Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is the second post in a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. The first, Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 report, Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, offers additional insights into Intuit’s approach.

intuit_blueThe writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey, and one-size-fit all doesn’t apply in SMB. Is Intuit a good fit for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

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Intuit’s Top Technology Game Changers for SMBs

Simplifying business life for small business owners is at the center of Intuit’s strategy. Intuit’s mission is to “consumerize” operational functions such as payroll, accounting and marketing so small businesses can focus more on conducting business and less on business process.

Intuit sees the cloud as critical to enabling this, and it views mobile as inextricably linked to the cloud. QuickBooks Online is Intuit’s platform to let SMBs engage from any device, anywhere, at any time to manage their finances and connect to other applications for additional functionality. Today, most SMBs are managing the business through both mobile and traditional desktop and notebook devices. Intuit’s platform can discover, facilitate and customize identity, relationships and roles depending on users’ choices.

Intuit also views the cloud as the foundation to facilitate collaborative, social engagement. For instance, Intuit’s Demandforce marketing solution lets SMBs synthesize social feeds, comments, ratings and reviews to better serve customers and enhance their brands.

Intuit wants to deliver the benefits of analytics and big data solutions to small businesses through its QuickBooks Online platform. Intuit observes aggregated behaviors across its more than 560,000 users to discover patterns and best practices. Using these insights, Intuit simplifies how tasks get done, and tailors processes for different types of businesses and user personas. This lets users set up applications and perform tasks more quickly and easily, and frees them to spend more time focusing on building their businesses.

Intuit is also embedding analytics into its solutions to help SMBs better understand where they should focus time. This builds more value by providing capabilities to identify trends and act on them. For instance, a dentist using Intuit’s Demandforce marketing solution can see when patients aren’t coming in for biannual check-ups, and set up automated reminders to boost regular visits instead of spending time making phone calls. When mundane tasks are automated, customer centricity can move to the forefront.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior

Intuit sees several major changes under way, including:

  • Rising expectations for a “delightful” experience and total solution: Small businesses want to focus on their business, not on figuring out how to use software—whether in the cloud or on premises. Instead of piecing together product components, SMBs want more turnkey solutions, with capabilities to help them automatically integrate applications, and to connect with customers and suppliers. Intuit’s platform and developer network help small businesses extend the power of QuickBooks through third-party solutions by building data integration directly into their mobile and web apps. Project Harmony is a new initiative to make all Intuit solutions simpler and more “delightful” to use.
  • Trust as an increasingly valuable currency: SMBs want technology solutions validated via “social proof,” meaning that vendors must engage in an authentic, ongoing conversation to develop and maintain their trust. Vendors must augment traditional word of mouth with digital word of mouth. Intuit is building trust in several ways, such as increasing involvement with small business associations, such as ASBDC, SCORE and The Latino Coalition, and Hire Smart, a partnership with LinkedIn to help small businesses improve hiring results. Intuit also recently sponsored the Small Business Big Game contest, awarding a Super Bowl ad to winner GoldieBlox.
  • Better-informed advisors: Small businesses want the accountants and other professionals that help them with business decisions and processes to have a deeper view of their business, industry and other businesses like them. In addition to long-term accounting partner programs, Intuit recently introduced the Innovation Catalyst program to offer partners and customers hands-on training on innovative concepts and techniques.
  • Going mobile: In the future, Intuit believes many small businesses will start with and stay exclusively with mobile, and will expect full access and capabilities to run their businesses via mobile devices. Intuit’s internal development and Intuit Developer Network are focused on providing a seamless mobile experience.

Perspective: Intuit as an SMB Technology Catalyst 

With an installed base of more than 5 million small business customers, Intuit’s sphere of influence is enormous. Although Intuit’s legacy is that of a packaged software vendor, Intuit is now fully immersed in cloud and the mobile, social and analytics capabilities that cloud computing facilitates. QuickBooks Online subscriptions have grown by 30% over the past year—and should beat that growth this year now that Intuit has dropped the price from $19.95 per user, per month to $5—or the price of a fancy coffee. This should also help Intuit fend off recent small business accounting cloud entrants such as Wave and Xero. Intuit’s Developer Network has also bulked up. By connecting more partners and customers into this platform and to each other, small business can more easily reap the benefits of these technology trends.

