Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 5: SMBs Place a Premium on Protection

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The last of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “SMBs place a premium on protection”

protectionKalynn: Okay, one more question for you. I really wanted to ask you about this particular trend in your report because of what happened with the Sony hack. We talked about the cloud, we’re talking about technology solutions and yet there’s going to be the other side of the fence where people say yeah but once you put everything in the cloud and once you’re connected there you’re leaving yourself open to hackers and any other kind of malicious things that are going on. How am I going to protect my business from them?

Laurie: Right. Buying security and backup solutions and protection from hackers, whatever kind of thing that comes under that data protection umbrella that you could think of. It’s kind of like insurance, until the disaster strikes we’re kind of like oh, do I really need that? Do I really want to spend x amount on that? Again, this is another area where many smaller companies may have bitten off one part of the problem. They may be using something for antivirus and anti-spyware and things like that, but maybe they’re not backing things up in a way that makes sense that’s going to protect them. Maybe they have a kind of spotty device control situation. Yeah, we’ve got all the right security measures in place for our desktops and our laptops, but we haven’t really thought about it for mobile yet, right?

Kalynn: There’s so many parts to the puzzle now.

Laurie: Yeah, exactly, so there’s way more moving parts, there’s the traditional apps and infrastructure, desktops and servers, there’s the cloud apps, social, mobile, and really the other big thing is that your own data and data you may need that is your own business data may reside in more places since it’s on all these devices. How do you control, manage, and protect that and I think some of these big hacks and data breaches and everything else like at Sony and Home Depot, eBay. I just went and Googled 2014 data breaches and it was crazy. You’re never going to prevent every kind of issue in your company but I think it’s something that I would hope at least that more small businesses are going to say hey, we need to at least do a health check on the basics here, on devices, on data loss prevention, on security which will get into spyware, the hacking and all that, and overall disaster recovery. If you do have your own servers what if your building gets flooded in a hurricane? Do you have that all backed up somewhere? I think with these really high-profile things obviously we’re all learning, there’s huge financial, and legal, and brand ramifications if your data isn’t protected. I think that more small businesses will say hey, I have to do a health check here and a sanity check, and make sure my business isn’t going to go down because something is hacked or data is lost or stolen, or it’s just an act of God.

Kalynn: Right. You know, it surprises me. I talk to a lot of IT people, IT digital marketing are good sources of referral for one another so I end up talking to a lot of IT people. It amazes me when they tell me stories about not just individual business owners, but rather significantly sized small businesses or mid-sized businesses that don’t have any kind of backup. They’ve got their own little server farm in a basement somewhere and they think that that’s good enough, that they have control over their data. You really have to stop and think.

Laurie: You have to. I don’t have the statistics off of the top of my head but if you Google any kind of disaster that’s happened, Hurricane Sandy, or anything really. If you take a look at any of these disasters you find an enormously high percentages of small businesses end up going out of business because of the disaster. A lot of times it’s because IT suffered so much damage in terms of losing records, losing customer information, everything you need, all that information you need to run your business.

Kalynn: And it’s all preventable, that doesn’t have to happen.

Laurie: Much of it is preventable. But it is overwhelming to think about, just like a lot of these technology areas but you don’t need to think of it all and do it all yourself because the important thing would be to engage with a local provider or a bigger company that would probably be online then who can help you kind of run through the basics and make sure you’ve covered at least 80%. It’s like the 80/20 rule, you’re not going to probably be able to account for everything but you can probably pretty easily get the most important stuff covered.

Kalynn: And that is very true, and I agree, the 80/20 rule is terrific. I wrote a blog post on it once. I’m such a big believer and there’s so many ways you can apply it. That’s a good way to look at it, rather than let this whole thing overwhelm you as you’re planning for 2015, even if you’ve already written your plan for 2015 go back and look at it and say did I really take into account protecting my data and protecting my customers, and my employees, and my business in general so that should something catastrophic, whether intentional or not, happen, then I’m prepared for that.

