How The Cloud Can Help SMBs: A Conversation

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 12.27.13 PMLast week, I had the opportunity to be a panelist on IBM’s first virtual influencer event on Spreecast, (a great new platform that connects you with people through video conversation) about how the cloud can help small and medium businesses (SMBs) to build their businesses from the ground up, compete more effectively with big businesses, and grow.

Paul Gillin, veteran tech journalist and social media expert at Profitecture (@pgillin) moderated the panel, which included me, IBM General Manager, IBM Midmarket John Mason (@jcmason), and Subbu Balakrishnan, CTO and co-Founder of Good.co (@backslash0), a career platform built on SoftLayer that helps people find best-fit workplaces and jobs. 15-20 other SMB thought leaders also joined us via Spreecast’s chat function.

You can watch and listen here for the full conversation, but here are a few of the key perspectives I took away from this lively and interesting discussion:

  • All panelists agreed that the momentum for SMB adoption of cloud services is rising rapidly. SMBs increasingly see that by using cloud solutions, they can focus more of their resources and money on their core business, and leapfrog slower-moving competitors.
  • With the help of SoftLayer, Good.com went from idea to over 100,000 users in a year and a half using a credit card to pay for cloud infrastructure. According to Subbu, this is something the 15-20 employee company would not have been able to accomplish if they had to build out their own cloud infrastructure.
  • Many startups are forgoing on premises software entirely, opting to do as much as possible in the cloud. The cloud removes technology and capital barriers to get up and running. They can skip a whole generation of software to get their companies off the ground more quickly. The cloud is quickly becoming the preferred way for startups to go.
  • Once you’re up and running, the cloud gives you a flexible infrastructure to scale and grow the business.
  • The rate and pace of technology change continues to increase. The cloud not only provides SMBs with the benefits of infrastructure scale, but with access to the increasingly specialized technology skills and expertise that are necessary today.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the cloud. Public, private, hybrid, shared, or dedicated—each company will have different requirements for different solutions.
  • Business partners play a critical role in helping many SMBs take full advantage of cloud services by fully understanding the SMB’s business requirements. Skilled and trusted partners can translate SMB business requirements into the best-fit cloud solution so the SMB doesn’t have to parse through all of the cloud variants on their own.

Looking at the Big Picture for SMB Sales and Marketing: revenue + associates

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group. Today I’m talking to Louis Gudema, president of revenue + associates, which helps companies generate more revenue through measureable sales and marketing improvements. So Louis, I’ve known you for a while and I’ve know that revenue + associates is a new company for you, what’s prompted you to start it? Louis-casual-200-pix-wide

Louis: I had a company before for a dozen years, a digital agency that I sold in 2009 that became one of the national leaders in our niche. Then I did business development for two other agencies for several years. What I saw was a need that wasn’t being addressed head on, which is corporate revenue generation. A lot of agencies and people splinter it and say we’re going to help you with your website, we’re going to help with search, or we’re going help with advertising or with sales training, or whatever it may be, social media, but they’re not looking at the whole picture. Those point solutions may not be what a company really needs, and there may be other places where the best revenue opportunities lie for them.

Laurie: Yes, I think that’s a problem all of us can relate to. We know there’s many solutions out there but we have to frame up the problem and make sure we’re getting the right solution in place for it. How do you go about solving for that because it’s pretty complex?

Louis: I look across what I call a sales and marketing audit. There’s currently over a thousand companies, for example, providing sales and marketing software and dozens of channels from things like social and search advertising to traditional things like print. So in a sales and marketing audit, I look across a company’s whole sales and marketing process, it’s a 100 plus point audit that looks at what technologies are they using, what is the strategy, internal operations, governance, budgets, how are they onboarding people and training people, do they have the staff, are there skills gaps? From that I identify the best short, mid, and long-term opportunities for the company and start working with them to drill down.

Laurie: Who are your services mainly designed for? Small, medium or larger companies, what’s the right size company for this approach?

Louis: It’s a company that really wants to grow revenue. I’ve seen surveys that three out of four small business owners don’t want to get any bigger. So I want to talk to the fourth one. I’m especially focused on mid-market companies with say 10 to 100 or 200 million in revenue. I’ve worked with companies like IBM and Philips Healthcare and Avid Technology and other very, very large companies and done millions of dollars of business with them but in terms of starting this new company and the particular approach, I’m especially focused on that mid-market.

