How Innovation Can Lead to Profitable SMB Growth
Written by Kenneth C. Wisnefski
Innovation can lead to profitable small and medium business (SMB) growth starting in 2012. This year can be a rebound year for SMBs if business owners commit to innovating and focusing more on client-retention. The key problem is that most business owners are reluctant to move forward due to pressing economic concerns including the financial markets, credit ratings and unemployment; however, it’s the lack of focus on key internal areas that are keeping them in a hover pattern.
While the Small Business Confidence Index rose slightly in October (90.2, from 88.9 in September) in large part due to less negative sales growth, there have been positive signs in recent months. Leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, retailers and online merchants spent an average of 31 percent more on paid search advertising which translated to a record 16.4 percent uptick in Thanksgiving weekend purchasing by the consumer. This suggests both retailers and consumers have a lot of cash sitting on the sidelines.
This is where innovation comes in to play. Those merchants and retailers who chose innovative and less-expensive advertising channels including social media and paid search were rewarded well during the Thanksgiving weekend. Ecommerce is surging and SMBs that want to generate new sales growth and improve client retention need to pay close attention to the momentum that is building.
While only 62 percent of retailers committed to investing more in ecommerce in 2011 (statistics gathered from Forrester’s Research), the remaining percentage is missing out on huge growth opportunities.
The investment in ecommerce also enhances client-retention because the present-day consumer is looking for an online store where they can buy their products to alleviate leaving their homes. They are always looking for value, whether it is free shipping, or shopping in comfort from their home, to creating an online account that makes purchases more convenient and faster.
SMBs have a lot of cash sitting on the sidelines as evidenced by the uptick in holiday advertising. Innovation and client retention rates are two important factors that business owners need to pay close attention to in order to stay competitive in a global market.
About the Author: Kenneth C. Wisnefski is a serial web Entrepreneur currently on his third venture, WebiMax. The company is based in Mount Laurel, NJ and staffs 150+ personnel. Wisnefski grew the business from the ground-up focusing on key markets including search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media, ecommerce, web design, reputation management, and analytics. The company was recently selected 30th overall in Forbes America’s Most Promising Companies list (2011) and selected as a Best Places to Work by the Philadelphia Business Journal.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.