Vote for Your Top 2010 SMB Technology Market Predictions

Fellow SMB analyst Sanjeev Aggarwal published our top ten SMB technology related predictions–plus three bonus predictions–here yesterday. But hey, it’s all about the wisdom of crowds–and we want to know what you think. Vote here!

2010 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

Fellow SMB analyst Sanjeev Aggarwal and I have teamed up to bring you our top ten technology related predictions-plus three bonus predictions–for the SMB (companies with 1-1000 employees) market for 2010. Details for each prediction follow the list below.

Remember to vote for your top prediction here!

2010 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

1. Pent Up SMB Demand Will Be There—But Won’t Be Easy to Capture

2. SMBs Accelerate Their Shift to Digital Marketing Media

3. The Collaboration Battle Heats Up

4. The New Face of Small Business

5. Savvy SMB Vendors Get Strategic About Social Media Analysis

6. SMBs Drive the Mobile Internet Tsunami

7. Virtualization Boosts Cloud Computing Adoption

8. SMBs’ Appetite for Managed Services Grows

9. Beyond Excel—Targeted Workflow and Analytic Tools Takes Flight

10. 2009 Acquisitions Drive New Value for SMB customers in 2010

Bonus Predictions

1. Time to Get Paid for Selling a Free Lunch

2. Vendors Scramble for SMB Developer Loyalty—and New Integration Needs Arise

3. SaaS Computing Lifts Off in New Areas

Top Ten Predictions

1. Pent Up Demand Will Be There—But Won’t Be Easy to Capture. In 2010, as the economy comes out of recession, SMBs will be more willing to spend again, but only for solutions that will provide demonstrable bottom and/or top line business benefits. SMBs will spend only if they believe that the investment will help them operate more profitably, grow revenues, increase productivity, save money or gain time-to-market advantages. SMBs are also evaluating and making trade-offs in areas that offer strategic, long-term advantages vs. those that meet more urgent, short-term needs. In many cases, IT investments must also be weighed against requirements for other core goods and services essential to the business.

To have any chance at making the final cut, vendors will need to redouble efforts to illuminate their value proposition in a clear and compelling manner, and provide more quantifiable evidence that their solutions will help slash costs, increase productivity and provide payback value. Time-strapped SMBs will also increasingly demand that vendors be easy to do business with—heavily favoring vendors that offer an accessible, transparent and positive sales experience from discovery through purchase.

2. SMBs Accelerate Their Shift to Digital Marketing Media. In 2010, SMB adoption of digital marketing media will accelerate, as more SMBs turn away from traditional media (yellow pages, print, direct mail, etc.) and towards social networking (e.g. Facebook and Twitter), email marketing, search engine marketing, blogs, forums, etc. As SMBs become more familiar with the basics, they will seek out solutions that help them streamline and integrate customer interactions across multiple digital venues. Prime opportunities include more specific, tailored search optimization and management services.

Examples include Lotusjump, designed to help retailers and etailers optimize organic search for hundreds or thousands of products; Yodle, aimed at helping services businesses create an integrated Web site and SEO campaign to drive foot traffic and make the phone ring; and WebVisible, which helps local businesses create more effective online marketing and advertising campaigns. Another sweet spot will be services that help SMBs manage and integrate inbound and outbound social media streams, along with more structured digital marketing tools, such as SEO, SEM and email marketing. Vendors such as Cloudprofile and Hubspot offer such capabilities now, with Salesforce.com’s Chatter slated for the second half of 2010. With the market getting more crowded and noisy by the minute, however, vendors will need to avoid overloading SMBs with techno-babble, and focus instead on providing SMBs with an exceptional user experience and measurable business benefits.

3. The Collaboration Battle Heats Up. In an age of information overload, SMBs need better collaboration tools, integrated with daily workflow, to bring order to the chaos. SMB decision-makers and employees are reaping the benefits of social networking and collaboration tools like Facebook and Evite in their personal lives—and asking how they can derive the same kinds of benefits in their businesses. They want to make information easier to find, share and use; extend and enhance the body of shared knowledge; and connect with people they need when they need them. In 2010, the collaboration battle will swing into full gear, as vendors introduce more integrated solutions that pull together people, tools, services and content. After all, collaboration is the only business activity that every employee engages in every day—offering vendors an irresistible opportunity to expand their market footprints and installed base presence.

For instance, IBM LotusLive and Lotus Foundations make powerful Lotus collaboration capabilities affordable and digestible for SMBs; Microsoft continues to extend SharePoint and hosted messaging capabilities; and smaller players, such as HyperOffice and Zoho, feature services built for small business from the ground up. At the same time, business solutions vendors from SAP to Salesforce.com are embedding richer collaboration capabilities into their offerings. Even networking vendors, such as Cisco are getting into the game under the unified communications umbrella.

