Small business can and will win the race to focus on the customer

A couple of days ago I came across the IBM Global CEO Study, this is a study that is undertaken annually by IBM and between September 2009 and January 2010 they interviewed 1,541 CEOs, general managers, and senior public sector leaders who represent different sizes of organizations in 60 countries across 33 industries.

This study was released a few months ago (May 2010) but I thought I’d share some of the deadline findings from the study as they are close to the themes that I write about on this blog and in my new book (RARE Business: How building better relationships with your people and your customers can deliver sustainable growth).

In the face of a challenging economic climate and changing business dynamics the following are some of the factors that are facing all businesses:

  • Our reliance on traditional marketing methods is becoming less and less effective;
  • The level of trust in what we say about our businesses is going down but the value of what others say about us is rising;
  • Technology is giving our customers a platform to air their views and this technology is amplifying their volume and reach; and
  • Business seems to be becoming ever more competitive.

The study uncovered a couple of BIG priorities for the CEOs interviewed given the factors outlined above. They believe that the future leaders in each industry will be defined by their ability to build better relationships with their customers (‘Getting closer to customers’ from the graphic above). However, what they realise is that in order to do this it needs to be underpinned by two things:

  1. Better understanding of our customers (Insight and Intelligence) through listening, watching, insight and analysis of what they want and need at all parts of their journey; and
  2. Our ability to communicate and engage with not only our customers but our own people and suppliers to be able to better build those relationships (People skills).

I think these are great insights and very simple pointers for how all businesses need to improve if they are to compete and lead in their fields in the coming years. However, I also think that these findings present a huge opportunity for smaller businesses.


Well, if we think about larger businesses and the resources they have at their disposal one could be fooled into thinking that it is hard to compete with these businesses. But, what we also need to factor in is that larger business are like ‘oil tankers’ compared to smaller businesses. Whilst they may be bigger and have more resources they are also harder to turn and change direction because they are so big. To change direction or the way that they do business can take a huge amount of effort, commitment and (sometimes) time.

Smaller businesses can tend to be more nimble, less stuck in their ways and, generally, closer to their customers meaning that they are better set up to deal with the competitive challenges that are facing us now. This is the opportunity for smaller businesses. This is the time when size is not important and where smaller can be better.

Are you as a small business up for it?

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