Sneak Peak at Dell World’s SMB Focus


mark horanRecently, I had a chance to talk to Mark Horan, Vice President/General Manager at Dell to learn about what Dell World has to offer for SMBs. Here’s a recap of our conversation. 

Laurie: Hi Mark, and thanks for taking time to provide some color commentary on Dell World. As usual, my focus is on small and medium businesses, so can you preview for me what Dell will be doing at Dell World this year that is geared toward SMB customers?

Mark: Just like we purpose-design solutions for SMB customers, Dell World features speakers, sessions, solution showcases, and networking opportunities for SMBs. Two of my favorite things for SMBs are the User Forum, where customers can deepen their technical knowledge around Dell solutions, and keynote speaker Alexis Ohanian, a New York based entrepreneur who founded Reddit.

Laurie: Why would SMB customers and prospects attend Dell World?

Mark: It’s a world-class event and opportunity to network with and learn from not only other SMB customers but other types of organizations from around the world. The diverse perspectives are invaluable. For customers who rely on technology to grow their business, whether they’re Dell customers already or not, it’s a great way to learn about where Dell is going and how that helps customers achieve their goals.

Dell also recently commissioned an extensive research study that explores how respondents adopt, consume, use and influence technology in four key areas – mobility, security, cloud and big data. The research focuses on mid-sized organizations (100 to 5,000 employees) across the globe), and we’ll be sharing and reacting to the results in numerous sessions at Dell World.

Laurie: How many SMB customers do you expect to attend? Do you have any SMB customers being showcased at the event (Executive Track, Partner Summit, Main Track and/or Ancillary events)?

Mark: We expect over 600 SMB customers joining us for Dell World 2014. SMB customers will participate in all of the Dell World tracks: Executive Summit, Partner Summit, User Forum, and more.

Laurie: What particular SMB solutions is Dell showcasing at the event? Addressing which SMB customer problem areas?

Mark: We’ll be showcasing many of our solutions; ones that I think are of particular interest for SMBs include our SonicWALL network security appliances and management consoles that provide industry leading software-designed protection for facilities of all sizes from small branches to massive data centers; our 13G servers and new SC4020 storage array will also be prominent. Systems like these help customers increase performance, reduce their IT footprint, and maximize the value IT can drive for their business.

Laurie: Are there any ‘birds of a feather’ or interactive sessions specifically for SMB customers at the event?

Mark: Absolutely. My team and I will be hosting a reception on Wednesday evening at Cedar Street Courtyard in Austin for SMB customers, channel partners, and Dell leaders in the space. Any SMB customer registering for Dell World should ask their account team for an invite to the reception.

Laurie: I understand that  the Solutions Expo is a bit different this year and geared more around starting with a customer’s problem, then taking that customer down a specific path to a solution. What kind of path would an SMB customer take for the following problem areas at the show:

Mark: It is a bit different this year. It will help customers self-select the most relevant content for them including:

  • Mobility/mobile workforce Connect Journey to Evolving Workforce
  • Security Protect Journey to Security Deep Dive
  • Cloud Transform Journey to Cloud Deep Dive
  • Big data Inform Journey to Big Data Deep Dive

Other Deep Dive areas include: Services, Software, Internet of Things and Data Center.

Laurie: What makes Dell a good choice for SMBs?

Mark: Dell’s ability to provide industry leading and cost-effective solutions from the endpoint to the data center to the cloud that address key needs for productivity, security, data protection, and analytics is world-class. We architect and deploy these systems for SMBs through a dedicated model for sales and support from both our direct sales teams and our channel partners.

Laurie: Mark, thanks so much for the sneak preview, and see you at Dell World.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Dell.

California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story  

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Salesforce.com’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers on how they are rethinking their business models and using technology to get ahead. The second post, Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Salesforce.com’s approach in the SMB market.


dreamforce2014
Each year, the festivities at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user event, intensify. At Dreamforce 2014, the entertainment ranged from musicians as diverse as Bruno Mars and the Beach Boys; politicians as similar as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore; Hawaiian blessings and hula dancers; and Salesforce’s erstwhile mascots, Chatty and SaaSy. Beanbag chairs, giant chessboards, free pedicabs, and lots of liquor-fueled parties added to the carnival-like atmosphere.

But there were also many Salesforce-related keynotes, led by CEO Marc Benioff, and hundreds of Salesforce sessions. Of course, I was most interested in the SMB keynote, led by

The Technology Trifecta

Salesforce sees SMBs as being uniquely suited to use cloud, mobile and social technologies to create new business models and to win customers over from larger, but often slower-moving businesses.

