"In a digital-first world where nearly every industry in South Florida is facing new competitive pressures, the CEOs, presidents, founders, and owners of small businesses need to be laser-focused on differentiating, improving their competitive positioning, educating their prospects and clients, accelerating leads into sales opportunities, and scaling revenue growth."
-- Joshua Feinberg, Chief Thought Leader, Vice President, and Co-Founder of SP Home Run Inc.
In Florida, nearly half (43.2%) of the private workforce is employed by small businesses -- with the highest concentration working in companies with fewer than 100 employees. (U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy and Census Bureau Statistics of U.S. Businesses (SUSB))
And just over 6 million of Florida’s 20.5 million residents, almost 30%, reside in South Florida either in Palm Beach County, Broward County, or Miami-Dade County. (Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research)
However small- and medium-sized businesses in South Florida are facing new competitive pressures as they prepare for a world where there’s a drastic shift in power, from seller to buyer, and disruption is the new normal.
The way people research and make purchase decisions has changed dramatically during the past five years. Smartphones, search engines, social media, and even artificial intelligence are nearly impossible for CEOs to ignore. In larger companies, armies of talent battle to innovate and stay relevant. For smaller companies, staying current poses enormous challenges.
In South Florida, the leaders of small businesses tend to be male in their mid- to late- 30’s and married with kids. These CEOs, presidents, founders, and owners have been running their companies, with an average of 30 employees and $7.5 million in annual revenue, for about 16 years.
Most of these executives had no previous role in a business, large or small, prior to founding their own company, typically right out of school -- likely one of the Florida State University System schools, such as the University of Florida, where they most likely earned bachelor's degrees in business administration.
These CEOs, presidents, founders, and owners are very much family-oriented, proud of their accomplishments, and hard workers.
Although some are more digitally-savvy than others, most of these small business leaders are active on social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
CEOs, presidents, founders, and owners of South Florida’s small businesses are focused on:
Employees at these companies concentrate on
These same CEOs, presidents, founders, and owners often face challenges around:
The South Florida CEO Podcast is where leaders of aggressive growth companies in Southeast Florida learn how to stand out from the crowd, get found earlier, generate more high-quality leads, achieve trusted advisor status, close sales faster with stronger profit margins, and grow their revenue.
Changes in recent years have made it increasingly challenging for small businesses in South Florida to get new clients. In many ways, it’s now much harder today to get to the kinds of prospects that these small companies were able to reach in the past.
The way people research and make purchase decisions has changed drastically. There are four disruptive factors at play: search engines, social media, mobile devices, and cloud computing.
People are doing tons of research online before they’re ready to speak with anyone from any company. In many cases, 70% or more of their decision is already made up before a company is ever looped into that conversation. These prospects are very far along in their purchase process, their decision-making process, before these small businesses ever get a chance to get a word in edgewise.
This is a really big challenge. But it’s also a great opportunity for forward-thinking companies.
Listen to the podcast: Learn how South Florida businesses get to the modern buyer
What does the buyer's journey today look like? And how can small- or medium-sized businesses in South Florida stay relevant?
The buyer's journey is the active research process someone goes through in between when that person first starts looking for a solution to their problem and when that person ultimately makes a purchase.
So many buyer’s journeys now start with someone simply asking a question on a search engine -- on a desktop computer, laptop, or mobile device -- using Google, Bing, Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
People are asking questions like crazy. Which questions should a small company be answering? The questions that matter most to the ideal clients that they’re trying to attract.
The kinds of questions they’re asking early-on depends on who it is that you're trying to attract your company.
So how can South Florida’s small business CEOs attract those right people -- the ideal clients, in the right places, at the right time, and most of all: in the right context?
Listen to the podcast: Learn about today's buyer's journey and where South Florida’s small companies fit in
To grow, small businesses need to create awareness with the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context -- to begin building trust and educating prospects, so they advance to leads, sales opportunities, and at some point: new ideal clients.
To be more successful at finding qualified leads and sales opportunities, companies need a good grasp on their definition of an ideal client:
All of these are key factors for arriving at an ideal client definition, achieving product/market fit, and developing buyer personas.
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to find qualified leads and opportunities
So when CEOs, presidents, founders, and owners of South Florida’s small businesses take on several different roles and wear many different hats within marketing and sales, they’re usually looking to find the right contacts that can advance their business growth goals.
Bear in mind, different businesses have different ideal clients and can spend years trying to figure out who their best clients are. In today’s digital-first world, figuring this out should no longer be about hunches and gut feel.
Now revenue doesn't tell the whole story either Sometimes small business leaders mistakenly chase after revenue, but it can be a whole different story when looking at profitability -- which can be much tougher to determine.
