New Rules for Tech Vendors: How the SMB Buying Journey Is Changing

So many vendors are interested in selling to SMBs, or selling more to them—for obvious reasons! It’s an enormous market and many areas of the market are ripe for new technologies and solutions.

But over the years we’ve seen so many vendors flail—and even fail—when it comes to successfully reaching, selling and serving SMBs. And its arguably getting even more difficult to be successful as as the SMB landscape changes and more vendors compete for SMB customers.

So we put this webinar together as a  primer to on some of the key dynamics we see in the SMB market, so you can use it as a starting point to fine tune your SMB marketing strategy and tactics. During the webinar, I discuss:

  • Key SMB technology market trends
  • Insights into how the SMB customer technology journey is changing across the exploration, evaluation, selection and service phases, and their new expectations of technology vendors
  • Eight new rules for technology vendors in the SMB market

Please let me know what you think, and any additional observations that you’ve made related to this area!

Building a Successful Corporate Culture: Tips from Glassdoor’s 2014 CEO of the Year

This video interview was recorded on September 16, 2015, and originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight.

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and I’m talking with Rob Reid, CEO at Intacct, who was honored with the Glassdoor CEO of the Year award last year in the small and midsized company category. This is the second part of a two-part video series and in this part, I’m talking to Rob about some of his tips and perspectives on business as someone who’s founded and run a lot of successful businesses, what are some of the key areas that you could focus on to advance your business and get ahead.

Rob:  You know, I a lot of people ask me so, how were you able to create this organization and have a culture that seems to really be working? The first thing I’d pass on is you need to have a really compelling mission. The mission must be customer-centric, and driven by why you’re doing it, not how you’re doing it. When people come to Intacct, most think, oh they do accounting and finance management and ERP and I’m like, no. We’re helping change the world. For instance, we work with the Nike Foundation, and they go on in and help improve women’s’ ability to start businesses in Africa. How does Intacct help empower that? As Nike instituted programs across Africa, they found a lot of inconsistency in the success rate of women starting their own businesses. Intacct has gone in and we broke down village-by-village what was happening. So Nike could see what was working and change their program for higher success rates. That’s the kind of mission we have.

Laurie: Helping companies understand what levers they need to pull to create success

Rob: The other tip, and this seems obvious to most people, but organizations need to hire the right people. It’s like “Ah, yeah, yeah. Hire the right people.” But what you have to do is you have to hone in on the individual’s traits. What we do at Intacct is we look at first, is, are you a customer-centric type of individual? Do you care about others? Do you care about the customer? Do you care about your fellow employees? Do you care about our partners? If people inject in the interview process say, “Well, tell me about my budget responsibility” or “Tell me about how many people are going to be reporting to me” or “Tell me about how fast I’m going to be able to move up in the organization?” they may not fit in.

Laurie: Like “me, me, me”?

Rob: Yeah, this means “No, no, no!.” What we want to hear is, “Tell me how I can contribute. Tell me about how other people here and how they work together to have a bigger meaning.” We also look for people who are just naturally curious. Because if you’re naturally curious, you’re going to attack the status quo. If you attack the status quo, we go back to that other point of trying to improve whatever we’re working on. There are a lot of times where you work hard, and it’s like “Look at what we did!” And we’re like, “That’s great. Now how are we gonna do better?” And they go, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah! Yeah, let’s go do better!” We really try to look at how can we hire the talent that aligns for our mission. Now, what we’ve done at Intacct may not be right for others. But you need to think about what are the traits that you need in an individual in your organization? We’ve found that team players, that are customer-centric and very curious, are the best fit. Intacct has the highest customer satisfaction rating in the whole ERP industry, not just cloud, not just midmarket, according to both G2 Crowd and Entrust Radius. We’re off the charts in comparison to everybody else. I interview every person, making sure that they’ve got the right traits and the right kind of behaviors and the right attitudes. You know, in our industry we’re lucky enough that we have really intelligent people so most people walking through the door are smart, they’re motivated, now are they gonna fit in to be able to take it to the next level?

Laurie:  Culturally. Yes, culture’s really important.

Rob: You know, my son was in crew in college. It isn’t all about just the strength of pulling the oar, it’s pulling it together in unison. If one person hits that water a little bit differently, guess what? The boat starts to go in a different direction. So that’s one of the things that we are trying to achieve at Intacct, is making sure everyone’s pulling together. It’s amazing what you can do when you’ve got a true team all pulling.

Laurie: I’m sure it makes a difference for the customers too, and that’s why Intacct’s customer retention’s so high.

