The business world stayed pretty much the same for a century or so after the Industrial Revolution but it’s probably pretty safe to say that’s never going to happen again. The exponential rate at which technology is developing, mutating, and adapting is so fast that you can’t help but be swept away in a tidal wave of progress—whether you’re ready for it or not. You might not think we’ve come that far but if you had access to a time machine and went back just five years you’d be shocked to see:
- Social media struggling to integrate with consumerism
- Mobile phones primarily being used for “casual” pursuits by the general public rather than “business,” “work” or “commerce” applications
- The relative non-existence of cloud-based solutions for small to mid-sized businesses
- The birth of the App Generation (again, primarily concerned with games and trivialities like “poking”)
- The bumbling incompetence of early attempts at omni-channel marketing
Technology has literally changed every aspect of the way any business operates and never before in history has that change occurred so fast. Below you’ll find eight ways in which technology has fundamentally changed business (for better or worse).
1. MOBILE SOLUTIONS
Mobility is “The Next Big Thing.” So much so that Google has revamped it’s algorithms once again to prioritize websites that make seamless mobile web browsing easier. Every aspect of your business can be handled from remote locations if your smart device or tablet is loaded with the correct software. Everything from your sales enablement, content marketing and customer relations through back end processes like shipping and invoicing at the click of a button. But mobile isn’t just for you—it’s for your consumers as well. With the rise of Generation Y (Millennials) more people are using mobile devices to buy, sell, shop, find local businesses, and share their retail experiences with friends, acquaintances, prospects, and Facebook strangers every day. This new paradigm has literally rewritten the book on marketing to prospects.
2. CLOUD COMPUTING
Cloud computing allows businesses large and small to move some of their operation to third-party servers accessible via Internet connectivity. Not only does this allow for variable data packages but also for rapid (on-demand) expansion and mobility without the fear of downtime, crashes, or permanently lost data. This has allowed small business access to resources that would have been cost prohibitive for them in the past and evened the playing field when it comes to competing against corporations with far more funding.
3. EXTREME CUSTOMER SEGMENTATION
With the flow of more and more data, it’s easier now than ever before to understand the customers you’re looking for. With analytics services expanding you can segment your prospects into ever more minute groups in order to target them specifically and, in effect, get more bang for your marketing buck. Even a simple Google account will let you know where your visitors are from, what type of browser they’re using, how they found your website, what they do while on it, how long they stay, and at which point they decided to leave. More in-depth services can allow you to whittle that data down even further to incrementally refine your processes, offerings, and approach to dramatically increase conversions.
Technology has also increased the ease with which we can all stay in touch. Whether it’s having your coworkers and employees available via text/video chat at a moment’s notice, or being able to send targeted promotional email blasts to prequalified customers when they’re shopping at nearby businesses, the rise of mobile technology has blended almost seamlessly with communication software to create a hyper-real web of real time information.
5. DECREASING COST/INCREASING FUNCTIONALITY
Two things have come together to create a “buyer’s market” when it comes to software solutions for your business. First, the hardware and software necessary to create these software solutions has become increasingly easy to use and afford. Secondly, the number of tech savvy and entrepreneurial minds who can exploit such crumbling barriers has multiplied exponentially. A back end inventory system that once took a multi-million-dollar company a year to create in the not-too-distant past takes a couple of weeks for a few recent college graduates to put together. These solutions are offered at affordable rates and are often simple enough to use that businesses don’t need to hire dedicated employees or sign long-term service contracts in order to make use of them.
6. CHANGING CONSUMER BASE
As mentioned above, Millennials are becoming the primary driving force behind business, the economy, and the world, really. In just three years these young folks will represent over half of the American workforce and in two years they will be at their peak affluence (the most money to spend and the fewest financial obligations of their lives). These individuals are more numerous than Baby Boomers, have a looser hold on their wallets, and desire the near-instant gratification of “living in the moment.” And, it goes without saying these are the people who were raised on digital technology. They are not only the most wired generation yet, they are the ones responsible for forcing business to get tech-savvy as well.
7. SOCIAL IMPACT
You can’t afford to operate your business as if it exists in a vacuum any longer. The rise of social networking has figuratively shrunk the world and now users can connect without regard to geographical obstacle, financial background, or even social status. Indeed, years ago you may have been able to skate by on “okay” customer service and product offerings but now you’ll likely incur a hateful rant on Facebook or a bad review on rating sites like Yelp. And, to use a quote that’s often tossed about flippantly, what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet. This means that if you earn a bad reputation, it’s going to stick with you. That’s why you see businesses large and small worried about their digital footprint, their social identity. They have community managers and such on the lookout for potential “bad press” and out making the rounds trying to be proactive.
8. DECREASED DOWNTIME
The rise of technology does have downsides. It seems like there isn’t any downtime for individuals to recuperate anymore. Even the coveted American tradition of vacation has become a thing of the past. We always have access to email, text messages, or “work” via the laptop or tablet. And while your intention may be to get away from things for a while, it’s more likely than not that you’ll succumb to the temptation of “checking in” at least once. And when you do, it’s over.
TECHNOLOGY IS A WAVE: YOU CAN EITHER RIDE OR WIPE OUT
Regardless of your personal opinion—Luddite or technophile—the rapid advance of technology isn’t going to slow any time soon. More and more small businesses that fail to adapt are going to find themselves left behind while the savvy ones who learn to keep up will reap the rewards. You don’t have to rebuild your business from the ground up—there’s some kernel of merit that’s allowed you to enjoy success thus far. You just have to understand how technology affects your business (for better or worse) and how to apply advancements in order to play them to your advantage.