Is Big Data Relevant for SMBs?

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????There’s little doubt that “big data” is the latest “big thing” in the IT industry. But for many small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers, big data is a somewhat fuzzy term. Ask any number of them what big data means, and you’re likely to get different definitions. Making matters worse, the “big” in big data, along with endless discussions of petabytes and zettabytes, make many SMBs skeptical that big data is relevant for their businesses.

So it’s not hard to make the case that “big data” is has become an over-hyped and poorly understood catch-all phrase. What does big data really mean, and what are the implications for SMBs? When we parse through the underlying trends and hype surrounding big data, what’s left that is actually important and relevant for SMBs?

The Realities Driving Big Data Buzz

The big part of big data is easy to understand. Basically, the volume and variety of digitized data is increasing exponentially. Think about how much and how many kinds of information have moved from physical to digital form just over the last several years. Doctors have moved from paper charts to electronic medical records; merchants have moved from paper credit card imprinters to POS terminals to virtual terminals to mobile payment devices. Movies have moved from Blockbuster to Netflix; and photos have move from Kodak to Facebook and Instagram. “Smart” machines–from traffic sensors to seismographs–are creating entirely new digital data streams as well.

As a result, researchers report that we have already created 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, and that 90% of it has been generated in the last two years alone. While quintillions are hard to wrap your head around, these facts make the concept more accessible:

  • 150,000 new URLs are created each day.
  • Twitter sees roughly 58 million tweets every day, and has more than 554 million accounts.
  • 160 million emails are sent every 60 seconds.
  • Over 20 billion credit card payments are processed annually in the U.S.
  • Power companies are moving from physical meter to digital “smart” meter readings, and going from monthly reading to gathering meter information every 15 minutes. This adds up to 96 million reads per day for every million meters–or a 3,000-fold increase in data.

The term “big data” refers to having the ability to dig in to this growing data avalanche more effectively and quickly with tools that make it easier to store, manage, analyze and act on information.

Big is Relative When It Comes to Big Data

According to findings from the IBM Institute for Business Value and Said Business School, University of Oxford, most large enterprises define the “big” in big data as databases with more than 100 terabytes, while most midmarket companies (less than 1,000 employees) consider anything more than 1 terabyte as “big”.

The fact of the matter is, “big” is a relative term–relative to the amount of information that your organization needs to sift through to find the insights you need to operate the business more proactively and profitably. Basically, if the data set is too big for your company to effectively manage and get insights from, then you’re facing a big data challenge.

This isn’t just a large enterprise problem. In SMB Group studies, SMB decision-makers repeatedly cite “getting better insights from the data we already have” as a top business challenge. SMBs may not be dealing with terabytes of data, but many are finding that tools that used to suffice–such as Excel spreadsheets–fall short even when it comes to analyzing internal transactional databases.

Welcome to the Insight Economy

info you need photoWith the amount and variety of digitized growing exponentially, these challenges and requirements will only increase.

Business that can find the right needles in the data haystack more quickly, easily and reliably than competitors can reap enormous market advantages. SMB Group’s 2012 Routes to Market Study shows that SMBs that have deployed business intelligence and analytics solutions are 51% more likely than peers to expect revenues to rise. Likewise, in the IBM-Oxford University study, three out of five midmarket respondents using business and analytics solutions reported that they are realizing significant advantages, most notably to “identify new opportunities in the marketplace” and to “understand and respond to customers better.”

Take the example of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. With one of the lowest public subsidies in the U.S., the zoo needed to increase attendance and boost food and retail sales to operate profitably. But the zoo was unable to easily access the data–which resided on different systems–so it could plan how to do this. The zoo implemented a business intelligence solution to get better insight into customer trends and its own operations, and answer questions such as, “How many people spend money outside of admissions costs?” and “What time of day do ice cream sales peak?” By answering these questions and others, the zoo was able to increase retail and food sales by 35%, save more than $140,000 per year in marketing dollars through more targeted, successful campaigns, and increase overall zoo attendance by 50,000 in one year.

Unfortunately, many SMBs are lagging large enterprises in this area. The IBM-Oxford Study revealed that the gap between large enterprises and the midmarket is increasing, and the SMB Group 2012 Routes to Market Study shows that the smaller the company, the less likely they are to use or plan to use BI solutions.