Laurie: Even if you’re a very small business and you’re a solo business and let’s say your revenues were around $80,000 but if you were to lose all the information about your customers, about billing, about whatever it is you have that might mean you don’t have any revenues the next year.

Kalynn: Yeah, could you come back from that? So think in terms of the worst case scenario and what would that do to your business?

Laurie: Right, or if you’re not protecting your customers’ information and that somehow gets compromised, your reputation is down the tubes. So in that case it’s not like you’ve lost it but it’s been hacked into and those customers no longer want to do business and don’t trust you.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 4: KPIs Trump ROI and TCO as the New “Show Me” Metric

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The fourth of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Kalynn: Now there’s a very interesting trend that I want you to talk about and that has to do with key performance indicator (KPIs), that versus return on investment, ROI, because in digital marketing the thing that small business has been saying all along about social media is, “but what’s the return on my investment? If I pay a company to do this how soon am I going to be on the front page of Google? Or how often is my phone going to ring?” Those are very hard things to determine and they’re very hard things to track quite often because a lot of what goes on in digital is similar to networking. What’s the ROI of networking? I don’t know. So talk to me about these key performance indicators versus return on investment.

Laurie: I think historically, the vendors anyway, in white papers and other kinds of educational collateral, have tended to focus on proving that their solutions can return value via these return on investment type of models and analysis, which honestly are kind of complex and very big picture. You have to factor in everything to an ROI. Likewise there’s another thing called a total cost of ownership calculation where you have to figure out all the money you invested for a solution and how much that solution is going to cost you over let’s say a five-year period. The assessments and metrics, while they can be a bit beneficial, they’re usually kind of vague and they’re very dependent on nuance measurements.Honestly, I’ve yet to run into very many small and medium businesses that every do any kind of ROI or TCO calculation at this big picture level because they’re very complicated to do, and time-consuming.

So what we’ve been seeing is there’s something that most companies have been measuring for years, whether or not they call it KPI, but key performance indicators. These are more discrete metrics. Some of them are general, for instance, what’s the time it takes to close your financial books, right? Probably most companies have that function because hopefully they’re making some money and they have to close the books. Are you doing that with a shoebox full of stuff or are you doing that with Excel, or are you doing that with QuickBooks, how are you doing that, what’s your process, and how much time it’s taking you is a key performance metric.

Then there are also metrics that are also very industry specific. For e-commerce we might want to measure things like conversion rates, what is our rate of visitors to the website that actually convert into paying customers? A nonprofit might want to measure the number and increase in donors and the average contribution per donor. There are a lot of different KPIs, the nice thing about KPIs is that they give small and medium businesses more specific very actionable insights on business performance so they can see where they’re doing well and kind of measure and monitor where they need improvement. What we’re seeing is a lot of vendors starting to kind of cater to this more specific measurement requirement and giving small and medium businesses more information about the kind of metrics and benefits that existing customers are getting for their key workflows and business processes.

I think if you’re contemplating any kind of new business solution it really makes sense to seek these out to really understand okay, what were the specific areas of the business solution impacted, and how, and by how much, how much time did it reduce? If it was a revenue metric how did it affect revenues? If it was a conversion rate what was the number or the percentage of new customers that are converting? How did that change that? Repeat customer sales, whatever it is, but I think this more discreet metric is a good way to go for small business because I think it will give you a lot more actionable information and the solution is going to give you the kind of results that you’re going to need.

Kalynn: They seem much more concrete for small businesses. If it’s the kind of thing that you can put on an Excel spreadsheet every month and track and see a trend line that’s either going up or going down then you feel that you have some sort of control over it. Was it Peter Drucker? Who said that if you’re not measuring it then you can’t do anything about it? One of those business gurus, right?

Laurie: Yeah. I remember that quote.

