California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story  

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Salesforce.com’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers on how they are rethinking their business models and using technology to get ahead. The second post, Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Salesforce.com’s approach in the SMB market.


dreamforce2014
Each year, the festivities at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user event, intensify. At Dreamforce 2014, the entertainment ranged from musicians as diverse as Bruno Mars and the Beach Boys; politicians as similar as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore; Hawaiian blessings and hula dancers; and Salesforce’s erstwhile mascots, Chatty and SaaSy. Beanbag chairs, giant chessboards, free pedicabs, and lots of liquor-fueled parties added to the carnival-like atmosphere.

But there were also many Salesforce-related keynotes, led by CEO Marc Benioff, of course, and hundreds of Salesforce sessions. Of course, I was most interested in the SMB keynote, led by

The Technology Trifecta

Salesforce sees SMBs as being uniquely suited to use cloud, mobile and social technologies to create new business models and to win customers over from larger, but often slower-moving businesses.

As discussed in SMB Group’s Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, Salesforce is in violent agreement with other technology vendors. The nine major vendors we interviewed for the report (including Salesforce) all view cloud, mobile and social as providing SMBs enormous opportunities to gain business advantages. With customers and prospects racing into the digital future at breakneck speed, SMBs that use technology to stay ahead of their customers will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

Though many technology vendors offer SMBs solutions to capitalize on these trends, Salesforce’s SVP of SMB, Tony Rodoni, and Desk.com VP, Layla Sekla of course touted Salesforce as best positioned to help SMBs harness technology to:

  • Scale their businesses with one integrated system
  • Gain better visibility into data
  • Engage customers in new ways

The Salesforce worldview (and that of the customers that joined to tell their stories) skew heavily toward what they described as a “typical silicon valley startup.” These are companies that want to conquer a large market using disruptive technology–ones that will launch and soon face a “tidal wave of demand.”

In reality, this segment represents only a tiny fraction of the SMB universe. But, from my perspective, they zeroed in on how businesses of all kinds can think about and apply technology to improve business outcomes.

Differentiate With Great Customer Service

The heat is on for all companies to provide a great customer experience for obvious reasons. Unhappy customers are likely to stop buying and share their dissatisfaction, costing your business money. Happy ones are likely to come back for more and recommend your business to friends and family. Social media of course, amplifies the influence of customer experience.

muncheryWith this in mind, Munchery is bringing new meaning to meals on wheels. Munchery provides meal delivery of “wholesome prepared dinners, handmade by top local chefs using only the best ingredients, for same-day delivery to your home or office.” In 6 months, its revenues have grown by 400%. Munchery credits its success to using providing customer support “that’s as good as the meals.” The company uses Desk.com to:

  • See what social networks their customers are using, and what they’re saying. Are there trends in what foods people want, such as kale or quinoa (they are in San Francisco!)? Once Munchery spots these trends it integrates them into marketing and meals.
  • Intake cases from Munchery’ mobile app to adjust orders on the fly and respond to them. Munchery can provide great service, and happy customers can also add an extra tip if they’d like. This responsiveness is helping Munchery turn customer problems into opportunities, and create evangelists.
  • Streamline internal communications. The company’s 100 drivers use Desk.com to communicate back to headquarters to help optimize routes and deliveries.

Outsmart The Competition By Re-thinking the Problem 

Accessing, analyzing and acting on data can give SMBs a big advantage over the competition. But building and managing infrastructure to do this takes a lot of time, money and expertise–all scarce resources for SMBs.

zenpayrollAccording to ZenPayroll’s CEO, one-third of SMBs get fined for inaccurate payroll. The three-year old start-up the entered the payroll market, which is dominated by big players such as ADP and Paychex, with a strategy to differentiate by giving users “delightful modern payroll” that works right on day one. While competitors position payroll as a chore, Zen thinks of payroll as employees getting paid and employers showing appreciation. It provides SMBs with a paperless, cloud-based, mobile-first solution in 97% of the U.S. Its 60 employees use Desk.com to solve support issues once, and then take proactive measures to ensure they aren’t repeated. Zen also uses Pardot to automate marketing, sales and nurturing and grow its business, which now processes more than $1 billion in payroll annually. Reeves’ advice to other business owners is to rethink the problem you’re tackling.