Perspective

Businesses have always needed the ability to measure critical success metrics and make sound business decisions. Big data solutions are designed to help businesses to do this in a world where the volume and variety of data is growing at breakneck speed.

When you look at the realities that are driving the big data bandwagon, its clear that long after the buzz fades, these realities will have a long-lasting impact on how businesses of all sizes operate. Over time, the performance gap will widen between businesses that can readily get the insights they need, when they need them, and those that can’t.

That said, figuring out where and how to start isn’t easy, especially for SMBs who are often resource-constrained. The good news, however, is that this is definitely an area where you want to take small steps first. In the next blog of this series, we’ll draw on conversations with IBM business partners to learn how they are helping SMBs to chart the big data journey.

This is the first of a three-part blog series by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM that examines big data and its implications for SMBs. In the next post, I’ll discuss how IBM business partners are helping SMBs take practical steps to put big data to work for their businesses.

CollaborHaitian: How CIC Uses Social Business to Crowd Source Medical Care in Haiti

Logo-For-ThumbnailWhen small business owners and entrepreneurs think of IBM, they often mistakenly assume that IBM’s sophisticated solutions are only affordable by large corporations. And IBM sometimes lags the competition in garnering SMB mind share. But some of its offerings are actually a great fit for small and medium business (SMBs). A perfect case in point is IBM’s Smart Cloud for Social Business, which provides an online, integrated collaboration solution for file sharing, communities, web meetings, mail and calendars.

I recently had a detailed conversation with Marie Kenerson, Chief Collaboration and Learning Officer at Colleagues In Care (CIC) to learn how Smart Cloud for Social Business helps CIC achieve the effective collaboration that is vital to the organization’s mission.

Sometimes It Takes More than a Village

CIC is a nonprofit dedicated to building a medical knowledge database and volunteer network to help address the healthcare needs of Haiti. Even before the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, medical needs clearly outstripped available resources. Dr. Lisbet Hanson, a Virginia Beach OB/GYN, was in Haiti providing ultrasound training for OB/GYN practitioners when the quake struck. Just a few miles from the epicenter in Port-Au-Prince, the hospital she had taught at collapsed and all of the nurses there were killed.

People in Haiti needed help, and as we all recall, there was a worldwide outpouring of aid, including that from healthcare experts around the globe that wanted to volunteer. But, connecting the dots between far-flung doctors, nurse and other professionals to create and establish sustainable practices in Haiti posed a difficult collaboration challenge. Each expert has unique areas of knowledge to contribute in areas such as treatment options, clinical pathways, and best practices, but the real value comes from putting these puzzle pieces together in a way that can be shared and replicated.

Without a system to manage and collaborate on care, even the most knowledgeable people with the best intentions were unable to realize the outcomes that they had wanted to achieve. The experts would come in, and the destitute population became dependent on them. Then the experts would leave, and take their knowledge with them. A new group would come in, and the cycle would start again. There was no way to share or build upon best practices to improve care.

Crowd Sourcing Care

This was the impetus for CIC. Upon her return to Virginia following the earthquake, Dr. Hanson and her cardiologist husband, Dr. John Kenerson, decided that there had to be a better way. Hanson and Kenerson established CIC to create a more collaborative, replicable way to catalyze the global network of healthcare volunteers that wanted to assist Haitians. Their goal was and reamains to establish a navigable social network to bring expertise into Haiti–and provide the professional development that those staying in Haiti so desperately need. To help enable this, CIC applied for and received an IBM Trailblazer grant for IBM SmartCloud for Social Business (then called LotusLive) to help facilitate collaboratiotn.

CIC SchematicSizedforBlog2Using the SmartCloud solution since early 2011, CIC has built its “Social Collaboration Cloud Solution,” which is a collaborative learning system dedicated to transforming healthcare delivery in Haiti by fostering “CollaborHaitian.”  CIC is building a medical knowledge and volunteer service database and Best Possible Practice models (PPBMs) that practitioners in Haiti and other resource-constrained areas can use. CIC’s approach is fundamentally different from the traditional approaches to international development efforts because it relies on mutual collaborative learning in solidarity with Haitian colleagues.