With thousands of hours logged in “follow me home” visits to see how small businesses really work, Intuit also understands the importance of communicating that technology is a make-or-break business differentiator in the language that small businesses speak. Intuit doesn’t underestimate the hurdles it must jump to communicate this message through its web sites, advertising and influencers so that it resonates more meaningfully with small businesses. Instead of leading with technology, Intuit leads with how to take friction out of managing the business and engaging with customers.

But change is hard—especially in established small businesses, where owners are wearing many hats and juggling many challenges. To get past the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality in the very small business market, Intuit must work doubly hard not only to further consumerize the solution experience, but also to help businesses immediately grasp how new technology solutions can help them make real business improvements.

Disclosure: Intuit is an SMB Group client and paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. The second post, Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Intuit’s approach in the SMB market.

QBconnectLast week, Intuit held its inaugural QuickBooks (QB) Connect event in San Jose. The 4,000-plus attendees included accountants, developers, small businesses, press, influencers and analysts. The agenda included a good mix of updates, announcement and inspiration from an all-star line-up of speakers. Below are my top takeaways from each of these areas.

Turning the Cloud Corner

While newer competitors, such as Xero, have made a lot of noise, they haven’t had much of an impact on the market. Instead, Intuit’s Small Business Group continues on its growth trajectory, especially in the cloud. QuickBooks Online’s U.S. subscribers grew 32% in 2014. QuickBooks is no longer just a U.S. solution, however. Intuit now sells QuickBooks in 124 countries, and has translated the solution into 12 languages. As of September 2014, the company has 705,000 paid subscribers for QuickBooks Online, and a total of 32 million customers worldwide.

cloudIntuit has clearly turned the cloud corner. In 2009, just 5% of new users were online, now the majority opt for QuickBooks Online over packaged QuickBooks products. In addition, 80% of QuickBooks Online customers are new to the Intuit universe, indicating the cloud version is doing a good job of pulling in net-new customers. The event signaled that Intuit will be doing more thought leadership as well, as evidenced by offering entrepreneurs one-on-one speed mentoring by Lean Startup Productions at the event.

Intuit’s QuickBooks Online development platform is also growing. Developer booths were in the spotlight at the event, and hundreds took Intuit’s Hackathon (link() challenge for a shot at winning a chunk of the $100,000 pot. Method:CRM took home the $55,000 grand prize for its Method:Donor app. Payments Cloud by Cloud Conversion, Safety Net by Jobber, and Service Titan won the $15,000 runner-up prizes.

Finally, Intuit’s Accountant Partner Network has always been essential to the vendor’s small business success. Throughout the event, Intuit speakers discussed “the power of we,” and ways in which the company is enhancing Intuit’s QB Accountant Edition to reduce the amount of time accountants need to spend on low-value data entry chores and increase the time they spend providing their customers with strategic business advice (some of which I note below).

Of course, the combination of a healthy pipeline of new QuickBooks Online customers plus a vibrant developer and accountant ecosystem bode well for continued growth.

Sometimes Less Is More

As Intuit CEO Brad Smith noted, Intuit is not focusing on creating more and more features for fewer and fewer small businesses. Instead, the company is looking for ways to make things easier for small businesses. According to Dan Wernikoff, senior VP and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Group said, Intuit’s goal is to “make accounting completely invisible to small business owners.”

To that end, Intuit is plowing much of its R&D budget (which is about 16% to 17% of its revenues) into making its products simpler for small businesses, accountants and developers to use. Key announcements unveiled at the event included something for everyone:

Small businesses:

  • A full-service payroll solution, that handles payroll tax complexities
  • Automatic synching for bank and credit card transactions in QuickBooks Online
  • Easier ways to create reports, such as P&L and balance sheets in QuickBooks Online
  • Ability to accept credit card payments in QuickBooks Online in under a minute
  • A new payments offering that enables invoicing, accepting payments and updating books
  • A new QuickBooks Self-Employed solution to help freelancers, contractors and home-based business to separate personal and business finances

Accountants: 

The big news here was the new QuickBooks Online Accountant edition, which gives accountants the ability to work on their clients’ books anywhere, anytime and provides:

  • Customizable dashboards that provides snapshots of action items and deliverables.
  • Toolbox for one-click access to any client, from anywhere within QuickBooks Online.
  • Books-to-tax integration, so users can automatically push bookkeeping data to Intuit Tax Online.
  • Integration with Box, to give accountants a better, easier way to share content and collaborate with their clients.