As discussed in SMB Group’s Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, Salesforce is in violent agreement with other technology vendors. The nine major vendors we interviewed for the report (including Salesforce) all view cloud, mobile and social as providing SMBs enormous opportunities to gain business advantages. With customers and prospects racing into the digital future at breakneck speed, SMBs that use technology to stay ahead of their customers will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

Though many technology vendors offer SMBs solutions to capitalize on these trends, Salesforce’s SVP of SMB, Tony Rodoni, and Desk.com VP, Layla Sekla of course touted Salesforce as best positioned to help SMBs harness technology to:

  • Scale their businesses with one integrated system
  • Gain better visibility into data
  • Engage customers in new ways

The Salesforce worldview (and that of the customers that joined to tell their stories) skew heavily toward what they described as a “typical silicon valley startup.” These are companies that want to conquer a large market using disruptive technology–ones that will launch and soon face a “tidal wave of demand.”

In reality, this segment represents only a tiny fraction of the SMB universe. But, from my perspective, they zeroed in on how businesses of all kinds can think about and apply technology to improve business outcomes.

Differentiate With Great Customer Service

The heat is on for all companies to provide a great customer experience for obvious reasons. Unhappy customers are likely to stop buying and share their dissatisfaction, costing your business money. Happy ones are likely to come back for more and recommend your business to friends and family. Social media of course, amplifies the influence of customer experience.

muncheryWith this in mind, Munchery is bringing new meaning to meals on wheels. Munchery provides meal delivery of “wholesome prepared dinners, handmade by top local chefs using only the best ingredients, for same-day delivery to your home or office.” In 6 months, its revenues have grown by 400%. Munchery credits its success to using providing customer support “that’s as good as the meals.” The company uses Desk.com to:

  • See what social networks their customers are using, and what they’re saying. Are there trends in what foods people want, such as kale or quinoa (they are in San Francisco!)? Once Munchery spots these trends it integrates them into marketing and meals.
  • Intake cases from Munchery’ mobile app to adjust orders on the fly and respond to them. Munchery can provide great service, and happy customers can also add an extra tip if they’d like. This responsiveness is helping Munchery turn customer problems into opportunities, and create evangelists.
  • Streamline internal communications. The company’s 100 drivers use Desk.com to communicate back to headquarters to help optimize routes and deliveries.

Outsmart The Competition By Re-thinking the Problem 

Accessing, analyzing and acting on data can give SMBs a big advantage over the competition. But building and managing infrastructure to do this takes a lot of time, money and expertise–all scarce resources for SMBs.

zenpayrollAccording to ZenPayroll’s CEO, one-third of SMBs get fined for inaccurate payroll. The three-year old start-up the entered the payroll market, which is dominated by big players such as ADP and Paychex, with a strategy to differentiate by giving users “delightful modern payroll” that works right on day one. While competitors position payroll as a chore, Zen thinks of payroll as employees getting paid and employers showing appreciation. It provides SMBs with a paperless, cloud-based, mobile-first solution in 97% of the U.S. Its 60 employees use Desk.com to solve support issues once, and then take proactive measures to ensure they aren’t repeated. Zen also uses Pardot to automate marketing, sales and nurturing and grow its business, which now processes more than $1 billion in payroll annually. Reeves’ advice to other business owners is to rethink the problem you’re tackling.

Personally Engage Customers

Getting the right message at the right time to customers at the right time is essential in today’s multi-channel world. In addition, the more personal the message, the less likely it is to end up in the spam filter. Salesforce introduced both a B2B and B2C customer to illustrate the importance of personalized engagement.

