Start-ups and innovation

Tips for the digitalization of an SME: The most important dos and don’ts

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Everyone is talking about digitalization. It affects private individuals as well as companies and is discussed a great deal in the press, at events and trade fairs, and in presentations. And not without reason: Digital technologies create new business models and offer the potential to automate complex business processes, tap into new customer segments, and increase customer loyalty. 

However, digital transformation at an SME doesn’t happen overnight. Developing into an SME 4.0 is a multi-step process and must be adjusted to the individual circumstances of the company concerned. Read here what you should keep in mind for the digitalization of your SME and how to avoid common mistakes. 

1. User jungle vs. user journey

For websites, the general objective is to never confuse your customers. Keep it simple – this is the number one rule in digitalization, but it is also one of the greatest challenges. It's only natural for SMEs to want to highlight their own products, services, and values repeatedly. But this often results in an overstrained customer base. Studies show that when users visit a website for the first time, they decide within the first ten seconds whether they want to continue browsing the website.

It should therefore be simple to navigate. It just raises the question: How simple? From experience, websites are either run by agencies that are relatively far removed from the company’s actual business and products, or by staff who implement the requirements of the respective areas. And of course everyone wants to have their say. Everyone in the project thinks they know what a good website should look like and considers different information to be relevant. Some would ideally put the “About us” page at the front and pack in the terms and conditions of business, product descriptions, reports, personal statements, and a myriad of subpages into the website and navigation.

More is more? No.

Customers are confused and bored by excessive text, jargon, or pictures without any informative value. To be able to empathize better with customers, companies should ask themselves the following questions:

  1. Do customers recognize at first sight what is on offer, even when visiting on their smartphone and without scrolling?
  2. When did you last view your own website and go through each menu item?
  3. Open your own website and try to navigate it through the eyes of your customers and understand the content. Do any difficulties occur? 

2. Me-commerce vs. e-commerce

Digital channels are often filled with content as the SME and its employees see fit. But this is not necessarily the same view as its customers. “We should put that on the website too” is something often heard. Products, services, and endless discounts are then integrated into the pages.

This is understandable. The company wants to ensure that customers are aware of their entire range of services, are impressed, and ultimately convinced. But what is well intentioned often turns out to be too much: Users can’t decide. Take the decision away from interested visitors to your website. Put the focus on the most popular products. This is how you boost your sales without praising products that don’t sell well anyway.

The same applies to e-commerce as to classic sales: You first have to build up trust. Customers on the web initially buy simple and cheap products. If everything works properly, then nothing stands in the way of another purchase – and you will gain customers who are happy to return. With this in mind: Start by looking at your website and your online shop through the eyes of your customers, employees, and business partners – and take measures to optimize these channels with them in mind. 

3. Tragic moments vs. magic moments

Companies strive to create a “magic moment”: Moments that touch or move potential customers – ideally to buy their products.

However, the supposed “magic moment” is often perceived by interested visitors as a “tragic moment”. Ad banners as far as the eye can see showing cheap flights, hotels, or shoes – right after you’ve just googled these products. Or the ad appears after the purchase has been made.

To avoid this, you must know your target group and their needs. Learn as an SME what moves your customers and reach them at the right moment. Find out why they haven't purchased anything or contacted you. In general: Try to identify the needs of your users and meet them as best possible.

How does it work? Ask yourself as an SME the following questions:

  • What interests users when they visit your website: Why are they visiting?
  • Challenge the know-your-client credo: How do you get to know your customers without having had any direct communication with them?
  • Who visits my website? Who orders my products? How did users find my website? 

Companies strive to create a “magic moment”: Moments that touch or move potential customers – ideally to buy their products.

Unfortunately, this often ends up as “tragic moment” for interested visitors to your website.

4. Small brain vs. big data

Data is the new gold. But if gold isn’t processed and refined properly, it isn’t worth much either. Through digital transformation, companies now have thousands of digital reports from analytics tools and endless data from users which is available in both a structured and unstructured form. You know a lot about your customers, but do they sense any advantage to that? Companies should do an about-face: consider first exactly what their goal is and then get the data required to reach that goal.

Another important point:  Use the data obtained to create an advantage for your customers by optimizing your offer, for example, so that it best meets the current needs of your users. This way, you will arouse interest and create trust in your service – and only through mutual trust can a stable and long-term relationship develop.

