Charting a Course in the ERP Clouds

cloud question markFor many SMBs, limited IT resources and budgets are the norm. This makes keeping pace with technology requirements an uphill battle.

Over the past several years, cloud-based solutions have helped SMBs put technology solutions to work with less cost and complexity, and more flexibility, than traditional on-premise deployments. The technology underlying cloud ERP solutions provides SMBs with agility, efficiency and financial benefits. For instance, cloud solutions:

  • Capitalize on virtualization and load-balancing technology. Applications are more easily deployed, managed, and even scaled across multiple servers and database resources as demand and growth changes
  • Provide access to software, server, storage and other computing resources that you provision—and users access—over the Internet or a private network via browser, so you don’t need to deal with client upgrades.
  • Store data resources in the cloud instead of on individual devices, easing management and security concerns.
  • Typically take a layered security approach, which includes encryption, key management, strong access controls, and security intelligence to further increase data security.

This translates into big advantages for businesses. For instance, one of the biggest benefits cloud solutions provide is on the mobile front. Users can easily self-provision and use cloud applications from a web browser, through Apple and Android mobile devices, or Windows, Mac or Linux desktop platforms—without expensive, complex VPN and remote access software. This makes it easier for businesses to support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs.

Slide1These kinds of benefits have convinced many SMBs to adopt cloud solutions in areas such as CRM and collaboration. As they realize benefits in these areas, they are increasingly likely to consider the cloud for core business functions, such as accounting, financials, and ERP. As indicated on Figure 1, only 14% of SMBs currently use cloud Accounting/ERP solution. However, among those planning to purchase or upgrade, 20% plan to select cloud Accounting/ERP. 14% are not sure, and likely to consider both options.

However, clouds come in different shapes and sizes, including public (software-as-a-service or SaaS) private clouds and hybrid clouds. Adding to the confusion, the lines between different cloud models are blurring. Finally, the list of vendors offering cloud financials and ERP solutions for SMBs is growing.

So how can you determine which cloud ERP approach is right for your business? .

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 9.19.54 AMSponsored by Acumatica, SMB Group’s free ebook, Clearing the SMB Clouds will help you understand the cloud variants that you’re most likely to encounter when evaluating ERP solutions and deployment alternatives, the tradeoffs between them, and critical security questions. The ebook provides guidance to help you determine which model will best match your company’s strategy, workloads, performance and security needs, and how to assess cloud ERP providers, partners, and solution capabilities.

The bottom line is that the business models, goals and requirements of SMBs are as diverse as the cloud ERP choices available–there is no “one size fits all” cloud ERP choice that’s right for all SMBs. While cloud ERP solutions offer SMBs the means to streamline operations, adapt, and grow in today’s fast-paced business environment, it’s important to do your homework to figure out which solution will be the best fit for your business.

The Cloud Comes Full Circle: Sage and Salesforce Team Up For Sage Life

White Clouds in Blue SkyIf you had any doubt that the cloud has become mainstream, yesterday’s announcement that Sage and Salesforce have inked a global partnership to bring Sage small business accounting and payroll solutions onto the Salesforce 1 Platform should erase them.

The partnership brings together opposite ends of the software universe. It pairs Salesforce, pioneer and poster child for the cloud, with Sage, which has arguably been one of the slowest software vendors to embrace cloud computing. While Marc Benioff’s Salesforce posted 26% revenue growth in it’s recently close fourth quarter, Sage posted growth of 6.2%. Not to mention the rumors of Salesforce potential value as a $50B to $60B acquisition target to a still unidentified bidder.

Sage Life is aptly named, as the partnership offers Sage the potential to breath new life into a its product lineup with a cloud solution better tuned to the needs of today’s small businesses. Sage Life provides unified accounting, financials and payroll in a cloud based, customizable solution. The solution is mobile ready, and can be used on any device, from smartphones to smart watches and from tablets to the desktop. The real time, unified data view and social functionality enable collaboration between employees, customers, partners and other constituents.