Kalynn: It was something like if you’re not measuring something then how do you ever expect to be able to change it because you don’t really know what’s happening, anecdotal stuff is not going to help you.

Laurie: As a matter of fact a lot of the vendors we’ve been talking about are using analytics to build in these reporting capabilities to help you see those metrics in your own business, more easily. They are kind of taking that oh I’ve got to be a data scientist out of the equation so the rest of us can understand what’s going on in our business. For instance, Intuit is providing a service where you can benchmark yourself against other companies in your industry on some of these KPIs. For instance if you’re a salon and spa owner in the northeast you can say this is kind of what my customer retention rate looks like, repeat business or up selling, selling product with the service, whatever you want to measure. Then you can also opt in to get aggregate information from people with similar businesses. So you can see am I ahead? Am I behind? Then focus on the areas that you need to improve.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 3: SMBs Reinvent Marketing for the New Buyer Journey

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The third of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey.”

business abstractKalynn: Talk to me a little bit about marketing, small, midsize businesses and marketing for the new buyer journey.

Laurie: I know this topic is near and dear to your heart. Basically this one came out, we just did a report, about a 50 something odd page report looking at about eight different marketing automation vendors and how they’re seeing marketing change, the techniques and tactics and strategies, what’s changing and why is it changing, what do SMBs need to be paying attention to so they stay ahead of the curve. A lot of things that go into this big bucket of what’s changing in marketing. I think to me the umbrella is really the way people buy stuff, whether it’s a B2B world, business to business buying, or B2C, business to consumer buying experience it’s really changing. I don’t have specific statistics in here but basically what is happening is between the internet and social media and mobile and everything else we are looking at and getting input from so many more sources along the way before we decide what to buy and where than every before.

Kalynn: The consumer is so far down the funnel before they ever actually talk to the business that they end up buying from.

Laurie: Exactly, so there’s all these touch points. What does that mean for small and medium business? Well it really means that by the time that buyer gets you, whether it’s a consumer or business buyer they’re already pretty well-educated, they have a lot more information and they’re coming in at different points. It’s very important for you to get them as a business the right information at the right time in that journey. For instance, originally for some customers you may have very low awareness with some of the customers you’re trying to target. You have to figure out how do I raise awareness and what channels do I need to be in to raise that awareness. For others they’re further along so what are the things you need to do for them and where and how do you need to market to them? Even when people are customers what should you be doing to make sure that they continue to see you as a place to buy whatever goods and services you offer and come back, and then hopefully eventually become customer advocates for your business.

Kalynn: All of that sounds overwhelming for a lot of small businesses, but there are methods that you can put in place to do some of the work for you so that you’re not physically having to stay on top of all that.

Laurie: Exactly. Traditionally each of us in small and medium businesses we’ve relied on point solutions, like maybe we have an email marketing solution, maybe we’re using a social dashboard like HootSuite. We’ve been doing probably a few things and trying to piece them together to address this, like what you said is a very complicated and more complicated every day kind of challenge. What we see is that SMBs that say gee, I need to take a more integrated approach to marketing and look at how they can move from the point solutions to the solutions that really help you monitor and manage and create content along every stage of the marketing funnel. Those companies are going to get tremendous benefit because they’ll be able to automate a lot of manual processes, have the information integrated so they can be smarter about the customer experience and how they may need to adjust. Basically be well positioned to take advantage of things as mobile and social and other kinds of technologies like analytics continue to be available to help them do a better job marketing.

Kalynn: Yes, and while it’ll be a lot of work upfront, and you won’t get it all right, you’ll get some of it right and you’ll get feedback, you’ll discover things along the way, but the more of that work you do upfront the more it’ll seem like magic for your customer. They’ll really appreciate that.

Laurie: Exactly, and I know most of your audience is small business, right?

Kalynn: Yes.

