Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is the second post in a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. The first, Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 report, Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, offers additional insights into Intuit’s approach.

intuit_blueThe 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 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 Intuit a good fit for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

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Intuit’s Top Technology Game Changers for SMBs

Simplifying business life for small business owners is at the center of Intuit’s strategy. Intuit’s mission is to “consumerize” operational functions such as payroll, accounting and marketing so small businesses can focus more on conducting business and less on business process.

Intuit sees the cloud as critical to enabling this, and it views mobile as inextricably linked to the cloud. QuickBooks Online is Intuit’s platform to let SMBs engage from any device, anywhere, at any time to manage their finances and connect to other applications for additional functionality. Today, most SMBs are managing the business through both mobile and traditional desktop and notebook devices. Intuit’s platform can discover, facilitate and customize identity, relationships and roles depending on users’ choices.

Intuit also views the cloud as the foundation to facilitate collaborative, social engagement. For instance, Intuit’s Demandforce marketing solution lets SMBs synthesize social feeds, comments, ratings and reviews to better serve customers and enhance their brands.

Intuit wants to deliver the benefits of analytics and big data solutions to small businesses through its QuickBooks Online platform. Intuit observes aggregated behaviors across its more than 560,000 users to discover patterns and best practices. Using these insights, Intuit simplifies how tasks get done, and tailors processes for different types of businesses and user personas. This lets users set up applications and perform tasks more quickly and easily, and frees them to spend more time focusing on building their businesses.

Intuit is also embedding analytics into its solutions to help SMBs better understand where they should focus time. This builds more value by providing capabilities to identify trends and act on them. For instance, a dentist using Intuit’s Demandforce marketing solution can see when patients aren’t coming in for biannual check-ups, and set up automated reminders to boost regular visits instead of spending time making phone calls. When mundane tasks are automated, customer centricity can move to the forefront.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior

Intuit sees several major changes under way, including:

  • Rising expectations for a “delightful” experience and total solution: Small businesses want to focus on their business, not on figuring out how to use software—whether in the cloud or on premises. Instead of piecing together product components, SMBs want more turnkey solutions, with capabilities to help them automatically integrate applications, and to connect with customers and suppliers. Intuit’s platform and developer network help small businesses extend the power of QuickBooks through third-party solutions by building data integration directly into their mobile and web apps. Project Harmony is a new initiative to make all Intuit solutions simpler and more “delightful” to use.
  • Trust as an increasingly valuable currency: SMBs want technology solutions validated via “social proof,” meaning that vendors must engage in an authentic, ongoing conversation to develop and maintain their trust. Vendors must augment traditional word of mouth with digital word of mouth. Intuit is building trust in several ways, such as increasing involvement with small business associations, such as ASBDC, SCORE and The Latino Coalition, and Hire Smart, a partnership with LinkedIn to help small businesses improve hiring results. Intuit also recently sponsored the Small Business Big Game contest, awarding a Super Bowl ad to winner GoldieBlox.
  • Better-informed advisors: Small businesses want the accountants and other professionals that help them with business decisions and processes to have a deeper view of their business, industry and other businesses like them. In addition to long-term accounting partner programs, Intuit recently introduced the Innovation Catalyst program to offer partners and customers hands-on training on innovative concepts and techniques.
  • Going mobile: In the future, Intuit believes many small businesses will start with and stay exclusively with mobile, and will expect full access and capabilities to run their businesses via mobile devices. Intuit’s internal development and Intuit Developer Network are focused on providing a seamless mobile experience.

Perspective: Intuit as an SMB Technology Catalyst 

With an installed base of more than 5 million small business customers, Intuit’s sphere of influence is enormous. Although Intuit’s legacy is that of a packaged software vendor, Intuit is now fully immersed in cloud and the mobile, social and analytics capabilities that cloud computing facilitates. QuickBooks Online subscriptions have grown by 30% over the past year—and should beat that growth this year now that Intuit has dropped the price from $19.95 per user, per month to $5—or the price of a fancy coffee. This should also help Intuit fend off recent small business accounting cloud entrants such as Wave and Xero. Intuit’s Developer Network has also bulked up. By connecting more partners and customers into this platform and to each other, small business can more easily reap the benefits of these technology trends.

With thousands of hours logged in “follow me home” visits to see how small businesses really work, Intuit also understands the importance of communicating that technology is a make-or-break business differentiator in the language that small businesses speak. Intuit doesn’t underestimate the hurdles it must jump to communicate this message through its web sites, advertising and influencers so that it resonates more meaningfully with small businesses. Instead of leading with technology, Intuit leads with how to take friction out of managing the business and engaging with customers.

But change is hard—especially in established small businesses, where owners are wearing many hats and juggling many challenges. To get past the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality in the very small business market, Intuit must work doubly hard not only to further consumerize the solution experience, but also to help businesses immediately grasp how new technology solutions can help them make real business improvements.