Coupled with Sage’s strong understanding of small businesses, the partnership infuses Sage with a credible foundation to attract new customers to its fold, which has been a notoriously difficult feat for the vendor to achieve over the past several years. By providing a modern, integrated small business solution that also integrates with Salesforce CRM, Sage is aiming to solve the integration challenges that so many small businesses struggle with (Figure 1). As indicated, roughly 40% of small busnesses (1-100 employees) have not done any business application integration. And, among those who have, 71% use unwieldly, unscalable custom coding or manual methods to accomplish the task.

Figure 1: Level and Type of Business Application Integration Used By Small BusinessesSlide1

The relationship is complementary to Salesforce’s investment in and partnership with FinancialForce, which is also built on the Salesforce 1 Platform, but is geared towards midsize businesses. Sage provides Salesforce with a similar, integrated front and back office story for small buisnesses—and perhaps a possible investment opportunity as well.

Already a leader in corporate philanthropy, Sage has also joined Pledge 1%, perhaps cementing a stronger bond. Based on a Salesforce’s 1-1-1 model, Pledge 1% encourages individuals and companies to pledge 1% of equity, product, and employee time to their communities.

Perspective

In the tech world, the initial announcement is all too often the climax of the partnership. While it’s too early to tell if this one will blossom beyond the honeymoon phase, it’s certainly in Sage’s best interest to make the relationship work, as it’s future growth will be heavily dependent on this new offering. Meanwhile, Salesforce, which has arguably become less in tune with small business as it has moved up into the large enterprise space, stands to benefit from Sage’s small business knowledge and customer base.

Trends in Small Business Adoption of Mobile Solutions

Mobile technology is revolutionizing how small businesses get things done. Over the last few years, SMB Group has conducted detailed surveys to quantify the impact of mobile in the small business market. Having recently published our 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, we thought the timing was right to look at some key benchmarks to illuminate just how quickly very small (1-19 employees) and small (20-99 employees) businesses are evolving in the mobile solutions area.

Mobile Making Steady Gains as a Percentage of Overall Small Business Technology Spending

Mobile solutions also account for a growing share of very small and small business technology budgets (Figure 1). Year-over-year, median spending on mobile solutions as a percentage of total technology spending has risen 10% year among very small businesses, and 7% among small businesses.

Figure 1: Mobile Accounts for an Increasing Share of Small Business Technology Budgets

Slide1

 In addition, both very small and small businesses continue to be bullish on mobile spending plans (Figure 2). In 2014, 48% of very small businesses and 70% of small businesses forecast that they would increase mobile spending in the coming year.

 Figure 2: Small Businesses Mobile Spending Plans Continue to Rise

Slide2

Mobile Applications Play an Increasingly Bigger Role in Small Business

Trending analysis shows that mobile applications are becoming more critical for small businesses. Both very small and very small businesses continue to incorporate a growing number of mobile apps into their day-to-day business operations (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Increasing Use of Mobile AppsSlide3

Since upwards of 80% of very small and small businesses already use basic collaboration and productivity tools such as email, calendar and contacts, growth is tapering somewhat in this area. However, some mobile collaboration and productivity apps are poised for strong gains next year, with 20%-plus of small business respondents planning to deploy mobile conferencing, document management, find-me-follow-me presence, personal assistant and/or document editing and creation apps within the next 12 months.

Mobile business apps have made bigger gains over the past three years, particularly among businesses with 20-99 employees, where the number of mobile business apps used regularly jumped 27% over the past year. We expect this trend to continue, as respondent’s plans to add new mobile business apps in the next 12 months were strong across the board. Mobile apps for time management and capture lead the way, with 25% of both very small and small businesses planning to add this capability; followed by mobile marketing and advertising (24%); business analytics (23%); and financial management/payment processing (23%).