Rob: So there’s another thing that is really important. That’s to have clear, defined goals and objectives. And getting them written down, and mutually agreed upon. It allows you to hold people accountable. When I talk with others and they’re saying, “Yeah you know, it just doesn’t feel like we’re achieving the kind of success we’d like to have.” It’s one of the first things I ask them is, does everybody in the organization have written objectives? Whether it be weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever it might be, whatever’s right for that organization, get it in writing and mutually agreed upon.

Laurie: I love that because I think too many times we all have our own assumptions and we don’t make sure that they’re synced up.

Rob: Right. Then one other thing is that we’re dealing mainly with knowledge workers and they like to be stimulated by more than just work and we really like to have a work life balance. It’s not just work.

Laurie: Hallelujah!

Rob: It’s work and life so we encourage that our employees take time with their families. We encourage that they give back to their community. The organization invests in a lot of different community types of programs and you know, I think that then our employees feel like we’re really, we really do care, which we do. And having an empathetic, caring, curious organization is just a wonderful thing.

Laurie: Rob, these are great perspectives, great insights into Intacct and its culture that other companies can learn from. I really appreciate your time and thank you for talking to me today

Rob: It was super seeing you again, and thank you Laurie.

Automation and Insight: Intacct’s Focus for Dreamforce 2015

This video interview was recorded on September 16, 2015, and originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight.

Laurie: Today I have the opportunity to talk to Rob Reid who is CEO of Intacct, which is a cloud-based financial management solutions company. We’re here at Dreamforce 2015 for this SMB Spotlight. Rob, I’m delighted to be speaking with you.

Rob: It’s a real pleasure. It’s always good to see you.

Laurie: Thanks and likewise! Before we kind of get into some of the specifics of what Intacct is focusing on at Dreamforce, can you provide a quick review about Intacct–who you are and what you do?

Rob:  Sure. At Intacct we deliver ERP solutions for midmarket firms. We focus on being best in class and complementing other best in class applications like Salesforce. So connecting the front office and back office seamlessly is one of the things that we really focus on at Intacct . We’re doing that for midmarket firms that are typically going through a lot of growth that want to automate their processes so they can invest in their mission. You know, so maybe they can hire more engineers, or if they’re a not for profit going on out and really helping the world. We help them eliminate some of the costs of running the business so that they can go and attempt the big things.

Laurie: Yes, helping midmarket companies to automate a lot of backend processes. So how did you arrive at this focus?

Rob: So you know the industry has pretty much segmented for while when we got into the market several years ago. There were solutions initially for enterprise corporations, such as Oracle and SAP. And because there are millions of very small businesses in the United States and across the world, businesses like Intuit went after that arena. And requirements are significantly different between what a large enterprise needs and what an owner/operator needs. But in the middle market, in the past, it was pretty much Microsoft and Sage with offerings there to help those organizations grow and to try to become larger companies. And unfortunately, Microsoft and Sage didn’t migrate to the cloud too quickly. The cloud changes the economic model, it’s a more cost-effective, easy to use type of environment, and enables much better reporting than ever before. So organizations like Intacct went on in to that sector to take advantage of cloud, and it’s been working great for us. We’ve been achieving 40% growth for the last four to five years. We now have 9,000 customers in locations all over the world in every continent other than the Arctic, and it’s just working for these organizations.

Laurie: Here at Dreamforce, you have some announcements or focal points that you’re highlighting here at Dreamforce. Could you talk about that?

Rob: I’d be glad to. At Dreamforce we’re showing Intacct Subscription Billing capability, which allows you to automate the subscription billing practices that you have. So many different industries are moving to subscription billing, they need an adaptive way to do the monthly billing and then connect that from a revenue recognition perspective. So we offer Intacct Subscription Billing, on top of the Salesforce1 platform. It’s totally integrated in with Salesforce, so there’s a seamless flow from the front office into the back office, so you’re accurately billing your customers. In turn, customers are happier, and will pay the bill faster. We’ve tied the revenue recognition requirements in and automated the whole overall process.

Laurie:  You’re absolutely right, even products now are on subscriptions, like on Amazon I have certain things set up for subscription, like vitamins, because I know that I’m going to need them every so often. I think that subscription capability is going to be key for a lot of companies.

Rob:  I’m glad you brought that up about getting your vitamins and other consumer things, but I want to clarify that our subscription billing solution is really focused on B2B type organizations. There are solutions from our partners that do a great job for the B2C area.

Laurie: So you integrate with partner solutions to handle the subscription billing in a B2C environment. Ok, what else is Intacct focusing on here?