Disclosure: Intuit is an SMB Group client and paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. The second post, Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Intuit’s approach in the SMB market.

QBconnectLast week, Intuit held its inaugural QuickBooks (QB) Connect event in San Jose. The 4,000-plus attendees included accountants, developers, small businesses, press, influencers and analysts. The agenda included a good mix of updates, announcement and inspiration from an all-star line-up of speakers. Below are my top takeaways from each of these areas.

Turning the Cloud Corner

While newer competitors, such as Xero, have made a lot of noise, they haven’t had much of an impact on the market. Instead, Intuit’s Small Business Group continues on its growth trajectory, especially in the cloud. QuickBooks Online’s U.S. subscribers grew 32% in 2014. QuickBooks is no longer just a U.S. solution, however. Intuit now sells QuickBooks in 124 countries, and has translated the solution into 12 languages. As of September 2014, the company has 705,000 paid subscribers for QuickBooks Online, and a total of 32 million customers worldwide.

cloudIntuit has clearly turned the cloud corner. In 2009, just 5% of new users were online, now the majority opt for QuickBooks Online over packaged QuickBooks products. In addition, 80% of QuickBooks Online customers are new to the Intuit universe, indicating the cloud version is doing a good job of pulling in net-new customers. The event signaled that Intuit will be doing more thought leadership as well, as evidenced by offering entrepreneurs one-on-one speed mentoring by Lean Startup Productions at the event.

Intuit’s QuickBooks Online development platform is also growing. Developer booths were in the spotlight at the event, and hundreds took Intuit’s Hackathon (link() challenge for a shot at winning a chunk of the $100,000 pot. Method:CRM took home the $55,000 grand prize for its Method:Donor app. Payments Cloud by Cloud Conversion, Safety Net by Jobber, and Service Titan won the $15,000 runner-up prizes.

Finally, Intuit’s Accountant Partner Network has always been essential to the vendor’s small business success. Throughout the event, Intuit speakers discussed “the power of we,” and ways in which the company is enhancing Intuit’s QB Accountant Edition to reduce the amount of time accountants need to spend on low-value data entry chores and increase the time they spend providing their customers with strategic business advice (some of which I note below).

Of course, the combination of a healthy pipeline of new QuickBooks Online customers plus a vibrant developer and accountant ecosystem bode well for continued growth.

Sometimes Less Is More

As Intuit CEO Brad Smith noted, Intuit is not focusing on creating more and more features for fewer and fewer small businesses. Instead, the company is looking for ways to make things easier for small businesses. According to Dan Wernikoff, senior VP and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Group said, Intuit’s goal is to “make accounting completely invisible to small business owners.”

To that end, Intuit is plowing much of its R&D budget (which is about 16% to 17% of its revenues) into making its products simpler for small businesses, accountants and developers to use. Key announcements unveiled at the event included something for everyone:

Small businesses:

  • A full-service payroll solution, that handles payroll tax complexities
  • Automatic synching for bank and credit card transactions in QuickBooks Online
  • Easier ways to create reports, such as P&L and balance sheets in QuickBooks Online
  • Ability to accept credit card payments in QuickBooks Online in under a minute
  • A new payments offering that enables invoicing, accepting payments and updating books
  • A new QuickBooks Self-Employed solution to help freelancers, contractors and home-based business to separate personal and business finances

Accountants: 

The big news here was the new QuickBooks Online Accountant edition, which gives accountants the ability to work on their clients’ books anywhere, anytime and provides:

  • Customizable dashboards that provides snapshots of action items and deliverables.
  • Toolbox for one-click access to any client, from anywhere within QuickBooks Online.
  • Books-to-tax integration, so users can automatically push bookkeeping data to Intuit Tax Online.
  • Integration with Box, to give accountants a better, easier way to share content and collaborate with their clients.

Developers:

Intuit is striving to create a “drop dead simple environment” for developers to build and sell their apps. To that end, Intuit introduced:

  • New developer experience, featuring seamless cloud integration, new SDKs, and simpler documentation to make it easier to call on QuickBooks Online APIs.
  • New payments API to allow deep integrations with QuickBooks Online.
  • New Apps.com marketplace to enable developers to reach more QuickBooks customers with their solutions. Over 400 apps are already integrated with QuickBooks Online and available on Apps.com.

Inspiration On Tap

qbconnect speakersUnbelievably (this from someone who attends many events and co-manages a small business!) all the speakers featured at QuickBooks Connect were inspiring and informative. The speaker line-up was very diverse, but one commonality is that all are successful entrepreneurs. You can watch them on demand at www.qbconnectlive.com. Pearls of wisdom were flowing like water, but here are some of my favorites, which I hope will inspire you too! 

  • Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post: Stop wearing “busy” like a badge of honor! It’s not! Success is more than the metrics of money and power. We need health and well-being to be truly successful and happy.
  • Debbie Blox, CEO of Goldieblox, and winner of Intuit’s 2014 Super Bowl ad contest: You need to put yourself out there, and ask for what you need, because it takes a village to create a successful, sustainable small business! Be specific about what you want, and get advisors.
  • Tristan Walker, CEO of Bevel: You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and trials are really blessings in disguise.
  • Martha Stewart, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, reminded us that we need to work really hard to be successful but must be compensated fairly for our hard work, and that once you’re through changing–you’re through!
  • Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary: Find people who share your passion and empower them to break things. The future of business is to upend the unacceptable.
  • Marc Andreessen, cofounder and partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz: There’s a pivot happening with web, cloud and mobile enabling small businesses to use tech more aggressively.
  • Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and NBA legend: Have the courage to say I don’t know everything and to get help! Also, know your customer, serve them well they’ll keep coming back
  • Scott Cook, Intuit Founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee: Every one of Intuit’s successful businesses takes off via word of mouth.
  • Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit: We strive to be the operating system behind small business success.

Perspective

Intuit may have been born in the era of green screens and DOS, but it is now all in with solutions for today’s cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies. However, one thing that hasn’t changed at Intuit is its commitment to helping small businesses thrive. This combination of strengths bodes well for fueling the next era of innovation for Intuit and for small businesses.

Disclosure: Intuit paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

Sneak Peak at Dell World’s SMB Focus


mark horanRecently, I had a chance to talk to Mark Horan, Vice President/General Manager at Dell to learn about what Dell World has to offer for SMBs. Here’s a recap of our conversation. 

Laurie: Hi Mark, and thanks for taking time to provide some color commentary on Dell World. As usual, my focus is on small and medium businesses, so can you preview for me what Dell will be doing at Dell World this year that is geared toward SMB customers?

Mark: Just like we purpose-design solutions for SMB customers, Dell World features speakers, sessions, solution showcases, and networking opportunities for SMBs. Two of my favorite things for SMBs are the User Forum, where customers can deepen their technical knowledge around Dell solutions, and keynote speaker Alexis Ohanian, a New York based entrepreneur who founded Reddit.

Laurie: Why would SMB customers and prospects attend Dell World?

Mark: It’s a world-class event and opportunity to network with and learn from not only other SMB customers but other types of organizations from around the world. The diverse perspectives are invaluable. For customers who rely on technology to grow their business, whether they’re Dell customers already or not, it’s a great way to learn about where Dell is going and how that helps customers achieve their goals.

Dell also recently commissioned an extensive research study that explores how respondents adopt, consume, use and influence technology in four key areas – mobility, security, cloud and big data. The research focuses on mid-sized organizations (100 to 5,000 employees) across the globe), and we’ll be sharing and reacting to the results in numerous sessions at Dell World.

Laurie: How many SMB customers do you expect to attend? Do you have any SMB customers being showcased at the event (Executive Track, Partner Summit, Main Track and/or Ancillary events)?

Mark: We expect over 600 SMB customers joining us for Dell World 2014. SMB customers will participate in all of the Dell World tracks: Executive Summit, Partner Summit, User Forum, and more.

Laurie: What particular SMB solutions is Dell showcasing at the event? Addressing which SMB customer problem areas?

Mark: We’ll be showcasing many of our solutions; ones that I think are of particular interest for SMBs include our SonicWALL network security appliances and management consoles that provide industry leading software-designed protection for facilities of all sizes from small branches to massive data centers; our 13G servers and new SC4020 storage array will also be prominent. Systems like these help customers increase performance, reduce their IT footprint, and maximize the value IT can drive for their business.

Laurie: Are there any ‘birds of a feather’ or interactive sessions specifically for SMB customers at the event?

Mark: Absolutely. My team and I will be hosting a reception on Wednesday evening at Cedar Street Courtyard in Austin for SMB customers, channel partners, and Dell leaders in the space. Any SMB customer registering for Dell World should ask their account team for an invite to the reception.

Laurie: I understand that  the Solutions Expo is a bit different this year and geared more around starting with a customer’s problem, then taking that customer down a specific path to a solution. What kind of path would an SMB customer take for the following problem areas at the show:

Mark: It is a bit different this year. It will help customers self-select the most relevant content for them including:

  • Mobility/mobile workforce Connect Journey to Evolving Workforce
  • Security Protect Journey to Security Deep Dive
  • Cloud Transform Journey to Cloud Deep Dive
  • Big data Inform Journey to Big Data Deep Dive

Other Deep Dive areas include: Services, Software, Internet of Things and Data Center.

Laurie: What makes Dell a good choice for SMBs?

Mark: Dell’s ability to provide industry leading and cost-effective solutions from the endpoint to the data center to the cloud that address key needs for productivity, security, data protection, and analytics is world-class. We architect and deploy these systems for SMBs through a dedicated model for sales and support from both our direct sales teams and our channel partners.

Laurie: Mark, thanks so much for the sneak preview, and see you at Dell World.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Dell.

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, 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

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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.

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