Developers:

Intuit is striving to create a “drop dead simple environment” for developers to build and sell their apps. To that end, Intuit introduced:

  • New developer experience, featuring seamless cloud integration, new SDKs, and simpler documentation to make it easier to call on QuickBooks Online APIs.
  • New payments API to allow deep integrations with QuickBooks Online.
  • New Apps.com marketplace to enable developers to reach more QuickBooks customers with their solutions. Over 400 apps are already integrated with QuickBooks Online and available on Apps.com.

Inspiration On Tap

qbconnect speakersUnbelievably (this from someone who attends many events and co-manages a small business!) all the speakers featured at QuickBooks Connect were inspiring and informative. The speaker line-up was very diverse, but one commonality is that all are successful entrepreneurs. You can watch them on demand at www.qbconnectlive.com. Pearls of wisdom were flowing like water, but here are some of my favorites, which I hope will inspire you too! 

  • Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post: Stop wearing “busy” like a badge of honor! It’s not! Success is more than the metrics of money and power. We need health and well-being to be truly successful and happy.
  • Debbie Blox, CEO of Goldieblox, and winner of Intuit’s 2014 Super Bowl ad contest: You need to put yourself out there, and ask for what you need, because it takes a village to create a successful, sustainable small business! Be specific about what you want, and get advisors.
  • Tristan Walker, CEO of Bevel: You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and trials are really blessings in disguise.
  • Martha Stewart, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, reminded us that we need to work really hard to be successful but must be compensated fairly for our hard work, and that once you’re through changing–you’re through!
  • Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary: Find people who share your passion and empower them to break things. The future of business is to upend the unacceptable.
  • Marc Andreessen, cofounder and partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz: There’s a pivot happening with web, cloud and mobile enabling small businesses to use tech more aggressively.
  • Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and NBA legend: Have the courage to say I don’t know everything and to get help! Also, know your customer, serve them well they’ll keep coming back
  • Scott Cook, Intuit Founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee: Every one of Intuit’s successful businesses takes off via word of mouth.
  • Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit: We strive to be the operating system behind small business success.

Perspective

Intuit may have been born in the era of green screens and DOS, but it is now all in with solutions for today’s cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies. However, one thing that hasn’t changed at Intuit is its commitment to helping small businesses thrive. This combination of strengths bodes well for fueling the next era of innovation for Intuit and for small businesses.

Disclosure: Intuit paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

Why Should You Take 3 Days Out of Your Schedule to Attend Dell World?

dell worldFrom November 4-6, Dell will host roughly 5,000 customer, partner and influencer attendees at its fourth annual Dell World conference in its hometown of Austin, Texas, and up to 10,000 attendees will tune in live online. 

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Dell World is Dell’s premier annual customer and partner event. Having found the three prior Dell World events I attended to be both informative and fun, I was eager to find out what’s on tap for this year’s event. So I was delighted to get a sneak preview from Jeanne Trogan, Dell’s Executive Director of Global Events, about what Dell World will offer.

With time arguably being our most valuable asset, here’s my take on why you’d want to take 3 days out of your busy schedule to attend Dell World based on this preview. 

  1. Gain a clearer understanding of how technology can help solve business problems and meet business goals.

Companies want to harness technology for better business outcomes, but it’s often hard to figure out how to do this. According to SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study, small and medium businesses (SMBs) increasingly view technology as a means to automate operations and work more efficiently, and as a vital tool for creating and sustaining a vibrant, growing business (Figure 1). But the same study also shows that figuring out how different technology solutions can help their businesses is a top challenge for many SMBs.

Figure 1: SMB Technology Perspectives

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With this in mind, Dell World will provide customers–from SMB to large enterprises–with high-level advice and expertise to help them understand how and why key technology trends are reshaping business and consumer practices and behaviors. Keynote speakers, including Dell CEO Michael Dell and other tech and business innovators from business and academia will put cloud, mobile, analytics, security, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other trends into sharper focus, and help attendees stay ahead of the technology curve.

  1. Learn how to turn strategy into reality.

Refreshing your technology strategy and direction is the critical first step, but then you have to figure out how to execute. In fact, figuring out cost-effective ways to implement and/or upgrade solutions and to keep them up and running are also daunting challenges for SMBs (Figure 2).