firstmileFirst Mile told the B2B story. When it launched 2 years ago, U.K-based First Mile saw the recycling market as overcharged and underserved. Its mission is to displace entrenched, inefficient competitors by making recycling easy and responsive. First Mile sees customer engagement as its key to its strategy, and uses innovative business practices and technology to power it. For instance, established competitors require long contracts, so First Mile requires no contracts. While competitors never call their customer except when its renewal time, First Mile makes 100 calls a day to get feedback. The company uses the Salesforce platform and apps to get and analyze recycling stats and help minimize attrition. First Mile’s field sales people also recently began using iPads and Salesforce to directly enter leads into Salesforce, “quadrupling the return on investment from field sales,” over the former double-entry paper and pen to Salesforce method. First Mile’s advice to other SMBs? There are lots of free or low-cost cloud solutions out there. Try the ones you think will help you to find out which ones will give you the return you need.
georgestreetOn the B2C side, George Street is putting a new twist on wedding photos and videos by connecting photographers to brides in 50 cities across North America. George Street handles everything but taking the photos or videos. For brides, George Street creates a personalized experience to ensure they have a great wedding photography experience. The company uses several Salesforce and AppExchange solutions, including Pardot, Salesforce and Chatter lead generation, sales and contracts, photographer and shot selection, notifications and sharing photos. George Street has also created a community for brides to talk about everything from cakes to dresses. It helps facilitated last-minute requests, such as a new shot request, with Chatter. Before they used Salesforce, they did a lot of this manually, but by developing a Salesforce app to automate the process, they’ve sped up the process and can provide a better experience. For instance, it used to take 7 days from a bride’s initial appointment with George Street to close a contract, now the average close time is 24 hours. Automation has helped them scale, increasing the number of weddings they handle by 250%. And, they’ve reduced case incidents by 200%. George Street’s guidance for other SMBs is to focus on delivering an exceptional experience. Automate back-end so your people can spend more time with clients, make them happy and generate boost referrals. Finally, if you’re using Salesforce, find a good developer to help you make the most of it.

Perspective

The 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 will face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey. Is Salesforce right for you? Read Part 2 of this blog series, Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, to help you decide.

Disclosure: Salesforce paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is part two of a two-part blog series discussing Salesforce.com’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. Part One, California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story, provides perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, provides a more detailed glimpse into Salesforce.com’s approach.

The 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 will 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 Salesforce right for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

Slide1

Top Technology Game Changers for SMB

Fifteen years ago, Marc Benioff founded Salesforce with the belief that multi-tenant, cloud computing applications democratize information by delivering immediate benefits while reducing risks and costs.

So it’s not surprising that while the cloud isn’t new, it continues its reign as Salesforce’s top game-changing trend. Salesforce sees cloud as removing the technology and cost barriers so that SMBs can:

  • Bring best practices and automation into their businesses so they grow, do more with less and do it better.
  • Gain real-time visibility into their businesses to improve decision-making.
  • Centralize information, making it easy for everyone to collaborate, no matter where they are, and providing a built-in way to retain knowledge as employees come and go.
  • Take advantage of enterprise class security and reliability trusted by thousands of enterprises at an affordable cost that scales with their business.

Salesforce views the cloud as the foundation and springboard for SMBs to benefit from other game-changing trends, namely mobile and social solutions. Salesforce believes that mobile is becoming the “new normal” user experience. People are already running their personal lives on mobile devices, and increasingly want to click into apps, dashboards and info on mobile devices for work. To that end, the vendor’s Salesforce1 initiative puts mobile first by making 100% of Salesforce functionality and information available to users in a relevant interface on any device.

Social collaboration is also key, not only in terms of marketing, but to help SMBs deliver more responsive service that customers increasingly expect. Social tools and analytics let SMBs increase context about customer and prospect interactions so they personalize how they engage and support them. For instance, Salesforce Chatter can run across everything in Salesforce and some of its partners’ apps, allowing everyone—from the CEO to the receptionist—to get on the same page whether to more readily spot new opportunities or to head off potential problems.

Together, these trends make things more transparent. It’s easier for people to collaborate to get the job done, instead of operating in silos. Salesforce introduced its Communities solution, which its customers can use to manage external relationships with customers and partners in a protected or non-protected way, furthering extending social collaboration capabilities from within Salesforce.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior

As SMBs get more familiar with cloud, social and mobile solutions, Salesforce sees several key shifts underway:

  • Rising expectations for centralized, single sign-on access to apps and data, with everything needed to get work done pulled together from different apps for a complete view.
  • Demand for solutions with built-in collaboration capabilities. Business owners see that collaboration helps the business to deliver better customer and employee experiences, because information flows both ways and provides better visibility to make decisions.
  • Customer service as the “new wave of marketing.” Better visibility and engagement with customers has raised awareness about the importance of servicing and engaging with customers throughout the whole life cycle to drive business, leading service people to take more ownership of the brand.
  • “Try before you buy” is the new normal. SMBs now expect to try—without having talk to rep—solutions before buying them. Salesforce cited one customer who wanted to get Desk.com, Salesforce’s small business help desk service, up and running by himself while watching the Super Bowl.
  • Friction-free technology. SMBs increasingly look for a frictionless technology experience. They have less patience for solutions that can potentially take too much time or cost too much money. They want vendors to demonstrate ease of use upfront, and provide transparent pay as you go pricing.