Laurie: One of the other things in this report, a lot of vendors say they focus on small and medium businesses, well that can run the gamut from companies that focus, they have marketing automation solutions and they try to focus on companies with under 25 employees, like an InfusionSoft or ReachLocal to companies like SMB and that can go up to companies with 2,500 employees. So you don’t get intimidated you really want to do a little homework and figure out which ones are really in my wheelhouse because SMB is used pretty indiscriminately by vendors, there’s no one standard definition.

Kalynn: Yeah, that’s true.

Laurie: Before you spend a lot of time investigating the solution, time is money for all of us, make sure the ones you are looking at are really designed for a true small business.

Kalynn: That’s a very good point.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here.

 

 

Discussing 2015 SMB Top Tech Trends, Part 2: The Internet of Things (IoT) Comes Into Focus

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The second of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus.

the-internet-of-things-300x210Kalynn: Now I would like you to talk to me about the Internet of things. First of all not everyone will have heard that term so describe what that means and what it means to us as businesses.

Laurie: Exactly. Internet of things is really interesting, and you’re right, a lot of people have no idea what it means and even if they have some kind of glimmer of an idea that’s kind of where it stops. The IT vendors out there and the prognosticators have been forecasting very big growth, or intelligent connected devices of all types, so think anything from Apple Smart Watch or Google Glass to sensors and manufacturing equipment or maybe you’ve heard of these smart parking meters. The whole idea between internet of things is that you can have these devices kind of seamlessly connected, and you as a user, you don’t have to necessarily do anything but the device is doing something for you. An easy to understand example is something called Tile, which is a little thing you clip on or paste on to your keys or your glasses or something like that, and when you can’t find those things you can get a signal from that tile as to where they are.

Kalynn: Oh that’s brilliant. I hadn’t even heard of that.

Laurie: Kalynn, it’s probably a must for us Baby Boomers, right?

Kalynn: Wow. I have a husband and three sons. Of the four of them, three of them lose their stuff all the time.

Laurie: You know, I really think, obviously for Baby Boomers this is probably going to be a huge hit, right?

Kalynn: Yeah, I love that idea.

Laurie: They’re inexpensive. I’m trying to think, I think they’re like $24.99 or something, but it’s a great way to find your stuff.

Kalynn: Now you know what? I’m even thinking that you could attach this to your dog or cat’s collar or to a tag?

Laurie: I don’t know what the limits are, but it’s pretty much designed for the stuff that we misplace, but I guess our dogs kind of misplace themselves.

Kalynn: Especially cats, they like to hide and you don’t know where they are.

Laurie: This is just kind of just starting to really spark imagination in the consumer end of things. People are starting to get an idea of things like this and smart watches, and FitBits, those are another smart device, right? But I think a lot of small, medium business owners, they say well what does that have to do with my business? I don’t get the business case for me, right? We’re starting to see some use case scenarios come out that I think just like Tile or FitBit does in the consumer space bring this into better focus to have people start getting more ideas about how they could use internet of things.

For instance, a couple of the examples I mention in the report are RFID, Radio Frequency Identification, which has been used in logistics and packaging and all that kind of thing, distribution for a long time. It’s usually been used in kind of closed loop systems for more high value goods because it hasn’t been necessarily easier and cheap to implement. With internet of things technology it will really bring down the cost and make it more practical let’s say for a small retailer to use it so they could track everything with devices that would be in concept very similar to something like Tile with RFID capabilities that would give them better inventory accuracy, if something is purchased in the checkout it would deplete the supply by one, and also of course help them reduce theft. Another idea I like is this whole idea of beacons. Not only could you use beacons in stores, beacons are like indoor positioning systems that communicate directly with the smart phone or other computing devices via computer.

