By Steve Chitwood, Director of the Digital Business Practice at Mindtree

How small businesses can leverage enterprise strategies for digital transformation.

The story of digital tools entering the workplace and bringing with them changes in how we work, communicate and sell is not a new one. What is new is the level to which technology is transforming business and the speed at which this transformation is impacting businesses – and creating separation for those who embrace the change and leverage the new paradigms.

At the enterprise level, there is no topic more urgent than Digital Transformation. Enormous amounts of resources are focused on leveraging technology to optimize processes, inform decisions and uncover opportunity. More is known today about customers, competitors, suppliers and the market than at any other point in history and the pace is only accelerating. Large enterprises are leveraging vast data warehouses and sophisticated analytical science to drive increasingly effective decisions at every level.

What can small businesses learn from this trend to stay competitive in a smarter, faster, leaner digital economy?

Focus on the customer. There is no path forward other than one that is completely customer focused. Even the largest brands are acknowledging that the customer now owns the brand. Online transparency through social media, increased purchase options and voluminous content resources have placed power with the consumer. Engaging with customers, learning from them and using those learnings to strengthen the relationship and widen the audience is critical.

Deepen your understanding of your customer. Do you think you know your customer today? Sure, you know some things, but the focus needs to be on expanding that knowledge and building rich profiles about customers – and using that data to make decisions. Many smaller businesses fail to collect and use enough customer data. They neglect going beyond demographic profiles and transactional histories and never understand that how, when, and in what manner a customer or prospect interacts with a brand can yield valuable information. Customer service data, social media conversations and website usage data are all examples of data that can be combined to give a more accurate understanding of customers. Understanding your customers better will increase acquisition, retention and provide valuable product and service feedback.

Understand the channels. The next step in a customer-centric approach is to understand where your customers are and how they engage with those around them. Armed with a deep understanding of our customer, a similarly string understanding of the available communication channels is a prerequisite to good decisions about how, when and for what purpose you engage with your customers. While an Apple Watch app might not be on your immediate roadmap, you should have wearable technology on your radar today to be able make a good decision about it tomorrow.

Gather. Analyze. Act. There is a pervasive data-driven theme to this discussion. Be it with marketing and customer information, internal business operations, or ongoing product and customer support, strong skills in managing and analyzing data will fuel opportunity. Companies of all sizes are focusing resources on skills, tools and processes to harness and visualize data to empower and inform decisions. As companies increase their ability to gather and analyze data they will gain an ability to identify issues and opportunities and be able to effectively respond. Ultimately, they will move toward an ability to effectively predict emerging trends and exploit new opportunities.

Assume your business will change. At the end of the day, change is the only constant. The business that drives us today will very likely not be the business we run in the coming years. Some may see slight shifts, others may see a transformation of a complete business model. Businesses that evolve are ones that focus on the customer more than themselves, understanding needs and providing solutions for those needs rather than products and features. They engage their customers at every touch point and listen more than they talk. They are laser focused on learning and iterating.

While staying competitive in a transforming world will take new skills and a strategic approach, small businesses can [must] adapt and succeed.