Laurie: I know you recently published a report called Revenue Opportunities, what is that about and what did you find in there? revenue-opportunities-report-cover-190

Louis: What I did was I took a look at 196 mid-market companies in New England that were operating on a national level. Looking from the outside what could I see about how much they were adapting modern sales and marketing programs. This looks at things like did they have analytics on their website, were they doing search advertising, were they doing search engine optimization, did they have a mobile ready site? Nine different things that could be seen from the outside, and it wasn’t only because those nine things can be very valuable and generate a lot of revenue when used well.

I felt they were also an indicator of the maturity and depth of a company’s revenue generation program. What I found was that of these 200 companies that operate nationally, so they all should be really eager to do as much as they can to generate revenue because they’re in competitive national or global markets. In fact, the average among those companies was that they were using less than three of those nine important programs and the median was two. It was a very, very low adoption rate.

Laurie: Why do you think the adoption rate for these things that are so directly tied to revenue so low?

Louis: I think it’s a couple things. The real outlier at the top end were SaaS and venture-backed companies. These are new companies, they’re very data driven and they’re very comfortable with technology, and they’re part of a world, especially that venture-backed world that knows this whole modern and very effective way to really ramp up revenue quickly.

I also get into other industries, like manufacturing or medical devices or engineering or architecture. I looked across a lot of industries. Then adoption rates plummet a lot so I think you have a situation where a company that’s doing okay, and has traditional ways of generating business. They know how those work for them and there’s this massive number of new things flying at them and they don’t know what’s real, what’s not real, what’s important. They don’t know where to start. They may have even tried one or two things but sometimes if you dip your toe in the water you can’t learn to swim, sometimes you have to really go in and embrace something to get the results. For a number of reasons the adoption of these technologies has been very slow, nationally even, from studies I’ve seen.

Laurie: These results you’re getting from these companies that are all in New England, do you think they represent the larger mid-market in the U.S.?

Louis: Actually, if anything, New England may be a little ahead of the national average because half of New England market is Massachusetts and Boston is a big part of that. There’s a lot of newer SaaS and venture-backed companies in Boston and Massachusetts. SiriusDecisions did a report that came out the same week as my report. They only looked at one of the nine factors, which was marketing automation and said just 16% of B2B companies nationally are using it. In my sample it was 28%. So it’s really low.

It’s not that I’m saying that these nine programs are the end all be all. As I said I’m really taking them at kind of a litmus test or thermometer to see how deep, how well built out are the revenue generation programs. There’s lots of other things like events and email newsletters and predictive analytics and lots of other things that companies can be using traditional and digital that may be the most effective for them, but these are the ones I could see.

Laurie: In the report it discusses the upside for the companies who do get more sophisticated in terms of how they generate revenue and what programs they put into place. If you aren’t doing some of this stuff right now where should you go to get started?

Louis: Well, there are several things. First, you need to adopt the mindset and recognize that this is an important area for revenue growth and something you need to invest in. You need to adopt a data-driven mindset and realize that your gut may not always be right and sometimes the data will take you someplace new. You also need to be willing to experiment and even fail because these things will not work 100% of the time and they take implementation and analyzing and optimization to get it right.

You have to invest in people and make sure they have the skills and that you’re adopting the right tools and that you know how to use them, and you have to find someone who can probably guide you through it. That thousand plus programs, those are in dozens of categories. Some of those categories are important to some companies and not others.

Once you’ve adopted a commitment to it and to budgeting and training and so on and so forth you’re going to have to take some time to figure out what are the right things for you and how to get them to all work together. That’s where the big payoff is, it’s not adopting one or two programs, but if you adopt a marketing automation program integrate it with your CRM and integrate it with your email marketing and other things so that everything starts working together.

Laurie: Louis, where can they go to learn more about the services that revenue + associates provides? Louis: Our website is revenue + associates,. I also have a blog.

Laurie: Can they get a copy of the report there?

Louis: Yes, you can get a copy of the report there, you can download it there. There’s actually a blog post which is specifically about an SMB action plan, some of the things for a company that is new to these more modern programs, where are some of the places that you can start.  

Laurie: Sounds great. Thanks again, Louis, for your time today, for joining me on SMB Spotlight. This really looks like something a lot of SMBs will want to look into because I think even if you don’t want to grow your business in terms of people, most businesses want to become more profitable and I think that all comes into play as well. So thank you again.

Louis:Thanks, Laurie.