Somebody was telling me the other day about a trucking company that is installing beacons. They have a fleet of about 100 trucks and the beacons are set up to monitor all kinds of things like fuel, mileage, and when maintenance is due and inspections are due. This can really help this company reduce their vehicle downtime and cut costs. I think we’re still very early going but I do believe in 2015 we’re going to see a lot of examples of SMBs putting Internet of things to work and getting value. I think one of the neat things about it is that with the Internet of things you as a user, once you deploy the solution, you don’t have to do much. For instance in that trucking example, the trucker doesn’t do anything, this thing is just hooked under the dashboard and that’s that. You don’t have to worry about user adoption and will the user learn to use it and like it and all that. I think at the end of the day this could be a really great area for small businesses. The trick will be a lot of this will probably be industry specific, so you have to see what are other people in my industry doing and that might help a lot of small businesses get good ideas.

Kalynn: You’ve already got my brain sort of turning because the trucking example reminded me, I have a car for the first time that has OnStar. People have either owned that kind of car or they’ve seen commercials on TV but the OnStar system sends me emails when my oil life had reached a certain level in the car. It sent me an email and said you really need to change your oil and stuff like that. I’m realizing that there are certain kinds of small businesses like HVAC contractors and businesses of that nature. It helps them, not just when someone has an emergency and they need you to come in, or you get a big project and it’s one time construction, but it’s the maintenance of people’s systems.

Laurie: Maintenance of anything really, vending machines, whatever, it just holds huge potential to change the way you get information about devices so you can service them.

Kalynn: You can be proactive.

Laurie: Yes, keep them shipshape.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 1: Cloud is the New IT Infrastructure for SMBs

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The first of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs.”

White Clouds in Blue SkyKalynn: Welcome, this is Kalynn Amadio and you are listening to ACT LOCAL Marketing for Small Business, and I want to introduce you to a previous guest of the show. I can tell you that Laurie’s previous podcasts were some of the most downloaded in this show’s history. Laurie, I’ll have to look up how many downloads you have altogether, I haven’t done that in a long time, it’s always fun.

Laurie: Hi Kalynn, great to talk to you again too.

Kalynn: I’ll tell you, I mentioned that the couple of other interviews you’ve done with me, because Laurie always looks into her crystal ball and tells us what is on the horizon, what can we be thinking about, and people must really like this Laurie because they download those two podcasts that have predictions more so than many of the other interviews that I’ve done over the years, so kudos to you.

Laurie: Thank you Kalynn, that’s great to hear. We try to put these technology trends into a language that us mere mortals that are not necessarily technologists can understand and relate to in terms of our businesses.

Kalynn: It’s important to have some smarty-pants people like you looking at all this stuff and making it understandable for the rest of us. Now you have a report that’s going to be coming out soon that are the small and medium SMB groups, Top Ten Small and Medium Business Technology Trends for 2015. We won’t have time to go through all ten of them but I have cherry picked half of them that I’m hoping that we will get through because several of them will impact local businesses, small businesses, a lot of the baby boomers that I deal with and marketing related things. The first one I want to ask you about is the cloud, right? A lot of businesses still get confused about what that means. I can’t tell how many times I’ve had to explain what the cloud actually is, but tell us about the cloud as the new IT infrastructure for small to mid-size businesses.

Laurie: Okay, fantastic. Our first prediction, as a matter of fact, is that cloud is the new infrastructure for SMBs.   What we’ve seen over the years, and believe it or not, this concept of cloud computing has been around since really the late 1990s, but it kind of got off to a rocky start for a lot of reasons that we don’t really need to go into in detail. Suffice it to say that maybe in the beginning the concept was a little ahead of its time in terms of the available technology and network bandwidth and things like that. We’ve basically seen cloud really take off in the last few years, especially since the recession. Interestingly what we’re finding is the cloud is definitely enabling a lot of smaller companies that no way no how could they have ever been able to implement a lot of different technology solutions on their own. The cloud is kind of leveling the playing field because they don’t have to have in-house technology expertise to deploy these solutions. We’re really seeing in our research more and more small businesses believe very strongly that technology solutions help them improve their business outcomes or run their businesses better. The cloud has really been a way for these guys to get those solutions that can really help them fulfill their business goals without having a lot of IT staff.