Furthermore, 67% of very small and 73% of small businesses believe that mobile apps will replace some of their current business applications, further underscoring that mobile apps are becoming core to the business (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Mobile Apps Increasingly Likely to Complement/Displace Traditional Business AppsSlide4

BYOD Support Still Gaining

Employees increasingly want to use their own devices to access corporate data. This is part of a growing trend dubbed Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). In the BYOD model, employees can use the device of their choice for work. BYOD has both pros and cons. Most people think it helps improve employee productivity, and some think it can lower costs. However, most also agree that BYOD devices are more difficult to manage and secure than company owned devices.

Despite these tradeoffs, small business support for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs for employees also continues to enjoy strong growth (Figure 5). Top drivers for the 60% of small businesses that currently support BYOD support include employee familiarity/preference for their own device (71%); saving money (63%); and meeting employee expectations/demands (42%). Roughly one-quarter of these businesses pay for all smartphone device and service expenses. In contrast, 20% cover smartphone service plan costs only; 18% cover business use expenses only, and 20% provide employees with fixed monthly stipends. Interestingly, 18% expect employees to use their own mobile device for work but do not cover any BYOD expenses.

Figure 5: Growth In Small Business BYOD SupportSlide5

But BYOD challenges hinder wider adoption. 40% of small businesses don’t support BYOD due to security concerns (56%); difficult to manage (54%); and because reimbursing employees for BYOD is too time consuming/complex (38%). These businesses are not likely to add BYOD support until it is easier to partition, secure, bill and manage work-related versus personal mobile use and expenses.

Small Businesses Slower to Add Mobile Management Capabilities

In fact, small business adoption of bright and shiny mobile devices and apps has quickly outpaced their embrace of mobile management solutions in general. As shown on Figure 6, only 43% of businesses with 20-99 employees are using a mobile device management solution, while just 33% use a solution to manage and secure mobile apps.

Figure 6: Small Business (20-99 employees) Adoption of Mobile Management SolutionsSlide6

In addition, while small business spending on mobile devices, service plans and apps as a percentage of total mobile spending has risen from 2013 to 2014, spending on mobile management, consulting and security has declined somewhat from 2013.

But it does not appear that cost is what’s holding small businesses back. Just 16% of respondents said that they didn’t’ use a mobile management solution because they are too expensive. Instead, the biggest obstacles are they don’t think they need it (51%); they don’t know which solution is right for their company (22%) and they don’t have the resources to deploy it (22%).

Perspective

Small businesses are clearly swept up in the mobile tsunami, and mobile solutions are becoming essential to small business success. However, small business adoption of mobile devices, apps and services is rapidly outpacing their ability to secure and manage mobile assets.

Without appropriate mobile device, application and data management policies and solutions in place, small businesses risk putting their corporate financial and brand security at ever-higher risk. In addition, as reliance on mobile solutions rises without adequate attention to management, many small businesses will find manual attempts to track and manage mobile use increasingly time-consuming and frustrating.

Study findings strongly suggest that while small businesses have quickly grasped how mobile can help their businesses, they are still struggling to understand the why, what, and how of mobile management. Vendors will need to dramatically ramp up education, guidance and consulting initiative and services to help more small businesses understand and take action in this area.

This is the first post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses how small businesses are using mobile technologies in their businesses.

The State of SMB Adoption of Mobile Apps and Management Solutions

Slide1We recently published two new Perspectives reports that provide in-depth data and insights about the state of SMB mobile solution adoption. These reports tell an interesting story: While 55% of small and 65% of medium businesses view mobile solutions as critical to their businesses, and as mobile budgets continue to rise, SMBs are challenged by high data service costs, uncertainty about which solutions are the right fit for their businesses, security and management concerns, and integration.