Five Things SAP Needs To Do To Make “Simple” Real

SAPPHIRE_NOW_Orlando_2014_004_t-e-JPG@900x598There’s probably nothing harder for a business to accomplish than these two things: 1) make the complex simple; and 2) change market perceptions. But, at SAP’s recent SAPPHIRE NOW 2014 user event, SAP CEO Bill McDermott and other SAP executives ambitiously outlined SAP’s strategy accomplish both of these challenging goals simultaneously.

On the first count, SAP discussed how it will make its notoriously complex software easier to use so that customers can reap more value and streamline their own operations. On the second count, SAP is striving to shift the market’s view of SAP from that of a behemoth that is tough to business with to a kinder, gentler SAP that is much easier for customers and partners to work with.

At the event, SAP outlined many of the investments it is making to help it meet these goals. These ranged from Fiori, SAP’s new (and now free) roles-based user experience for SAP solutions, to its cloud first, mobile first development mandate. SAP founder Hasso Plattner discussed how SAP must redesign what it does with data, independent of what it has done in past 50 years. Plattner emphasized that SAP is moving from delivering monolithic business applications to a “minimalist,” modular approach, with HANA as an underlying and unifying platform. Bill McDermott also discussed the steps SAP is taking and plans to take to reduce internal complexity and management layers at SAP, and get closer to customers and prospects.

In all, SAP made 70+ announcements at Sapphire to back up its newfound direction for “simple.” I’m not going to cover them here, because many of my analyst and press colleagues have already done so in ample detail and with great acumen. However, I will share my suggestions on higher-level approaches SAP needs to incorporate to succeed in its goal of making simple real.

  1. Make SAP events more interactive and engaging.

    After business hours concerts, buffets and have become table stakes at tech industry events. The new bar is to make the entire event more interactive and engaging. Innovative vendors are engaging attendees with interactive, visceral experiences during working hours to help drive home key messages and insights. For instance, SAP could have given attendees a Fitbit or similar device, and set up stations where we could track, visualize, display, query the data collected using HANA and other SAP tools? Providing engaging, hands-on evidence that lets people experience the change would drive home the simplicity message much more convincingly.

  2. SAPPHIRE_NOW_Orlando_2014_011_t-e-JPG@900x600Mix up the executive ranks to get a broader range of perspectives.

    Panelists on stage at the SAP press conference with the Global Managing board consisted of 8 white males and 1 white female, many of who were German. For all I know, these may be the most competent people on the planet! But too much homogeneity can sometimes blind you to opportunities and issues. If SAP wants to become more relevant to a wider range of business decision-makers, I think it will need to foster more diversity within its own senior management and executive ranks. Not only in terms of gender and ethnicity, but also in terms of adding people from more diverse industries, company sizes and types of businesses into the inner circle.

  3. Use social media more effectively.

    SAP has expanded its social media presence over the last few years, but to me, it seems like it spends more time using social to trumpet the SAP message, and not enough time interacting with relevant constituents in meaningful 2-way conversations. For instance, a couple of SAP product groups just started to follow me on Twitter at SAPPHIRE. Not a big deal—except that I’ve been tracking and writing about their stuff for years. If SAP really wants to get closer to customers and engage with more prospects, executives and employees should use social media to prove that it is a company that is accessible and easy to do business with. Why not put HANA horsepower to the test to track, engage, assimilate and evolve based on ongoing conversations across the social media universe?

  4. cloudStop saying SAP is “the” cloud company.

    Unfortunately, this is a statement SAP executives made numerous times at the event, which, as I tweeted, probably caused heads to explode at the likes of Salesforce and NetSuite! While SAP is aggressively moving to the cloud, it is getting there much later than these pure-play, born on the cloud companies. In addition, what’s the upside of even trying to stake this claim this late in the game? Though the puck is certainly moving to the cloud, survey after survey suggests that a hybrid IT environment will be the norm for most companies for a good long while. Positioning its ability to give customers choice is a much more believable and viable path for SAP.