Rob: In addition to automation to help organizations take out costs, they need to know exactly what’s going on with regard to revenue and their overall performance. They need to get information to the management team and all the employees about what’s going on in real time. They need empirical data to make both strategic and tactical decisions. If they can see what’s happening, they can spot opportunities and go after them. Or if all of a sudden there’s a new issue starting to bubble, you’ll see it and you can hone in on it. So we have delivered the Intacct Visual Board Book to give organizations the ability to see not just gap performance measures, but the operational measures that go on all the time. In today’s world, many times the operational measures are more important than the gap measures.

Laurie: If you can see where you’ve got either an opportunity or an issue and fix that or address it right away it’s gonna make a big difference.

Rob: Yes, and since we’re here at Dreamforce, there are a lot software companies here, and the change in monthly recurring revenue is actually the most comprehensive way to look at a software company’s health. Looking at revenue from the past, you’re always looking at things in the rearview mirror. When you’re seeing changes in real-time, you know exactly what’s happening. For instance, one of the challenges for most subscription-based software companies is the cost of customer acquisition. Well at Intacct, we’re providing you that information in real-time. Our Visual Board Book it’s keeping track of cash, it’s keeping track of what your customer lifetime value is, all that’s automated and provided visually. Everything is data-driven so that you make the right decisions. So as important as it is to have a financial management system to automate your processes, I think it’s even more important to be able to have the empirical data to make the right decisions.

Laurie: Right, have the insights and get everybody on the same page instead of everybody having a different opinion about what to do.

Rob: You know, you and I have known each other for a long period of time. I’ve been in Fortune 500 companies and I’ve never had more information to make the right decisions than I have right now at Intacct. We use Salesforce, we use Intacct, we use Marketo, we have about 30 different cloud solutions that we’ve integrated in together. We’ve got dashboards on everything and know what’s going on in the real-time.

Laurie: So these capabilities help you grow a business and sustain a business.

Rob: Yes, and that draws us back to that midmarket. According to The Economist, 89% of all the jobs created in our economy since the Great Recession are in the midmarket. The midmarket is driving our economy today. In fact, enterprise level new jobs have gone down 10% since the Great Recession. So we’re helping growth-oriented midmarket organizations take it to the next level. It’s just really an exciting time.

Laurie: We have known each other a long time Rob, and I know you have a lot of experience in business, and you were also honored with the Glassdoor CEO of the Year award last year. I’m looking forward to Part 2 of this interview, where we’ll talk about your management tips for midmarket businesses over and above automation and analytics.

Reduce Effort and Boost Confidence: Infusionsoft’s Goals to Help Small Businesses Improve Sales and Marketing

This video interview was recorded on September 16, 2015, and originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight.

Laurie: Today I have the pleasure of talking to Terry Hicks. I’m used to talking to Terry when he was at Intuit, but today he’s here in his new role as Chief Product Officer at InfusionSoft, which provides cloud-based sales and marketing automation solution for true small businesses. I’m really happy to be talking to you today, Terry, and would like to hear what you’ll be doing in your new role. But before we get into this, you were at QuickBooks fifteen years or so. I’m really curious, you had a really successful role there, so what brought you to InfusionSoft? What inspired the change?

Terry: Well, I think one of the things that inspired me coming to InfusionSoft was really the passion for small businesses. Over my fifteen years at Intuit, I got a lot of personal energy, and felt like I was doing something good in the world, but I decided that it was time to take on a new challenge. Intuit’s a great company, I’ve learned a lot, but I just decided personally I wanted to take on a new challenge. I was very open-minded in what I was looking for, but the things that I wanted was a great group of people, who I really enjoy and trust and feel like I’d want to be in the trenches working with them every day. And an interesting problem to solve, where there is a big opportunity to make a difference. It could have been small business or some other space, but when I met the InfusionSoft team, I really connected deeply both with who they are, and the mission that they’re on. So once that happened, I just said, “Hey, this is the next right place for me.”

Laurie: That’s great. Tell us a bit about your role at InfusionSoft, and what you’ll be doing.

Terry:  InfusionSoft has an all-in-one sales and marketing software for small businesses and I’m the Chief Product Officer. What’s included in my role is the product management team and the design team, and also the payments business and the marketplace. So we’re looking at how we revolutionize all-in-one sales and marketing software for small businesses to make it much more appropriate from an experience standpoint, from a basic use standpoint, and solve these problems in a new and modern way.

Laurie: InfusionSoft, already has over 30,000 small business customers, there are millions of small businesses out there, so is the challenge how do we get to that next level of growth?