Figure 2: SMB Technology Challenges

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Dell World is chock full of interactive sessions as well as hands-on labs and demos to help attendees kick the tires on new solutions, and fulfill the new technology requirements that their businesses require. Attendees can choose from more than 70 breakout sessions for a deeper dive into how to make technology work for the business. For instance session topics range from how to conquer cloud chaos to how to maximize mobility benefits without compromising security, and labs address areas such as big data and analytics, desktop virtualization, and streamlining IT management.

In the Solutions Expo, attendees can get an up close and personal look at the latest solutions. This year, Dell is reorienting the Solutions Expo from a Dell product-centric approach to a customer-centric problem and solution approach. The floor will feature different paths that start with technology problem areas, and guide customers toward relevant solutions and information. I think Dell’s refreshed approach to the Expo floor and demonstrations will be something that customer attendees will appreciate.

  1. Learn outside the classroom.

Just like when you were in school, sometimes the most important learning you do takes place outside of the classroom. Networking is a key part of Dell World with other attendees for fresh perspectives, exchange information and compare notes, not just at the event, but over the longer term. In addition to the serendipitous meetups that will happen spontaneously throughout Dell World, Dell is also scheduling meetings, such as an Executive Summit for CIOs, to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction.

  1. Enjoy Austin.

congress-avenue-bridgeIf you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about! If you haven’t been there, you’re in for an amazing experience. In fact, Dell keeps asking attendees where they want to have Dell World, and people want to come back. Austin has something for everyone, whether you love music, great food or the great outdoors. For starters, Dell World will feature both Weezer and Duran Duran in concert–something for everyone from millennials to baby boomers. Get some fresh air with a walk or run around Town Lake, and grab a bite or drink at the Hula Hut as a reward. At night, check out the live music and gourmet food trucks on Rainey Street, or at Austin City Limits. And don’t forget to check out the nightly bat migration under the Congress Street Bridge. Last but not least, there’s the history–Dell was born in Austin in Michael Dell’s University of Texas dorm room. Since then, Austin has grown as a tech mecca.

Dell World also marks the one-year anniversary since founder Michael Dell won an extended battle to take the company private. In a recent CNBC interview, he expressed how liberating its been to off the Wall Street treadmill and able to focus on customers, and invest more time, R&D and energy on their behalf. I have a feeling that attendees will probably pick up on how this more positive energy is coming to fruition at Dell World as well.

Using ATS and Assessments for an Automated, Uniform Recruitment Process

Whether a business is large or small, identifying, qualifying and hiring the right employees is critical to innovation and growth. But, as the recession wanes and the economy picks up, more companies are hiring, and competitionespecially for top talent is intensifying. This makes it more difficult for many companies to find, track and hire the talent they need to thrive.

As a result, many businesses are reassessing and refreshing their existing recruiting practices and solutions. They are looking for knowledge and tools to give them the agility they need to compete more successfully throughout the recruitment process.

In this three-part series, sponsored by IBM Smarter Workforce, I look at how companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and assessment solutions to better address these issues, and new developments in this area that promise to provide further enhancements.

Behind the Scenes at A Leading Hospitality Company 


kids
Almost everyone that has ever had children has been to venues that combine a restaurant with arcade games, amusement rides, climbing equipment, entertainment and other activities, including climbing equipment, tubes, and slides.

But it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes talent to pull all of this off. According to the Senior Recruiting Administrator at one of the largest hospitality companies of this kind, the Kenexa Recruiter Enterprise ATS that they had implemented years ago “was very basic, it served as a database for resumes. When managers read the resumes and selected top candidates for management and technical positions, they would have to manually overnight applications to them, and the candidates would have to complete and overnight them back. We had HR statuses, but they didn’t trigger anything. We couldn’t automate or control the process, or assign different levels of access to different types of users.” In addition, although the hospitality company had created two custom assessment tests for management and technical positions, hiring managers had to administer the 35 to 40 question tests to applicants over the phone.

By 2011, the manual processing required to support these workflows had become overwhelming, and says the senior recruiting administrator, “the company decided we were well overdue, and it was time to upgrade both its ATS and revamp its assessment tools to keep up with our evolving recruitment requirements.”

Although the company was familiar with Kenexa, the company wanted to check out competitive offerings to make sure that there wasn’t a better fit out there. They were looking for a cloud solution that would provide them with the automated ATS workflows they needed, and at an affordable price. In addition, the company also wanted to move its custom assessments into an online assessment system.

