What are top tools that small businesses use for collaboration? As important, which ones are they planning to add in the next 12 months? We asked more than 800 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers and influencers these questions in the recently completed SMB Group and CRM Essentials 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study, which also delved into:
- SMB corporate collaboration culture and related business attitudes
- Satisfaction with collaboration solutions
- Spending on collaboration solutions
- Use and plans for integrated collaboration suites or platforms
- Business benefits of using collaboration solutions
- Requirements for integrating collaboration solutions with business process applications
- The impact of social media and mobility on collaboration requirements
- The shift from standalone solutions to integrated collaboration suites
Featured Study Highlights
We asked survey respondents “Which of the following collaboration solutions does your company currently use and/or plan to use to collaborate and communicate more effectively?”
Among a field of 26 possible choices, the solutions in Figure 1 came out on top in the small business segment.
(Figure 1) Top 10 Collaboration Solutions Small Businesses Use and Plan to Use
Top 10 Collaboration Tolls Small Businesses Use Today
Top 10 Collaboration Tools Small Businesses Plan to Add in the Next 12 months
Email – 86%
Traditional phone – 74%
Mobile phone – 74%
Personal productivity tools – 73%
Document sharing – 54%
Shared contacts – 48%
Shared Calendars – 47%
Shared project workspaces – 37%
Fax to email – 36%
Web forms – 35%
Industry discussion group – 20%
Shared calendars – 19%
Shared contacts – 19%
Web forms – 19%
Facebook – 16%
RSS feeds – 16%
Document sharing – 16%
Video sharing – 16%
Web conferencing – 16%
Voice mail to email – 16%
Small Businesses’ Expanding Collaboration Boundaries
Some “traditional” collaboration tools such as email, traditional and mobile phones and personal productivity tools are heavily penetrated. Other traditional solutions are significantly less penetrated. However, a sizeable percentage of small businesses intend to add document sharing (16%), shared contacts (18%) and shared calendars (19%) to their collaboration tools portfolio in the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, while social media tools aren’t yet mainstream collaboration tools for small businesses yet, they are quickly gaining steam, with a significant percentage of respondents indicating that they plan to extend collaboration capabilities with social tools such as industry discussion groups (20%), web forms (19%), Facebook (16%) and RSS (16%).
Of note—mobile phones have caught up to traditional phones as collaboration tools—underscoring how critical it is for collaboration apps to be mobile-friendly. Plans to adopt are other communications tools such as Web conferencing, voice to email and video sharing are also strong.
Since so many types of collaboration tools available for free or in a freemium model, financial barriers to adoption are low. Our study found that a majority of small businesses use free tools or a mixture of free and paid tools in many cases. For example, about 75% use free tools or a mixture of free and paid tools for traditional collaboration solutions such as email, calendars, contact management, etc., and the average annual budget for these services is between $1,000 and 2,499 annually. That number shrinks to just $500-$999 annually when it comes to spending on social media solutions.
With so many quality free tools available, converting small businesses to fee-based tools can be challenging. But study results indicate areas where vendors can add value that may loosen up small business purse strings–such as solutions that help them collaborate more effectively with customers, integrated collaboration suites and collaboration solutions that integrate with business process applications.
Until recently, most small businesses got along just fine with a few tools such as email, calendars, and the good old telephone. But they are increasingly finding that they need a wider range of social and mobile tools to facilitate collaboration both within their organizations and with external stakeholder and constituents.
With requirements to make it faster and easier to find, share and use information and connect with the right people at the right time growing, small business adoption of new collaboration solutions will continue to accelerate, but moving them from free to paid solutions will require collaboration vendors to create more visible business value.
Interested in learning how a company’s collaboration culture affects business performance? Check out The Collaboration Advantage for SMBs, which discusses findings in this area from the 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study.