4. The New Face of Small Business. In 2010, vendors need re-examine the evolving small business market with a new segmentation lens to better identify the composition of the small business market, and how they can create the most compelling offerings as the sands shift. Triggered by the recession, generational changes, and globalization, a tectonic shift is changing the face of small businesses. The generational shift has been underway for a while, of course: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the number of workers between ages 33 and 44 will decline rapidly through 2020, and that more people in the labor pool are likely to be either under 30 years old or over 50. Meanwhile, more people are opting to start their own businesses: the U.S. Department of Labor notes that 650,000 new businesses started up in 2006, compared to roughly 570,000 in 2002.

Different types of entrepreneurs, small business owners and their employees have diverse requirements and expectations for technology solutions. While older workers may tend to stick with the familiar, younger new business owners and workers are unlikely to have much allegiance to existing market leaders. As baby boomers in the U.S. retire, younger Gen X and Gen Y workers—and soon Millenials—will replace them. But, many retiring or laid off older workers will move on to start new businesses, out of economic necessity and/or for lifestyle preferences. In addition, persistently high unemployment will accelerate the entrepreneurial trend across all age groups. Meanwhile, globalization is fueling the need for small businesses to expand interactions beyond their traditional geographies.

5. Savvy SMB Vendors Get Strategic About Social Media Analysis. Social media is becoming a mainstream way for vendors and service providers to engage with small and medium businesses. Most vendors already have a social media presence and publish content regularly through social media channels, while many have integrated social media into their customer service approaches and/or using tools to measure brand performance. However, only a handful have developed an effective approach to extract meaningful strategic insights from social media conversations, engagements and information.

In 2010, vendors will augment tactical use of social media with a more sophisticated, strategic plan to monitor and analyze broader SMB trends and directions. By listening, synthesizing and analyzing conversations at a higher level, vendors can strengthen market insights for use in marketing, product planning, channel development and merger and acquisition strategies. Coupled with more traditional research, domain expertise and analysis, this strategic perspective on social media conversations will provide actionable insights and a competitive edge.

6. SMBs Drive the Mobile Internet Tsunami. In 2010, SMB adoption of smart mobile devices and services will increase at an even faster pace, as the number of mobile applications and services grows exponentially. SMBs with services businesses are already serving up local ads in local searches delivered on iPhones and Blackberries—as evidenced by the fact that vendors providing local search solutions saw their revenues jump by 50% to 100% in 2009. Things will continue to heat up as new Google Android-based smart phones continue to swarm the market, Dell’s new division focused on mobile devices debuts, Apple’s iPhone AppStore expands, and vendors such as RIM and Nokia extend their own application stores in response to Apple’s success. Vendors that can go beyond devices and applications to help SMBs create more engaging content, and develop more effective e-commerce and permission-based strategies to reach their target customers on these devices can gain a significant advantage going forward.

7. Virtualization Boosts Cloud Computing Adoption. For the foreseeable future, SMBs’ will continue to take a hybrid approach to technology, combining on-premise and public cloud-based solutions to satisfy business requirements. In 2010, vendors will offer a greater range of targeted solutions for hybrid environment requirements to spur SMB interest and traction. Virtual desktops, business continuity/disaster recovery, on-demand computing and storage will feature prominently in vendors’ lineups.

As SMBs contemplate Windows 7 migration strategies, they will more closely evaluate the total cost of ownership (TCO) of cloud delivered virtual desktop solutions vs. deploying new Windows 7 desktops/laptops—as well as the added benefits around security, backups, updates, etc. that virtual desktops provide. Growing adoption of virtualization will also open the door for SMBs to consider high availability and disaster recovery solutions, which until now, have been highly desirable, but largely unfeasible for smaller companies. Look for VMware to lead the way, with others, such as Citrix and Microsoft playing catch up.

8. SMBs’ Appetite for Managed Services Grows. SMB business requirements continue to become more complex, and their reliance on technology is increasing. But most lack the resources to keep IT infrastructure up and running at peak performance. Increasing business reliance on IT infrastructure will fuel rising demand for managed services providers (MSPs) to increase performance, reliability, availability and service levels—but at reduced or at least neutral costs.

Although demand for point services (for things like backup and recovery, security and virus protection) will remain healthy, more SMBs will seek out comprehensive managed services offerings in order to free up resources to focus on core business requirements and get the benefits of “one throat to choke.” By coupling cost-effective, round the clock remote management services with onsite support, vendors will make managed services more affordable and accessible for SMBs. Examples include Dell’s ProManage Managed Services, which combines the advantages of remote management services with a scalable network operating center along with a team of local Dell and partner support professionals around the globe that provide onsite support; Mindshift, which offers horizontal managed services, as well as vertical managed services solutions for industries such as legal, healthcare and professional services; and HP, which is approaching the SMB managed services segment through its HP Smart Management Services for SMBs and Total Care Business Solutions.