Kalynn: When you talk about cloud IT solutions, give us some household names.

Laurie: There are a million of them. You now have QuickBooks Online, Intuit QuickBooks Online, which has now I think probably 750 or 800,000 customers are running QuickBooks online. That’s something obviously kind of a household name for small businesses. Also vendors like Salesforce.com, InfusionSoft, or ReachLocal, which has a great marketing automation solution for local businesses. There are lots of them virtually in every solution category. Most of us are already using cloud-based email solutions for using Gmail or Office 365 or something like that. Really almost every single category of applications is now available in the cloud. What we see in our last survey that we did in 2014 earlier this year is that 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution which is the kinds I just mentioned, like accounting, marketing and sales and things like that. 87%, almost as many, are using at least one cloud infrastructure solution. That could be for security, or backup, or file sharing like DropBox and Box.net, and things like that. We really see small and medium businesses it is already mainstream for them, but a lot of them are only using maybe one or two. I think as these businesses really see the benefits of automating parts of their businesses with technology and have a good experience with cloud solutions we’re going to see that cloud expansion rise even further. There really aren’t a lot of barriers to adopting a cloud-based solution.

Kalynn: Right, and it really saves you in your budget because you don’t have to maintain any of this infrastructure or these types of software yourself. They’re so helpful.

Laurie: It’s really helpful. One of the big sticking points for cloud is that while it reduces a lot of the technology barriers, it hasn’t helped a lot of small businesses in terms of reducing business expertise barriers. In other words, you may have a very successful business but you yourself may not be an accounting expert or a marketing expert, or whatever, but we’re starting to see especially in what I would call some of the newer cloud solutions more expertise built-in and more kinds of hand holding services provided, and a big emphasis on user experience, creating a user experience that makes it much easier for people that aren’t subject matter experts to understand how they can most effectively use the solution in their business for better marketing, accounting, or whatever.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Slide Show Version! SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Tech Trends for 2015

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015 in slide show format!

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015

crystal ball

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015! A more detailed description of each follows below.

(Note: SMB Group is the source for all research data quoted unless otherwise indicated.)

  1. Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs.
  2. SMB IT staff and channel partners evolve into cloud managers.
  3. SMBs recalibrate IT strategy and spending for a mobile world.
  4. The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus.
  5. SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey.
  6. KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric.
  7. Analytics gets SMB-friendly with “bring your own data” and freemium offerings.
  8. It’s time to reimagine work.
  9. SMBs place a premium on protection.
  10. SMBs opt for an incremental, integrated solutions approach.