As the administrator observes, “We looked at 6 or 7 systems, and most offer fairly similar functionality in terms of ATS. But price was a key consideration for us. Some of the competitive solutions had lots of bells and whistles that we knew we wouldn’t use—along with more expensive price tags. So we’d be wasting our money.”

In addition, competitive ATS vendors that the company evaluated didn’t have the assessment piece. “They would have handed us off to a third-party, and we’d have to negotiate two deals, and manage two maintenance contracts and vendors,” notes the recruitment administrator. Kenexa’s ability to provide both ATS and assessments at “the right price” was also a key factor.

In addition, since the company had decided to deploy cloud-based offerings, it didn’t need to involve its 25-person IT staff. “Our bread and butter is the stores, so our IT staff is pretty lean.” Ultimately, the Senior VP and Director of HR at the company made the final decision to go with Kenexa for both ATS and custom assessments.

Moving to an Automated Approach for ATS and Assessments

Once they decided to go with Kenexa BrassRing ATS and assessments, Kenexa assigned a project manager, to help keep project milestones on track, and the team planned the rollout. They started with an initial group that included herself and four field recruiters, because recruiters would be using the solution in the most depth. Says the administrator, “I learned fairly quickly that you need to go beyond the project manager that’s assigned, and ask a lot of questions to a lot of people, including the technical people who configure everything. Once I got more resources on the Kenexa team in the loop, it was easier to figure out what approach to take and get it done more quickly.”

Kenexa also provided this initial small team with a day of training the week before it went live. After about one month using the system, the recruiters “had a good grasp of the solution. It’s pretty simple to use. But don’t get me wrong, we stumbled. We could have done more…like have more people testing it. It was a learning process, but one of the guys on Kenexa’s technical support team helped us and in the end it was a smooth rollout,” she added.

After the initial group was up to speed, they rolled it out to 45 district managers through an initial meeting, and then the company’s four recruiters worked with the district managers individually. Now, in addition to field recruiters and district managers, Internet recruiters, hiring managers, HR managers and regional managers are all using the system.

Observes the administrator, “The biggest challenge we probably had was getting people used to it, to the change. We sent emails saying you need to create a new profile, get a new password. So notifying people in each store caused us a little bit of trouble. And doing assessments online was also a big change for them. So in general, it took about 2 weeks for them to get comfortable with it.”

IBM now provides ongoing support via its Global Support Center staff, and the hospitality company’s IT staff hasn’t needed to get involved in supporting these solutions. If the internal team gets a call or email, they send it to IBM. However, when the business is ready to integrate Brassring with its Workday HRIS, its IT staff will play a role in the integration.

Getting Results

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????According to the recruitment administrator, “Gaining the ability to pull a lot of reports, much more easily, and on our own is very helpful. We used to have to request reports—and then wait for someone to pull them. It definitely also helps us control the workflow.”

She continues, “Triggers, forms and having things go at specific times ensure a more uniform recruitment process. The best part is that it reinforces the workflow, and helps us limit exceptions. Because there’s a single platform, everyone has to do it right, its set up the same way for everyone.”

This provides peace of mind, especially in the assessment area. The business has had two successful validations of its assessment process since automating it. As she observes, “It’s great, we’re not open to any legal issues here.”

Although the company hasn’t done a formal ROI, the cost and time savings benefits are clear. “Recruiters used to sit on the phone getting 35 to 40 questions answered, now this is online, saving time and eliminating expenses for overnight shipping,” notes the senior recruiter.

Perspective

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization, fueling the innovation required to grow and thrive in today’s hyper-competitive world. Many cloud-based ATS and assessment solutions are available, but as this story highlights, there are some of fundamental considerations that need to be factored in regardless of which solution you choose to ensure a smooth transition, including:

  1. Distinguish must-have requirements from nice-to-have features. Affordability and getting both ATS and assessments from one vendor were top priorities in this case. Setting these priorities helped stop them from getting distracted by solutions with nice to have, but expensive and unnecessary features.
  2. Ask questions early, often and from multiple people on the vendor side. Implementing or upgrading an ATS system is a big project, and its unlikely any one person will have all the answers or the depth of information you need to make the best and most expedient decisions during the implementation process. Learn who the best resources are for different questions and guidance, and use them.
  3. Get more people involved in the testing process. It can be tempting to limit initial testing to a very small group of users to make the process more manageable—over the short-term. But, things usually go more smoothly over the long-term when you involve a few more people upfront to work out more of the kinks earlier in the process.