Today, the program enables over 200 registered users to source, co-edit and share best practices information so that they don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. CIC fosters collaboration between the different communities of providers integral to this type of environment, including:

  • ·Micro volunteers, who share specialized expertise to provide care such as screening for cervical cancer without equipment, or to build a clinic.
  • ·Peer networks of practitioners, who are focused on specific areas, such as pediatrics or hypertension. Some are physical volunteers, who train Haitian healthcare providers to embed evidence-based quality standards into the practices and curriculum in Haiti, and others contribute online.
  • ·Macro volunteers, who create and nurture mentoring relationships between practitioners on the ground in Haiti and vetted mentors.

With SmartCloud file sharing, a peer network of Haitian and international physicians can co-create training for how to take blood pressure without cuffs, a micro volunteer can translate it into Creole and French, and then share it with the peer network–all via SmartCloud. CIC is committed to making all programs openly accessible though the governmental ministers of health to anyone interested in customizing or replicating these BPP’s anywhere, thus reducing waste, redundancy of efforts, etc.

CIC also uses the meetings capability to conduct meetings between practitioners in Haiti and remote volunteers, and activities management to ensure ideas are documented, negotiated commitments to future tasks are managed and completed. Example templates for scheduling and managing travel and training program logistics make project management visible to all. Recently, CIC has also begun using IBM Docs to create and collaborate on documents.

As important, SmartCloud has been easy enough for SmartCloud users, predominantly a culturally diverse group of very busy volunteers who donate time and expertise in incremental chunks, to learn and use on a sporadic basis.

Perspective

SMB Group research studies indicate that teamwork and collaboration–or lack of it–effect an organizations’ financial performance as well as employee (or in this, case, volunteer) satisfaction. Organizations that are more collaborative have a decided edge over less teamwork-oriented counterparts.

This is not surprising. Whether you’re the CEO or a doctor, an accountant or a volunteer, you need to share and manage information, ideas, resources and connections to get the job done. Cloud-based, integrated collaboration tools such as SmartCloud for Social Business help organizations share knowledge, streamline processes, and keep everyone in the loop to gain that edge. This is more important than ever, as digital information continues to grow at an exponential rate.

CIC may face more urgent challenges than most private-sector small and medium businesses (SMBs) or even other non-profits when it comes to harnessing, applying and replicating knowledge-based practices and communities. But SMBs, as well as other non-profits, have just as much to gain by adopting a more integrated, collaborative approach to meet their challenges and gain their own unique edge.

This blog was sponsored by IBM to help educate small and medium businesses (SMBs) about how collaboration tools and social technologies can help their businesses.

2013 SMB Mobile Attitudes and Challenges

The rapid rise of mobile in the consumer space is accelerating the explosive growth of mobile solutions in the business world. Businesses recognize that mobile solutions can empower employees to be more productive and responsive to customers. Likewise, they realize that providing mobile solutions to customers, partners and suppliers is vital to improving customer experiences and fueling business growth.

So it comes as no surprise that 91% of SMBs already use mobile solutions in their businesses, according to 2013 SMB Mobile Solutions Studyand 67% of SMBs indicate that “mobile solutions are now critical for our business,” as shown on Figure 1. In addition, 70% see mobile apps as a “complement to current business applications”, and 55% think that mobile will replace some of their existing business applications.

As SMBs turn to mobile solutions to help grow business, improve productivity and streamline workflow, they are beefing up mobile capabilities both for employees, and for external customers, partners and suppliers.

Figure 1: SMB Attitudes About Mobile Solutions

Slide1

But the rapid and explosive growth of and reliance on mobile solutions has caught many SMBs off-guard, resulting in some key challenges, as revealed on Figure 2.

Figure 2:  Top Challenges to Using Mobile Solutions

Slide1

Cost Concerns

As shown in Figure 3, SMBs currently spend the bulk of their mobile budgets on voice and data services and devices. But SMBs are also opening their wallets wider for mobile consulting, management, security and apps.

Figure 3: SMBs Mobile Budget Allocation

Slide2

As a result, mobile solutions are gobbling up a growing share of SMBs technology budgets. Our study reveals that SMBs currently spend about 11% to 20% of their technology budgets in the mobile space, and 68% expect they will need to spend more on mobile solutions next year.

Management Headaches

SMB use of mobile apps for employees, both for collaboration apps, such as email and calendars, as well as for business apps, such as CRM, order processing, expense management, etc. have risen overall by approximately 20% since 2012.

Concurrently, SMB adoption of “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies for employees has doubled over the past year to 62%. SMBs are also ramping up use of customer-facing mobile apps and mobile-friendly websites to enable customers to do things such as schedule appointments, make payments, and access customer service.

As the number of mobile apps and the diversity of mobile devices continues to grow, SMBs want more control and management requirements increase. This is driving increasing adoption of mobile management solutions. Overall adoption in this area is up 15% when compared to our 2012 study. SMBs top 3 management requirements include being able to:

  1. Remotely install, update and remove managed apps from devices
  2. Track and view installed/approved/blacklisted apps at the user/device level
  3. Authenticate, manage and deploy apps based on user groups/roles and restrict content access

Security Worries

Much of the mobile management challenge revolves around security.  Security concerns rise to the top both for the internal apps that employees use, as well as for the mobile websites and external apps that SMBs provide out to customers, partners and suppliers.

On the employee side, the top security management capabilities that SMBs are looking for are to:

  • Lock devices when devices are lost or stolen, or the employee leaves the company
  • Provide data encryption on devices
  • Partition/separate business-related data apps from personal data and apps
  • More Information About the Study

Meanwhile, SMBs rising adoption of mobile payments and other apps that collect personal information is spiking security concerns on the external app side as well.

Looking Ahead

SMBs look at mobile solutions and like the value that see from them. Consequently, they plan to increase investments both for employee apps, and for external-facing mobile websites and mobile apps for customers, suppliers and partners.

In addition, the BYOD trend shows no signs of abating. Employees want to use the devices that they’re most comfortable with. In addition, some SMBs view BYOD a way to trim voice and data service costs, which as explained, are viewed as a top obstacle to using mobile solutions more broadly in their companies. However, BYOD adoption ushers in additional security and management challenges that may result in added costs that cause some SMBs to rethink the BYOD equation.

Mobile management, security, and consulting services spending categories will see significant spending increases as SMBs endeavor to reap more value from and do a better job managing an increasingly complex assortment mobile devices, services and solutions. Today, most SMBs are performing mobile management tasks themselves, with internal resources. However, given that many lack adequate IT resources and mobile expertise, we expect that SMBs will increasingly turn to external solutions providers to get the management job done–particularly as they increase their business reliance on mobile, and requirements for security, integration with traditional business applications grow.

More Information About the Study

The recently completed SMB Group 2013 SMB Mobile Solutions Study provides a detailed examination of mobile devices, services and solutions that SMBs use. Based on over 700 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-maker respondents, the study provides a comprehensive analysis of SMB:

  • Mobile attitudes, adoption and use
  • Mobile drivers and inhibitors
  • Information sources and decision-making for mobile solutions
  • Penetration of mobile devices and services
  • Types of mobile devices used and who uses them
  • Policies and governance for mobile solutions (including BYOD)
  • Mobile applications for internal users (employees)
  • Mobile applications for external users (customers, partners, suppliers, etc.)
  • Budgets for mobile solutions
  • Mobile management

Two focused reports are also available to use for education and thought leadership. More information can be found on the links below.

Considerations for SMB Mobile Management

The Yin and Yang of Mobile Applications

Will Actian Connect, Analyze and Act on the SMB Market Opportunity?

After marking my calendar to attend Pervasive’s 2013 Integration World, I had to wonder whether or not Actian’s pending acquisition of Pervasive would be a done deal–or not–by April 14, when the conference was due to kick off.

After all, I figured that if things were still up in the air, I’d probably leave with more questions than answers. Although it seemed pretty clear to me that the combined entity would be able to bring a lot more to the table in the large enterprise big data space, it wasn’t clear to me what it would mean for the merged company’s future in the SMB market.

Evidently, the events team wasn’t sure about whether or not the acquisition would be a done deal in time for the event either, as they had two sets of signage and materials printed up and ready to go for either eventuality.

Fortunately, the acquisition became final on April 11, three days in advance of the event, and the events team got to use the Actian version. And although it’s too soon to expect a roadmap from the freshly combined entity, the event did give me a chance to think about what may be on tap.