Detailed SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015

  1. Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs. SMBs increasingly view technology as a key business enabler. According to SMB Group research, 67% of small businesses (1–99 employees) and 81% of medium businesses (100–999 employees) say that technology solutions help them improve business outcomes or run the business better. However, most SMBs don’t have the resources necessary to keep pace with technology on their own. Just 19% of small businesses employ full-time dedicated IT staff. And while 86% of medium businesses have internal IT staff, they are typically IT generalists who lack expertise in newer technology areas such as mobile and analytics. As SMB requirements for fast, easy access to new social and mobile analytics solutions, more compute power and storage, and other services have been increasing, cloud adoption has boomed—with 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution and 87% using at least one cloud infrastructure solution. In 2015, cloud solutions are poised for hockey stick growth as more SMB decision-makers turn to a cloud-first approach that not only supports existing business models, but also enables them to develop innovative new products, services and business models. Public cloud adoption will continue to significantly outpace that of private cloud, but more medium businesses in particular will consider a hybrid cloud approach, particularly in industries and applications where security and privacy are top concerns.
  2. SMB IT staff and channel partners evolve into cloud managers. As the cloud becomes mainstream, both internal SMB IT staff and external channel partner roles will evolve from implementation and break/fix support to become more proactive and strategic. SMBs will look for staff and channel partners that can work with line-of-business decision-makers to better align technology investments with business goals, select best-fit solutions and manage cloud service providers. Internal IT staff and channel partners will also need stronger integration expertise to help SMBs get more value from their technology investments. Channel partners will need to cultivate consultative selling and adjust staffing skill sets accordingly. SMB decision-makers will seek help to better understand and articulate new skill-set requirements, and to hire and/or contract for these needs. They will be hungry for thought leadership from SMB vendors, analysts and other influencers.
  3. SMBs recalibrate IT strategy and spending for a mobile world. A growing majority of SMBs now regard mobile solutions as essential business enablers, with 60% saying that mobile solutions are critical to their business. 86% of SMBs agree or strongly agree that mobile apps are a complement to traditional business applications, and 71% believe that mobile apps will replace some traditional solutions entirely. Mobile solutions also account for a growing share of SMBs’ technology budgets. SMB median spending on mobile technology and solutions as a percentage of total technology spending rose from roughly 12% in 2013 to 16% in 2014. Mobile service and device costs still account for the bulk of SMB mobile budgets, but SMB spending in other areas is rising as a percentage of mobile spend. On average, in 2014, SMBs spent 11% of their mobile dollars on apps, 9% on security, 11% on mobile management and 8% on consulting. Planned increased investment in mobile apps and more diverse mobile devices will necessitate a spike in mobile management adoption as well.
  4. The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus. IT vendors and prognosticators have been forecasting explosive growth for more intelligent and connected devices of all types. However, many IoT scenarios have been cast in a consumer light, such as smart watches and Tile (a locator for items such as keys and glasses), and the IoT vision has been fuzzy for many SMBs. In 2015, however, early but compelling use-case scenarios and solutions will emerge, leading more SMBs to the “aha” moments required to spark adoption. For instance, radio-frequency identification (RFID) has been used in logistics to track pallets and crates for some time, but mostly in closed-loop systems for high-value goods. IoT will help reduce RFID costs, making it more practical and appealing to retailers to use in order to help improve inventory accuracy, automate customer checkout and reduce theft. Beacons, which are indoor positioning systems that communicate directly with smart phones via Bluetooth, provide another compelling SMB use case. For example, a network of in-store beacons can identify the location of customers in a store and send them push notifications. Or, a trucking company could install beacons to monitor the state of its trucks, provide more timely maintenance, reduce vehicle downtime and decrease costs. Once SMBs understand use cases more clearly, IoT will hold great appeal because it is mostly invisible to end users, which negates adoption issues, and it provides real-time data for better decision-making and better business outcomes.
  5. SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey. The buyer journey is evolving rapidly and includes many more touch points than ever before. SMBs must transform their marketing approach to connect with more prospects and customers, and to provide them with the right information at the right time in the buying journey. Although many small and even medium businesses rely on point solutions, more will turn to an integrated marketing approach. In 2014, 20% of small businesses and 25% of medium businesses had purchased/upgraded to a marketing automation solution in the past 24 months. Meanwhile, 22% of small businesses and 26% of medium businesses plan to purchase/upgrade a marketing automation solution in the next 12 months. More SMBs will realize that choosing the right marketing automation solution is one of the most important technology decisions they will make, particularly as cloud, mobile, social, analytics and other technologies continue to transform the buying process.