Terry:  Exactly. A lot of what we are solving for is multi-system chaos. A lot of small businesses start using many, many tools to try to solve a problem. The may say, let me try this tool or let me try that tool, before really slowing down and starting to think about, what am I trying to accomplish in my business? So a big opportunity for us is to translate the years and years of expertise that InfusionSoft has to what we call the small business success method or life cycle marketing. We can translate that into both the product experience as well translate that knowledge and grow that knowledge through our ecosystem of experts. These expert partners help small businesses get started, and guide them to success with different strategies. That, I think that’s the big opportunity. It’s move more to, what are you trying to accomplish into the process from the start. As we build that into the experience of the product, it means less work for small businesses to achieve success.

Laurie: So if there’s one message you’re really hearing over and over and over again from the customers you see, like to really do this for me, what would that be?

Terry: Customers really connect with the potential benefits of InfusionSoft–such as I’m trying to grow to sales, I’m trying to get organized.

Laurie: Number one in our studies: Grow my business.

Terry: That’s right. And also saving time because small businesses are time starved, they wear all of those hats. So the number one thing is, I love all of those benefits, help me achieve them with less effort, with more confidence. Help me connect to the actions that I should take in my business to achieve those outcomes. So that really what we’re trying to do.

Laurie:  Make that roadmap more straightforward Okay. So what are the biggest challenges to do this. As we all know, software, whether it’s in the cloud or on premise, it can automate things for you, it can take care of things for you, but you still have to spend time getting things set up and configured for your business. So how do you overcome those challenges of really making that more drop-dead easy to use.

Terry:  Well, the number one challenge is when you have an existing base of customers, they’re comfortable with the way things work. And so, as you start to change, even though the benefit is very attractive, it is still reflected as change.

Laurie:  You’re talking about your existing installed base customers?

Terry:  Yes, that’s something we’re going to be very mindful of. The other thing is how do you build confidence? When the experience changes from building something from scratch to selecting from recommendations that are either tailor-made to look like you with your words, or maybe changing the activity a little bit, how do you build confidence that that’s the right thing for your business?. So whether it’s bringing the expertise of other experts into the experience, whether it’s providing reviews and ratings and performance metrics around it, that will be a big challenge because small businesses are skeptical. They don’t want to waste time or money on solutions that don’t work and could actually hurt their business more than help. So building that confidence is a big challenge.

Laurie:  I think we’ve all been there, no matter what size business, of trying things and it ends up to be such a time-sink and then you’re like, “This thing doesn’t work for me anyway.” So what are some ways you might address that challenge? I think a lot of small business owners have been burned already. They spend a lot of time if not money as well, but time is so key and it was just like, “This was just a big waste of time.” How will you circumvent that?

Terry:  Well, fortunately there are many patterns that exist in design that are successful. So just like our customers, we don’t need to reinvent all of those wheels ourselves. We can adopt many of the best practices that are out there in terms of getting started. Another big advantage though, that’s unique to InfusionSoft, is we have a large network of experts who help small businesses every day. Some of those experts actually work at InfusionSoft. So it’s really bringing those people and those personalities into the experience so for the customers who are more self-directed and inclined to analyze the recommendations and adopt them–they’ll be fine. But for the many who have a question mark of “Is this right for my business?” they’ll have more access to experts from the ecosystem of folks who already support InfusionSoft customers, as well as some of the key members of the InfusionSoft team that can help them get over that problem.

Laurie: So you can personalize it to your style and your preferences.  That’s great.

Well Terry, it was so great to see you again and congratulations on your new role. I’ll be looking forward to InfusionCon next March to see how everything’s going and catch up with some of the new things that you’re doing then.

Terry:  I really look forward to catching up with you. I’m sure we’ll have made a lot of progress by then and I’d love to share it all.

Inbound for Everyone Everywhere: HubSpot’s Quest

hubspotUnder the rallying cry of “Inbound for Everyone Everywhere,” HubSpot hosted 14,000 customer, prospects, media and marketing mavens at its INBOUND 2015 customer and prospect event in Boston this week.

At the event, CEO Brian Halligan and CTO Dharmesh Shah had little to say about the recent scandal that involves a manuscript allegedly stolen from an ex-employee, and resulted in the departure of two top HubSpot executives. Instead, Halligan and Shah focused on a slew of new products, and preached the gospel of making sales and marketing more relevant for today’s highly informed, socially connected, always-on customers.

Mapping to the New Customer Journey

free social networkingBack in the day, brands held most of the power, vendors were the power brokers, and marketing was all about the four Ps–product, price, place and promotion. Today, the digital, social and mobile revolution has changed buyer expectations of how vendors should market, sell and service them–and shifted the power to the buyer. With a tap of a smart phone, buyers can get information, ratings and opinions about you and your competitors.