 Actian Connects with Pervasive

actian pervasive imagesFirst, the background. Privately held Actian Corp closed the deal to acquire Pervasive, which had prior to this been publicly traded on NASDAQ, on April 11 for $161.7 million. Under the agreement, Pervasive becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Actian. In total, the merged company employs about 510 people.

Each company has been around a long time and has deep roots in the database world. Actian got its start from a predecessor company named Ingres in the late 1980s, which went through two acquisitions and a divestiture to then emerge as the new Ingres Corporation, best known for Ingres Database, an SQL relational database management system, available in community (open-source) and enterprise versions. On a quest to evolve into a big data company, the company acquired VectorWise, an analytical database in 2010. In 2011, the company rebranded itself as Actian and in 2012, it bought object-store database vendor Versant.

Likewise, Pervasive began as a database company in 1982, with its Btrieve offering. After a few acquisitions, spinouts and name changes, the company became Pervasive Software in 1997, when Btrieve evolved into Pervasive PSQL. In 2003, Pervasive entered the integration business when it purchased Data Junction (now Pervasive Data Integrator). Today, many SMB-oriented ISVs use Pervasive data integration solutions in their offerings. Data Integrator technologies are also at the core of Galaxy Marketplace, which Pervasive launched in 2011 (see Pervasive Puts Its Galaxy Integration Community Into Orbit). In addition, Pervasive jumped into the big data arena, most notably with DataRush, a predictive data analytics engine, in 2006.

In both companies, legacy database products still account for a big chunk of revenues, and have funded expansion to develop and/or acquire the big data solutions that they are targeting to fuel future growth. As noted by Steve Shine, Actian CEO in the press release announcing the deal, that target is to deliver big data solutions for enterprises of all sizes:  “Every moment, people, businesses and machines generate explosive volumes and varieties of data leveraging their existing networks and, more increasingly, the cloud. Companies that embrace this data as their most strategic asset will thrive, while those that don’t lose their competitive advantage.”

Giving companies the ability to “Connect, Analyze and Act” is Actian’s corporate mantra. Pervasive gives Actian the strong integration capabilities that it needed to fill out the connect piece of its big data story. Meanwhile, DataRush’s high-powered BI and analytics solutions should significantly beef up analytics and processing capabilities.

Where SMBs Have Fit Into the Story to Date

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) have been vital to Pervasive. The company has relied primarily on indirect channel partners to reach SMBs. ISVs in particular have been integral to its success. It has partnered with vendors such as Intuit, Salesforce, UserVoice and others who sell through embedded integrations and connectors built with Pervasive Data Integrator and with ISVs, such as GlobalShop, EBP, and Abacus, that build their solutions on Pervasive SQL database. A good strategy, as SMBs don’t often have the bandwidth, expertise or resources to tend to the integration plumbing necessary to connect financials, marketing, CRM and other solutions.

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 2.41.23 PMIn 2011, Pervasive also introduced Galaxy Integration Marketplace, a portal where users can find integration guidance and buy pre-built integration solutions in Amazon-like fashion. On the flip side, the portal gives integration developers a window into what integrations people are looking for, as well as a lot of very handy tools–including a storefront–to provision and manage products, subscriptions, payment processing, etc.

Currently, Galaxy has about 100 integration apps, from Freshbooks to Salesforce, which is priced at $25 per month, to integrations that are priced at $5000 or $6000 per year.

Pervasive is also working on a new capability, code-named Maestro, that will have a simple mapping interface so providers can map custom fields on top of pre-built connectors. Again, the Galaxy approach makes it easy for under-resourced SMBs to tackle the complicated integration problem.

On the other hand, Pervasive’s big data offerings, such as DataRush, have pretty much been a large enterprise play, and Actian’s primary focus and customer base has resided with large enterprises to date.

Where Will SMBs Fit in the Future?

Will Actian continue to maintain a strong focus on SMBs? In conversations at Integration World, as well as in the press release, Shine indicated that Actian intends to cover the spectrum from large to small: “Actian’s innovations make it easy for organisations large and small to connect, analyse and act on their fast-changing and fast-growing diverse data assets throughout the entire data lifecycle.”

Furthermore, Pervasive has an established and successful model of working with ISVs to embed and sell through its solutions–a solid approach to reach and serve SMBs, who need  integration solutions that they can quickly deploy and from which they can get value. The Galaxy Marketplace complements this approach by adding the value of community insight and new ways to source and purchase integration solutions.

However, Actian will face many challenges as it tries to span from large enterprises to small–especially in increasingly crowded and hyped integration, analytics and big data markets. And, as more SMBs become aware of and educated about what big data is and why they need to have a strategy for it, how will Actian push through the noise and surface to get into consideration in that arena?

Easier said than done–both on engineering and marketing fronts, especially as large customers tend to have a lot more pull than small ones, and the fragmented nature of the market makes SMBs much harder to reach and serve.

Actian will need to make a bold statement. It must double down on engaging SMB-focused developers, SIs and other sell-through partners both within, as well as beyond its current integration ecosystem. If Actian could, for instance, apply low-friction approaches such as Galaxy into other areas, such as analytics, it could prove a powerful play for helping SMBs not only connect, but to also analyze and act on their data once its integrated.

I’ll be watching to see if Actian chooses to make some significant moves in SMB directions as well as in the large enterprise space. Will SMBs be treated as a strategic market focus, or as business as usual? Actian’s decisions will signal whether it intends to pursue a broader play in the SMB market–or not.

Infusionsoft: Big Dreams for Small Business

Infusionsoft: Big Dreams for Small Business

Last week I attended InfusionCon 2013, Infusionsoft’s annual user event. In case you’re not familiar with Infusionsoft, they provide web-based all-in-one sales, marketing and ecommerce software aimed at “true” small businesses with 25 or fewer employees.

eventOver 2,000 small business owners attended the event, which featured the launch of Infusionsoft’s 2013 Spring Release, and three days of education, training, networking and presentations. Speakers ranging from Daymond John, founder of FUBU and investor on ABC’s Shark Tank, to David Allen, author of the bestseller Getting Things Done, shared center stage with Infusionsoft “Ultimate Marketer” nominees, who provided insight into Infusionsoft’s unique customer community. And, in an industry where most vendors are easily lured upstream into midmarket and large enterprises, the Infusionsoft team doubled-down on the company’s commitment to serving small business.

How does Infusionsoft intend stick with its small business pledge? Let’s take a look based on what I saw and heard at the event.

Climbing Everest

It comes as no surprise to anyone that has ever owned a small business that in every SMB Group study we do, small businesses cite “growing revenues” and “attracting new customers” as their top business challenges. While the goal is straightforward, getting an effective system in place to connect with and nurture prospects and customers is hard and time-consuming. Many end up with using a disconnected assortment of point solutions to address different requirements for things such as ecommerce, email marketing and content management. Not surprisingly this often gets ugly and hard to manage as a business grows. It becomes increasingly difficult to give customers and prospects the responsive and personalized attention, offers and service they expect without working round the clock.

CEO Clate Mask founded Infusionsoft in 2001 with the intent to help small businesses grow without becoming slaves to their businesses by helping them automate their sales and marketing with an integrated, all-in-one solution. Over the past dozen years, Infusionsoft has grown its customer base to 13,500 accounts and 50,000, with a roughly even split between B2C and B2B companies. Growth is also accelerating: Infusionsoft increased revenues and customers by more than 50% in the past year.

I think its fair to say that in the early going, Infusionsoft’s appeal was limited to those small businesses who saw the value of automating their sales and marketing but were also ready, willing and able to invest a lot of time learning how to use Infusionsoft and getting it to work for their businesses. Many of these pioneers have had great success using Infusionsoft to help grow their businesses.

As Infusionsoft has grown however, it has begun to attract more pragmatic customers who don’t have the time or interest required to tinker with configuring software. Small business owners are already wearing enough hats—they aren’t marketing experts and don’t want to be. They see the value that an integrated sales and marketing solution can deliver, but want a shortcut to it.

photoeverestMask and his team have heard this message loud and clear. They know that they need to simplify the solution to appeal to wider swath of small businesses and spike growth to the next level. Consequently, Infusionsoft is focusing on simplifying the solution and delivering positive outcomes to users more quickly to reach its next milestone—100,000 customer accounts in the next four years.