  6. KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric. Historically, vendors have tended to focus on proving solution value through return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis and metrics. But these assessments and metrics, while often beneficial, are frequently too vague and/or too dependent on nuanced measurements to be compelling for SMBs. In comparison, key performance indicators (KPIs) can provide SMBs with specific, actionable insights on business performance and what areas need improvement. With so many vendors fighting for SMB dollars, SMBs will increasingly seek out those that help them understand what KPIs are most relevant for their business and industry, and those that provide credible, specific metrics about how their solutions affect these KPIs.
  7. Analytics gets SMB-friendly with “bring your own data” and freemium offerings. Most SMBs don’t have data analysts on staff. These businesses often are intimidated by analytics solutions, which have traditionally been expensive, complex and difficult to use. But cloud computing, better user interfaces, visualization tools, improved algorithms and natural language capabilities as well as a growing number of freemium offerings designed for business decision-makers—not data scientists—are poised to change this. For instance, IBM’s Watson freemium offering allows users to bring in data from many sources, and it has capabilities that reduce data preparation and loading time, including a “fix it” button to repair data quality issues. Once data is plugged into Watson, users can query in natural language to analyze information. As more solutions designed for people with little or no data preparation and analytics skills emerge, analytics will become more consumable for SMBs.
  8. It’s time to reimagine work. Whether you prefer the hashtag #futureofwork, #newwaytowork, #reimaginework or something else, it’s clear that change is on the horizon. Processes, tools, attitudes and behaviors are shifting as mobile, social, cloud, analytics, IoT and other technology advances take hold in SMBs. Likewise, demographic shifts are reshaping the makeup of SMB workers as well as their expectations of what technology should do and how it should do it. For instance, millennials and digital natives are rising through the workforce ranks, while baby boomers are starting to retire or move to part-time work. Meanwhile, the ranks of temporary and contract workers continue to grow. The National Employment Law Project found that temporary help agencies, staffing agencies, professional employer organizations and employment placement agencies fill 2.5% of all jobs, up from 1.4% in 1990. In addition, easy-to-use consumer apps and devices have raised the bar for user experience in the business-to-business (B2B) world. This changing mix of resources, behavior, attitudes and requirements will lead more SMBs to seek better, easier and more affordable ways to access, evaluate, buy and get productive with technology solutions. Vendors that understand and plan for this evolution, provide clear solution value and make SMB customers feel that they are part of a strong ecosystem will have a decisive edge as this trend unfolds. Providing easy access and free trials, clear messaging, a delightful user experience, superior support and vibrant user communities will be key to tapping into this trend.
  9. SMBs place a premium on protection. SMBs are already using basic security and backup tools. However, our research shows that most use point solutions that only tackle part of the problem. The use of more comprehensive solutions to protect and manage data is still far from the norm. But greater reliance on technology, an increasing number of “moving parts” (traditional apps and infrastructure, cloud, social, mobile, etc.) and the need to manage data no matter where it resides necessitate better security, control and management capabilities. SMBs need only turn on the news to understand the financial, brand and legal ramifications of data breaches at large companies such as Sony Pictures, Home Depot and eBay. As awareness rises, SMBs will place a premium on more comprehensive solutions from vendors that offer proactive guidance, deeper expertise, stronger service-level agreements (SLAs) and 24/7 support for an always-on world.
  10. SMBs opt for an incremental, integrated solutions approach. New cloud, mobile and social solutions have made it easier for SMBs to access and use new applications, but they have offered little help with integration. Although 63% of SMBs have partially integrated some applications, 79% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code for integration, which underscores the severity of the problem. SMBs typically lack the expertise and resources to manage the entire integration process, and they need solutions that both encompass and better integrate cloud, mobile, social, analytics, security and other technologies. However, SMBs don’t want—and can’t digest—monolithic solutions. Vendors need to accommodate SMB integration requirements with a LEGO-like approach that enables SMBs to acquire only what they need at a given point in time, and then to add on new capabilities (their own or those of partners) with as little friction as possible when new needs arise. Although integration remains one of the toughest technology nuts to crack, we see new hope. Open ecosystems, embedded integration capabilities and stronger APIs should help pave the way, as should toolsets designed to help non-technical users to configure integrations without coding if they understand business integration workflows and requirements. Built-in collaboration and social communities to help users crowdsource information, find experts and share and/or sell integrations will also be key to making SMB integration a reality.

About SMB Group

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is composed of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group’s areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services, and Green IT.

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