Marketers must evolve accordingly with valuable content, more effective engagements with prospects and customers and a customer-centric experience. Inbound marketing helps marketers realign by moving from a push approach to a content-driven, pull marketing one.

HubSpot’s mission is to accelerate this shift. According to CEO Halligan, human-friendly, empathetic marketing strategies that “create value before trying to extract it out of the system” are key to empowering this evolution. To that end, HubSpot is focused on providing its customers with a system to automate, track and personalize content and engagement.

Of course, HubSpot has plenty of company (practically every other marketing, CRM, sales automation and social vendor in the universe). But to its credit, HubSpot has distinguished itself as an early pioneer in providing inbound solutions for SMBs. In addition, HubSpot has offered many free services over the years to help educate the market, including Website Grader, Twitter Grader, Twitter Grader, Press Release Grader and Facebook Grader. More recently, the vendor has launched free versions of HubSpot CRM and Sidekick, which provides users with pop-up information, such as past contact history, social media content, mutual connections, about their email recipients.

New Solutions to Accelerate the Inbound Movement

HubSpot unveiled several new solutions both for existing HubSpot customers, and for SMBs that are new to inbound marketing. For instance:

  1. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) for HubSpot websites. The “s” in an “ https” URL means that a website uses SSL security to encrypt the link between the website and a browser. Google is advocating for “HTTPS everywhere,” and rewarding sites that support SSL with more favorable rankings. Customers using HubSpot’s website platform can implement SSL in two clicks, for free.
  1. HubSpot Reporting Add-On, to help marketers and sales people “spend more time making the numbers, not reporting them.” For $200 a month, HubSpot Basic, Pro and Enterprise customers get access to a library of more than 20 prebuilt reports, and the ability to build their own custom reports. HubSpot’s Shah stated that the base product delivers “good” reporting, but the add-on is more comprehensive and provides visualization.
  1. HubSpot Ads Add-On. According to HubSpot, 80% of B2B marketers use at least 1 paid channel. Ads Add-On is designed to help customers create ads, manage paid channels, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and calculate returns. The solution works with Google AdWords and LinkedIn Sponsored updates, and is priced at $100 per month.
  1. Predictive Lead Scoring, which is available at no additional charge to HubSpot Enterprise edition customers only, is designed to replace subjective, human lead scoring with algorithmic, data-driven lead scoring base on behavior, demographics, and social and email actions. HubSpot’s rationale for offering this to Enterprise accounts only is that it’s not really a fit for Basic and Pro customers because the solution needs at least 500 customer contacts and 1,000 non-customer contacts to operate reliably, and that it will appeal to more sophisticated customers.
  1. HubSpot Connect, which integrates customer data from different apps together into a centralized system. For instance, you could integrate billing and payments data from FreshBooks, or customer service records from ZenDesk into HubSpot Connect for a more complete and organized view of your customers. Each integration is individually priced. Some are completely free, some require certain tiers of HubSpot and/or the integrating product, and some have an additional fee for the integration.
  1. Leadin, a new freemium offering from HubSpot Labs, is aimed at companies that want to get started with inbound marketing, but don’t have the time or money invest in the entry-level $200 per month HubSpot platform. It provides users with a tool to create a quick pop-up form to collect email addresses from visitors to your website. When they sign up, you get some information to help identify them, such as whether they are a first time visitor. LeadIn then takes all the contacts you capture and puts them in a centralized database. You can use LeadIn on WordPress and other non-HubSpot content management systems. Note that LeadIn offers a simple plug-in for sites, but things are trickier if you have a or other type of site.
  1. New additions to Sidekick and HubSpot CRM, including:
    • Connections, which provides an email graph so sales people can more easily understand the connections they have in an account.
    • Prospects, which helps reps get more information about companies visiting your website.
    • Sequences, a process tool to help sales people follow-up with prospects with automated, personalized emails.
    • Meetings, which preps sales people with notes and timeline of interactions with the prospect before meetings.


If the breadth of new products is any indicator, the departure of two key execs hasn’t appeared to slow HubSpot down in the product development area.

However, the bountiful but somewhat dizzying array of new offerings raises some key marketing challenges for HubSpot. For instance, how will HubSpot:

  • Articulate, differentiate and segment its increasingly confusing solution portfolio for SMBs? SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that “figuring out how different technology solutions can help my business” is the number one technology challenge for small businesses, and the number three challenge for medium businesses (Figure 1). But I noticed that while HubSpot execs talked a lot about serving SMBs, they didn’t talk much how they are segmenting the SMB market. This will be critical to successfully cut through the confusion with most relevant and tailored education, marketing, channels and solutions.