Personally Engage Customers

Getting the right message at the right time to customers at the right time is essential in today’s multi-channel world. In addition, the more personal the message, the less likely it is to end up in the spam filter. Salesforce introduced both a B2B and B2C customer to illustrate the importance of personalized engagement.

firstmileFirst Mile told the B2B story. When it launched 2 years ago, U.K-based First Mile saw the recycling market as overcharged and underserved. Its mission is to displace entrenched, inefficient competitors by making recycling easy and responsive. First Mile sees customer engagement as its key to its strategy, and uses innovative business practices and technology to power it. For instance, established competitors require long contracts, so First Mile requires no contracts. While competitors never call their customer except when its renewal time, First Mile makes 100 calls a day to get feedback. The company uses the Salesforce platform and apps to get and analyze recycling stats and help minimize attrition. First Mile’s field sales people also recently began using iPads and Salesforce to directly enter leads into Salesforce, “quadrupling the return on investment from field sales,” over the former double-entry paper and pen to Salesforce method. First Mile’s advice to other SMBs? There are lots of free or low-cost cloud solutions out there. Try the ones you think will help you to find out which ones will give you the return you need.
georgestreetOn the B2C side, George Street is putting a new twist on wedding photos and videos by connecting photographers to brides in 50 cities across North America. George Street handles everything but taking the photos or videos. For brides, George Street creates a personalized experience to ensure they have a great wedding photography experience. The company uses several Salesforce and AppExchange solutions, including Pardot, Salesforce and Chatter lead generation, sales and contracts, photographer and shot selection, notifications and sharing photos. George Street has also created a community for brides to talk about everything from cakes to dresses. It helps facilitated last-minute requests, such as a new shot request, with Chatter. Before they used Salesforce, they did a lot of this manually, but by developing a Salesforce app to automate the process, they’ve sped up the process and can provide a better experience. For instance, it used to take 7 days from a bride’s initial appointment with George Street to close a contract, now the average close time is 24 hours. Automation has helped them scale, increasing the number of weddings they handle by 250%. And, they’ve reduced case incidents by 200%. George Street’s guidance for other SMBs is to focus on delivering an exceptional experience. Automate back-end so your people can spend more time with clients, make them happy and generate boost referrals. Finally, if you’re using Salesforce, find a good developer to help you make the most of it.

Perspective

The writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t will face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey. Is Salesforce right for you? Read Part 2 of this blog series, Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, to help you decide.

Disclosure: Salesforce paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is part two of a two-part blog series discussing Salesforce.com’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. Part One, California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story, provides perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, provides a more detailed glimpse into Salesforce.com’s approach.

The writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t will face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey, and one-size-fit all doesn’t apply in SMB. Is Salesforce right for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

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Top Technology Game Changers for SMB

Fifteen years ago, Marc Benioff founded Salesforce with the belief that multi-tenant, cloud computing applications democratize information by delivering immediate benefits while reducing risks and costs.

So it’s not surprising that while the cloud isn’t new, it continues its reign as Salesforce’s top game-changing trend. Salesforce sees cloud as removing the technology and cost barriers so that SMBs can:

  • Bring best practices and automation into their businesses so they grow, do more with less and do it better.
  • Gain real-time visibility into their businesses to improve decision-making.
  • Centralize information, making it easy for everyone to collaborate, no matter where they are, and providing a built-in way to retain knowledge as employees come and go.
  • Take advantage of enterprise class security and reliability trusted by thousands of enterprises at an affordable cost that scales with their business.

Salesforce views the cloud as the foundation and springboard for SMBs to benefit from other game-changing trends, namely mobile and social solutions. Salesforce believes that mobile is becoming the “new normal” user experience. People are already running their personal lives on mobile devices, and increasingly want to click into apps, dashboards and info on mobile devices for work. To that end, the vendor’s Salesforce1 initiative puts mobile first by making 100% of Salesforce functionality and information available to users in a relevant interface on any device.

Social collaboration is also key, not only in terms of marketing, but to help SMBs deliver more responsive service that customers increasingly expect. Social tools and analytics let SMBs increase context about customer and prospect interactions so they personalize how they engage and support them. For instance, Salesforce Chatter can run across everything in Salesforce and some of its partners’ apps, allowing everyone—from the CEO to the receptionist—to get on the same page whether to more readily spot new opportunities or to head off potential problems.