The first, SMB Adoption Trends and Requirements: Mobile Applications, examines SMB drivers, challenges, requirements and future implications for SMB adoption and of mobile applications. Some of what we learned includes:

  • 84% of small and 87% of medium businesses view mobile apps as complementary to traditional business applications, and a majority envision that mobile apps will replace some traditional applications.
  • Employee use of mobile collaboration apps is ubiquitous, and adoption of mobile business apps jumped 9% in small and 5% in medium business from 2013 to 2014.
  • SMBs are rapidly adopting customer-facing mobile websites and apps to help attract new customers, respond faster to external constituents and keep up with the competition.
  • Security concerns, development and deployment costs, and lack of a strong business case are preventing SMBs from implementing more mobile apps.

The second report, SMB Adoption Trends and Requirements: Mobile Management, explores how SMBs are handling mobile management today, their future plans, and what they need vendors to do to better serve their needs. For instance, we found that:

  • From 2013 to 2014, spending for mobile consulting, management, apps and security services rose in terms of actual dollar expenditures. However, dollars allocated for these areas decreased as a percentage of the total SMB mobile spend, while the percentage allocated for mobile devices and services continues to grow.From 2013 to 2014, small business support for BYOD jumped 33%, while medium business support grew 10%. However, BYOD adopters are struggling to determine the best policies to administer and reimburse for BYOD device and service plans.
  • Less than half of SMBs have implemented mobile device management solutions, while about one-third use a mobile application management solution.
  • 29% of small and 28% of medium businesses are seeking services to help them craft mobile strategy, security, use and management policies.

These reports underscore that although many SMBs want to continue to expand their use mobile technologies to transform their businesses, they need vendors to provide them with easier access to better solutions to manage and scale their mobile capabilities.

For More Information
Report highlights, detailed table of contents and pricing are available for each report by clicking on the report links above. 
Please contact Lisa Lincoln, lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com or 508.734.5658, for additional information or to order.

Vendor Strategies to Help SMBs Capitalize on Marketing Automation

This is the sixth and final post in a blog series discussing key marketing automation trends for SMBs. This series is excerpted from SMB Group’s December 2014 report, SMB Group Perspectives Report: Top Trends in Marketing Automation and How Vendors Are Helping SMBs to Capitalize on Themwhich provides detailed information and insights to help SMBs capitalize on these trends.

One of the best things about shopping for a marketing automation solution is that the vendors drink their own Kool-Aid! In other words, they provide a wealth of free resources to help SMBs learn more about marketing automation and their individual solutions (Figures 1a and 1b)). These include everything from papers and ebooks to webinars, live events and conferences. Even if a vendor’s solution is not the best one for your company, you’ll probably find some very valuable information among its resources that will help you make a more educated decision.

However, as part of the solution selection process, you should also consider the types of tools and services vendors offer to help SMBs get more continuous value from marketing automation. Evaluate the scope and types of tools, services and support programs that will help you get the most from the platform, and consider whether they will help you use the solution more effectively not only in the near term but also in the future as your needs evolve.

Figures 1a and 1b: Vendor Pre-Sale Education and Solution Enablement Programs

Slide1 Slide2

Each company discussed in this series offers a solid approach and a valuable solution. But, these vendors have designed their solutions for different types of SMB requirements; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Consequently, it’s critical to thoroughly research these and other solutions to determine which will be best suited to your business. Develop a short list that includes solutions offering the capabilities and services you need as well as integration with other solutions your business requires.

Fortunately,  marketing automation vendors tend to be very generous in providing resources and information about how SMBs can effectively use and get value from marketing automation in general, as well as about individual solutions. If possible, attend a webinar or even an on-site event where you can ask questions.

Many vendors also offer free trials. Try to test-drive at least a couple of different solutions to get a better idea of the options as well as which type of solution will work well for your business. Finally, ask for references from customers that are similar to your business and personally talk to them to find out about their experiences in deploying, using and getting value from the solution. Because vendors will almost certainly provide you with happy customers for references, ask what they specifically like and don’t like about the solution, and find out what lessons they learned after using it. Even happy customers are usually honest about the drawbacks they’ve encountered.

By taking time up front to research how well different marketing automation solutions align with your company’s marketing objectives, resources and constraints, you can help ensure a smoother deployment and choose a solution that will enable you to adapt to new marketing challenges and opportunities.

For more information about the full report, SMB Group Perspectives Report: Top Trends in Marketing Automation and How Vendors Are Helping SMBs to Capitalize on Them, please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director, Client Services & Business Development: 508.734.5658 or lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com.

Choosing a Marketing Automation Solution That Works for Your Business: Vendor Solutions and Pricing

This is the fifth post in a blog series discussing key marketing automation trends for SMBs. This series is excerpted from SMB Group’s December 2014 report, SMB Group Perspectives Report: Top Trends in Marketing Automation and How Vendors Are Helping SMBs to Capitalize on Themwhich provides detailed information and insights to help SMBs capitalize on these trends.

SMB decision makers must determine how well any given marketing automation solution maps to the company’s needs and constraints. Different vendors provide different marketing automation capabilities, and of course pricing varies too (Figure 1). This is actually is a plus because no one approach or set of features is right for every company.

Some vendors focus on providing very in-depth marketing automation capabilities, while others combine marketing with CRM in a pre-integrated suite. In the case of NetSuite, integration extends further, including financials and inventory. In addition, some vendors require you to build your website on their platform, while others don’t. So in addition to determining if a particular solution provides the right features, you also must figure out what existing tools you’re willing to displace.

Figures 1a and 1b: Vendor Positioning, Capabilities and Pricing

Slide1 Slide2

Source: SMB Group, 2014

In addition to determining whether a solution has the functionality to suit your business needs, some key areas to consider when looking at different solutions include:

  • Internal marketing resources and skills: If you’re a smaller company without dedicated marketing resources, you’ll need a different type of solution compared to companies with a dedicated marketer or staff. As indicated in Figure 1, vendors often specify whether their solutions are geared toward dedicated marketers or not.
  • Do-it-yourself vs. do-it-for-me: Who in the organization will be using the solution? How much time and motivation and how many skills will they have to learn in order to use the solution effectively? This is particularly important to evaluate in small businesses, where the owner may be responsible for marketing in addition to wearing many other hats. What can you invest in training? Ask for references from customers that are similar to you. Find out from them how much training and time are needed to get up and running and productive with the solution. In addition, ask them how much time it takes each week to get the types of results you need.
  • Cost and commitment: SMBs upgrading from a simple email marketing solution need to prepare for a bit of sticker shock. Pricing for the vendors we cover in this report varies widely but typically runs from about $200 to $1,000 per month for “pure play” marketing automation vendors. Meanwhile, vendors that bundle marketing automation into an integrated CRM (e.g., SugarCRM) or full business solution suite (e.g., NetSuite) charge per-user fees. In addition to price, consider whether a vendor offers annual, monthly and/or yearly contracts, and determine your willingness to lock in to a short- or longer-term commitment.
  • Integration: The need to integrate different marketing and sales activities in order to gain a unified view of customers and prospects is a key driver for marketing automation. In addition to integrated marketing functionality, what sales force automation (SFA) and other CRM tools will you need to integrate marketing with? Pure-play marketing automation vendors such as Act-On integrate with multiple CRM solutions. Meanwhile, vendors such as Infusionsoft, HubSpot and SugarCRM provide pre-integration across marketing and CRM. NetSuite takes it a step further and integrates marketing and CRM with financials. Look at what other solutions you use today to help determine which approach will work best.
  • Content: Content truly is king. Marketing automation without compelling content is like a car without gas. Content is what leads the buyer through the sales funnel. Think about the internal creative resources you have to create content as well as what other resources you’ll need in order to feed the funnel. Although you can’t really automate content creation, you can streamline it. Some vendors offer education and even services to help you more easily create, reuse and repurpose content. Many buyers overlook this requirement and end up with marketing automation implementation that ultimately fails due to lack of content.

