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The African SMEs story: New business realities

The African SMEs Story, hosted by Linda Ochugbua, brings stories of SMEs across Africa and what they are doing to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an initiative of Support4AfricanSMEs, in partnership with BusinessDay, Clarke Energy and more.
In the fifth episode, we spoke to Edmond Idokoko, Marketing Lead at Microsoft West Africa, who works to bring alive modern marketing strategies as they engage with different audiences across various countries to help Microsoft achieve revenue and build relationships out of the different industries, and leveraging on technology to boost customer engagements. He is also invested in seeing African SMEs succeed, and so serves as a volunteer facilitator at FATE foundation as well as a mentor and pro bono consultant for SMEs.

Speaking on “SMEs: The New Reality”, he notes that COVID-19 has changed the business game, and businesses must innovate or die. The impact of the pandemic has been adverse for most industries with SMEs being the most affected in terms of cash flow, operations, jobs, productivity and survival prospects. The economic conditions created by the pandemic have worsened the situation, especially for SMEs that have to run their businesses out of pocket and bear all costs, and many are in danger of dying out.

Read also: Microsoft: Imagining a Digital-first Nigeria

Nevertheless, entrepreneurs should question how to navigate this period to survive, and Edmond outlined some points for SMEs to consider to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.
• Don’t panic: many SME owners are panicking because of the uncertainties created by the pandemic, but this only paralyses their ability to think and innovate.
• Review and evaluate business: examine how business has been affected by the pandemic. Analyse the business in terms of how it provides value for customers and then begin to innovate with the value proposition in mind.
• Redefine business: redefine the business, considering value offerings, new requirements from consumers, new niches created within the business’s segment, new problems that have developed, new audiences for the products/services being provided, and extensions to add to distinguish the business from the competition.
• Seek information and knowledge: information about customers such as their purchasing decisions and where they get the information to make these decisions, information about problems in the business niche and approaches to solutions, and information about tools, manpower and technology available to help with business visibility.
• Transform business: with the acquired information through
o improved customer engagement via an online presence to access the global available market, and not just the addressable market;
o empowering employees to be more effective during remote work;
o optimising operations by adjusting cost-intensive processes;
o transforming products and services (since usual models have been altered) to still provide value to customers.

SMEs must also understand the concept of the “customer journey” and create a holistic and friendly customer experience.
Businesses must optimise points of connection with customers, especially via online platforms which are now being utilized even more during the restriction of COVID-19 pandemic. For example, to drive sales, pictures on social media platforms should have a call for action or should be able to redirect potential customers to platforms where they can get more information. SMEs should also utilize data analytics to enhance and personalise the customer experience on all their gateways. Importantly, SMEs must also provide avenues for receiving feedback and testimonials from customers, as this convinces potential customers of a positive customer journey.

Customer engagement is driven by insight that is generated by researching the target customer – platforms where customers gather, how to connect with platforms they are on, how they consume information about products and make their buying decisions, if the business’s products have visibility, if consumers understand the business’s offerings.
Many technology companies are offering solutions to support SMEs through the challenges brought on by the pandemic, such as software from Microsoft to help organisations with collaboration and remote desktop services for six months for free. SMEs therefore must research and find ways to leverage on technology to help them survive the difficulties brought on by COVID-19.

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