How to run your small business like a racing team

Just like every team in the Tour de France, every small business will have a vision and a set of values, Sanj Bhayro of Salesforce discusses.

Every year I look forward to watching the Tour de France. Although we may not get the time to watch it live, we enjoy catching up on the thrills and spills right from our living room. And watching the effort teams put in over 21 stages and nearly a month of riding, it makes me think about the combination of sprints and marathons that small business teams go through over the course of their growth as well.

If you think about it, each business rides its own metaphorical Tour in the way they seek to grow their businesses. So here are three ways I believe small business leaders can run their company like this year’s high-performing racing teams.

Build team culture

Although only one person pulls on the yellow jersey at the end of a race, Le Tour is very much a team sport. Each racing team has about 25 members all with an important, individual role to play. Behind every Cavendish, Froome or Wiggins is a whole support crew of fellow riders, technicians, dieticians, physical therapists and administrators. It’s a very similar set up to a small business. Victory goes to the leader who can envision and plan for success – while rallying the team to buy into their strategy.

This boils down to establishing a strong vision and company culture where everyone aligns around the same purpose and shares the same core value. Just like every team in Le Tour, every small business will have a vision and a set of values. Establishing this from the very beginning will help everyone feel part of the company and help it grow. And even if a business has only been operating for a few years, it’s never too late to sit down and map out your vision, why you want to it achieve and how you want to get there.

Having a united workforce and a strong culture that instills confidence is also important for when times get tough. Just look at the crash Froome and team-mate Geraint Thomas endured on the rain-soaked Belgian roads at the start of this year’s race. Rather than let that affect performance, their teammates helped make sure neither rider lost confidence (or time) and rallied around them to boost morale. This type of close-knit support throughout the race led to an amazing result, with Froome pulling on the yellow jersey for the fourth year running.

Use data to drive performance

Riders in Le Tour are analysed for every second of their race. When did they peak, what were their oxygen levels like, how fast was their heart rate in the sprint? All of this data is scrutinised by the team performance director in order to win the highly coveted yellow jersey.

Businesses are very similar and small businesses in particular should use the data at their disposal to their advantage to predict market trends and ensure they’re able to capitalise on new opportunities. However, to get the most from their data, how the data is captured plays an important role. It always surprises me to hear how many small businesses still rely on Excel to track their customer data. Having this valuable range of information in a spreadsheet makes it much harder for companies to extract meaningful insights about customers.

When I speak to small business leaders, I find the ones that are moving the fastest are those that deploy a CRM platform from the start in order to capture all their customer data in one place.

The big advantage of doing this is that as the business grows so too does your technology. Instead of worrying about sorting information in a spreadsheet, anyone within the business can quickly and easily analyse everything about their customer – from growth and performance to customer behaviours and trends.

Even Tour de France teams rely on real-time data powered by cloud technology allowing relevant data to be captured and managed in one place. . GPS tracking devices are fitted to each rider’s saddle to track each person’s performance, speed and race position. Understanding data insights in real time helps each team to track behaviours and patterns, enabling them to change strategy and tactics throughout each stage of the race.

This is the type of real time data driven insight can exist in every small business. The key is to have the right platform to manage your data and the tools to surface the right insights. A customer-centric data management strategy – in combination with the right tools – helps businesses to become smarter, more predictive and more personalised.

Choose technology for the future

Then there is the technology. Every racing team tries to get the edge by adopting the latest ‘go faster’ bikes. Small businesses have to be the same. The tech they employ has to future proof the business to avoid the growing pains of scaling up.

One way of doing this is to make sure the technology selected fits with the goals of the company and your objectives for growth. Business leaders also need to think about the requirements of everyone in the business including different management levels and departments.

A classic mistake some SMEs make is buying a specific piece of technology that works for one department, but ends up creating walls within the business. To be a fast and agile in innovating and serving their customer, growing businesses can’t afford to have these silos that make it harder to access the information when and where the customer needs it.

It is a race out there. Whether it’s a hill climb to get a long-awaited contract, an endurance race to ensure customer satisfaction, or a sprint to resolve an issue for a customer, you need teamwork, peak performance and the latest technology to get you over the line first – and make your team the race winner.

Sanj Bhayro is senior vice president of EMEA at Salesforce

Further reading on business technology

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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