At some point in the future, software, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) will provide some of these answers and automatically optimize marketing and sales assets.
But for now, finding the right contacts depends on the business model, target market, degree of product/market fit, ideal buyer personas, and SMART goals.
Listen to the podcast: Learn how South Florida CEOs find the right contacts
If a company’s CEO or sales team is trying really hard to get in front of more prospects and decision makers, the specifics and the targeting are super-important.
Just bear in mind: both influencers and decision makers are prospects.
In most cases, your CEO or someone from your sales team wants to get to the decision maker as quickly and directly as possible. Why? The decision maker needs to buy-in. Yet it's a lot easier to reach the influencer.
Success with this starts by having a really good understanding of the primary and secondary buyer personas.
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to get to South Florida prospects and decision makers
When it comes to CEOs, sales reps, and sales managers of small business, there's often way too much thought given to how to outsmart the gatekeeper; sometimes for the right reasons, many times for the wrong reasons.
To be effective in navigating around the gatekeeper, it starts with thinking about product/market fit:
Be as clear as possible about who the decision maker is or potentially who the decision makers are.
Map out the ideal client’s buyer's journey: what are the key steps that each person takes, from a stranger to a new client, making their first purchase? Understand the different steps that an ideal client goes through: Awareness stage, Consideration stage, and Decision stage.
Listen to the podcast: Learn about how South Florida CEOs get past gatekeepers
It can truly be a game-changer when a CEO, president, founder, or owner of a small business is able to get their sales and marketing teams on the same page, working on the same goals and priorities.
But oftentimes, sales and marketing teams are ignoring each other, best case scenario; or worst case scenario: bringing a lot of baggage that sabotages their companies.
Making matters worse, the modern buyer needs to control their own buyer’s journey. And the technology and web services now gives them the ability to do that.In a digital-first world, it's important to confront the reality.
In many cases, buyers are now doing so much research on search engines and social media, before they ever get to you, that 70 percent or more of their decision making is now over before they're willing to engage in a sales conversation. In other words, the overwhelming majority of their research is done before a company is even aware of a sales opportunity.
So what a CEO do to help their sales team from lagging behind? And how can sales and marketing teams be empowered to have these kinds of transformative, game-changing conversations about what it's going to take to compete more effectively in a digital-first world?
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to align sales and marketing around shared goals
There's been mass adoption of new digital buying platforms based on new digital buying preferences.
For small businesses in South Florida, their ideal customers -- their core buyer personas -- more than likely are not expecting every company to be quite on its game as Amazon, Netflix, and Uber. But it’s definitely raising the bar for expectations.
The way people want to interact with all companies -- including small businesses -- has fundamentally changed. The balance of power has completely changed, away from sellers and into the hands of buyers.
So in this environment, how can a sales team add value? At many companies, the legacy sales process is still very much focused on cold calls, cold emails, and in person door-to-door canvassing. All of those sales activities are very much focused on interrupting people.
Now, what should a company’s CEO, president, founder, or owner be thinking about when it comes to more customer-driven buying --- the kind of buying that appeals to the modern buyer in a digital-first world?
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to compare the legacy sales process vs. customer-driven buying cycle
Forrester Research found that 89% of CEOs believe that their companies are going to be disrupted digitally within the next 12 months. However, shockingly, only 27% have a plan on how to address that digital disruption.
This is an enormous problem for CEOs leading South Florida’s small businesses.
The retailing and broadcasting industries have been totally, completely gutted. The travel industry has been completely transformed.
Software will eventually gobble up and completely control every, single industry. Some CEOs understand this. Many don’t.
A few years ago, digitally-savvy companies began to appoint C-level executives in charge of digital: CDOs or chief digital officers. Some CDOs come from the marketing team or the IT team.
Gartner has also predicted that around 20% to 30% of CDOs will end up elbowing CEOs out of the way and taking their jobs in the coming years. In other words, Gartner believes that a lot of CEOs are completely incapable of leading their company’s digital transformation. CDOs, on the other hand, will be in a better position to lead these changes.
In many vertical markets, sales directors are beginning to take the CEO helm.
There’s another new C-level role that’s been appearing in more digitally-progressive companies: CMTOs or chief marketing technology officers.
Part of the problem here: a lot of IT departments don’t understand inbound marketing, content marketing, and digital marketing. Yet these IT departments are still insistent on controlling the website. And as a result, the website is not optimized for what it needs to do. There are no buyer personas. There’s no helpful, educational content. There’s no way to personalize content. Marketing has to jump through ridiculous hoops to update the website.
