The Future – Identifying the (Best) Way Forward for Small and Medium-sized (SME) Companies
We can ‘feel’ the confusion:
- How shall we find the right direction for our company?
- What ‘formulas’ will work best for us?
- By applying them, can we really be sure to have found the ‘right’ track?
- There are many other questions to deal with …
Yesterday is gone, however, tomorrow is the future and it cannot be forecast based on yesterday’s results – as was sometimes practiced in the past. Nowadays every country in the world is the ‘play ground’ for a more internationalised competition – whether we like it or not – SMEs above all are confronted with new concepts such as: globalisation, Internet, information/knowledge management and so on. And these are not abstract concepts. They have to be redefined for every new situation again and again – and if needed, even daily.
That is totally independent from the ‘normal’ daily challenges of entrepreneurship, for example, finding the best cost structure, leadership, production problems, financing operations and many more. Consequently, the future isn’t predictable – it is a constant unknown – and we need management practices which help at least to identify and restrict the multitude of possibilities. ‘Patented solutions’ never exist.
The following questions and answers may help to manage these tasks:
1. Where are we positioned in the markets vs. international competition, who is this competition (per market segment), what do they do and in what way are those competitors possibly better/worse than we are?
2. Which is the future direction of our customers and their markets, are there possible new needs for them and how can we meet those needs?
3. How big are the market segments for us in the most important markets/regions we cover already, do we fully penetrate them really and furthermore, which areas/market segments/countries could be of interest to us in the future?
4. What influencing factors – on our customers as well as us – are important, how could such factors possibly develop in the future and which targets/needs will our existing customers have tomorrow?
On the one hand, the answers given to these questions in many respects will already provide us with a good idea of the market potential reached or yet to be reached (= available market opportunities) and, on the other hand, we will obtain a good idea of the marketing activities which will have to be intensified as a result of this survey.
The future objectives for the company will, however, be influenced especially by the answer to the fourth question above, as external influences as well as their future markets affect our existing as well as new products. Discovering these factors is – depending on the size of the company – the duty of the owner, CEO, the marketing department, the field management or the local representatives (worldwide!!!).
Hence, an important ‘leadership task’ is the identification of personnel and representatives to work with the company.
The second question above is far more complex, as the number of magic ‘formulas’ out there still can be characterized as ‘huge’. They affect each and every cost factor of the company, re-engineering, the whole marketing process and its sales channels, but also the financing of the companies’ operations. Furthermore of importance are new technologies like the Internet as well as the companies’ overall management strategy, etc.
I am convinced that the time of ‘magic formulas’ has ended – if it ever existed! – and each company has to position itself on the home and foreign markets again, mainly basing its strategies on the answers found to the questions above.
A statement made by professor Kotler, USA, may be useful to initiate reflection:
‘Companies pay too much attention to the cost of doing something. They should worry more about the cost of not doing it.’
Again a few questions the answers to which may be helpful to the individual company:
1. Are we customer-friendly, internally as well as externally, and is customer satisfaction really our first and foremost priority?
2. Does the client (who is also working internationally) get all information referring to our products quickly and efficiently – most of them already via the Internet and did we also communicate during this process our unique selling proposition when compared to the competition?
3. Does our cost/quality and service level correspond to the client’s (and his country’s) expectations?
4. Can we also easily be reached by our international clientele and do we answer their questions without delay?
Of course, these are not all of the necessary questions. Every company and every country is different and therefore a set list of questions cannot be generalised. What’s more, nobody can give you the assurance to being the ‘one and only’ as the world’s markets permanently change and new offers are made available all the time.
Customers are no longer as ‘affectionate’ as in the past (they can switch providers easily thanks to a myriad of international suppliers) and every competitor looks for his specific advantage and wants to increase business, as he is in exactly the same situation as we are.
We can, however, safely assume that we are ‘on the right track’ if the first questions have been clarified and the respective conclusions are drawn as well as action initiated and if the last questions listed above have been answered in the affirmative.
And finally … has the following been taken into consideration?
1. Have synergies and strategic alliances been included into the marketing activities in the home market as well as in foreign countries?
2. Has it been arranged that we are permanently informed regarding new market activities, auxiliary conditions in the markets, competitors activities (national and international),
focus groups (= information and knowledge management, also by means of the Internet) and any other company specific issue of importance?
3. Are all available marketing instruments used to inform and care for current and potential clients?
4. Do we also possess an internal‚ corporate identity which means a frictionless cooperation between the employees and a ‘one-for-all/all-for-one’ atmosphere?
Obviously, even now no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution has been given, however, having addressed these issues, we are no doubt on the right path.
The most important point, however, remains that the entrepreneur examines permanently the company-specific environment, takes advantage of the changes and additions to his online marketing arsenal and eliminates the fear of going international. He needs to develop an open mind towards world markets and thus understand and grasp the unlimited opportunities for his company again and again.
The international competition available today already in most home markets, as well as the need of most economies to strengthen international business doesn’t leave any other opportunity to the individual company.
It remains, however, the decision of the entrepreneur himself whether he takes the steps needed using available internal sources or gets the data needed for his decisions by outsourcing the research tasks. The latter solution leads in most cases to a faster and more targeted solution as such people can concentrate more and are not distracted by day-to-day business needs.
Most important: Act now and fast!!