Maintaining digital relevance is a priority for most brands, however, according to recent research by Capterra, SMB brands are struggling in this area. The study surveyed over 700 SMB leaders, 47 percent of respondents said they factor technology trends and advancements into their strategic planning. However, choosing the right technology solution is proving to be a top business challenge, with 19 percent citing this as their number one challenge. Moreover, SMBs are failing to adopt chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) marketing into their business strategies — despite consumer expectations.

Technology Areas SMBs Struggle With

The Capterra report identified the following three areas that SMBs are struggling to get to grips with.

1. Hesitancy in Chatbot Investment

Chatbots are becoming increasingly popular thanks to the personalized experiences they can provide to consumers. As a matter of fact, 65 percent of U.S. millennials prefer to engage with a chatbot when they interact with a brand.

However, chatbot deployment amongst SMBs is low. Less than 30 percent of SMBs are incorporating chatbots in vertical segments such as retail, construction, manufacturing and services. The banking and financial services sectors are leading chatbot adoption, but only by a slight margin, 35 percent.

Stanley Tan, digital marketing specialist at Selby’s, explained why this might be the case. “Most of the time, SMBs are afraid of change. Some of these SMBs have been in business for 20 to 30 years, and they have been doing things their way without any technological disruption. Today, technological disruption is everywhere from chatbots to VR to AI.”

This low chatbot adoption rate represents a significant gap, and a potential loss in business, for SMB brands who don’t invest in chatbot technology.

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2. Overlooking the Benefits of AI

The results from Capterra show that AI continues to be a buzzing hype for small businesses with many brands acknowledging that adopting AI is critical for their success, yet fewer than one in five SMBs are using AI technology in their stack.

Eric Hobbs, CEO of Technology Associates, said many brands want to adopt new technology. “The irony is, SMBs are highly interested in new technology that can improve their bottom line. However, many SMB owners get overwhelmed when they realize what else comes with adopting new technology, such as installation, acquiring new equipment, transition period [and] maintenance.”

This mindset is putting brands at risk of not investing in an AI-enabled cloud infrastructure. The Capterra report has also emphasized that SMBs need to prioritize investing in AI-enabled cloud software to complete functions such as accounting, collaboration, communications, CRM and file storage.

Related Article: 11 Industries Being Disrupted By AI

Learning Opportunities

3. Underestimating Digital Marketing and IoT Devices

Over half of SMBs are currently utilizing digital marketing technologies. However, the perception of how significant these digital marketing technologies to SMBs is much lower in all sectors except retail.

With digital marketing ever-evolving, thanks to recent advancements in AI and predictive analytics, software features like sentiment analysis can assist SMBs in tailoring marketing campaigns based on audience segmentation.

Similarly, 47 percent of leaders say they are currently using IoT, yet only 34 percent say their IoT is a critical component for their business. Furthermore, 21 percent of SMB leaders say their business staff handles their IT matters, which is likely to include managing and supporting IoT solutions. Having non-technical staff handle IT-related matters introduces risk since IoT leverages consumer and business data. It is critical for brands to establish plans for IoT governance, data ownership, ethics and security before making any investment in IoT.

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How Can SMBs Stay Digitally Relevant?

The results of this survey demonstrate a unique paradox. SMBs have a strong desire to embrace digital technology, but they are equally concerned about making the the wrong investment decisions. For SMBs to thrive in the digital age, Erryn Cobb, CEO at Fetch IMC, advised brands to explore two options, with the first being to bring in outside assistance. “[SMBs] should really seek outsourced marketing firms that specialize in working with companies their size. There is a big difference between the most recognizable firm vs. the one that is going to deliver the best results for them,” Cobb said.

The second option, according to Cobb, is to create a team of experienced marketers who have a strong “grip” on the digital marketing space. “If a company is looking to bring things in internally I would suggest creating a small team of experienced marketers who know the fundamentals of the game,” Cobb explained.

However, if the SMB is under tight financial constraints, Gregory Golinski, head of digital marketing at YourParkingSpace, suggested hiring a single digital marketing pro with a variety of skills. “What SMBs can do is hire an in-house digital marketing pro who will wear several hats and take care of SEO, SEM, social media marketing and [help] the SMB stay digitally relevant,” Golinski said.