These are battles that need to be fought because of IT departments’ insistence are living in the past and protecting their own turf -- without investing in staff on their teams that get the true purpose of websites: to generate leads and sales opportunities.
CEOs know that digital disruption is coming, very soon, within a matter of months. But very few have a plan on how to address these complex, interrelated, business-threatening challenges.
When it comes to digital transformation, there are some very heated discussions going on in companies all over the world, including in South Florida, about the right strategy and the right person to lead this.
In some companies, IT staff is holding onto websites and all things digital with a super-tight grip, holding onto these powers for self-preservation. And this approach can work as long as IT teams understand that their companies’ websites that seemed successful five or ten years ago aren’t the same company websites and strategy that drives success and relevance, and helps their companies compete effectively today. So IT staff sometimes takes on digital transformation.
Marketing staff also sometimes oversees digital transformation and is a worthy contender for these leadership roles -- as long as the marketing staff truly understands buyer personas and just how much the buyer’s journey has changed, how much their industry is being disrupted, and the kind of experience its ideal clients are looking for from their companies.
Sales leadership, such as a chief sales officer or chief revenue officer, could also potentially lead a small company’s digital transformation. If that person has a strong grasp on what marketing needs to be doing to keep the sales funnel full. Sales teams typically spent a lot of time speaking with end users and clients, with their feet in the trenches. So sales leaders should have a really good pulse on what a company needs to do to stay digitally relevant. Anyone in a sales director role should certainly hear all the time how their company stacks up against their competition.
Besides a CIO (chief information officer) or CTO (chief technology officer), battling to lead digital transformation, some companies now have a CMTO (chief marketing technology officer) that’s a blend between marketing and IT. Some really progressive companies have a CDO (chief digital officer) or chief transformation officer. In smaller companies, CEOs are often wearing these “hats” -- taking on these roles.
These are all really important conversations to have. And it’s critical that teams actually work together on digital transformation and not end up siloed.
Digital transformation needs to start from the top down. This is a c-level problem. CEOs of small businesses that kick down this challenge down to their IT silo or their marketing silo end up making big mistakes. These are strategic differentiation issues that make sure that companies stay relevant and on the map for the next several years -- with the right people that you’re trying to attract, in the right context.
Alternatively, companies in denial can get digitally disrupted and completely bulldozed by competitors that understand digital transformation much better. It’s not hard to find dozens of examples of this playing out.
At the end of the day, it’s much better to think about digital transformation proactively so a company’s CEO knows exactly what the plan is, who is responsible for what, who’s leading, and what the road map looks like to digitally transform the company -- before waking up one day to the ugly reality of plummeting sales, plummeting market share, and destruction of profit margins -- all because the CEO overlooked and severely underestimated competitive threats from more digitally-savvy leadership teams.
South Florida's small business CEOs need to have a really strong pulse on who their ideal buyers are, how they evaluate their alternatives, and how they progress through the buyer’s journey --- so they ensure that their companies lead and stay relevant in the future.
As crazy as it might sound, some CEOs of small businesses in South Florida often act as if Google and the iPhone were never invented.
Essentially these CEOs believe that what got their companies to where they are today is exactly the same plan that’s going to keep their companies relevant in the future.
Many companies like this built their businesses by using phone books, print advertising, direct mail, and cold calls. And these CEOs are in shell shock and disbelief that their ideal clients are looking at things in a very different way.
To confront this challenge, CEOs need to be very self-aware of who their ideal clients are -- including influencers and decision makers -- and how they look for information that’s relevant to their businesses.
Knowing about all of the questions that they’re asking Google, Bing, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana. What are those dozens of questions your ideal prospects and ideal clients are asking every month? These questions tend to come up in phone conversations, meetings, over email, in and social media posts. When a company has a better grasp on what exactly those questions are, it’s much easier to be relevant.
For relatively small companies with 1 to 10 employees, or up to 50 employees, or even up to 200 employees, if the CEO truly believes that Google and mobile devices are not relevant, the company’s future is in a world of trouble. If the CEO truly believes that their company doesn’t need to be found on search engines or be seen as relevant on social media -- and that it’s OK to have a website that was last updated 5 or 10 years ago and looks terrible on mobile devices -- that company’s future looks uncertain at best.
For companies that are large enough to have chief revenue officers (CROs) that have P&L-level responsibility for their marketing and sales teams, these CROs usually understand digital and what it takes to differentiate and position their companies for growth.
If you’re a CEO, president, founder, or owner of a small business in South Florida, and you’re trying to position your company as the premier provider in your industry, differentiate from larger competitors, improve processes, and build trust among your prospects and clients, here are some recommended resources: