NYEXPO Panel: Using Technology to Drive Innovation & GROW Your Business

Thanks to all of you who came to our panel yesterday at NYEXPO,  Using Technology to Drive Innovation & GROW Your Business, moderated by Ramon Ray, Regional Development Manager, NY/NJ Infusionsoft and Editor of Smallbiztechonlogy.com, with panelists Shashi Bellamkonda, Sr. Director, Social Media, Web.com and Adjunct Marketing Professor at Georgetown University, and yours truly.

What a great event–I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Several of you asked for copies of the presentation, so I’m posting it here. For anyone who didn’t attend, our panel discussed the ground-breaking technologies–cloud, mobile and social–that are changing how small businesses operate, market and sell. I shared some market research and perspectives, Shashi provided social media guidance, and Grant gave us a great demo of the latest tools and gadgets that you may want to check out.

Enjoy and please let me know if you have any questions!

A View From the MSP Trenches: Cloud Opportunities in the Midmarket

As discussed in my blog, IBM’s Managed Service Provider Initiatives for Midmarket: An Interview with Mike McClurg, IBM views MSPs as an increasingly critical channel for delivering cloud-based technology solutions to midmarket companies. Just a few days after I posted this interview, IBM announced that it would further strengthen its initiatives to help MSPs meet the growing midmarket demand for cloud services.

Now, all research (including SMB Group studies) points to a rise in midmarket adoption of cloud solutions. But, what do MSPs see as the key midmarket hotspots, how are they turning these into opportunities for their businesses, and how is IBM helping them? To help answer these questions, I spoke with three very different IBM MSP partners to find out their views on the cloud opportunity:

  • Oxford Networks characterizes itself as “a 112 year-old start-up,” which began as a phone company and has since reinvented itself a couple of times over to become a high-end carrier’s carrier transport network. Oxford recently acquired an MSP and is building on this to offer a spectrum of IT and telecom services SMBs.
  • Perimeter E-Security delivers highly secure infrastructure protection and compliance solutions via its security-as-a-software platform, including: firewall management and monitoring, vulnerability scanning, intrusion detection and prevention, hosted email, hosted collaboration, email security, message archiving and mobile device management. Perimeter offers its on demand in the cloud, and on customer premises.  About two-thirds of its customers are small and midsize businesses (SMBs).
  • Velocity Technology Solutions provides virtual private cloud managed application and hosting services for its customers’ ERP solutions. It also hosts and manages connected applications, such as analytics and workforce automation; and complementary technical solutions, such as imaging. In addition, Velocity offers remote managed services for customers’ on premises applications, including a full replication service for disaster recovery.  Velocity’s customers range from businesses with about $50M in annual revenues to the Fortune 500.

Despite different technology and market footprints, these MSPs share a similar view of the compelling opportunities to provide cloud services in the midmarket. They are zeroing in to meet  customers’ requirements in several key areas:

1. Offloadinfrastructure management. More midmarket companies want to outsource management of the “IT plumbing” that their businesses require—from infrastructure and telecom to middleware and applications. Demand for IaaS services is spiking as customers seek to move resources from IT to other, more strategic areas of the business. Often, the need for application upgrades trigger a move to an MSP. “Businesses have been there, done that and have little appetite to go through the headaches again”, according to Tom Bruno, President & CEO, Velocity Technology Solutions, “Our opportunity is to take software and turn it into a utility or dial tone for our customers.”But, says Bruno, “the most important thing we can have is our customers’ trust—trust translates into availability. Partnering with IBM gives us the peace of mind that we can deliver.”

Many companies aren’t ready to put all of their applications into the cloud, but still want to offload management. Offering remote managed services for customers’ on-premises applications gives MSPs with another healthy revenue opportunity in the near term.  And, as Bruno puts it, remote managed services also provide these customers with “an on ramp to the cloud.” Bruno envisions that IBM PureSystems will give Velocity even more flexibility to tailor offerings for either an on-premise or private cloud environment.

2. Implement the leading edge technology solutions necessary to grow their businesses. Midmarket businesses increasingly recognize that they need leading edge IT solutions to be competitive. But in most cases, they lack the IT skills and expertise to keep up with these technology changes. According to Craig Gunderson, President & CEO of Oxford Networks, “Our customers know that technology is moving very fast and disrupting the status quo. Moving to the cloud and outsourcing is often the only way that they can maintain a competitive position.” By providing customers with a fully managed data center, PaaS and IaaS solutions, Oxford can “give them far more capabilities than they could have on their own, with fewer limits, and at a lower cost.”

Mobile is a prime example of an area in which SMBs need to innovate, but struggle to keep pace. Perimeter recently rolled out a new mobile security offering that provides best practice guidance and services to help SMBs comply with privacy statutes in world in which “bring your own device” is becoming the norm.

Oxford’s Gunderson and Andrew Jaquith, Chief Technology Officer, Perimeter E-Security, both view new access to IBM’s four new Global Centers of Excellence as key to helping them keep up swiftly evolving market demands. By leveraging IBM’s technical and best practice expertise, they can develop the scalable and reliable new solutions that their clients will require.

3. Provide stronger security, availability and performance levels. Companies know that an IT outage or security breach can seriously compromised or even destroy their businesses. Jaquith asserts that as industries become more regulated, they are increasingly held to higher security standards, similar to what banks have become accustomed to. As a result, “Demand is rising for end-to-end security solutions for messaging—including mailboxes, archiving, encryption, control and reporting, content filtering and more. But the technology needed for this is getting very complicated.”

Jaquith sees IBM as “a technology leader that gets the cloud, and a partner to help us achieve our goal to provide instant-on, scalable and elastic cloud services.” IBM storage and security solutions underpin Perimeter’s current offerings. With IBM’s new MSP initiatives, Jaquith sees opportunities to develop new services built on IBM SmartCloud, which provides enterprise-class cloud computing technologies and services for securely building and using private, public and hybrid clouds.

 The demand for higher availability solutions is also rising. Velocity’s Bruno notes that “Midmarket businesses may have 5 to 20 applications in the back office alone. They want providers to get the formula down for higher availability.” Velocity does this by providing standardized virtualization solutions and a single source of support across applications—from break/fix to functional, “how do I do this” support.

One of the common threads I heard was that midmarket companies are looking for comprehensive services. Although they may want to tap into discrete services in an incremental way, they want them to integrate with each other in a Lego-like fashion. Since few MSPs can provide everything, those I spoke with emphasized the importance of being part of a strong ecosystem. For example, at Oxford Networks, the focus is IaaS and PaaS services. But Gunderson and team work with IBM and its ecosystem partners to also provide SaaS solutions to customers when they are a good fit. Meanwhile, as Velocity’s Bruno explained, “Everything is advancing so fast in the ERP world. There’s a rush of analytics, industry apps, mobile apps, collaboration requirements and more. This creates more complexity in the infrastructure.  We can tap into IBM and its expertise to provide new services more efficiently.”

Clearly, the rapid rate and pace of change in technology—and what it means for business—creates an enormous opportunity. MSPs can leverage economies of scale and skill to provide better-performing and more cost-effective IT solutions than midmarket companies can attain relying only on internal IT resources.

But capitalizing on this opportunity also presents challenges for MSPs, who need to keep ahead of the technology learning curve, improve their marketing skills and programs, and identify and enter new markets. In my next post in this series, I’ll discuss these challenges, and how these three MSPs work with IBM’s MSP program to help address them.

This is the third of a five-part blog series by SMB Group that examines the evolution of midmarket business technology solutions and IBM’s Managed Service Provider Channel programs. In the next post, I’ll look at what MSPs see as their top challenges, and the role IBM plays in helping them to meet them.

Salesforce’s SMB Story: Great Vision, But a Complicated Plot Line

“Why can’t business software be as easy to use as buying a book on Amazon?” At the Dreamforce 2012 SMB keynote, Hilary Koplow-McAdams, President of Salesforce.com’s Commercial Division, told the crowd that this was the question that Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, originally set out to answer when he founded the company. When you think about it, this question was particularly prescient in 1999, when Salesforce was in start-up mode and conversations about the “consumerization of IT” were scarce. This perspective also provided a welcome breath of fresh air for small businesses, which were Salesforce’s chief target market at the time, and were in dire need of technology vendors that could keep things simple. Fast forward to 2012 Dreamforce. As I discussed in my first post about the event, Drinking From the Dreamforce Fire Hose: Part 1, The Big Picture, Benioff showcased several large enterprise customers, a slew of new directions and offerings, and a compelling case for enterprises to buy into its version of the social enterprise. Salesforce.com has grown up and evolved into a multi-faceted company with a rich portfolio of technologies and solutions that extend well beyond its CRM roots. But with this kind of growth comes complexity. Even if Salesforce can make products Amazon-easy, can it tell the story so that SMBs “get it?” In addition, as combinations of products and pricing options multiply, will SMBs be able to wade through, figure out their best options, and be able to afford them?

“A” for a Compelling Vision for SMBs

Which leads to this, my second post. How and how clearly is Salesforce making its case to SMBs? For starters, this year’s event featured the first SMB track ever at Dreamforce–certainly a big step in the right direction. In the SMB keynote, Koplow-McAdams discussed how the cloud model helps democratize and level the playing field for smaller companies, and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to them. According to Koplow-McAdams, SMBs are also racking up good returns on their investment: Salesforce studies show that their SMB customers have boosted win rates by 25+%, increased sales productivity by 34% and increased revenues by 30%. While it’s not surprising that Salesforce has been transformative for the SMB customers that shared this stage with Hilary Koplow-McAdams, their stories were as interesting–and maybe a little more fun–as the large enterprise customers featured in Benioff’s keynote. They discussed how, despite limited IT staffs and budgets, they’ve used Salesforce to grow their businesses. For instance:

  • PlayerLayer, which sells performance athletic apparel, had customer data in Excel, and “had all the customer data, but no way to look at it.” It wanted a solution to help “interrogate” the data so that the company could expand into new countries without a big ad budget. Salesforce and Chatter have helped PlayerLayer gain a better understanding of its customers, collaborate on products more efficiently, and “compete with giants in industry.”
  • Yelp, the now well-known search and review site for local businesses, has grown from 2 employees in 1994 to over 1,000 employees today. When Yelp hired its first full-time sales rep for its original San Francisco site, it deployed Salesforce. Geoff Donaker, Yelp COO described how as Yelp branched out into new markets, it was “easy to expand with Salesforce.” Now in 18 countries and 90 cities, Yelp has 800 Salesforce users.
  • Square, the mobile payments vendor, has grown to process $8 billion in payments/year, and 400 employees over the past few years. According to Sarah Friar, Square, CFO, “selling is a team sport” at Square, which uses Salesforce Sales Cloud, Chatter, and Desk.com for support. Square shared a demo of how Desk.com automatically brings tweets, Facebook posts, email and phone conversations into Desk.com to help it provide more responsive customer service.
  • Leviev Diamonds, with 25 employees and 5 showrooms around the globe, was founded in 2006. An offshoot of a successful wholesale diamond business, Leviev wanted to start a retail channel to market very high quality diamonds. As the company CEO, said, “the most important part of the business is schmoozing, which you call CRM.” Leviev decided to use Salesforce because it did what they needed it to do and fit the budget. No Leviev has its entire inventory in Salesforce, and when potential clients open mobile alerts, they are redirected to Salesforce for more information. According to Leviev, “I love Salesforce. It changed everything for us.”
  • Carlo’s Bakery, made famous by the TLC reality show Cake Boss, featuring owner Buddy Valastro, served up the final story. Once Cake Boss started airing, “all hell broke loose.” The problem was, although the bakery starting getting millions of hits a day on their website, it wasn’t able to turn them into sales because Carlo’s Bakery was still a pencil and paper business and according to Valastro, “a lot of people have to interact to make a cake.” In about 8 weeks, the bakery switched from pencil and paper to Salesforce and Radian6 to convert more of its millions of Facebook fans and Twitter followers into customers, and get better visibility into its sales funnel. Carlo’s Bakery can take orders on iPads and mobile phones, and the orders come together in one system, which enables everyone to collaborate. The bakery now does $20 million worth of sales from its Hoboken store, has increased productivity by 60%, and improved customer experience.

Collectively, Salesforce and its customers did a great job of summing up how cloud offerings–and Salesforce in particular–can give SMBs a faster, more user-friendly, and streamlined way to run their businesses. In some cases, these customers moved directly from Excel or from pencil and paper to Salesforce, illuminating both the ease and value of having real-time information access, anywhere from any device. So I’ll give Salesforce an “A” for telling the story.

“C” for an SMB Friendly Social Enterprise Plot Line

But, I’m experiencing some cognitive dissonance when I look at the plot line. Sure, Benioff’s big picture social enterprise vision is compelling for businesses of any size. But as I asked in my 2011 post, Is Salesforce.com Outgrowing SMBs?, can the average small or medium business put the piece parts together? Thankfully, the company does seem to have put a simple naming convention in place (and renamed several acquisitions accordingly), but I’ve lost count of how many solutions Salesforce provides…along with what’s included in what. For instance, Salesforce Touch is included as part of Force.com. But do most SMBs even buy Force.com? And if they don’t, can third-party development partners somehow pass relevant Salesforce Touch capabilities through? Likewise, the question of how much it will cost for SMBs to become a social enterprise ala the Salesforce model is also cloudy. Fortunately, Chatter is included in all Sales Cloud editions. But how many small businesses can jump from Group Edition ($15/user/month) to Professional ($65/user/month) to get some fairly basic marketing functionality such as email marketing, campaigns and analytics snapshots. And what about Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which starts at $5,000 per month? When it comes to software (on premise or in the cloud!) SMBs don’t want mystery. They want solution clarity, and transparent, predictable pricing. At the upper end of SMB, companies may have enough staff, expertise and time to sort through and figure this out–or the budget to hire a consultant to do it for them. But, many smaller businesses won’t have these resources. So I need to give Salesforce a “C“ when it comes to making it easy for SMBs to identify, assess, configure and price the best mix of Salesforce solutions to turn the social enterprise vision into reality. And, while Salesforce will likely rely on its partners to help SMBs navigate these areas, it seems difficult to see how partners can profitably provide the services SMBs need to evaluate, select and deploy the right formula of Salesforce solutions. How will Salesforce.com grow and remain true to its small business roots? Most software vendors have found it very difficult to succeed in both large enterprise and small business worlds. Can Salesforce succeed where others have failed? I’ll be looking forward to Dreamforce 2013 to see if the details are as clear as the vision by then.

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