  • Rationalizing pricing and packaging for HubSpot’s paying customers. As I tweeted, it seemed a bit disconcerting that HubSpot users have to pay extra to get more comprehensive reporting capabilities. It will be interesting to see what percentage of the installed based ends up biting on the add-ons that come with a price tag, and if there will be push back here. Meanwhile, predictive lead scoring is only available to HubSpot Enterprise ($2,400 per month) customers. While the pricing rationale makes sense to HubSpot, I’m not sure that it will be that clear to customers and prospects.
  • Monetizing the freemiums. HubSpot has significantly expanded its freemium offerings in a push to create viral entry points that hypothetically will enable it to engage with a broader cross-section of the potential market. However, we didn’t hear much about HubSpot’s strategy and success metrics for attaining and converting freemium customers.

HubSpot continues to do a stellar job in leading the inbound movement, and developing some of the most innovative solutions in this area. Ironically, however, as it grows its portfolio, HubSpot itself now faces some new inbound marketing challenges of its own.

How Well Do You Know The Very Small Businesses That You Want to Sell To?

Technology vendors are increasingly targeting very small businesses (VSBs, with 1 to 19 employees) with their solutions, lured by the sheer size of the market and the relatively low penetration of many technology solutions in this sector.

However, the very diverse, fragmented and volatile VSB market is not for the faint of heart. And all too often, technology vendors operate on assumptions that are truer of the 1% of venture-backed startups than the average VSB. While all sorts of nuances must be considered, understanding the fundamentals is a must to have a good shot of being successful in the VSB market. Take the quiz and find out if you know the basics about what makes the 99% tick!

  1. What do VSBs rate as their top business challenge? (Check one)
    1. Obtaining financing
    2. Attracting new customers
    3. Growing revenue
    4. Improving employee productivity

Slide1VSBs are consumed with growing their businesses and staying afloat. Their challenges center on attracting new customers, growing revenues, improving cash flow and maintaining profitability. Other challenges, such as improving customer retention and satisfaction, and attracting and retaining quality employees are important but pale in comparison to money in, money out issues. If you don’t speak directly to how your solutions can help solve these key challenges, it will be very difficult to get on VSB radar. Score 1 point if you checked b or c; zero for a or d.

  1. What do VSBs rate as their top technology challenge? (Check one)
    1. Transitioning from on-premise to cloud/SaaS solutions
    2. Containing technology costs
    3. Figuring out which solutions can best help my business
    4. Securing company information

Slide2VSBs are confused by all of the technology options out there! They often find it tough to figure out which technology solutions can really help their businesses. Other key tech challenges include: securing company information, containing technology costs and keeping systems up and running. Help VSBs cut through this confusion with clear information about how your solution can help them improve business outcomes–securely, affordably and reliably. Give yourself 2 points if you chose c; 1 point for b or d; and zero for a.

  1. What is the median for VSB annual spending on technology products and services? (Check one)
    1. Between $1,000 and $9,999
    2. Between $10,000 and $24,999
    3. Between $25,000 and $49,999
    4. Between $50,000 and $99,999

Slide3VSB budgets are very tight. Median technology spending for businesses with 1-19 employees is between $1,000 and $9,999 annually. Be realistic about pricing for this market: remember that after paying for essentials (devices, connectivity, etc.) there’s not a lot left over. Score 2 points if you selected a; 1 for b and 0 for c or d.

  1. Who is primarily responsible for IT support in VSBs? (Check one)
    1. No one
    2. Part-time employee(s)
    3. Full-time employee(s)
    4. External/third party contractors

Slide4In 41% of VSBs, no one is tasked with looking after IT! 34% are lucky enough to have an external contractor filling this role, with just 25% having someone on staff to do the job. Solutions must be easy to deploy and very intuitive to use to gain traction in the VSB market. Add 2 points for a; 1 for d, and 0 for b or c.

  1. What do VSBs rate as the most important information source to learn about technology solutions? (Check one)
    1. Social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.)
    2. Webinars/podcasts
    3. Professional advisors/consultants
    4. Web search (via search engines)

Slide5Time to tune up your search engine optimization engine! 49% of VSBs put web search as one of their top 3 information sources. 40% say professional advisors/consultants are one of their top 3 sources. After that, VSB indicate their preferences for technology information varies greatly. Creating a strong presence with the top two information sources is critical, but broad coverage in the others is also key to reach this diverse audience. Give yourself 2 points if you chose d; 1 point for c; and zero for a or b.