Although the cloud isn’t new in the industry, Salesforce believes that the concept of being able to gain advantages from enterprise-class software without having to worry about infrastructure is still something many SMBs are just starting to understand. Salesforce’s view is that while the cloud is more common today, some things aren’t “true Cloud” and SMBs are still learning about the nuances of the cloud value proposition. To that end, Salesforce is expanding its educational commitment to SMBs around business best practices. The vendor:

  • Doubled the amount of SMB content at its annual Dreamforce event last year over the prior year, with over 150 SMB breakout sessions, a dedicated networking and expert interaction area, ask the ask experts panels, a dedicated keynote as well as inclusion in other keynotes with SMBs alongside big companies.
  • Will move from one SMB message to differentiated messaging for different types of SMBs and decision-makers, to make it more relevant for different segments and roles.
  • Has recently introduced new SMB resources, including small business blogs, a customer success community.

Perspective: Salesforce as SMB Technology Catalyst

salesforcelogoAs one of the first true cloud computing pioneers, Salesforce seized on the fact that cloud computing removes the barriers for small businesses to gain the same business benefits from technology solutions as larger companies.

Salesforce—via its vision and strong customer proof points—has painted a vivid picture of how SMBs can use cloud, mobile and social solutions offerings for a more user-friendly, streamlined way to run their businesses.

At the low end of the market, many Salesforce customers move directly from Excel or from pencil and paper to Salesforce, underscoring both ease of use and the resulting business value of having real-time information access, anywhere from any device. And, even as it’s grown its star-studded Fortune 500 customer roster, Salesforce has kept SMBs in the spotlight, investing to educate the broader market about how they can use and benefit from these technologies.

Over the years, of course, Salesforce has also broadened its vision and developed and assembled many more components to enable this vision. For instance, there are now 4 editions of Sales Cloud, 3 of Service Cloud and 4 of Marketing Cloud.

At the upper end of SMB, companies may have enough staff, expertise and time to sort through Salesforce’s expanded portfolio, and figure out what’s right for them. But, Salesforce’s story may be getting confusing for smaller SMBs. While entry-level pricing is low, how many small businesses can jump from Group Edition ($25/user/month) to Professional ($65/user/month). While Professional Edition offers a lot more functionality (including pipeline forecast, campaign management, contract storage and quote delivery, custom reporting and dashboards, and a complete view of the customer across sales and service, the price differential is tough for many SMBs to absorb. Alternatively Salesforce does offer desk.com at $29/user/month to customers that have customer service requirements. Again, however, it can be challenging for SMBs to figure out which approach will work best and be most cost-effective.

However, Salesforce plans to increase investments to engage SMBs both locally and online. Not only will this help Salesforce educate more SMBs about the power of technology in business, but also it should give Salesforce a wider lens through which it can get a better pulse on SMB requirements. In turn, this should help Salesforce simplify and streamline solution packaging and positioning. All of which bodes well for its potential to help more SMBs understand and use technology as a game-changer.

Want to know more about how Salesforce’s SMB customers use Salesforce? Read Part 1 of this blog series, California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story, for perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers on how they are rethinking their business models and using technology in their businesses.

Disclosure: Salesforce paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

 

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.

 

Six Inspirations for Small Businesses From ICON14

WordItOut-word-cloud-394443Entrepreneurs have always been a rare breed. And, as the U.S. employment rate has improved, the overall rate of business creation has fallen from 0.30 percent in 2012 to 0.28 percent in 2013, according to the annual Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. All age and ethnic groups experienced declines, except for the 45 – 54 year-old group. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over half of all new businesses fail within five years.

So is it any wonder that many small business owners feel like they are isolated, misunderstood and lacking in the guidance and support they need?

Infusionsoft, which develops marketing automation solutions for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees, can relate to this dilemma—and is committed to helping. The vendor not only provides small businesses with effective, affordable solutions to help “attract, sell and wow customers,” but also offers up an abundance of business guidance and support—key ingredients for lasting business success. To quote Clate Mask (@ClateMask), Infusionsoft’s founder and CEO, “I don’t care about big business! We are totally committed to the true small business market—and changing the definition of success for small business owners.”