9. Beyond Excel—Targeted Workflow and Analytic Tools Takes Flight. SMBs often rely on disjointed, ad hoc methods to manage many tasks and workflows, such as spend management, expense management, sales compensation and corporate performance management—to name a few. For the most part, they tackle these and other jobs with Excel spreadsheets and a messy mix of emails, paper documents and manual processing. Besides being a headache for everyone involved, this cumbersome approach has many other drawbacks, such as limited reporting abilities, high error rates, a lack of real-time visibility and collaboration capabilities, and limited flexibility.Until recently, most solutions to help manage these processes were too expensive and cumbersome for the typical SMB customer.

However, the rise of cloud computing has given wings to many software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that give SMBs purpose-built tools that help streamline workflow and provide critical intelligence to help improve top and bottom line performance. In 2010, vendors’ mid-market offerings in areas such as corporate performance management (CPM), with vendors such Adaptive Planning and Clarity Systems; sales compensation management, with players such as Xactly; and spend management, with entrants such as Rosslyn Analytics, which recently launched RA.Pid, a free self-service solution for SMBs. Meanwhile, traditional enterprise BI players, such as IBM Cognos and SAP Business Objects will continue to carve out more digestible BI offerings for the mid-market, offering up solutions and/or end-to-end on demand business process services to customers.

10. 2009 Acquisitions Drive New Value for SMB customers in 2010. In 2009, many deals were struck that portend great impact on the SMB market, channel and competitive landscape. Among the most notable were HP’s acquisition of 3Com, which gives HP the ability to provide a full complement of networking and connectivity solutions for SMB customers. In a market long dominated by Cisco, the HP-3Com combination gives SMBs a strong alternative, with attractively priced, competitive networking products and services with a compelling value proposition. Intuit’s acquisitions of PayCycle, Mint.com and BooRah continue to build and refresh the vendor’s portfolio of services for it’s core small business and consumer segments—which often overlap in the “prosumer” category. Intuit will likely continue on an aggressive acquisition trajectory in 2010. Avaya’s acquisition of Nortel Enterprise Solutions makes Avaya the runaway market share leader in voice and unified communications in the SMB market, with roughly twice the market share of Cisco. But at the same time, Cisco’s pending acquisition of Tandberg will enable it to bring cost effective, standards based video conferencing solutions to SMBs, creating new awareness and interest in the SMB video conferencing market. We also expect 2010 to spawn a new round of acquisition activity as vendors converge collaboration, social media and business solutions.

Bonus Predictions:

1. Time to Get Paid for Selling a Free Lunch. There may be no such thing as a free lunch in the physical world, but there is an abundance of free and very low-cost software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools for everything from personal productivity and collaboration applications (such as Google Apps, Zoho and Dimdim) to financial management (including Freshbooks, Sage BillingBoss and Workingpoint) for small businesses. With more people starting their own businesses—often on a very tight budget—use of these services will continue to rise. But in 2010, vendors with this model will start feeling the pressure to scale.

The business models for these services are predicated on the assumption that a small percentage (usually in the range of 5% to 10%) of customers will convert to a premium paid offering. Many vendors also get advertising revenues, and some see data aggregation services as another way to generate income. To profitably scale their businesses, these vendors need to stimulate rapid viral adoption (which enables both advertising and data aggregation sales) and achieve their conversion rate goals for premium services. But the combination of rapid, high volume viral growth and paid conversions is a to tough code to crack. While Google may not need to worry about cracking the code anytime soon, smaller, venture-backed vendors have a much shorter time horizon to make it work. Many will not be able to, and will need to either get acquired or shut their doors. However, some will get the formula right—with good odds on FreshBooks and Zoho.

2. Vendors Scramble for SMB Developer Loyalty—and New Integration Needs Arise. Cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) are giving SMB application developers lower cost, lower risk options to develop and bring new solutions to market. In 2010, both traditional platform vendors, such as Microsoft and IBM, along with newer PaaS and IaaS types such as Salesforce, Intuit and Amazon, will need to fight tooth and nail to get both commercial SMB developers and end-user customers to create applications for their environments. Meanwhile, since its highly unlikely that most customers will only want solutions from one of these ecosystems, vendors that provide integration solutions, such as Pervasive, Boomi, and Cast Iron, have a whole new market opportunity ahead of them—integration between these different platforms and ecosystems.

3. SaaS Computing Lifts Off in New Areas. Cloud poster child Salesforce.com celebrated its 10th birthday and hit the $1 billion in annual revenues mark in 2009—and software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM is now a mainstream—even preferred–choice for SMBs. SaaS is also gaining a solid foothold in HR, marketing and content management are other areas in which SaaS is gaining a solid foothold. In 2010, the rate and pace of cloud computing adoption among SMBs will continue its upswing.

