02/11/2013 06:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Taking the Mobile Path: The Key to Moving Small Business Forward

The smartphone has become the center of our digital universe. It's how we engage with family and friends, the way we buy products and the way we stay informed, generating billions of transactions a day, millions of times a second.

Whether receiving a mobile alert from the local department store when the flat screen TV you've been eyeing goes on sale, sending a virtual gift card from the neighborhood restaurant or spa to a friend, or booking a overnight stay with the help of geolocation services to find the nearest hotel, these transactions are generating a treasure trove of information about our lifestyles, financial activities, health habits, social interactions and much more.

What has not been as apparent, however, is just how valuable all that data can be to help small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) grow their businesses and attract new customers.

If you're an SMB and are not present in mobile computing, your customers will simply end up at your competitors' mobile-ready storefront. But if you're an SMB, there are a thousand other things competing for your time, attention and limited budget. So how do you get up and running on mobile with a minimal hassle and expense? What's really important on mobile and how do you pull it all together?

For small businesses, two things matter most where mobile enterprise is concerned: customer acquisition and retention. Remember-your-name kind of loyalty that a well-designed mobile experience can create is what consumers look for and never forget.

Using analytics, small businesses who team with a local technology provider can glean insights from the type of traffic and data their mobile sites are generating. Whether it's measuring the age, gender, and location of visitors to your mobile site, or just when your customers are checking in and what they're looking at on your site, you can use this information to track how your promotions are performing, experiment with new approaches, and see what works and what doesn't. Be that as it may, updating your mobile site accordingly is crucial. After all, it's the customer experience that is the primary factor in customer retention.

And it's about making all of that data available at your fingertips by applying analytics, which is the key to opening the door to better understanding and targeting the individual consumer.

Small Businesses Who Are Leading the Mobile Pack
If you run a services-based business, perhaps your clients will want to make a reservation, a booking, or request a call back right from their phone. Features like coupons, reservation systems, and messaging features are all vital for engaging your audience and converting visits into sales.

Research shows that more than 30 percent of restaurant searches are done from a mobile device, so it makes sense that the restaurant and food industry leads SMBs in mobile, with a 28 percent share of businesses with mobile-friendly sites. Following restaurants are legal and financial services, which account for nearly one-quarter of all mobile sites built. Within specific business categories, salons and spas make up 45 percent of mobile-friendly websites built in the health and wellness category. Boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts account for 53 percent of mobile sites built in the travel and tourism industry.

Having a mobile-optimized site is no longer optional. If your customers have a poor experience accessing your business on mobile, or worse still, can't access it at all, they are going elsewhere. And you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

Smart entrepreneurs will tap into mobile's potential to work faster, more efficiently, and more effectively. They see the impact of mobile; they know their customers and their employees are on smartphones, and realize both the necessity and the opportunity this new mobile technology provides. And they will benefit from that knowledge -- financially.

To find out more about IBM's midsize businesses, click here.