In this economy, vendors need to fight for customers big and small, and they can do this by differentiating themselves with incredible service and training.

I taught a workshop for SOCAP recently called “A Wise Approach to a Social Consumer Oriented Practice.” Some of the feedback from the event was about getting past the pilot phase of working with a new product. Many of the brands were from consumer affairs. While they came from medium and large companies, many of the challenges are similar with technology. 

Many companies don’t take the gamble of working with a technology vendor that will sell them something and disappear. Small companies prevent this by working with technology vendors that are local to their area.

Sweet on Local

Let’s look at blondies and brownies baked goods company Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties based out of Columbus, Ohio. Co-founder and co-CEO Mark Ballard is a popular guy in his neighborhood, but has also made a big splash on a national scale. Ballard has appeared on Throwdown with Bobby Flay and Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties is the known favorite of Ellen and is given to all guests on The Ellen Show.

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image source Mark Ballard

Ballard came out of the e-Commerce world holding senior positions at Gap Inc. Direct and Victoria’s Secret Catalogue, and most recently as a VP at Ann Taylor Direct.

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When it came time to building out an end-to-end solution for Sugardaddy's that includes social media, a pick up in-store option, multiple shipping options, a customer rewards program, Ballard and his team decided to “go local.”

Sugardaddy’s engaged CareWorksTech, a technology company based out of Columbus.

Ballard said,

We are try to do as much as we can locally but they have to meet our rigorous criteria. Given that our systems are so integral to our business, we felt we needed a local technology and business development company that is within arms reach. We want them to be intimate with us and us with them!”

He loved CareWorksTech ability to tailor the technology and said, “Since our business is so unique, it's all custom. The great news is it's all integrated! No disparate systems.”

Ballard is involved of all aspects of the business especially the technology. He says of his decision to start his own business, “I always knew I was an entrepreneur at heart. I always wanted to innovate, create, and own my own business. I wanted to be responsible for an entire entity -- not just one aspect. I knew I needed experience and capital. My corporate experiences provided that.”

While some of the bigger marketing automation systems are making a big push to sell to small businesses and are achieving big successes (Eloqua IPO went public this week), businesses big and small are weary of technology providers that aren’t involved in a large way in getting the business up and running. Many opt for smaller vendors like Sugardaddy’s did.

What Technologies Are Integral To Small Business Retailers?

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This week I’m reading “The Tasti D-Lite Way: Social Media Marketing Lessons for Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave,” written by CEO and Chairman James Amos and the VP Technology BJ Emerson. The book talks about how it built one successful location into a wildly successful global franchise and phenomenon. 

As retailers sprint to evolve their point of sale strategies, early adopters tend to reap the benefits as they create more fluid cross-channel customer engagement strategies. 

Merchants are starting to bring the checkout to the sales floor with mobile POS solutions and tablets. With these devices, product and inventory information is close at hand, and so is the cash register with technologies like Square ready to handle credit card processing … As more functions of POS are extended beyond the simple sale, we’ll start seeing more activity online related to what is actually happening inside the store.”

As the demands increase to create more complicated marketing and customer engagement initiatives, small businesses opt to go with a safer option. Small vendors can’t afford to take a lackadaisical approach to service, and small businesses can’t afford to not have a service-oriented vendor. More small businesses like Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties are going local with their technology needs rather than choosing a big vendor who they might not get the same attention from.

This attention to detail that both Sugardaddy's and Tasti D-Lite are taking can be the differentiator in the long term.

Editor's Note: To read more of Blake's thoughts on small businesses why not check out Tools that Small Businesses Can't Live Without