When it comes to ATS and assessments, each company has unique requirements, workflows and considerations that come into play. However, across the board, strong communication and collaboration, both internally and with the vendor, will help ensure a successful outcome in the short-term, and set the stage for your organization to adapt to new requirements.

This is the third post in a three-part blog series written by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM. The series examines talent management solutions and trends.

ReachLocal: One Stop Digital Shop for Local Small Business

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe here with SMB Group’s SMB Spotlight. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Sharon Rowlands, the relatively new CEO of ReachLocal.  Sharon was brought into ReachLocal earlier this year to help transform the company.  Sharon, thanks for talking to me today.

Sharon: Absolute pleasure Laurie.

Laurie: Great.  Before we get started can you just tell me a little bit about who ReachLocal is and how you got started and what the company does?

Sharon: Sure, absolutely.  ReachLocal was founded over 10 years ago to really help local businesses with their digital marketing needs.  It was a time when advertising dollars were still mainly going to print and Yellow Pages. As the Internet became a stronger way in which consumers looked for services, ReachLocal was established to help local businesses tap into that.

Laurie: That’s kind of hard to believe thinking back now that only 10 years ago where we were using Yellow Pages and things like that.

Sharon: Absolutely.

Laurie: So dialing forward a bit what does ReachLocal stand for today, what’s the business about today?

Sharon: The business today is still about helping local businesses get more customers. Most local businesses are small, and we are still all about helping them get found online wherever consumers are searching.  What has changed is clearly the number of places consumers search has expanded. So local businesses now have to worry about being found on search engines, found on digital directories, found on social media. Then they need to be able to manage all that digital traffic in an effective way.

Laurie: I think it’s getting more and more pressurized because there are so many channels that you have to get out through, between social media and search, and if you’re a brick and mortar company you’re still doing things in the physical world.  How do you help small businesses get their arms around this, manage it and break through the noise when you have the big companies with big budgets and more resources?

Sharon: Right.  Well, I think it’s a couple of things but firstly really being a one-stop shop for them because it’s overwhelming to think you have to manage all these different online venues. So ReachLocal does it all for the small business in one place.

We have a really amazing technology platform that optimizes across all of the platforms and makes sure that we’re actually getting you the most leads for your money.  Then secondly what we do with our ReachEdge platform, similar to a marketing automation system, we help the local business manage those leads and provide analytics around what’s working and conversion.  We have great technology but we really believe the business wants help as well–so we also bring great service and expertise to make sure their campaigns are working for them.

Laurie: Can you tell me a little bit about what would be like for a typical small business, maybe a real estate company or a dental practice, what would you do for them start to finish?

Sharon: Let me give you a real life example. I just talked the other week with a relatively new client, six months, up in the Bay Area, a plumber.  He has 10 contractors on staff.  What we did for him was we set him with our ReachEdge platform which gives him a mobile optimized website which is really important because over 50% of searches are being done by mobile, and that’s just growing.

Laurie: And that’s all integrated into the platform?

Sharon: That’s all integrated into the platform.  We then run all his advertising campaigns across digital display and search engine.  We do retargeting campaigns for him. All of the lead intake, which is both phone and web forms, come into one place, get categorized, and alerts him to how he has to follow-up and then really tracks those leads through to conversion and getting new clients.  He can really see the ROI in what his digital marketing spend is doing for him.  His performance in terms of customer growth has been incredible in the last six months.

Laurie: I think a lot of times without that automation a lot of leads and people you bring into the database they just fall through the cracks, you don’t follow up because you’re overwhelmed trying to do plumbing or whatever your business is.

Sharon: Absolutely.  You’ve really hit something really, really important.  So much of the industry talks about lead generation.  You might get a great lead but unless you follow-up and convert it it’s still been a waste of your money.  Typically small businesses, because they’re so busy on their business actually lead conversion tends to get really neglected and one of the things we’re passionate about with ReachLocal is really helping clients convert effectively, not just get them leads.

Laurie: Do you also help them manage or improve their repeat business, referral business, are there elements to that once you have a customer.  It’s not just like a one shot deal, you’re bringing them into the fold so to speak?

