Positive vision still propelling SMEs despite recessionary fears

By Sean Evers, below, VP of Sales, Pipedrive

In the initial pandemic some SMEs grew – surprisingly. Many managed a rapid digitisation and enjoyed greater business volumes as a result. Now, this effect is slowing. Research from Pipedrive’s report, The State of Sales and Marketing: The Economy Review 2022/23, shows that companies are still growing YOY on average – and they remain positive. The data shows that business trends, including the needs and opinions of employees, have a part to play in creating the foundations for continued success in a tough economy.

There are several interesting angles underpinning how SMEs in particular are turning their positivity into sustained results.

The SME experience

There were four standout trends in the report. Firstly, most companies still grew, but not as many as in 2021. Secondly, respondents remain pretty optimistic, and their businesses are still investing in their people and technology. Thirdly, that budget and workforce reductions have a clear negative impact on growth – they lessen the likelihood of business success. And finally, despite a rocky past few years, people are resilient, but they need support and quality technology to make the best of their personal efforts.

  • 63 per cent of companies have grown in the past year
  • Although the growth rate is slowing, and despite ongoing challenges, 80 per cent are optimistic about their company’s performance this year
  • Companies decreasing budgets and team size are more likely to miss revenue targets
  • A mere 8% are cutting back on their investments in areas like employee benefits – showing the value placed on keeping happy colleagues focussed
  • Employees are less worried about job security and more worried about workloads right now (except those in the companies that invested in tech. They were more hopeful about company growth and less concerned about workload)

Give people what they need

The data paints a picture of the successful companies that focus on employee well-being, given that employee engagement has a direct impact on company success. Respondents who received the most support from their manager were 18 percentage points more likely to be very optimistic about the performance of their company. Such well-supported colleagues were between 9 and 11 percentage points more likely to usually hit their regular sales quota too. The impact of empathy and humanity as a critical business tool cannot be overstated.

The biggest sources of support in an employee’s professional life are:

  • Maintaining a positive mindset (47%)
  • My family and friends (42%)
  • Believing in my company’s vision and mission (38%)
  • My colleagues (33%)
  • My manager (29%)
  • My customers (17%)

So, encouraging a positive mind-set, setting boundaries for colleagues to get the time with friends and family that recharges them, creating a great place to work and a compelling mission and vision, are key. And all of these are in the power of the business to create whatever size or profitability.

Interestingly, spending on tech also reduces employee negativity. Respondents working in companies that invested more in technology were also 18 percentage points more likely to imagine company growth in 2023. Those working in firms that invested less in tech were also twice as likely to be concerned about an increased individual workload.

Culture wins over coercion

The report uncovered a clear link between the right senior and colleague support, feeling optimistic and hitting targets. Getting that culture right is therefore a real force multiplier. Take the time to monitor, measure, and reflect on culture, and steer with policies that make a great place that people want to work at. Don’t forget that diverse people might not all view culture and communications the same way though.

Something to note is how technology use and expectations also play a role in culture. Some behaviours can be helpfully shaped with policies. Others with etiquette lessons or guides. Ensuring that good quality software supports personal autonomy and progress helps colleagues feel happier and enhances their productivity. Too often though technology onboarding is basic and carries no guidance on how to use new tools in collaborative ways.

My final advice is ‘stay optimistic but stay prepared’. The adage that ‘luck is where preparation meets opportunity’ is still true. Hope helps people do their best, along with the right plans, tools, and procedures. So, SMEs can make the best they can out of whatever happens with the right attitude and behaviours – and these are free.