Towards a Sherpa Style Solution

Infusionsoft’s 2013 Spring Release is all about doing more of the heavy lifting so its users don’t have to. The release features a more visual interface, easier to use drag and drop tools, and templates to help small businesses get going. For instance:

  • The My Day dashboard makes it easier to for users get organized, create quotes and move quickly through sales activities to close more business.
  • Infusionsoft’s Marketplace provides a library of free, pre-built marketing campaigns that have a proven track record of converting leads into buyers. Instead of reinventing the wheel, users can download a campaign to their Infusionsoft app, tweak it and go.
  • A new quoting tool that streamlines the quoting process and helps users create, track and manage quotes.
  • New interactive training tutorials help users learn about how to use additional capabilities from within the solutions with boxes that pop up to explain how to do things relevant to where users are in the application.

Infusionsoft has also integrated GroSocial (which it announced the acquisition of in January) with Infusionsoft Campaign Builder. GroSocial enables users to create and manage social campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, and the integration with Campaign Builder whittles down the time it takes to create, manage and track social media marketing campaigns.

Staying the Course

Earlier this year, it captured a $52 million dollar financing round from Goldman Sachs. Skeptics, myself included, have wondered if Goldman Sachs will force Infusionsoft to go upmarket or position for acquisition. After all, striking the right balance to deliver value and build volume in this very fragmented, diverse market is not for the faint of heart. Once you move past turnkey point solutions, very few vendors have been able to establish enduring scale and success.

photo listencareserveBut Mask says that the investment firm wants Infusionsoft to keep its small business pledge and build a great, long-lived company. It turns out that Goldman Sachs supports small businesses through its non-profit foundation, 10,000 Small Businesses, and Infusionsoft sees potential synergy with this initiative. Meanwhile, Infusionsoft is staying true to its own small business roots. Over 60% of its employees have experience running their own small businesses, and Infusionsoft encourages new employees to continue running their small businesses while they work for Infusionsoft to keep the small business focus sharp and stay true to its mantra to listen, care and serve small businesses.

Infusionsoft is also expanding its ecosystem of developer and service delivery partners, which now includes over 300 partners. This year’s Battle of the Apps, showcased at InfusionCon, showcased 4 contestants who develop plug-ins and add-ons to the Infusionsoft platform.

we empowerIn January 2013, Infusionsoft opened up its new 90,000 square foot building to accommodate the 700 employees it will add to its staff to support its small business growth goals and culture. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a big wall with hundreds of photos of Infusionsoft’s small business customers. The building features:

  • Meeting rooms that small businesses in the Phoenix community can use free of charge.
  • A large space to accommodate training for customers and partners.
  • Prominent displays of the company’s nine core values and performance benchmarks for its Everest climb.
  • A games room, mother’s room and a cereal bar—which harkens back to remind everyone of the early dark days when Mask and his then small team lived on cereal and pizza.
  • Infusionsoft is also expanding its ecosystem of developer and service delivery partners, which now includes over 300 partners. This year’s Battle of the Apps, showcased at InfusionCon, 4 contestants who develop plug-ins and add-ons to the Infusionsoft platform.

Interestingly, the building also includes a Dreaming Room—complete with a library and full-time Dream Manager—to help Infusionsoft employees set and attain their personal goals. Infusionsoft believes that happy employees equate to happy customers—and it is filling the walls with photos of how its employees are achieving their dreams.

Perspective

Will Infusionsoft’s dedication to small business pay off? Will it be able to stay the small business course, and find the formula that eludes so many tech companies. Is it on track to become a scalable, enduring small business solution company ala Intuit? Of course, only time will tell if Infusionsoft’s execution will live up to its intentions.

The company will need to strike that fine balance of creating powerful solutions without complexity—a rare thing indeed. But, so far, I like what I see. Keeping fresh small business blood running through its employees’ veins should also help keep it focused on and in tune with small businesses—especially when so many of the vendors targeting small business are so far removed from the realities that small business owners face. Infusionsoft has the capital it needs to provide a better user experience for its customers, and broaden its partner ecosystem to add the nuanced capabilities that diverse small business customers demand.

Infusionsoft’s goal for next year’s InfusionCon is 4,000 small business owner attendees. I’ll be watching to see if the company meets this objective, because convincing that many “true” small business owners to put day-to-day business needs aside for three days to travel and invest to learn how to use any software solution may be a first. If Infusionsoft pulls this off, it will be a very good omen indeed that it can fulfill on its dreams for itself and for its small business customers.

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