Keep in mind: Big data can be uncanny. As mentioned in point 3, personalized ads can bring about the opposite of the intended enthusiasm. Make sure that your users don’t get the feeling that they are being followed or that you know too much about them. Steer the focus away from “big data” in the direction of “right data”. You don’t need to know your customers’ shoe size or allergies to sell them a vacuum. The goal is to present useful offers to those who are interested – not to make a creepy impression.

The next time you receive a Google Analytics report, ask yourself what you are doing with the data you have and what the next steps are. The goal is to optimize the processes for services and sales based on the data obtained. Don’t gather any data for the sake of it being “good to know” – only gather data that is promising.

5. Single channel vs. omnichannel

With the hype surrounding digital transformation, people often forget the relevance of offline channels. Let’s take a weekly market as an example. When talking to one of the sellers, you learn where the fruit comes from and how it was farmed. You decide with your senses, see, feel, smell, and taste the goods on offer. These markets have existed for over 10,000 years, and even today no online shop can take their place.

Of course a lot has changed. There has been a clear shift from the offline to online economy. Today, customers enjoy the luxury of choosing their preferred sales channel themselves. “Omnichannel management” is the name of the related challenge for companies. Unfortunately, many companies have opened up online shops in addition to their classic sales channels without adapting their business model and organization. What incentives are there on site for the sales force for when they convince customers after consultation to order the product online from home? Do the experts know when they are sitting across from a customer who has already found information on the website or who has decided after a consultation to buy online? Do you know the new roles that the digital transformation entails?

With all due respect to digitalization: personal contact, which is increasingly lacking due to the growing online world, is still in demand today and significantly increases trust. The new roles emerging for sales staff from the combination of online and offline business mean that they must have a greater depth of product knowledge. Potential customers get their information on products that are worth considering in advance. They prepare for consultations with facts and specific questions to make sure that they only buy the best of the best and the most suitable.

If sales staff know their customers and their current needs, then nothing will stand in the way of making the deal. 

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6. Mobile last vs. mobile first

For large sections of the population, their smartphone and tablets have long become a close companion in their day-to-day. Your customers are also on their mobile end-devices when on the go and want to be reached there, with 62% of smartphone owners in Switzerland using their devices for online purchases.

Not all companies have recognized this switch and correspondingly few resources are being invested in creating websites or social media posts that can be viewed properly on mobile devices. The result is cluttered text, countless navigation items, wrongly formatted images, and compatibility issues with forms and documents.

The motto is “reduce to the max”. Web designers, developers and content managers should use the possibility of developing sites for small screens. This way they would recognize and minimize the effort of scrolling without a mouse, excessively long menu titles, minute image captions, or the lack of functions on mobile devices. A small screen cannot and should not be a carbon copy of the web browser. Reduce to the essentials.

Keep it simple – this is the number one rule in digitalization

At the same time, it is one of the biggest challenges.

7. Stagnation vs. revolution

A revolution is the fundamental conversion of existing methods to new ones. This revolutionary approach is now followed by many companies, also within the scope of digitalization, and starts in innovation departments and labs. Frequently, however, the desired outcome is not achieved – as always, learning something new requires overcoming initial challenges. This often leaves those involved frustrated: No budget, no business case, other priorities. All examples of what can dampen the initial euphoria of digital transformation. The first setbacks can result in longer-term stagnation in the development process since there is a lack of motivation and new ideas.

Here, it’s important to stay on the ball: Success sets in when the entire company together with product development thinks and acts to bring about fundamental change. You can create the basis for this in your company: Make your employees enthusiastic about digital trends, take their fears seriously, and work together with your team to come up with possible solutions and improvements. This way, change will make it’s way into the company culture. Starting with the product, through processes to sales and marketing. The digital mindset is put more and more into practice and ultimately becomes an integral part of daily business.


If you are striving for more digitalization, it should primarily benefit your customers, employees, and business partners. If the strategy is smartly and efficiently implemented, success will come automatically. Also important: Digitalization and the right approach in terms of your company's thoughts and actions should be securely rooted in the corporate culture. See digitalization as a support for the success of your company.

And: Apart from theoretical knowledge, digitalization needs experience. A tool, an online shop, or a social media account in itself does not automatically mean successful digitalization – how you deal with it is decisive. It requires experience and courage. You and your staff should be confident and just try things out. Because you can learn from mistakes – and the joy of seeing how simple changes work and bring about long-term success is worth even more. 

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