Together, these trends make things more transparent. It’s easier for people to collaborate to get the job done, instead of operating in silos. Salesforce introduced its Communities solution, which its customers can use to manage external relationships with customers and partners in a protected or non-protected way, furthering extending social collaboration capabilities from within Salesforce.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior

As SMBs get more familiar with cloud, social and mobile solutions, Salesforce sees several key shifts underway:

  • Rising expectations for centralized, single sign-on access to apps and data, with everything needed to get work done pulled together from different apps for a complete view.
  • Demand for solutions with built-in collaboration capabilities. Business owners see that collaboration helps the business to deliver better customer and employee experiences, because information flows both ways and provides better visibility to make decisions.
  • Customer service as the “new wave of marketing.” Better visibility and engagement with customers has raised awareness about the importance of servicing and engaging with customers throughout the whole life cycle to drive business, leading service people to take more ownership of the brand.
  • “Try before you buy” is the new normal. SMBs now expect to try—without having talk to rep—solutions before buying them. Salesforce cited one customer who wanted to get Desk.com, Salesforce’s small business help desk service, up and running by himself while watching the Super Bowl.
  • Friction-free technology. SMBs increasingly look for a frictionless technology experience. They have less patience for solutions that can potentially take too much time or cost too much money. They want vendors to demonstrate ease of use upfront, and provide transparent pay as you go pricing.

Although the cloud isn’t new in the industry, Salesforce believes that the concept of being able to gain advantages from enterprise-class software without having to worry about infrastructure is still something many SMBs are just starting to understand. Salesforce’s view is that while the cloud is more common today, some things aren’t “true Cloud” and SMBs are still learning about the nuances of the cloud value proposition. To that end, Salesforce is expanding its educational commitment to SMBs around business best practices. The vendor:

  • Doubled the amount of SMB content at its annual Dreamforce event last year over the prior year, with over 150 SMB breakout sessions, a dedicated networking and expert interaction area, ask the ask experts panels, a dedicated keynote as well as inclusion in other keynotes with SMBs alongside big companies.
  • Will move from one SMB message to differentiated messaging for different types of SMBs and decision-makers, to make it more relevant for different segments and roles.
  • Has recently introduced new SMB resources, including small business blogs, a customer success community.

Perspective: Salesforce as SMB Technology Catalyst

salesforcelogoAs one of the first true cloud computing pioneers, Salesforce seized on the fact that cloud computing removes the barriers for small businesses to gain the same business benefits from technology solutions as larger companies.

Salesforce—via its vision and strong customer proof points—has painted a vivid picture of how SMBs can use cloud, mobile and social solutions offerings for a more user-friendly, streamlined way to run their businesses.

At the low end of the market, many Salesforce customers move directly from Excel or from pencil and paper to Salesforce, underscoring both ease of use and the resulting business value of having real-time information access, anywhere from any device. And, even as it’s grown its star-studded Fortune 500 customer roster, Salesforce has kept SMBs in the spotlight, investing to educate the broader market about how they can use and benefit from these technologies.

Over the years, of course, Salesforce has also broadened its vision and developed and assembled many more components to enable this vision. For instance, there are now 4 editions of Sales Cloud, 3 of Service Cloud and 4 of Marketing Cloud.

At the upper end of SMB, companies may have enough staff, expertise and time to sort through Salesforce’s expanded portfolio, and figure out what’s right for them. But, Salesforce’s story may be getting confusing for smaller SMBs. While entry-level pricing is low, how many small businesses can jump from Group Edition ($25/user/month) to Professional ($65/user/month). While Professional Edition offers a lot more functionality (including pipeline forecast, campaign management, contract storage and quote delivery, custom reporting and dashboards, and a complete view of the customer across sales and service, the price differential is tough for many SMBs to absorb. Alternatively Salesforce does offer desk.com at $29/user/month to customers that have customer service requirements. Again, however, it can be challenging for SMBs to figure out which approach will work best and be most cost-effective.

However, Salesforce plans to increase investments to engage SMBs both locally and online. Not only will this help Salesforce educate more SMBs about the power of technology in business, but also it should give Salesforce a wider lens through which it can get a better pulse on SMB requirements. In turn, this should help Salesforce simplify and streamline solution packaging and positioning. All of which bodes well for its potential to help more SMBs understand and use technology as a game-changer.

Want to know more about how Salesforce’s SMB customers use Salesforce? Read Part 1 of this blog series, California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story, for perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers on how they are rethinking their business models and using technology in their businesses.

Disclosure: Salesforce paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

 

Why Should You Take 3 Days Out of Your Schedule to Attend Dell World?

dell worldFrom November 4-6, Dell will host roughly 5,000 customer, partner and influencer attendees at its fourth annual Dell World conference in its hometown of Austin, Texas, and up to 10,000 attendees will tune in live online. 

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Dell World is Dell’s premier annual customer and partner event. Having found the three prior Dell World events I attended to be both informative and fun, I was eager to find out what’s on tap for this year’s event. So I was delighted to get a sneak preview from Jeanne Trogan, Dell’s Executive Director of Global Events, about what Dell World will offer.

With time arguably being our most valuable asset, here’s my take on why you’d want to take 3 days out of your busy schedule to attend Dell World based on this preview. 

