Do you understand marketing trends in your business industry?
Information on market trends and competitor intelligence. Getting a good understanding of market trends is important if your business is to make the most of its opportunities and remain competitive. You will also need to understand your competitors and keep an eye on what they are doing in order to predict their next moves and exploit their weaknesses.
Try to get information on:
- Demand for your product or service – is it growing or shrinking?
- General economic and market trends.
- How customer requirements and buying behavior could change in the future.
- What new products are in your competitor’s pipeline – could they make yours look outdated?
- How competitors are changing – what are their plans?
- What competitors offer and the prices they charge.
- How your competitors advertise and promote themselves.
- Any forthcoming legislation, which could affect your market.
Using market reports and other data
Once you have identified the information you need, you can start to draw it together. Initially it’s worth looking at information that’s already been published, e.g. market reports, official statistics, trade publications, etc.
Some of this information is free, but some you’ll have to pay for. You can obtain market reports and other information from a wide range of sources:
- Your local business reference library is a good starting point.
- Your trade association will have information about your market sector and about any relevant trade publications. .
- Reports in business magazines and the business pages of national newspapers can be informative.
- Local authorities and Chambers of Commerce can provide local information.
- The internet contains a wealth of business data. Search engines such as Google and Ask can aid searching, while directories such as Yahoo! make it easy to look for information by sector.
- Commercial publishers of market reports include KeyNote, Euromonitor, Mintel, Datamonitor, The Economist Intelligence Unit, and Market & Business Development. Reports can often be purchased from the publisher’s website.
- Don’t neglect your business’ own data. Analyzing your sales records or levels of enquiries can provide useful insights. Finally, talking to customers and monitoring their buying habits and how they behave is one of the best methods of market research.
Interpreting market information
Though there’s a lot of readily available market information, you need to be careful how you interpret it. External data might not be in a useful format to use easily. It may have been collected for other purposes or be from a range that doesn’t tally with your target market.
Beware of out-of-date market information. This can be misleading, as the market may have changed significantly since the information was published.
It can be particularly hard to tell how recent any information published on the internet is. Some information on the web can be unreliable or biased. Remember that statistics can sometimes mask the true picture. For example, an ‘average’ income for the population in your area might conceal a high proportion of low earners – meaning fewer people can afford your product than it appears.
The same principle applies to your own sales records – one or two major customers could distort the picture.
Most importantly, don’t make up your mind in advance. Finding market information that simply confirms what you already believe is easy – but only a realistic picture of your customers and markets will be useful to your business.
Do you feel comfortable using a computer or other technology to improve business operations? It is part of nearly every business. It enables businesses to work more effectively or take advantage of new opportunities that wouldn’t exist if it were not for the development of new systems and services.
This means that you need to understand the ways in which technology can make your business more effective and how to go about selecting the right system to meet your business needs.
You also need to select systems that grow with your business.
Introducing computers to your business
If you haven’t used IT systems in your business before, you will probably be moving from paper-based systems to electronic processes.
If you’re starting a new business or you feel that you can benefit from using IT and e-commerce in your business, make sure that the solutions you choose suit your needs now and can be adapted and extended where necessary in the future.
Communicate more effectively using IT
Effective communication is central to most IT and e-commerce systems. Most of these technologies are developed to make communication between buyers and sellers faster and more reliable.
Integrating telephone and IT systems
Computer telephony integration (CTI) links IT and phone systems so that numbers can be dialed automatically from your computer, and customer records can be automatically presented to staff members taking calls.
The equipment required to introduce CTI varies according to the size of your system. To connect a single PC and telephone all you need is a special modem and software to retrieve database records. For CTI systems with more than one user, you will need a network server. This can either be an existing server or a separate one dedicated to managing your telephony.
Other uses of CTI include:
- Sending and receiving voicemails as emails so they appear in your email inbox
- Using the internet to make outward calls
- Consolidating all messages (including email, voice mail, fax, phone messages) into one inbox using unified messaging technology
Benefits and costs
Businesses in which employees spend a lot of their time on the phone may be able to considerably increase their efficiency by automating these routine tasks. Busy sales and customer-service departments in consumer-facing businesses are the most likely to benefit from CTI productivity gains.
However for many small businesses the cost of implementing CTI isn’t justified by the benefits it offers – call volumes or manually retrieving customer records is not found to be a significant drag on resources.
Improving your internet access
Broadband connections make electronic information-transfer between your business, and customers and suppliers faster and more reliable. The facility is always available, unlike older dial-up connections that require you to connect when you want access.
One of the key elements to the success of any business is the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently. Anything that can speed up the rate at which communications take place has to be given serious consideration. Using broadband technology is one such way that data communications can be radically improved.
Broadband gives you a high-speed, always-on connection to the Internet, which is typically at least ten times faster than dial-up connections. As well as being fast it can be highly cost-effective. It can save you time when using email and the web, thereby helping your staff to become more productive. In addition, it also allows you to build online links with customers and suppliers, as well as with off-site and remote workers.