For more information about the full report, SMB Group Perspectives Report: Top Trends in Marketing Automation and How Vendors Are Helping SMBs to Capitalize on Them, please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director, Client Services & Business Development: 508.734.5658 or lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com.

Top Marketing Trends for SMBs: Vendor Views

This is the fourth post in a blog series discussing key marketing automation trends for SMBs. This series is excerpted from SMB Group’s December 2014 report, SMB Group Perspectives Report: Top Trends in Marketing Automation and How Vendors Are Helping SMBs to Capitalize on Themwhich provides detailed information and insights to help SMBs capitalize on these trends.

Although the vendors we covered in our report aim their marketing automation solutions at different slices of the SMB market, they agree on many of the top trends. For example, many identified cloud as a major trend. However, cloud deployments are already in the mainstream in this application area. Therefore, we won’t dwell on them—except to say that cloud computing has enabled and will continue to enable more SMBs to adopt technology solutions in general and marketing automation solutions specifically.

Another trend that several vendors identified is automation. As the term “marketing automation” clearly implies, SMBs must automate tasks in order to scale their marketing campaigns and reach more prospects and customers, and to provide them with the right information at the right time in their buying journey.

Moving beyond cloud and automation as fairly obvious trends, vendors also agree about many of the top marketing trends that SMBs must capitalize on, although they describe these trends differently (Figure 1). These trends include:

  • Mobile: Buyers are doing more research, shopping and buying on mobile devices. Therefore, SMBs must optimize the buying journey for their customers on these devices. At a basic level, this means, for instance, that email campaigns and websites need to be automatically rendered and optimized for devices ranging from laptops to smartphones. But SMBs also must address more areas. For instance, should an SMB develop mobile apps and mobile websites or use text messaging to connect with customers—or all of the above?
  • Social: Social media has quickly become the equivalent of digital word of mouth. SMBs need solutions that help them to actively observe, participate in and track the social networks that their prospects and customers use in order to engage and nurture relationships and build customer advocacy.
  • Content: Content feeds all marketing initiatives, and valuable, engaging and educational content is critical to establishing and sustaining customer relationships. But creating good content is often difficult and time-consuming. SMBs must be able to produce, distribute and repackage content more effectively so they can get more value from it.
  • Omnichannel: The buyer journey is evolving rapidly and is likely to include many more digital and traditional touch points. SMBs need to not only create and maintain a consistent look and feel across different channels, but also get an integrated view of customer behavior.

Figure 1: Vendor Views on Top Marketing Trends for SMBs

Slide1

Source: SMB Group, 2014

While these trends are clear, many SMBs struggle to overcome issues that prevent them from taking a more streamlined, integrated approach. Some of the most prominent obstacles that stand in their way include:

  • Scarce marketing expertise and bandwidth: In small companies, employees wear many hats. Part-time marketers may lack confidence in their ability to get full value from a marketing automation solution. Meanwhile, though larger SMBs have a dedicated marketer or team, these resources are usually time-constrained. Carving out time to investigate, evaluate, deploy and become productive with a new solution is difficult.
  • Lack of budget: SMBs want transparent, affordable pricing. Many have been burned in the past with solutions that didn’t provide expected value. As a result, they fear hidden costs and are reluctant to make long-term financial commitments before knowing a solution will work well for them.
  • Poor alignment between sales and marketing on objectives and measurements: Aligning marketing and sales objectives and measurements is critical, but when sales and marketing use disconnected solutions, too much information falls through the cracks and/or gets lost in translation.
  • Lack of digital and technical skills to get full value from the solution: Although cloud-based marketing solutions remove the technical burdens of solution deployment and management, some require HTML expertise and/or integration with CRM, sales, accounting and other applications.

For more information about the full report, SMB Group Perspectives Report: Top Trends in Marketing Automation and How Vendors Are Helping SMBs to Capitalize on Them, please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director, Client Services & Business Development: 508.734.5658 or lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com. 

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