  1. Gain a clearer understanding of how technology can help solve business problems and meet business goals.

Companies want to harness technology for better business outcomes, but it’s often hard to figure out how to do this. According to SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study, small and medium businesses (SMBs) increasingly view technology as a means to automate operations and work more efficiently, and as a vital tool for creating and sustaining a vibrant, growing business (Figure 1). But the same study also shows that figuring out how different technology solutions can help their businesses is a top challenge for many SMBs.

Figure 1: SMB Technology Perspectives

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With this in mind, Dell World will provide customers–from SMB to large enterprises–with high-level advice and expertise to help them understand how and why key technology trends are reshaping business and consumer practices and behaviors. Keynote speakers, including Dell CEO Michael Dell and other tech and business innovators from business and academia will put cloud, mobile, analytics, security, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other trends into sharper focus, and help attendees stay ahead of the technology curve.

  1. Learn how to turn strategy into reality.

Refreshing your technology strategy and direction is the critical first step, but then you have to figure out how to execute. In fact, figuring out cost-effective ways to implement and/or upgrade solutions and to keep them up and running are also daunting challenges for SMBs (Figure 2).

Figure 2: SMB Technology Challenges

Slide1

Dell World is chock full of interactive sessions as well as hands-on labs and demos to help attendees kick the tires on new solutions, and fulfill the new technology requirements that their businesses require. Attendees can choose from more than 70 breakout sessions for a deeper dive into how to make technology work for the business. For instance session topics range from how to conquer cloud chaos to how to maximize mobility benefits without compromising security, and labs address areas such as big data and analytics, desktop virtualization, and streamlining IT management.

In the Solutions Expo, attendees can get an up close and personal look at the latest solutions. This year, Dell is reorienting the Solutions Expo from a Dell product-centric approach to a customer-centric problem and solution approach. The floor will feature different paths that start with technology problem areas, and guide customers toward relevant solutions and information. I think Dell’s refreshed approach to the Expo floor and demonstrations will be something that customer attendees will appreciate.

  1. Learn outside the classroom.

Just like when you were in school, sometimes the most important learning you do takes place outside of the classroom. Networking is a key part of Dell World with other attendees for fresh perspectives, exchange information and compare notes, not just at the event, but over the longer term. In addition to the serendipitous meetups that will happen spontaneously throughout Dell World, Dell is also scheduling meetings, such as an Executive Summit for CIOs, to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction.

  1. Enjoy Austin.

congress-avenue-bridgeIf you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about! If you haven’t been there, you’re in for an amazing experience. In fact, Dell keeps asking attendees where they want to have Dell World, and people want to come back. Austin has something for everyone, whether you love music, great food or the great outdoors. For starters, Dell World will feature both Weezer and Duran Duran in concert–something for everyone from millennials to baby boomers. Get some fresh air with a walk or run around Town Lake, and grab a bite or drink at the Hula Hut as a reward. At night, check out the live music and gourmet food trucks on Rainey Street, or at Austin City Limits. And don’t forget to check out the nightly bat migration under the Congress Street Bridge. Last but not least, there’s the history–Dell was born in Austin in Michael Dell’s University of Texas dorm room. Since then, Austin has grown as a tech mecca.

Dell World also marks the one-year anniversary since founder Michael Dell won an extended battle to take the company private. In a recent CNBC interview, he expressed how liberating its been to off the Wall Street treadmill and able to focus on customers, and invest more time, R&D and energy on their behalf. I have a feeling that attendees will probably pick up on how this more positive energy is coming to fruition at Dell World as well.

Using ATS and Assessments for an Automated, Uniform Recruitment Process

Whether a business is large or small, identifying, qualifying and hiring the right employees is critical to innovation and growth. But, as the recession wanes and the economy picks up, more companies are hiring, and competitionespecially for top talent is intensifying. This makes it more difficult for many companies to find, track and hire the talent they need to thrive.

As a result, many businesses are reassessing and refreshing their existing recruiting practices and solutions. They are looking for knowledge and tools to give them the agility they need to compete more successfully throughout the recruitment process.

In this three-part series, sponsored by IBM Smarter Workforce, I look at how companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and assessment solutions to better address these issues, and new developments in this area that promise to provide further enhancements.

Behind the Scenes at A Leading Hospitality Company 


kids
Almost everyone that has ever had children has been to venues that combine a restaurant with arcade games, amusement rides, climbing equipment, entertainment and other activities, including climbing equipment, tubes, and slides.