Sharon: Right.  Well I think we really encourage our customers to use best practices in terms of email marketing and great content.  At the end of the day content really is foundational.  They can set up lead nurturing campaigns within ReachEdge platform.  Our primary focus really is getting them customers.

Laurie: Getting them new business, which in every one of our surveys, is the number one for small business.  What do you think makes ReachLocal really stand out?  There’s a lot of competitors that are pitching similar things, what do you think makes you different especially when it comes to the smaller company?

Sharon: Okay, I think a couple of things.  Number one I think we really are a one-stop digital shop for small business. That’s very important because it’s overwhelming for them to think about dealing with different partners for different aspects of what they need.  The fact that we can deliver the full spectrum is very important.

Secondly, I we bring ten years of expertise.  We have run millions of campaigns so we know what works.  That meld of great technology but with expertise I really think delivers a really great performance and at the end of the day that’s really what matters to our customers is they want to see the results.  They’re spending very important dollars so getting the performance and the results is key.

Laurie: Speaking of dollars the other thing that’s important to them is something they can afford.  A lot of times I talk to them and oh you know it’s really affordable and I ask for pricing and well it’s about $50,000 to get started!  What’s the deal with ReachLocal, how much are they in for?

Sharon: ReachEdge, which is if you like the marketing system and platform that gives you the website and all the marketing automation tools is $299 a month.  After that, what you choose to spend on search engine and display marketing is dependent upon where you are, how many leads you need to generate. Clearly your budget is going to relate to what type of performance you’re looking to get.

 Laurie: But $299 a month is the basic fee to be using the platform, taking advantage of all the automation?

Sharon: Absolutely, and get all of the reporting and conversion tools.

Laurie: Definitely something that most small businesses have in their wheelhouse in terms of affordability. So where can a company go to learn more about ReachLocal?

Sharon: Well you can find us on the web of course, at http://www.reachlocal.com. Or you can call us at 888-644-1321. And because we are a local business supporting local businesses we actually have a presence all over the world so we have over 20 offices across America.  Typically if you’re a small business and you need somebody to come and talk to you to really help strategize with you we have somebody locally.

Laurie: That’s great.  I’m here in your local New York office right now.  Sharon, this has been a great introduction to ReachLocal, thank you very much.  Thank you all tuning in to this SMB Spotlight.

How Would You Like to Pay For That? Let the Customer Decide!

baroquon_Add_MoneyA couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present on the topic of key trends in payments and commerce at Sage Summit 2014, Sage North America’s annual customer and partner event. Since getting paid is a top priority for all businesses, the topic garnered quite a bit of interest from small and medium business attendees.

So, I thought I’d share presentation highlights in this post, which discusses the sea change underway when it comes to how people want to shop and transact business, and why it is driving the need for businesses to reframe how they think about payments.

View the presentation above to learn about:

  • Key trends in payments and commerce, including ecommerce, mobile commerce, social shopping, omnicommerce and new types of forms of payments and currencies.
  • What this means for you as an SMB decision maker, and why flexibility and integrating payments with financials and other business systems will become critically important.
  • What you need to think about and plan for in this area, and why taking a more strategic view of payments and help you attract more customers and grow revenues.

And please let me know what you think about this topic! What other trends are you seeing, and how are you thinking about them in terms of your business?

What Is Workforce Science, and How Can It Help Your Business?

 

Smarter workforceEngaged, motivated employees can be an organization’s greatest asset. When employees are fully involved in, committed to, and passionate about their work, productivity rises, and more employees are likely to become brand advocates who can help you grow the business.

But many factors come into play when it comes to developing a more engaged workforce. While talent management tools are important to helping you attract, energize and retain the best employees, it’s only part of the picture.

In the last post in this three-part series, sponsored by IBM Smarter Workforce, I look at how companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and assessment solutions to better address these issues, and new developments in this area that promise to provide further enhancements.

Why Should Companies Care About Workforce Science?

Intuitively, we all know that employees can make or break a company. When employees are productive and dedicated, they can propel business growth. Conversely, disgruntled or even apathetic employees can grind business growth to a halt.

Research confirms this intuition is spot on. IBM has found a strong correlation between employee engagement at the business unit level and key performance indicators, including customer metrics such as higher profitability, productivity, and quality, as well as lower employee turnover, absenteeism, theft and safety incidents.