  1. What is the top reason a solution gets on a VSB’s short list? (Check one)
    1. Easier to use
    2. Local service and support
    3. Better pricing
    4. Free trial

Slide6Better pricing trumps all, but ease of use is almost as important. 41% of VSBs rate better pricing as one of the top three reasons they put a solution on their short list. If a VSB decision-maker gets even a whiff of sticker shock, they’re likely to eliminate a solution from consideration.

Ease of use comes in at number 2, with 36% of VSBs rating this as one of their top three considerations. From there, other criteria ranking drop into the 20% or below range. Score 2 for c; 1 for a; 0 for b or d.

How Did You Score?

9-11 points: VSB Expert. Congratulations, you are part of the elite group of technology vendors that truly understand VSB realties. You know how to engage VSBs on their terms, and your pricing isn’t likely to give them sticker shock. If we Google “small business” and your solution area, your company probably comes up in the top 3. With continued research, social media engagement, great content to educate customers, a strong stable of partners and influencers, and constant striving to make your solution easy to use, you have the right stuff to compete successfully in this very tough market.

5-8 points: VSB Intermediate: Your knowledge of and comfort level with VSBs is growing. You’re likely to already have a plan, but you need to up your game to rise above the noise and carve out a sustainable, scalable volume play in the VSB market. Team up with influencers and partners who are already strong in the space; join relevant groups on social media; tune your understanding of VSBs with research and 1-1 time onsite with VSBs; sharpen content so that it really resonates with VSBs.

4 points or less: VSB Novice: Congratulations for having the courage to start thinking about whether or not the tricky VSB market is a good fit for your product and/or service. Build your understanding of VSB customers with research, 1-1 conversations at events, joining relevant social media conversations, groups and to get a better feel for VSB behavior, concerns and goals. Study best practices of companies that have been successful in this market, as well as those who have failed. By listening and learning before you launch into the VSB market, you can avoid many of the traps that a novice might ordinarily fall into.

Sage’s Everest: Building Mind and Market Share With A New Generation of SMBs

everestAt last week’s Sage Summit, one of the featured speakers was renowned British explorer, entrepreneur and adventurer Justin Packshaw. Among other achievements, Packshaw spoke about the challenges he and his team of 10 climbers faced to successfully reach—and then descend—the peak of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on the planet.

Watching Sage’s new (as of November 2014) CEO Steven Kelly interview Packshaw, I couldn’t help but think about the uphill battle that Sage has faced in attracting net-new customers to its accounting and ERP software solutions over the past several years. While many rivals were quick to bring innovative cloud, mobile and social capabilities into their solutions, Sage has taken a slower, more conservative approach. As a result, although Sage has done a fairly good job of retaining existing customers, it has struggled to gain mind and market share with new generation of cloud and mobile savvy SMB customers that it needs to fuel substantive growth.

Making the Case for the New Sage

Steven KellyKicking off the event, CEO  Kelly made his case for a newly energized and more engaged Sage. At the 50,000 foot level, Kelly:

  • Pledged Sage’s commitment to “being the best technology company for small businesses,” by providing small businesses with help to run their businesses, give them more control, and help them make the right choices.
  • Positioned Sage at the forefront of the “golden triangle” of accounting, payroll and payments solutions to make small businesses “100% compliant, 100% of the time.”
  • Reiterated that Sage “loves on premises, hybrid and cloud solutions” and will support all of these models to give businesses choice.
  • Vowed that “end of life” is not part of the Sage vocabulary. Sage won’t force existing customers to go to the cloud before they are ready; instead, it will provide pathways and tools that enable customers to control the pace of their migration.
  • Asserted that the term ERP (enterprise resource planning) really means “expense, regret and pain,” and that Sage will also banish this term from its vocabulary (which by the way, got a pretty big round of applause).

All of the above should be welcome news for existing Sage customers, who have stayed the course through numerous changes in Sage strategy, management and products over the past few years. But, it doesn’t offer much in the way of helping Sage attract net-new customers So how will Sage ascent its Everest? 

Sage Live: Poster Child for the New Sage

sageliveKelly’s roadmap for new growth focuses on rapid, global new solution development for next-generation business decision-makers who are already sold on a cloud and mobile first world. Sage One, Sage’s offering for sole proprietors and very small businesses from pen and paper and spreadsheets, is part of this, but Sage Live  (formerly Sage Life) is really the poster child for Sage’s new approach tailored to the “office of the future.” Notably, Sage Live was designed and developed in six months from when Kelly gave the team its marching orders.

Built as a multi-tenant cloud-based accounting solution. Sage Live is aimed  squarely at growing small businesses who need more power than entry-level accounting solutions offer, and want cloud, mobile and collaborative capabilities out-of-the-box. Pricing starts at $30/user/month for full users (such as finance and accounting users) and $15 per user/month pricing for more casual business users. Slated for U.S. release now, and for UK availability at the end of the summer, Sage Live is designed to be a global solution.