But it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes talent to pull all of this off. According to the Senior Recruiting Administrator at one of the largest hospitality companies of this kind, the Kenexa Recruiter Enterprise ATS that they had implemented years ago “was very basic, it served as a database for resumes. When managers read the resumes and selected top candidates for management and technical positions, they would have to manually overnight applications to them, and the candidates would have to complete and overnight them back. We had HR statuses, but they didn’t trigger anything. We couldn’t automate or control the process, or assign different levels of access to different types of users.” In addition, although the hospitality company had created two custom assessment tests for management and technical positions, hiring managers had to administer the 35 to 40 question tests to applicants over the phone.

By 2011, the manual processing required to support these workflows had become overwhelming, and says the senior recruiting administrator, “the company decided we were well overdue, and it was time to upgrade both its ATS and revamp its assessment tools to keep up with our evolving recruitment requirements.”

Although the company was familiar with Kenexa, the company wanted to check out competitive offerings to make sure that there wasn’t a better fit out there. They were looking for a cloud solution that would provide them with the automated ATS workflows they needed, and at an affordable price. In addition, the company also wanted to move its custom assessments into an online assessment system.

As the administrator observes, “We looked at 6 or 7 systems, and most offer fairly similar functionality in terms of ATS. But price was a key consideration for us. Some of the competitive solutions had lots of bells and whistles that we knew we wouldn’t use—along with more expensive price tags. So we’d be wasting our money.”

In addition, competitive ATS vendors that the company evaluated didn’t have the assessment piece. “They would have handed us off to a third-party, and we’d have to negotiate two deals, and manage two maintenance contracts and vendors,” notes the recruitment administrator. Kenexa’s ability to provide both ATS and assessments at “the right price” was also a key factor.

In addition, since the company had decided to deploy cloud-based offerings, it didn’t need to involve its 25-person IT staff. “Our bread and butter is the stores, so our IT staff is pretty lean.” Ultimately, the Senior VP and Director of HR at the company made the final decision to go with Kenexa for both ATS and custom assessments.

Moving to an Automated Approach for ATS and Assessments

Once they decided to go with Kenexa BrassRing ATS and assessments, Kenexa assigned a project manager, to help keep project milestones on track, and the team planned the rollout. They started with an initial group that included herself and four field recruiters, because recruiters would be using the solution in the most depth. Says the administrator, “I learned fairly quickly that you need to go beyond the project manager that’s assigned, and ask a lot of questions to a lot of people, including the technical people who configure everything. Once I got more resources on the Kenexa team in the loop, it was easier to figure out what approach to take and get it done more quickly.”

Kenexa also provided this initial small team with a day of training the week before it went live. After about one month using the system, the recruiters “had a good grasp of the solution. It’s pretty simple to use. But don’t get me wrong, we stumbled. We could have done more…like have more people testing it. It was a learning process, but one of the guys on Kenexa’s technical support team helped us and in the end it was a smooth rollout,” she added.

After the initial group was up to speed, they rolled it out to 45 district managers through an initial meeting, and then the company’s four recruiters worked with the district managers individually. Now, in addition to field recruiters and district managers, Internet recruiters, hiring managers, HR managers and regional managers are all using the system.

Observes the administrator, “The biggest challenge we probably had was getting people used to it, to the change. We sent emails saying you need to create a new profile, get a new password. So notifying people in each store caused us a little bit of trouble. And doing assessments online was also a big change for them. So in general, it took about 2 weeks for them to get comfortable with it.”

IBM now provides ongoing support via its Global Support Center staff, and the hospitality company’s IT staff hasn’t needed to get involved in supporting these solutions. If the internal team gets a call or email, they send it to IBM. However, when the business is ready to integrate Brassring with its Workday HRIS, its IT staff will play a role in the integration.

Getting Results

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????According to the recruitment administrator, “Gaining the ability to pull a lot of reports, much more easily, and on our own is very helpful. We used to have to request reports—and then wait for someone to pull them. It definitely also helps us control the workflow.”

She continues, “Triggers, forms and having things go at specific times ensure a more uniform recruitment process. The best part is that it reinforces the workflow, and helps us limit exceptions. Because there’s a single platform, everyone has to do it right, its set up the same way for everyone.”

This provides peace of mind, especially in the assessment area. The business has had two successful validations of its assessment process since automating it. As she observes, “It’s great, we’re not open to any legal issues here.”

Although the company hasn’t done a formal ROI, the cost and time savings benefits are clear. “Recruiters used to sit on the phone getting 35 to 40 questions answered, now this is online, saving time and eliminating expenses for overnight shipping,” notes the senior recruiter.

