Top Trends Most Evident at the 2010 Small Business Technology Summit

Back in the beautiful Live Free or Die state after attending the 2010 Small Business Summit earlier this week. This is a fantastic event coordinated by Ramon Ray and Marian Banker, and held at the Digital Sandbox in the financial district in New York. Whether due to Ramon and team’s hard work and great marketing, or a glimmer of hope for an economic recovery, attendance was up over last year. More than 500 attendees turned out and  as usual, Ramon energized the crowd and a great networking experience was had by all.

As I’d done in 2009, I wanted to compare our Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions with what I was hearing at this event as a reality check on our musings. But as a duo, Sanjeev and I had 13 predictions for 2010—as compared to the measly five I’d put together on my own in 2009. So I’ve selected the 2010 predictions that we made that I saw most in evidence at the event.

Pent Up Demand Will Be There—But Won’t Be Easy to Capture. This was our #1 2010 prediction. Small business owners and employees at the Summit were most jazzed up about solutions with clearly demonstrable bottom and/or top line business benefits. In the words of one customer, “We have to spend money wisely to do more for our clients and make more money.” A few of the solutions that won the Hottest Technology awards that really seemed to hit the mark:

  • EzTexting, a solution that lets you easily send SMS text messages to customers to help capture their attention at the right place, and right time.
  • SugarSync, which helps you manage multiple devices, locations, versions, authors, editors, etc. by synching up everything on all your devices automatically.
  • Broadlook Technologies, Inc.’s Profiler, which helps you quickly find key contact details–names, titles, email addresses, phone numbers, bios, media mentions and more–for companies and  imports it into your CRM solution or sales database.

More vendors are also stepping up to the plate to make a long term commitment to tune in to true small business requirements and provide a more accessible, personal and positive lifecycle experience to win small business hearts and minds. For instance, the Dell panel, hosted by Dell Small Business VP Mel Parker, featured three small business customers (Vitals.com, TecAccess and Rightsleeve) to underscore Dell’s focus on two-way conversations and belief that the best way for it to shine is in the reflected glow of customers that are using Dell solutions to help grow their businesses.

SMBs Accelerate Their Shift to Digital Marketing Media. This was our #2 prediction for 2010. At last year’s event, attendees were asking about how to Tweet or blog. This year, most are now highly engaged in many social media venues. Summit attendees are a web savvy crowd–a show of hands indicated that most have a Web site ( more than 40% of small businesses in the U.S. don’t have a web site). But even this web-savvy group is struggling to figure out how to get the biggest bang for their social media buck. For many, the speed of innovation and the universe of social media solutions and options is overwhelming.

During the panel on “Strategies for Success”, moderated by Angus Thomson, leader of Intuit’s Grow Your Business Division, many of the questions that attendees asked centered on how they can more efficiently identify and use tools to help drive traffic to their web sites. Attendees also had plenty of questions for Melanie Attia of Campaigner about how to boost results from their email marketing campaigns. On top of that, they’re grappling with how to leverage social media into the digital marketing mix so that they can better integrate customer interactions across the seemingly endless expanse of digital venues. InfusionSoft had a steady stream of traffic from people interested in its email marketing plus social media integration story. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of confusion about how to best leverage all of these–and a big opportunity for vendors that can help small businesses sort this out.

The New Face of Small Business. In our #4 2010 prediction, we’d posited that vendors need to look at the small business market through a new segmentation lens. No doubt about it–the recession, generational changes, globalization, and the frenzied pace of technology innovation are the equivalent of an extreme makeover on the face of small business. Baby boomers aren’t retiring, they’re starting new businesses, and were well-represented at this event along with Gen X, Gen Y and Millenial entrepreneurs. But they are coming from different places in their experience and perceptions in areas such as digital marketing and social networking–and technology in general. They all want to figure out how to reach the same destination—business success—but are likely to take different paths in how they discover, evaluate, purchase and implement solutions. Vendors will need to tune marketing, training and services to meet these different requirements.

SMBs’ Appetite for Managed Services Grows. Jumping down to #8 on our 2010 list–we should have moved this one higher up! Many of the small business owners and IT people I spoke to at the event realize that they need technology to support their business goals, but have reached a point where they don’t have the time, expertise or resources to do it right on their own. As one business owner told me, “My business is only as strong as the IT foundation it sits on. We can’t afford for our systems to go down.” Dell’s booth did a brisk traffic with its Dell Managed Services offerings, as did CMIT Solutions, which also provides managed services. Small businesses are realizing they can’t do it all, and are looking for cost-effective, round the clock remote management services with onsite support. Vendors that can deliver affordable, put proactive, responsive and comprehensive  services—and do it scalably and profitably–will be in demand.

And what about the rest of our predictions? While I did see and hear evidence for most of them, some, such as “Virtualization Boosts Cloud Computing” are probably more in tune with mid-market requirements than those of small businesses. Others, such as “2009 Acquisitions Drive New Value for SMB customers in 2010” and “Vendors Scramble for SMB Developer Loyalty—and New Integration Needs Arise” deal more with vendor trends, and rightfully were in background, rather than foreground at this very customer focused event.

At the big picture level, above and beyond individual predictions, what struck me most were that the two themes that really seemed to resonate with the audience were pragmatism and inspiration. Attendees ate up down to earth tips from Shashi Belamkonda of  Network Solutions, who offered a rapid fire list of ways to immediately boost return on your social media participation, and from Ellen DePasquale, aka the Software Revitalist, who provided practical information to help small buisnesses get better results from software solutions. (By the way, here’s a link to all the great pictures Shashi took at the Summit).

However, attendees were also riveted when Seth Godin, bestselling author and entrepreneur, urged them not to get out of the commodity business and trying to “fit in”—or price alone will dictate whether you are in or out. Seth’s call was to be an artist in business, aiming to change the status quo in your category, instead of following the conventional wisdom to do the same thing as the cheaper and better.

Of course, there were many other interesting discussions, people and solutions at the Summit, but I’m out of time. Check the tweet stream #smallbizsummit for lots of good info and insights from the many Tweeters at the event. I’m looking forward to the 2011 Summit already!

7 Responses

  1. I used to be based at Broad Street and spoke at a number of events at the Digital Sandbox between 1998 and 2001 so this has brought back lots of memories for me. The main thing that strikes me though is that a lot of the audience were still concerned with tactical matters (such as how do I increase click through on my emails or how do I make Twitter work for me) but the real benefit that digital marketing can bring is when you start to look at it strategically. What I mean by that is when you place the focus on prospects and customers and chart the journey between the two using the variety of disciplines available to you. If you are interested, we’ve plotted this as an overall digital marketing strategy. The shift to strategic from tactical is happening more over here in the UK but I had expected it to be further along in the states so it is both interesting and surprising. Thanks for the write up though and for bringing back memories for me.

    • Thanks for you comment. I think a lot of the attendees want to use digital marketing more strategically but are quite overwhelmed. I’ll check out the link you sent, it looks like it could help with this.

  2. Laurie – Thanks so much for mentioning me in your review of the event. I was there all day and thought it was really great. There was so much information about the future of business and the technology to get you there.

    To add to my presentation I created a 12-page document with some great step-by-step instructions on how to implement my suggestions. It can be found online at http://www.eocomputing.com/acpoi.pdf.

    • Thanks, Ellen, for including the link so that more people can learn from these great tips! Hope to see you again next year.

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