The Salesforce1 Shortcut

Sage choose to build Sage Live on Salesforce1, the largest cloud development platform in the world, to gain development and go-to-market efficiencies, including:

  • A rapid development environment and tools to design, build and bring the solution to market.
  • The ability to embed Salesforce1 mobile and collaborative functionality, such as Chatter, directly into the Sage Live solution.
  • An enormous partner ecosystem to add features and functions for specific markets. For example, Kimble PSA announced its integration with Sage Live at the event. With a partner-centric approach from the get-go, Sage Live doesn’t need to become a clunky, monolithic solution.
  • The same look and feel as Salesforce, giving Sage a natural entrée into Salesforce’s 95,000 SMB installed base customers. 

Customer-Centric Design

Salesforce1’s platform also made it easy for Sage to pull in its best small business accounting experts from around the world to collaborate on Sage Live. Sage also involved customers in its early adopter program from the beginning, seeking out non-Sage customers–both owners and those in financial roles—for input.

What Sage heard is that they are spending too much time juggling too many spreadsheets. As their businesses grow, they need better tools to budget and forecast, the ability to look at their business through different lenses, and more collaborative capabilities. They want a “one-office approach” with easy cloud and mobile access to real-time information for all users.

In response, Sage Live’s multi-dimensional accounting engine allows users tag records with geographical, product or other information. Users can then easily pull up different views and reports based on the tags. The solution can also be configured for different role-based views or “scoreboards” giving users just the information most relevant to them.

iwatchEmbedded Salesforce1 real-time social and mobile capabilities make it easy for users to collaborate and share information, ala the “business in the moment” example of Sage Live notifications on Apple iWatch.


New and fast-growth SMBs are increasingly gravitating to the cloud for accounting and ERP. SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that 29% of SMBs planning to purchase new accounting/ERP solutions are leaning toward cloud deployments. Sage Live provides Sage with a much-needed solution to tap into this market, and meet it’s elusive (to date) challenge of attracting net-new business. 

While some have questioned the wisdom of building on Salesforce1, I believe that this was a good choice for Sage. Salesforce1 has enabled Sage to skip the plumbing work and to build Sage Live much more quickly than it could have from scratch. Furthermore, Sage gains exposure to Salesforce’s large SMB customer base, and an entrée to Salesforce’s extensive developer ecosystem.

In addition, while Salesforce customers have many choices when it comes to accounting solutions, Sage Live is the only small business accounting solution native to the Salesforce1 platform (FinancialForce is native as well, but aimed more at the midmarket).

Finally, armed with a true “net-native” cloud solution, Sage can apply its extensive expertise as a volume SMB marketer to the cloud and mobile first SMB segment. Sage is even opening a new Customer Business Center, exclusively dedicated to digital marketing and sales for the Sage Live solution.

However, this is not enough to ensure success. I see a few areas in which Sage will need to double down, including:

  • Creating a clear, constant drumbeat to articulate why Sage Live is different from other Sage and its competitors’ offerings. Getting on SMB radar is hard in a market where so many vendors are vying for customers that have outgrown QuickBooks and other entry-level accounting solutions. And, since SMBs rank “Figuring out how different technology solutions can help my business” as one of their top three technology challenges in SMB Group’s SMB Routes to Market surveys. Sage will also need to provide in-depth education to make it to SMB short lists.
  • Persuade Salesforce to more actively promote Sage Live. From what I gathered at Sage Summit, Salesforce sales reps will refer customers to Sage Live if they want to integrate accounting and CRM. This is a start, but fairly passive. Sage Live needs Salesforce to play a more active role to kick-start consideration and adoption. Sage will be a Platinum sponsor at Dreamforce, and it will be interesting to see how Salesforce reciprocates.
  • Prove that it can expand traction with developer partners. To further validate its cloud direction and ambitions, and to fill in key gaps for critical customer segments, Sage must quickly recruit high-profile Salesforce developers to the Sage Live fold.

Prior to Kelly’s appointment, Sage had been investing in new technologies to modernize its existing accounting payroll and payments solutions for quite some time. But progress seemed to be slow, and it was clear that simply moving existing solutions would not be enough to fuel significant  growth. With Sage Live, Steven Kelly is already operating at a bolder, faster and more aggressive pace than his predecessors to pursue this growth. Now, having proved it can get on the fast track with product development, Sage’s next—and bigger challenge—is to get on the fast track with marketing and sales.


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