Perspective

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization, fueling the innovation required to grow and thrive in today’s hyper-competitive world. Many cloud-based ATS and assessment solutions are available, but as this story highlights, there are some of fundamental considerations that need to be factored in regardless of which solution you choose to ensure a smooth transition, including:

  1. Distinguish must-have requirements from nice-to-have features. Affordability and getting both ATS and assessments from one vendor were top priorities in this case. Setting these priorities helped stop them from getting distracted by solutions with nice to have, but expensive and unnecessary features.
  2. Ask questions early, often and from multiple people on the vendor side. Implementing or upgrading an ATS system is a big project, and its unlikely any one person will have all the answers or the depth of information you need to make the best and most expedient decisions during the implementation process. Learn who the best resources are for different questions and guidance, and use them.
  3. Get more people involved in the testing process. It can be tempting to limit initial testing to a very small group of users to make the process more manageable—over the short-term. But, things usually go more smoothly over the long-term when you involve a few more people upfront to work out more of the kinks earlier in the process.

When it comes to ATS and assessments, each company has unique requirements, workflows and considerations that come into play. However, across the board, strong communication and collaboration, both internally and with the vendor, will help ensure a successful outcome in the short-term, and set the stage for your organization to adapt to new requirements.

This is the third post in a three-part blog series written by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM. The series examines talent management solutions and trends.

ReachLocal: One Stop Digital Shop for Local Small Business

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe here with SMB Group’s SMB Spotlight. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Sharon Rowlands, the relatively new CEO of ReachLocal.  Sharon was brought into ReachLocal earlier this year to help transform the company.  Sharon, thanks for talking to me today.

Sharon: Absolute pleasure Laurie.

Laurie: Great.  Before we get started can you just tell me a little bit about who ReachLocal is and how you got started and what the company does?

Sharon: Sure, absolutely.  ReachLocal was founded over 10 years ago to really help local businesses with their digital marketing needs.  It was a time when advertising dollars were still mainly going to print and Yellow Pages. As the Internet became a stronger way in which consumers looked for services, ReachLocal was established to help local businesses tap into that.

Laurie: That’s kind of hard to believe thinking back now that only 10 years ago where we were using Yellow Pages and things like that.

Sharon: Absolutely.

Laurie: So dialing forward a bit what does ReachLocal stand for today, what’s the business about today?

Sharon: The business today is still about helping local businesses get more customers. Most local businesses are small, and we are still all about helping them get found online wherever consumers are searching.  What has changed is clearly the number of places consumers search has expanded. So local businesses now have to worry about being found on search engines, found on digital directories, found on social media. Then they need to be able to manage all that digital traffic in an effective way.

Laurie: I think it’s getting more and more pressurized because there are so many channels that you have to get out through, between social media and search, and if you’re a brick and mortar company you’re still doing things in the physical world.  How do you help small businesses get their arms around this, manage it and break through the noise when you have the big companies with big budgets and more resources?

Sharon: Right.  Well, I think it’s a couple of things but firstly really being a one-stop shop for them because it’s overwhelming to think you have to manage all these different online venues. So ReachLocal does it all for the small business in one place.

We have a really amazing technology platform that optimizes across all of the platforms and makes sure that we’re actually getting you the most leads for your money.  Then secondly what we do with our ReachEdge platform, similar to a marketing automation system, we help the local business manage those leads and provide analytics around what’s working and conversion.  We have great technology but we really believe the business wants help as well–so we also bring great service and expertise to make sure their campaigns are working for them.

Laurie: Can you tell me a little bit about what would be like for a typical small business, maybe a real estate company or a dental practice, what would you do for them start to finish?

Sharon: Let me give you a real life example. I just talked the other week with a relatively new client, six months, up in the Bay Area, a plumber.  He has 10 contractors on staff.  What we did for him was we set him with our ReachEdge platform which gives him a mobile optimized website which is really important because over 50% of searches are being done by mobile, and that’s just growing.

Laurie: And that’s all integrated into the platform?

Sharon: That’s all integrated into the platform.  We then run all his advertising campaigns across digital display and search engine.  We do retargeting campaigns for him. All of the lead intake, which is both phone and web forms, come into one place, get categorized, and alerts him to how he has to follow-up and then really tracks those leads through to conversion and getting new clients.  He can really see the ROI in what his digital marketing spend is doing for him.  His performance in terms of customer growth has been incredible in the last six months.

Laurie: I think a lot of times without that automation a lot of leads and people you bring into the database they just fall through the cracks, you don’t follow up because you’re overwhelmed trying to do plumbing or whatever your business is.

Sharon: Absolutely.  You’ve really hit something really, really important.  So much of the industry talks about lead generation.  You might get a great lead but unless you follow-up and convert it it’s still been a waste of your money.  Typically small businesses, because they’re so busy on their business actually lead conversion tends to get really neglected and one of the things we’re passionate about with ReachLocal is really helping clients convert effectively, not just get them leads.