ICON14ICON14, held in Phoenix last week, represents Infusionsoft’s flagship commitment to help small businesses. In addition to offering attendees the prerequisite tips and tricks to get the best results from its solutions, Infusionsoft provided its 3,000-plus attendees with insights and expertise needed to create thriving, sustainable businesses and achieve work-life balance.

ICON14 featured both entrepreneurial leaders, including Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, JJ Ramberg, Jay Baer and Peter Shankman, as well as its all-star small business customers, to help guide entrepreneurs to beat the odds and create successful enterprises.

These speakers and Infusionsoft executives imparted many pearls of wisdom during the conference (check out the Twitter hashtag #ICON14 for more). But here are a few that really made an impression on me and that I wanted to share.

  1. Develop a positive corporate culture. Most businesses view happy customers as key to success. Yet what are the odds of creating happy customers if you have miserable or just unmotivated employees? As Simon Sinek (@simonsinek) noted in his talk,“Leaders need to set a circle of safety within their organization so their teams can do wonderful things.” Employees who feel appreciated, included and recognized are your best business advocates. See my interview with Infusionsoft’s VP of People, Anita Grantham (@anitakgran) for great ideas on how to build this type of culture.
  1. Establish a system to grow. Entrepreneurs should take advantage of cloud computing’s “no infrastructure investment required” model to help kick-start and organize their businesses for sustainable growth. Small businesses can use technology to enhance relationships by taking the friction out of process and freeing up more time to focus on customers. Systems also enable small companies to scale more easily and maintain better work-life balance. When the owners of Cleancorp (@CleancorpAU), an Australian commercial cleaning service and the ICON14 winner, did everything manually, they had no time for vacation. Since they began using Infusionsoft to automate sales and marketing, they’ve grown the business 575 percent, and the two co-owners took 9 and 13 weeks of vacation last year.
  1. Once you have a system in place, let go of process and let employees do their jobs. As Clate Mask says, business owners need to spend more time working on the business and less time in it. Or as Christian Isquiedero, CEO of Left Foot Coaching and ICON finalist put it, business owners should ask themselves, are they buying you or your process and mission? “You aren’t scalable, but your process and mission is. So build a system to “Verify, Clarify, Document, Teach and Automate.” Let go of the block and tackle, let employees do their jobs and manage what’s going on via a dashboard.
  1. Remember the sale starts with “No.” Small businesses that succeed follow-up regularly with prospects to stay top of mind for the next opportunity. Keep connecting with people every day, not only to sell, but to be there when the timing is right, according to Peter Shankman (@petershankman). Personalize communications with emails, offers and campaigns tailored to different prospects’ histories and behaviors. And don’t forget to integrate offline communication—phone calls, events, on site meetings, etc. with online activities to help humanize the business.
  1. Be relevant, brief and write well! Also from Shankman: With so many ways for people to get content these days, you need to find out what your audience wants and how they want it. Make sure you communicate relevant information, or people will tune you out. Remember that attention spans are shrinking; you have just 2.3 to 2.7 seconds to capture someone’s attention, so keep it short and sweet. Finally, learn to write or hire someone who can. Poor writing is a turn off.
  1. Make your sales process a customer service process. Heather Lemere (@salonbusiness), owner of Salon Success Strategies, a marketing agency for salons and spas and ICON finalist, uses strategic lead qualification to reduce high sales costs by eliminating bad leads to focus only on the best prospects. With a smaller but better qualified prospect pool, you free up time and resources to turn the sales process into an educational customer service process, which in turn helps close more business.

The wisdom, camaraderie and energy at Infusionsoft was truly amazing. Not only did it help educate and inspire those of us that are already pursuing our passions as entrepreneurs, but it should also help motivate those who have been tentative about making the leap! Remember, YOU create your own opportunities—don’t wait for an employer to do it for you!

(Disclosure: Infusionsoft covered my travel expenses for ICON14)

 

VerticalResponse: Taking the Guesswork Out of Email Marketing and Social Media for Small Businesses

vrlogo-gradient_1000pxLaurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group, and today I’m talking to Janine Popick, CEO at VerticalResponse. VerticalResponse helps small businesses grow with email and social marketing tools, and recently Vertical Response introduced a new version of their solution which is what I’m here to talk with Janine about today.

So Janine, before we get into what the new VerticalResponse solution is all about, can you just let us know a little background about the company and what you’ve been doing up until now.

