SME challenges – BDC viewpoints study – September 2015 : research and market intelligence at BDC

> The most challenging business functions for business leaders in Canada are sales and marketing, finance (treasury) and human resources (HR).
̶ Although sales and marketing is the most challenging business function overall, we found that finance (treasury) ties sales and marketing as the most challenging for firms with revenues of $2 million or less and that human resources is the most challenging for firms with revenues above $2 million.
> In most cases, the business leader is responsible for the business functions. Results are highest for general management, as 84% of respondents said they are personally responsible for that function, and lowest for information technology, as 56% of respondents said they are personally responsible.
̶ Not surprisingly, personal responsibility for the functions tends to be higher among smaller firms.
> The main sales and marketing challenges are increasing the number of customer prospects (58%), developing and executing a sales and marketing plan (54%) and converting prospects into customers (52%). Respondents have a slight preference for self-serve resources when it comes to learning about addressing marketing challenges and for hiring an external expert to help resolve such issues.
> Obtaining additional financing (57%), managing cash flow (45%) and understanding the financing options available to their company (42%) are the main finance-related challenges.
̶ There are some gender differences regarding finance challenges, which are highlighted on page 12.
̶ Self-serve is the preferred method for learning more about and solving finance-related challenges and issues. However, firms with lower revenues have a slight preference for hiring an external expert to help them resolve financial challenges.
> Recruiting employees (51%), establishing the right compensation mix (40%) and improving employee engagement (38%) are at the top of the list of HR challenges. To learn more about or to resolve HR issues, respondents slightly prefer using selfserve resources to leveraging a peer group.
> Respondents tend to be more comfortable with information technology (IT), operations and general management, but many face challenges related to these business functions.
− In terms of IT, the main challenges are improving or developing a website and online presence (52%) and integrating or improving the use of social media and other digital channels (48%). Hiring external help is the preferred method for addressing IT-related issues.
− Operations challenges tend to be more common in product-oriented firms. The main challenges for all firms are managing costs (45%), improving employee productivity and skills (40%) and obtaining additional financing (39%).
> To keep abreast of issues and for training purposes, respondents use a range of content formats. The most widely used formats are document templates; internal training; infographics, short texts and articles; networking events and peer learning; and white papers, reports and eBooks.
̶ We found that service-oriented firms are slightly more inclined to use these formats more regularly.
> In-house training for employees by employees is the most common training format. It is followed by webinars, online training and e-learning courses, and peer networks.
− The use of in-house training is significantly higher in companies with more employees.
− Webinars, online training and e-learning resonate with a greater percentage of women and service-oriented firms.
− Peer networks are appealing to both low- and high-revenue firms and to service-oriented organizations.
> Respondents used industry or business associations and private companies more extensively than any other type of training supplier.
> To get a sense of what type of training would be most beneficial to their organization, we asked respondents to identify the business function, the format and the supplier. We found that sales and marketing (44%) is the business function most would focus on. Respondents are most likely to prefer webinars, online training or e-learning courses (28%) and external trainers or consultants (25%). Furthermore, industry or business associations (41%) or private companies (27%) are the preferred providers.
> The majority of business leaders consider continuous improvement to be important.
̶ Business leaders in service-oriented firms are more inclined to participate in training activities and to extend that opportunity to employees.

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