Laurie: Do you also help them manage or improve their repeat business, referral business, are there elements to that once you have a customer.  It’s not just like a one shot deal, you’re bringing them into the fold so to speak?

Sharon: Right.  Well I think we really encourage our customers to use best practices in terms of email marketing and great content.  At the end of the day content really is foundational.  They can set up lead nurturing campaigns within ReachEdge platform.  Our primary focus really is getting them customers.

Laurie: Getting them new business, which in every one of our surveys, is the number one for small business.  What do you think makes ReachLocal really stand out?  There’s a lot of competitors that are pitching similar things, what do you think makes you different especially when it comes to the smaller company?

Sharon: Okay, I think a couple of things.  Number one I think we really are a one-stop digital shop for small business. That’s very important because it’s overwhelming for them to think about dealing with different partners for different aspects of what they need.  The fact that we can deliver the full spectrum is very important.

Secondly, I we bring ten years of expertise.  We have run millions of campaigns so we know what works.  That meld of great technology but with expertise I really think delivers a really great performance and at the end of the day that’s really what matters to our customers is they want to see the results.  They’re spending very important dollars so getting the performance and the results is key.

Laurie: Speaking of dollars the other thing that’s important to them is something they can afford.  A lot of times I talk to them and oh you know it’s really affordable and I ask for pricing and well it’s about $50,000 to get started!  What’s the deal with ReachLocal, how much are they in for?

Sharon: ReachEdge, which is if you like the marketing system and platform that gives you the website and all the marketing automation tools is $299 a month.  After that, what you choose to spend on search engine and display marketing is dependent upon where you are, how many leads you need to generate. Clearly your budget is going to relate to what type of performance you’re looking to get.

 Laurie: But $299 a month is the basic fee to be using the platform, taking advantage of all the automation?

Sharon: Absolutely, and get all of the reporting and conversion tools.

Laurie: Definitely something that most small businesses have in their wheelhouse in terms of affordability. So where can a company go to learn more about ReachLocal?

Sharon: Well you can find us on the web of course, at http://www.reachlocal.com. Or you can call us at 888-644-1321. And because we are a local business supporting local businesses we actually have a presence all over the world so we have over 20 offices across America.  Typically if you’re a small business and you need somebody to come and talk to you to really help strategize with you we have somebody locally.

Laurie: That’s great.  I’m here in your local New York office right now.  Sharon, this has been a great introduction to ReachLocal, thank you very much.  Thank you all tuning in to this SMB Spotlight.

Microsoft Lumia 1520: A Millennial Perspective

A few weeks ago, Microsoft asked me if I wanted to check out the Lumia 1520. Although I’m a long-time iPhone user, I thought, why not? It’s always good to see if there is something better out there.

 Unfortunately, once I got the phone, it seemed like I never had the time to really put it through its paces. Luckily, my 20-year old son, Tyler McCabe (@tyccabe) who is entering his junior year as computer engineering major, was eager to take the Lumia on a weeklong test drive. Since he’s used both iPhones and Androids over the past few years, his take on the Lumia 1520 intrigues me and I hope to try it soon as well!

Hardware

Nokia Lumia 1520 RedThe phone is a sleek device that offers a 16.2×8.5cm screen while only weighing just over 200g. The size may be turn off for an iPhone user because it so much wider, but after carrying the phone around for a while, I felt that the trade off for a larger screen is worth the extra size.

Camera

The camera bulge on the backside was slightly annoying at first, but considering the impressive photo quality, I can deal with this annoyance. With 20 Megapixel resolution, the front camera produces staggeringly clear and detailed photos that very few smartphones I’ve seen can compete with.

Unlike the mid-resolution photos I get on the iPhone 5—which look good on a small phone screen but are grainy when viewed on a proper monitor—the Lumia’s front camera provides crisp, clean views of intricate images regardless of monitor size.

The camera program also offers amateur photographer helpful modes to help optimize picture-taking under different conditions. From bright sunny days to dark nightclubs, the Lumia’s easy to use tools helped me take great pictures to share with friends. The phone also has many built-in visual filters to make “post production” and editing on the fly easy to do well.

Integrated Circuitry and Storage

 The Snapdragon processor in the Lumia 1520 excels at providing quick and responsive feedback when using applications on the phone. For example, when clocked next to an HTC Incredible II and iPhone 5 streaming podcasts over WiFi, the Lumia began playback long before the other two had finished loading. The phone also has exceptional battery life, with a lithium-ion cell that provides me with 24 hours of phone use without a recharge.