Janine: Oh sure, and thanks for having me here, Laurie, this is great. I launched VerticalResponse back in 2001 really with the premise that there was a lot of email marketing solutions out there for big businesses but there’s not a lot of solutions for small businesses. We’re based in San Francisco, we’re still headquartered here today, but really those big companies have that expensive software to manage all of their marketing, especially their email marketing. It was the right time for us to launch a company and get those small businesses from sending email out of their Outlook to more professional looking emails and a more professional solution. Currently here we have about 105 current employees at VerticalResponse.

Laurie: Ok, and about how many customers do you have?

Janine: Well we have over a million businesses that have come to use us over the course of the last 13 years. We’ve got probably on any given month about 40 to 50,000 active customers that are in there using the system.

Laurie: Ok, thanks. That’s a great introduction too. So why are you introducing a new version of VerticalResponse now?

Janine: Well, over the course of years newer technology surfaces so that companies like VerticalResponse can build some really neat stuff for small businesses to use, easier to use technologies, and we really decided it’s time for us to do that. Our self-service platform really lets those small businesses connect with their customers using both email marketing and social media marketing.

Laurie: Right, I did get a look at it last time we spoke and it does look really easy to use, which is always a good thing for any of us.

Janine: Yeah, you know small businesses really want to get in there and get out and do what they do best which is running their business.

Laurie: Exactly. Who would benefit from this? Is it your existing customers, is it new customers? How will it help them?

Janine: Well definitely new customers and existing customers. It really solves lots of problems but two that come to mind are time and money. Right? So with VerticalResponse these customers can keep in touch with their customers through the email marketing and social media marketing without spending, like you said you thought, without spending a lot of time to learn a complicated technology. This new platform has lots of amazing features. We really focused on drag and drop designer and with that drag and drop come templates that are mobile friendly. We’re really over 50% of all consumers today are checking their email on their mobile phone or on their tablet, so we really put an emphasis on mobile friendly templates, but you can also post messages to Twitter and Facebook right from the same dashboard, so you don’t have to log in to all those different platforms to do your social media as well, it’s kind of like that nifty one-stop shop for email and social.

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Laurie: Right, and that’s very convenient. Also, if I remember correctly, once you create your email marketing campaign it will render across any of the mobile devices or somebody’s laptop or desktop without you having to do anything different to it. It’ll render correctly, right?

Janine: Absolutely. We really wanted to take all that guesswork out of it for our customers who are the small businesses.

Laurie: Yep, make it idiot-proof. How about for the customers using the original version that you have, are there any gotchas? Should they switch to the new version or is it something they need to kind of look at some trade-offs or what?

Janine: Well I think at the get-go they should look at the new version, especially if they have under a thousand contacts on their list, it’s free, the whole product is free. That’s one benefit for our current VerticalResponse customers. Over the course of the next two to three quarters, we’re going to be incorporating all of the features that most of the Vertical Response current customers are using into the new platform in an even better and easy-to-use way. As those features come available we’re going to be communicating to those customers that use and love those features that hey, they’re available in the new Vertical Response, come on over and start using them. So that’s pretty exciting for current VerticalResponse customers, I think.

Laurie: Yeah, definitely, so kind of get your feet wet now even if it’s not got every bell and whistle that you want, it will have it and you can learn it and be ready when it’s all available.

Janine: Exactly.

Laurie: So right now the new version is completely free or is it a freemium kind of model where there’s an up charge or how does that work?

Janine: Well it is a freemium model, it is completely free if you have a thousand or fewer customers. Once you go over the thousand contacts on your list it’s as little as nine bucks per month, depending on your list size that’s where it starts. It is completely free but as soon as you start growing and you might want some more bells and whistles, then we’ll ask you for a charge.

Laurie: Yes, sure, typical freemium model. What’s your URL, what’s the website address where they can learn more both about the new product and maybe the existing one too?

Janine: The website is www.verticalresponse.com, they can go, they can sign up right then and there and begin trying it out. It’s pretty easy, they get in there and just try it out and see if they like it.

Laurie: When did you put it up there for people to start trying?

Janine: On the 14th of March.

Laurie: Ok. Have you had a lot of hits or how’s it going with that?

Janine: We have actually. We have the most sign ups that we’ve had over the course of many years, which is just great to see. We think it’s catching on, we think people like it and it’s just going to keep growing, so we’re pretty excited about what we’re able to offer to our business customers.

Laurie: Ok, well that’s great, Janine. I really appreciate your time today and thank you for joining us to share the information and the news.

Janine: Thank you.

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