SMBs share their biggest constraints and greatest challenges

Finding the right talent and maintaining financial growth were at the top of the list for small and medium-sized businesses, according to a survey from Salesforce.

Why VCs need to fund more companies with diverse leaders At the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration, Kathryn Finney of digitalundivided described the barriers facing black women in tech, and how VCs can support more diverse startups.

Many entrepreneurs strive to start and run their own business. And though there are rewards to reap, SMB owners face several constraints and challenges as they try to maintain and grow their companies, as revealed in survey results published Monday in Salesforce's 2019 Small & Medium Business Trends report.

Among the more than 2,000 owners of small and medium-sized business surveyed for the study, 60% said that hiring the right talent was their top constraint. Some 59% said that money and access to capital was the largest constraint, while 58% pointed to insufficient time. The results varied slightly by gender. For male business owners, finding the right talent was at the top. But for female business owners, access to capital topped the list.

smb-constraints-salesforce-surveysalesfor
Image: Salesforce

Among the respondents, 60% said they're looking to grow their business, while 36% said they're seeking just to maintain it. A full 78% said they're optimistic about the future of their companies. However, they do see several challenges along the way.

SEE: SMB tech budgets: 10 biggest priorities for 2019 (TechRepublic)

Maintaining financial growth over the next two years was cited as the top challenge by 68% of respondents. Meeting customer expectations was the top challenge among 58% of those surveyed. Hiring and retaining employees, establishing and maintaining business processes, and scaling technology were also revealed as challenges to growth among SMBs.

Keeping customers satisfied is key to business growth. But that can be a demanding task due to a variety of factors. When asked about the top challenges in keeping their customers satisfied, 34% of respondents cited the constant change in customer expectations. Keeping up with demand, exercising quality control, staff constraints, and technology constraints were also cited as challenges to customer satisfaction. A full 53% of the respondents said they feel at a competitive disadvantage to larger enterprises when trying to meet customer expectations.

Technology is another area that can help a business grow, but SMBs must decide where and how to focus their technology efforts. Asked about the challenges in adopting new technologies, 68% pointed to budget limitations, while 61% said that their limited use of new technologies wouldn't justify the expense. Implementing new technologies, customizing new technologies to meet business needs, inadequate performance of new technologies, and the inflexibility of new technologies were also cited as challenges in this area.

smb-challenges-salesforce-survey
Image: Salesforce

Among new technologies, artificial intelligence has been catching on among enterprises. But how does it fare among SMBs? Only 8% of those surveyed said they're currently using AI in their business, while 32% said they do plan to implement it. Respondents pointed to specific types of AI on their radar, including automated service chatbots, lead prioritization, and predictive audiences for marketing. Other potential uses of AI among SMBs are automatic recommendations for customers, predictive forecasting for sales, and automated campaign insights.

The survey was conducted online between February 11 and March 7, 2019 by the Harris Poll on behalf of Salesforce. Responses were recorded from 2,011 SMB owners and leaders in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific with companies of between 2 and 200 employees.

For more on the challenges SMBs face, check out the top 5 small business owner worries, and learn why small business owners face hiring problems in a tight labor market.

Also see

smb.jpg

By Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books—one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.