  5. Invest more in small and medium businesses (SMBs). 

Newer solutions such HANA are key to SAP growing wallet share in its flagship large enterprise accounts. But to really boost growth, SAP must become more relevant to more SMBs. While SAP claims that 207,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) use SAP solutions, let’s put that in context. First, SAP defines SME as companies with up to $1 billion in revenues—a much higher upper end than most tech vendor’s use. Second, SMB Group defines the broader SMB market to include companies with 1 to 999 employees. Given this definition, we estimate there are roughly 278 million SMBs worldwide. Although SAP Business One has done an admirable job of growing its SMB base and relevance, as a corporation, SAP has a long way to go to make real headway with SMBs—who use price and ease of use (aka simplicity) as key benchmarks when it comes to selecting IT solutions. In other words, SMBs are the litmus test SAP should use to determine if it is making progress with its goal of being simple to use and work with.

I have no doubt SAP is sincere in its quest to simplify its solutions and become an easier vendor for customers to work with. After all, it must achieve these goals to thrive, because simplicity increasingly beats complexity. However, SAP is only at the starting gate. How well it runs the race depends on how quickly it can move beyond using simple as a marketing slogan to truly instill simple into its solutions and its corporate culture.

Nine Signs Michael Dell Will Be the Comeback Kid

14111426889_67f83375a7_zA couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Dell’s annual analyst conference (DAAC), an event I’ve attended for many years. The big difference this year, of course, is that this is the first DAAC since Michael Dell took his now 30-year old company private several months ago.

As a longtime Dell watcher, I’ve been tracking Dell’s journey from hardware vendor to become an end-to-end IT solutions and services provider (see my 2011, 2012 and 2013 perspectives). The event persuaded me that Dell is well on its way to accomplishing its mission to reinvent itself and offer customers a differentiated, more cost-effective and easier-to-use IT experience.

Why? Because Michael Dell has not only unchained his company from Wall Street’s myopic quarterly demands, but because he is also building a powerful value proposition for customers that puts Dell on a solid comeback trail. Key evidence for Dell being on the right track include:

1. Customers increasingly view Dell as a key partner. Dell’s mission to engage in deeper conversations with customers of all sizes is paying off. At DAAC, customers used superlatives to describe how Dell is delivering more complete solutions, higher value, lower costs, and a better customer experience. For instance, Ted Colbert, Boeing CIO, discussed how the Dell relationship has expanded from day-to-day operations to some of the most strategic initiatives. He also described working with Dell as “purposeful,” in contrast to a more scatter shot approach of “just throwing hardware at us like some other vendors.” Exasol CEO Aaron Auld talked about how Dell “provided them with the support they needed to win new business and grow,” and Jenkon Director of Information Systems, Steve Shinsel described Dell’s end-to-end solutions support as “phenomenal.” Yes, I know vendors handpick customers to attend these events, but in addition to the unprecedented level of enthusiasm I heard from these customers, Dell’s aggregate NPS (Net Promoter Score) of 52 and 90% customer retention are best in class.

2. Business is growing. Since going private, Dell says it has added 18,000 new customers to its ranks and is seeing steady growth in it’s software and services businesses, among others. In fact, the company’s PC business has enjoyed five consecutive quarters of market share growth. I think customers were naturally anxious as they waited to see how things would play out, but are now giving Dell a vote of confidence with their wallets. Furthermore, the company appears to be headed toward profitable growth, according to CFO Tom Sweet, who told us the company paid down $1 billion of debt in the first quarter of this year. Dell’s goal is to get back to “investment grade” status within the next four years.

 Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 4.54.52 PM3. Entrepreneurial DNA runs deep and can now fully surface. Check out Michael Dell’s twitter handle! He knows what it takes to build a company from scratch, and being self-employed suits him. Freed up from Wall Street constraints, Dell can again operate in both a more strategic and agile fashion, and infuse employees with the entrepreneurial spirit as well. Dell’s high-level strategy remains the same to bring complete IT solutions to customers, be accessible and listen to what customer want. But the company can now more easily place some new bets to fulfill this mission. For example, Dell is investing to become a value-added cloud broker, positioning itself as an advisor to customers, rather than an OEM. In a very cloudy world, Dell’s Switzerland approach should be attractive to many customers. Furthermore, Dell has upped itsR&D spending from 1.6% of revenue to 2.1%. Last but not least, its hard to think of a more socially savvy tech CEOlistening ears are on!


