connect with customers on a global scale like never before. Charles Heunemann, Managing Director and VP Asia Pacific for Natterbox, discusses how the accessibility of cloud-based infrastructure is changing how we do business.
As Sir Richard Branson famously said: “No new business is worth starting in these times unless it can go global.” While it may be all well and good for the billionaire serial-entrepreneur to assert this, for many Australian small and medium businesses, the reality of expanding globally presents many barriers which are difficult to overcome.
Traditionally, for a business to have a global reach it had to be a large enterprise-level operation with extensive resources to overcome the huge barriers that go hand-in-hand with entering a new market. Such challenges include acquiring new customers, recruiting and staffing local operations, acquiring local regulatory knowledge and expertise and having the right technology and telecommunications infrastructure – which when combined meant a significant financial outlay only warranted for large scale enterprises.
Today’s innovations have allowed Branson’s prophecy to be more accessible and achievable without deep pockets and vast resources. The explosion of cloud-based infrastructure and global telecommunications innovations have lowered the barriers for businesses and made global scalability a more level playing field. With technology as the enabler, it much easier for small to medium businesses to expand into once-inaccessible international markets. Now Australian SMB’s can have access to the same enterprise-grade technology as their larger counterparts, which they can access and implement at a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time that it could have cost to build and develop their infrastructure from scratch.
The move towards cloud-based platforms for everything from email to CRM to ERP and even telephony means that today’s SMB’s can launch into a foreign market with little more than a laptop, a phone and an internet connection.
Where scale used to play a vital role in preparing a business for global expansion, the democratisation of technology-driven infrastructure and communications means that any business regardless of size, can now ‘go global’. It is because of these newly-lowered barriers of entry that SMBs can throw down the gauntlet to national and international expansion and adopt Branson’s other famous words “screw it, let’s do it”.
While the availability of business infrastructure and technology has not completely removed all barriers to international expansion it has greatly reduced three key challenges:
- Customer acquisition: Historically, the largest barrier to entry into a new market for any business was their ability to acquire and properly service local customers. Virtual infrastructures, like online marketing tools and CRMs, mean that businesses can now operate in an efficiently-connected global business environment that can rapidly and effectively create a physical or virtual local presence. A business can now use social media-targeted advertising and a cloud-based CRM and telephony platform to effectively capitalise on highly-localised market dynamics to find and service their customer.
2. Technology and telecommunications infrastructure: Centralised global applications for communications, information and process management including CRM, telephony and email have greatly reduced the barriers to deploying a new local market presence. Cloud-based technologies mean that an Australian-based business can now quickly deploy staff in remote locations with a complete system and process support. Historically, multinational companies needed a physical presence in each new country or territory they moved into, however, this is no longer always necessary. It is now possible to create a virtual ‘local’ presence with communication facilities that provide a local feel to customers and partners, without having an actual physical presence.
3. Local recruiting and staffing: The development of infrastructure technologies has now made it possible for small and medium-sized businesses to achieve global coverage with a reduced physical presence. This low cost, rapid expansion capability can be a key driver for a business’ expansion objectives.
Customer relationships are essential to the success of any new business venture or launch into a foreign market. Therefore, having a reliable, 24/7 customer platform that gives business the ability to connect with local customers and provide fast, personalised response is a key driver of global success. Technology can enable an SMB to successfully scale its business, so it can cost-effectively and efficiently replicate sales and service delivery infrastructure. Cloud-based technologies, in particular, customer service platforms and telephone systems, are the key enabler of business expansion as both a vehicle to deliver products and services and the infrastructure that will attract, engage, retain and grow customers in international markets.