SMBs Looking to Grow Their Customer Base in 2023 Have These 3 Things in Common

By: Adam Carpenter on February 28, 2023

Business leaders looking to grow in 2023 can learn a lot from those that succeeded in 2022, benefitting from what works and learning from what doesn't.

According to a recent survey*, the most successful businesses in 2022 used marketing and CRM software, solutions that come with strong vendor support, and careful budgeting to maximize their results.

Successful small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in 2022 had these three things in common: 

  • Investments in sales, CRM software, and marketing tech (martech)

  • A focus on closing the martech skills gap

  • Making specific investments toward growing their customer bases

Read on to find out how to use these small-business growth strategies to boost your business in 2023. 

1. Invest in sales, CRM, and marketing tech

In 2022, almost half (49%) of SMBs that focused on growing their customer base did the same thing: They prioritized sales management and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Also, 30% are prioritizing marketing solutions as they form their 2023 tech budgets.

CRM and marketing applications are important tools when you’re acquiring new customers. Further, they play a pivotal role as you foster those budding relationships into long-standing ones that support profits for years to come. When SMBs use CRMs and marketing apps, they get a range of smart customer acquisition and management tools. For instance, with these kinds of software, you can:

  • Track and manage customer data.

  • Provide insights regarding how customers progress through your sales funnel.

  • Enable automated communications with target customers through email marketing campaigns.

  • Integrate your CRM or marketing app with social media and collaboration tools so team members can easily exchange and use info.

  • Provide all stakeholders, regardless of where they’re located, access to your marketing and customer management tools using mobile versions of your apps.

For instance, by using customer purchasing habits when forming your email marketing strategy, you can target buyers with products they’re more likely to be interested in. Suppose, for example, that you use your CRM to collect and analyze sales data. With this information, you prioritize certain groups of buyers because they’re more likely to spend more with your company. You then launch an automated email drip campaign featuring a special offer to those customers.

Similarly, while designing social media advertising campaigns, you can target demographics that have already shown an interest in certain products. By leveraging the data from your CRM, you pinpoint specific customers, the products they’ve purchased, and the social media outlets they use. Then you can target these customers through their favorite social media channels—and show them the kinds of products they may be more interested in.

In other words, instead of simply dividing your social media ad budget into equal pieces, you can make a more informed investment. In this way, you can increase the rate at which your ad spend moves customers through your marketing funnel.

It’s best to take a close look at your existing marketing and CRM tools and identify gaps regarding what they can do and what you need them to do. Then you can purchase or upgrade accordingly.

2. Investing in growing customer bases—with about $33,000

It turns out the best thing in [business] life isn’t free after all: Companies focused on growth plans dedicate, on average, $33,000 in their 2023 budgets for marketing and CRM software, respectively.

If you have an SMB with a limited marketing budget, dedicating some of it to software can be a wise move. This is because marketing software enables you to:

  • Design and then launch automated marketing campaigns. Marketing automation not only saves time but it gives one person the ability to do the jobs of multiple people.

  • Form a systematic strategy using a variety of channels. With a single marketing application, for instance, you can decide how much money to spend on five or six different channels, including digital, print, conference presentations, face-to-face sales pitches, and more.

  • Measure how effective each of your strategies is using key performance indicators (KPIs). With that data in hand, you can decide how best to invest your marketing budget on the next set of campaigns—only putting money towards what works.

At the same time, many SMBs may have to hunt for the delicate balance between purchasing a new solution and upskilling their current staff so they can get the most out of their existing tools. Either route requires an investment, of course, so you have to sketch out these expenses carefully.

Even though what you end up spending may be more or less than $33,000, it’s a good idea to avoid underspending when it comes to marketing software. Each software tool gives you the power to do more while spending less time, energy, and money. For instance, with one marketing application, you can design an ad, automatically disseminate it via select social media channels, collect data about how that ad is impacting your target market, then adjust your ad or which groups you target. But if you don’t invest in an effective solution, you lose access to many of the creative tools and data analytics you need to streamline, automate, and tweak campaigns.

For some companies, this results in overworked employees or over-investing in staff that gets paid to do what software should be doing. For example, it can take an employee many hours to divide customers into categories according to what they’ve purchased, basic demographic info, and how long they’ve been a customer. Marketing software does this in moments.

3. Focus on the martech skills gap

If you plan to invest in marketing and CRM software in order to foster growth in 2023, beware of the martech skills gap. While the skills gap across many technical disciplines has been a challenge across industries, the most significant gap in 2022 was in martech, with 35% of growing SMBs feeling the martech skills gap crunch. 

For SMBs, this may mean implementing a martech ops role in your company. This would be a position dedicated to ensuring team members are using your marketing technology to its fullest potential—and that they have the skills to do so.

For example, a marketing manager may be skilled with LinkedIn and social marketing but not fully understand how your CRM system works.

Once your martech ops manager gets them the training they need, the marketing manager can augment their social ad strategies using data from the CRM.

Whether you dedicate a role to martech ops or simply give it some much-needed attention, it would be a good idea to perform a skills assessment as soon as possible for all team members. Whether they self-report or take tests, make sure they know the results of the test won’t impact their employee reviews or salaries.

2022's biggest regrets: Paying too much for software and getting poor customer support

The mistakes made by successful companies can be as valuable as their successes. SMBs focused on growing their customer base, like many, went through bouts of buyer’s remorse. The two main culprits were the high cost of software (41%) and not getting enough support from the vendor (36%).

This highlights an important lesson for SMBs: It’s crucial to understand the costs associated with the software you’re considering buying, as well as how well the vendor will support you after you’ve made the purchase.

For example, you may end up paying a subscription to a software-as-a-service offering that could come with a significant price tag each month. Regardless of how feature-rich the software is, it’s best to ask questions like, “Exactly how much money will this application help save?” and “If something goes wrong—or if an employee needs help working with the application—what will the company do to meet our needs?”

A good first step would be to have frank, straightforward conversations with the service reps of any software you’re considering. You should also perform a quantifiable benefits analysis with key stakeholders to understand the monetary upside of each app you’re thinking about. This way, you can get the info you need to maximize ROI—and minimize buyer’s remorse.

Are you ready to grow in 2023?

Using these small-business growth strategies, you can follow in the footsteps of other companies focused on growth—and get the boost you need in 2023. By acquiring the software tools you need to support growth, you empower your staff to create the gains needed to meet your goals. At the same time, tools alone may not be enough to help your staff get the most out of their talents. Upskilling and reinforcing current knowledge can help close the martech skills gap, putting employees in a better position to maximize their abilities.

When investing in a solution, remember to double-check what the company will provide in terms of support after you’ve signed on the dotted line. Some may focus more on nabbing a quick sale than supporting their continued success. And before you commit any funds to your growth goals, try to assess the actual revenue boost each tool you’re considering can provide. Even though it can be a challenge to quantify the future performance of a solution, the process of at least getting ballpark figures in place inspires important conversations and is great for goal-setting.

If you want more information on marketing and CRM tools, check out Software Advice's buyers guides that will help ensure you get the tool that best suits your specific needs:

If you're ready to make a purchase, read "5 Tips for Buying Software with Confidence." 

Survey methodology

*Software Advice’s 2023 SMB Tech Trends Survey was conducted online from August 2022 to October 2022 among 1,526 respondents from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and France and from SMBs with revenue less than $1 billion and 2-999 employee size. Respondents were screened for their involvement in software purchasing decisions, and those who were a leader/member of the group or had significant influence qualified for the study.