SMEs are the backbones of any economy around the world, but recent technology has changed the landscape of this sector. In commemoration of SME day, the following interview with John Mullins, an Associate Professor of Management Practice in Marketing and Entrepreneurship at London Business School, discusses key trends impacting SMEs and their chances for success.
What are the most pressing challenges for SMEs to stay relevant in the future?
As always, the key challenge for every small business is solving problems for customers that larger companies fail to address. Whether that’s through some kind of unique product offering, or superior or tailored customer service, small businesses that successfully differentiate are the ones that win.
Sadly, in business as in life, there are no guarantees. At the end of the day, small businesses that thrive typically do something that’s better, faster, or cheaper than their big-company competitors.
In your view, what are some emerging trends or disruptive forces that business leaders should be aware of in the business landscape today?
Everyone is talking about AI and Chat GPT, of course. Will they disrupt everything? Will they disrupt anything? Surely, at minimum, they’ll make many kinds of jobs far more efficient. Business leaders of all kinds should look for opportunities to begin using such tools, even in the simplest ways.
How can SMEs plan strategically to anticipate and respond to future market shifts or disruptions?
Strategic agility is one of the hallmarks that can enable small businesses to stay one step ahead of the competition. Paradoxically, that means not worrying too much about sticking to one’s plans as circumstances change. As the famous American General Eisenhower is reputed to have said many years ago, “Planning is everything; but plans themselves are worthless, as no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.” Perhaps more important than plans are the beliefs you hold about what the future holds and your willingness to act on those beliefs, while others remain transfixed by uncertainty.
Could you please shed some light on the power of information in allowing businesses to gain a competitive advantage?
Information is one thing. Insight, powered by information, is another. It’s deep insight into customers’ needs and deep insight into where your market and industry are headed that are likely to win the day.
How has the widespread availability of big data changed metrics of success for small businesses?
The application of big data requires big data processing capability. That’s something that most small companies don’t have. Customer insight and the ability to adapt as the world changes can keep them one step ahead of their data-driven competitors.
For more technology stories, click here.