Key areas to watch include the historically elusive SaaS financials market. Smaller companies are showing a good appetite for self-service online accounting solutions such as Intuit QuickBooks Online Edition and Workingpoint, and point solutions for things such as invoicing, from vendors such as Freshbooks and Sage Billingboss, and others. Moving upmarket, firms such as NetSuite, Intacct, FinancialForce—and after a hiatus, SAP Business By Design–should enjoy good growth spurts in midsize companies, especially in those that are faced with a costly upgrade of a legacy packaged financials solution. Both internal IT and business decision-makers move to cut upgrade, maintenance and application management costs, while also speeding time to solution value. This momentum will be further fueled as SaaS vendors make progress in bringing integrators, VARs and CPAs on board to amplify marketing and sales capabilities.

What is SEM, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published in Small Business Computing, November 30, 2009)

Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month, Laurie takes a look at search engine marketing.

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)is an umbrella term that describes the different methods you can use to make your Web site more visible on search engines so that you can drive more traffic to your site. SEM blends organic search engine optimization (SEO) with paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to increase exposure for your Web site.

SEO focuses on designing and optimizing your Web site so that your site will rank higher within the organic search results pages—the list of Web sites that pop up when you conduct a search. Basically, search engines such as Google or Bing look at a page and try to decipher the most important or relevant information on the page. SEO revolves around figuring out what keywords people will use when they are looking for the types of services and/or products you provide, and using these in your Web pages and content so that search engines accurately index your site and people can easily find it. When you use SEO techniques, you are not paying search engines to appear or move up on their site, you are simply optimizing your content so that it will naturally place higher in search results.

In contrast, paid search or PPC advertising involves paying search engines so that your site appears as a sponsored link in the small text adds that appear on the top and right hand side of a search results page—think Google AdWords. While it is free to display your ad on Google or another search engine, you pay the search engine vendor every time someone clicks on your link. The search engine vendor positions your site on the results page based on a combination of how much you are willing to pay-per-click, and a subjective quality assessment of how important your ad is in relation to others on the page. This quality measurement includes things such as the percentage of clicks on your ad and how many times the search term appears in your ad.

Why Should You Care?

What good is your Web site if you’re not driving traffic to it? You invest in a Web site to help educate and promote your products and services to prospects and customers. But, if people can’t find it, you will not get the kind of results you want form your Web site.

Both organic and paid search techniques can help you drive traffic, but each method has different plusses and minuses. For instance, cost per click is less for organic SEO than with a PPC approach. While you invest time (and maybe money, in the form of an SEO marketer or a service) to optimize natural search results, you’re not paying the search engine vendor for every click-through. In addition, people click on organic search engine results much more frequently than they click on PPC ads, because of where they appear on the page.

On the other hand, a PPC campaign can typically ramp up traffic to your site much more quickly than organic SEO. So, if time is of the essence—say you need to drive holiday sales—PPC is likely to help you get better results.

Many businesses find it most effective to combine both SEO and PPC approaches. For example,PPC enables to you to quickly test keywords to see which search terms work, and which don’t. As you discover which terms work best in a PPC campaign, you can also incorporate them into your organic SEO approach.

What to Consider

Web searches are becoming the top way for both consumers and businesses to research and shop for products and services. Consequently, small businesses are rapidly shifting their marketing initiatives from traditional media to digital marketing media tools, including SEO and SEM.

These marketing tools are often less expensive to use than traditional marketing options such as print advertising and direct mail. A small investment can help companies significantly boost marketing reach and return. SEO and SEM give small businesses more visibility into whether they’re reaching their target audiences, easier ways to track and measure payback on their efforts, and the ability to rapidly adjust and refine campaigns and outreach as needed.

However, search engine marketing techniques involve both art and a science, and are evolving at a rapid pace. What works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. To stay ahead of the competition, consider services that are tailored to your specific market and needs. For instance,

Lotusjump provides a service to help small businesses optimize organic search results for hundreds or thousands of keywords to generate more qualified leads. The automated service automates the process of building more qualified leads based on more specific “longtail” search terms. So if have a retail business, you can create keywords specific to the hundreds or thousands of products that you sell.

Own a bakery or tree service business? If you do, everything is local, and services that help to reach the local market are what you care about. WebVisible, for instance, buys advertising space from multiple media providers and ad networks, and provides many types of online marketing solutions, including fully managed search advertising, banner/display advertising, call tracking solutions, custom landing pages, promotional URLs and more. Using the WebVisible platform, small businesses can target local advertising more effectively. Yodle, meanwhile, focuses on local services businesses, helping them to create a Web site, develop an effective SEO campaign across the Web, and help make the phone ring when the business is found through a Web search.

The Web is becoming our virtual shopping mall. Small businesses that make an investment into understanding different types of organic and paid search approaches and using those most relevant to their business will have a big advantage in bringing in traffic.

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