14296498661_36be143384_z4. Execs and employees are all in.
 Other than customers, employees are any company’s best advocates. But, when there’s a lot of uncertainty in corporations, employees usually look for the nearest exit. But Dell is an exception. Despite a long, drawn out, uncertain and contentious (aka Carl Icahn) privatization process, Dell retained many of its top execs, such as Karen Quintos Senior VP and CMO; Jeff Clark Vice Chairman, Operations and President, Client Solutions; and Tom Sweet, Senior VP and CFO. Dell also attracted the fresh talent required for its transformation, including Andi Karaboutis, CIO; John Swainson, President, Software; Suresh C. Vaswani, President, Services. Renewed energy, excitement and loyalty were palpable in my conversations with employees too: when I asked how and why they stayed the course, they said they believed in Michael Dell’s vision—and several told me they bleed “Dell blue.”

5. Investment in a collaborative partnering model. Dell’s direct connection to customers provides Dell with many advantages, and will continue to be a key route to market for the company. But, Dell is investing in the channel to ensure it can sell to and service customers in today’s increasingly omni-channel world.  Dell has bridged what has sometimes been a gap in trust between it and the channel with a more collaborative partnering model. Dell is integrating regional channel and direct sales structures, paying Dell sales more for sales via the channel, and linking up regionally and locally with partners to pursue joint opportunities. Dell’s expanded portfolio also provides more partners with more headroom to grow with Dell. The results? Channel sales grew faster than direct sales in last quarter, and attach rates for channel sales are now within 3 to 4 points of the attach rates with Dell direct sales.

dell legacy of good6. Ethics, sustainability and diversity. In May, Dell was recognized as a 2014 World’s Most Ethical Company by the Ethisphere Institute, an independent center of research promoting best practices in corporate ethics and governance. Quoting the Institute, the EI award is given to companies “that continue to raise the bar on ethical leadership and corporate behavior.” Dell has also been recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability for many years, and recently upped its commitment when it announced its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Among the 21 corporate responsibility goals outlined in the plan, Dell has set 12 goals specific to environmental sustainability. Building on existing initiatives, these 12 environmental goals focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact of company operations, driving social and environmental responsibility in the industry and supply chain, and promoting technology’s role in addressing environmental challenges. Finally, Dell’s executive team and workforce are diverse. Dell has also stepped up to help women entrepreneurs via Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN). Recent research from The Intelligence Group’s Cassandra Report indicates that among millennials, 59% say that a company’s ethics and practices are important factors in deciding what brands to buy. Pretty powerful stuff—and very tough to fake.

14113197698_5fef929bdb_z7. Stringing pearls instead of looking for one big rock. Dell has been investing strategically to acquire the IP and expertise it needs to package software and services in a more digestible way. While the theme at last year’s DAAC centered on the 12 acquisition Dell made, this year, the vendor spent more time discussing progress to integrate them and bring more complete solution value to customers. For instance, John Swainson discussed how, in the mobile management area, Dell combined Wsye, KACE and other assets for a single enterprise mobile management (EMM) solution to manage PCs, Macs and mobile devices. The vendor is looking to doing something similar in the cloud, giving customers a way to manage public, private, multi-cloud environments with open, scalable solutions. More recently, Dell acquired StatSoft, and intends to leverage this to reduce entry costs and barriers for customers in the analytics area. Just as important, Swainson emphasized that Dell will follow “the 80/20 rule,” to keep its software solutions as simple as possible to acquire and use.

14113201388_6075815e58_z8. The PC isn’t dead! There’s no question that the traditional PC market is declining, but Jeff Clarke took the stage to the tune of “we are not dead yet” from Monty Python’s movie Spamalot to deliver his “Top 10 reasons the PC is (not) dead” message. Good news for Dell, as PCs are the entry point for 70% of new customers. Of course, Dell also offers a growing array of other client devices—from Wyse thin clients to Chromebooks to tablets and laptops.

9. SMB growth and focus. Good segue from #8, as Dell’s fastest growing client business is the SMB market, which grew 28% in the last quarter. In my opinion, the “personal” in PC translates into Dell’s capability to expand SMB business into other solution areas. Furthermore, in an age of technology consumerization, consumer, prosumer and small business are inextricably linked. PCs provide Dell with a launch pad to expand SMB business into other areas. Dell’s direct model, which enables Dell to reach deep into SMBs, its continued focus on listening to customers, its new, collaborative partnering model and vision to sell more value at lower cost, should help keep Dell on this SMB growth trajectory.

In a nutshell, this isn’t your father’s Dell—or Wall Street’s Dell. It is Michael Dell’s Dell now, and it’s starting to benefit not only from being a private company, but also from the fact that as a private entity, it can more fully capitalize on the equally advantageous qualities summarized above.

 

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