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South Africa’s top start-ups and small businesses are making world-wide waves – here’s how you can join them

Article provided by Salesforce

It’s an exciting time for small businesses in South Africa.

Accelerating start-ups and small businesses are launching disruptive, innovative offerings to great effect. Just look at the Fintech sector.

TymeBank was the first South African bank to place a core-banking platform in the cloud, and their meteoric rise saw them reach 2.8m customers in February 2021, just 22 months after launching.

And they’re not alone. Adumo is now South Africa’s largest independent payments processor, and the high-flying Jumo (who offer a full technology stack for building and running financial services) recently received backing from Goldman Sachs to help fund their expansion into Asia.

South Africa is a fertile ground for tech innovation, and these frontrunners have capitalised on some key opportunities, like:

  • A large mobile customer base
  • Improved Wi-Fi and GSM coverage
  • Affordable smartphones flooding the market

These stand-out success stories are just the start. While the market conditions are promising, the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development’s Africa Fintech report, found that only 5% of start-ups in South Africa have successfully scaled.

That means two things. One, there’s plenty of room for South Africa’s small businesses to flourish into large companies. Two, there are big challenges standing in the way.

At Salesforce, we know a thing or two about small business challenges.

In 1999 we were a start-up based in a one-bedroom apartment in Telegraph Hill, San Francisco. Our journey to becoming the world’s number one CRM has not been easy but has given us insight into navigating the path successfully.

Below we explore the three factors that have enabled South Africa’s top small businesses to grow and scale successfully: getting the right tools for the job, making their sales processes more efficient, and delivering unparalleled customer experience.

If you want to get the full picture straight away you can read the Complete CRM Handbook here.

Do you have the right tools?

As innovators race to capitalise on the opportunities in South Africa, urgency can outweigh the need to lay the foundations for sustainable growth.

Consequently, in spite of its potential to quickly and safely scale a small start-up into a large brand, a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) is often not a top business priority for small businesses.

CRMs can help businesses develop a single source of truth, which empowers sales and service teams to deliver better experiences more efficiently, and unlocks sustainable, predictable growth through more accurate forecasting.

Small businesses are also shaped by their customer interactions. Using a CRM can allow them to track customer interactions, providing a clear idea of their sales and reimbursement cycles.

Smart South African business leaders are starting to recognise this. Our Small & Medium Business Trends report found that over half of SMEs in South Africa now have a CRM solution.

The fact that only 9% have used one for at least the last two years, shows just how strong an area of potential growth this is.

Pro tip: Choose a Cloud-Based CRM solution. By opting for a software and a service (SaaS) based CRM means you can avoid hefty upfront software costs, server and related infrastructure costs, servicing costs, and lengthy upgrade times.

Do you have efficient sales processes?

For any small business, your contact book is your most important resource. But as your business grows it’s important that all your resources are working as hard as they can for you.

Growth and scalability are not possible without efficient processes. A CRM isn’t just a way to connect with customers—it’s a vehicle for more effective business operations.

It does this by helping you build a holistic, data-driven view of every customer you know, to support a full understanding of individual needs and preferences. This will ultimately help you attract more of the right prospects and convert them to lifelong customers – boosting your long-term growth. 

Surprisingly, some start-ups underestimate the importance of sales and marketing to company growth – relying instead on word of mouth and organic sales. But with intensifying competition, your product isn’t going to sell itself. 

A CRM can make your sales and nurturing processes more efficient by equipping your sales teams with a continuous and comprehensive view of every step in the customer lifecycle—from first touch to renewal.

For small businesses, making the right pitch at the right time can have a huge impact on your future. By making your processes more efficient, your sales team has more time to do what it does best: build lucrative customer relationships.

With the right CRM behind you, you can boost lead conversion by 30%, and win rates by 22%.

Pro tip: As you consider CRM solutions, pick one that is mobile enabled. Modern sales teams no longer spend eight hours behind a desk. They are always on, always connected, and incredibly mobile. Make sure your CRM choice reflects that.

Do you offer a great customer experience?

Another success factor for South Africa’s small businesses has been a greater focus on customer relationships.

Our report showed that 49% of respondents in South Africa are now prioritising customer relationships over one-time transactions. This is key to improving customer experience.

TymeBank didn’t reach almost 3 million customers by offering the first bank account (80% of South Africans already have one). Instead, they displaced competitors by doubling down on a simple, transparent, accessible, and affordable digital customer experience.

The biggest winners will be those small businesses who make innovation choices that allow them to emulate this.

CRMs offer huge customer experience improvements. By moving from a series of siloed data sources to a single source of truth, you can create a golden record of your customers’ needs that all your customer-facing teams can access.

This allows you to offer customers the kinds of journeys they now expect – connected and personal user experiences across multiple touch points. Our findings show that by using a CRM you can boost customer satisfaction by a whopping 30%.

Pro tip: Choose a CRM with AI analytics. A CRM with an out-of-the-box analytics tool, means you can get smarter and more predictive about your customers without the need for data preparation, managing models, or DevOps.


The Managing Director of International Finance, Makhtar Diop, predicts the next Bill Gates will be African, according to the Financial Times.

With a huge number of opportunities, a plethora of successful ventures, and a raw entrepreneurial energy across South Africa, it’s easy to see why.

The key to grasping this huge opportunity lies in making technology choices that enable better management of your customers, more efficient sales processes, and industry-leading user experience.

So, if you’re looking to create scalable, sustainable, and efficient growth – A CRM is a great place to start.

Our Complete CRM Handbook delves into the full CRM benefits for small businesses – if you found the above useful, you won’t want to miss it. 

Or if you’re ready to see the impact of Salesforce’s CRM on your business, you can learn more about our SMB demo here.

Salesforce is a proud Partner of the NSBC