But how much do most businesses really know about their employees? While many organizations are going to great lengths to understand and analyze customer and prospect expectations, most don’t really know much about what makes their employees tick. For instance, how does a person prefer to learn? What are their talents? How much do they care about their jobs?

The truth is that most companies still use subjective criteria to make many decisions in this area. For instance:

  • Only 56% of companies use an assessment as part of the hiring process. (Aberdeen)
  • 77% of HR professionals worldwide do not know how its workforce potential is affecting the company’s bottom line1 and less than half of organizations surveyed use objective talent data to drive business decisions.(SHL)
  • 86 percent of companies say they have no analytics capabilities in the HR function. Moreover, 67 percent rate themselves as “weak” at using HR data to predict workforce performance and improvement.(Bersin by Deloitte)

When you consider that businesses and their employees basically share a two-way profit relationship, it’s hard to understand why companies have been so slow to focus on this problem.

How Workforce Science Improves Talent ROI

talent lifeccyleWorkforce science helps businesses solve for this by combing behavioral science with normative data, analytics, consulting, and processes to determine what it takes to build an engaged workforce, and create the “systems of engagement” to execute on it.

Particularly as the recession wanes and the economy picks up, more companies are starting to get interested in improving their effectiveness through workforce science. With the competition for top talent intensifying, organizations are looking to use the predictive powers of workforce science to help ensure that their investments will pay off throughout the talent management life cycle.

For instance:

  • Predictive hiring. By looking for patterns across organizational, unit, HR, and external data, companies can hire more top performers by identifying the talents and skills that are critical to high performance in different areas, and creating a process to hire candidates that most closely align with these characteristics. In addition, analytics are also used to determine what characteristics are a better cultural fit with the company, so you can more readily identify candidates who will fit, be more productive, and who are more likely to stay with the company for a longer time period.
  • Predictive workforce readiness.To close talent gaps today, and develop the talent you need for tomorrow, you need to be able to accurately identify the talent you have, and take steps to fill the gaps. This starts with mapping talent requirements to key strategic objectives, identifying linkages between organizational roles and key competencies, assessing employee competencies, and determining what hiring, training, or actions you need to take to close the gaps. For example, a company may determine that the existing workforce supplies the electrical engineering competencies they need today, but much of the talent is concentrated in the baby boomer age group, and they will face a deficit in 5 years as these boomers retire. With data-based analysis, the company can take proactive steps well in advance to fill the gap.
  • Predictive retention. All companies want to reduce employee turnover costs. Being able to anticipate why top performers might leave, and taking action to stop it can help you reduce these costs. But how well do you really understand what’s causing employee attrition? For instance, a media company believed that long commutes were the key reason for high turnover in its administrative ranks. However, analysis showed that employee family obligations, such as caring for children or aging parents, was a much more important reason. By determining the real case instead of relying on a hunch, the company could take the right corrective actions to reduce turnover.

Perspective

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization, fueling the innovation required to grow and thrive in today’s hyper-competitive world. The truth is, however, that most companies are just starting to think about putting science, solutions and processes in place in this area.

Because taking this type of analytical, data-driven approach to talent management is so new, most companies will want to keep the following in mind:

  • Start with the basics. It is probably overwhelming to even think about standardizing your existing human resources data, bringing in normative data and applying new tools and processes on a corporate basis. Start by focusing on a few key problems, such as a skills gap you know exists but can’t quantify, or figuring out why turnover in a key function is too high.
  • Bring real people into the process. Don’t get so carried away with the science that you forget to talk to people in the trenches upfront in the process. This will help ensure that you are not overlooking any possibilities, and are testing the right hypotheses when you do apply analytical tools.
  • Keep the big picture in focus. Although it’s often necessaryand even advantageousto start small, continually reassess how more accurate insights into your human resources and talent information can help you improve business performance.
  • Find a vendor you trust to help guide you. Although this is still a relatively new area, best practices are emerging. Vendors with deep expertise and experience can help you avoid pitfalls and accomplish your goals more quickly and effectively.

IBM’s workforce science solutions combine 25 years of behavioral expertise, analytics and talent management solutions with the largest content library and normative database in the human capital industry. To learn more, visit http://www.ibm.com/smarterworkforce.

This is the third and final post in a three-part blog series written by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM. The series examines talent management solutions and trends.

 

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