The only major hardware gripe I have is the SD/NanoSim slots, which require a Lumia 1520 specific tool to remove and replace these critical components in the phone. What if you lose it? It proved difficult to pry open with a paperclip. Though the unibody design benefits from this choice, the overall inconvenience isn’t worth it. This design lags behind many Android designs for the same function.

Software

Though the original Windows 8.0 was the bane of desktop clients, Windows Phone 8 OS is well suited to smartphones. The Lumia 1520 comes with Windows Phone 8.1, and the user interface was surprisingly intuitive for me and I think would be even the most diehard Apple fans. Some specifics:

  • Getting started with the phone and connected to the Internet over WiFi was easy enough, taking me about five minutes.
  • The email application integrates with top email providers like Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, and other services if the mail server information is known. Emails load quickly and the UI provides a good viewing experience.
  • I was genuinely surprised to see how concise and user friend the Microsoft Office mobile app is. It’s easy to use and the touch screen enhances, instead of inhibits, document editing.
  • You can use 3G or WiFi and the Skype app to make free calls and video calls, and to send IMs.
  • The new mobile office really shines with integration of local phone documents with Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service. This allows users to access their files from anywhere with wireless Internet. Though not a new concept, this feature will bring users of Microsoft’s desktop office suite into the new age of cloud-based and mobile services in an intuitive way.
  • The Excel spreadsheet application offers most of the functionality of its desktop relative, giving users the ability to edit multiple cells dynamically with touch commands and analyze data with a variety of predefined and user-created functions. It also brings chart and graph creation and editing, a useful feature for those looking for quick and easy way to interpret data and share information on the go.
  • One major drawback of the new Suite is the lack of live multi-user collaboration and revision. Unlike its free competitor Google Docs, Office mobile does not offer live editing of documents between coworker. Though document storage is a step in the right direction, many users will find the lack of collaborative features a turn off for the Lumia and Windows phones.
  • A small problem with the ergonomics of the keyboard when typing on the phone in landscape mode is that due to its long body, reaching the inner row of keys can be a strain for those with smaller hands. 

Social Media

Social media is front and center on the dashboard of Windows Mobile 8.0. Unlike IOS or Android where social media apps are discrete and can only be loosely organized, the Windows main screen knits together all of your different social networks together, giving a unified and user-friendly way to manage your entire social presence with the touch of button.

Entertainment

Though work is a major focus for the Lumia, it also offers much in the way of kicking back, for example:

  • The Game store and library on the phone integrates the Xbox Live network with your local library, allowing both diehard gamers and casual players alike to share content across platforms and with friends.
  • The selection of touch-based games appeared to be quite good with favorites like Plants vs. Zombies, and Cut The Rope.
  • Many streaming video options are available right out of the box like Hulu, and AT&T Mobile Video.

Summary

Though the size of the Lumia was initially a major hurdle for me to think that I would be able to use the phone as my main mobile device, the slim ergonomics design won me over. The phone continued to impress me by combining the ease of IOS and the customizability of an Android to produce a polished introductory experience. Further complementing my favorable first impression is the creative UI and graphic design that sent a message of innovation and not that of an old “dorky” business phone (think Blackberry).

Unlike its rivals from Google and Apple, the Lumia and Windows 8 Office suite allow for native support of common business formats like PowerPoint, Word, and Excel spreadsheets. The Lumia renders these files as you’d view them on a desktop with the original aspect ratio.

Though there are a few software tweaks, as discussed above, that could improve the Office suite, the Lumia is a good choice for business people who want a cloud and mobile first approach to applications.

Overall I was quite pleasantly surprised with the week I spent with the 1520, and would consider it a fitting, and possibly even superior option for anyone looking for a new approach in the smartphone market.

How Would You Like to Pay For That? Let the Customer Decide!

baroquon_Add_MoneyA couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present on the topic of key trends in payments and commerce at Sage Summit 2014, Sage North America’s annual customer and partner event. Since getting paid is a top priority for all businesses, the topic garnered quite a bit of interest from small and medium business attendees.

So, I thought I’d share presentation highlights in this post, which discusses the sea change underway when it comes to how people want to shop and transact business, and why it is driving the need for businesses to reframe how they think about payments.

View the presentation above to learn about:

  • Key trends in payments and commerce, including ecommerce, mobile commerce, social shopping, omnicommerce and new types of forms of payments and currencies.
  • What this means for you as an SMB decision maker, and why flexibility and integrating payments with financials and other business systems will become critically important.
  • What you need to think about and plan for in this area, and why taking a more strategic view of payments and help you attract more customers and grow revenues.

And please let me know what you think about this topic! What other trends are you seeing, and how are you thinking about them in terms of your business?

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