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. 

Why Size Matters: How Marketing Automation Vendors Define the SMB Market

This is the third 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.

Before small and medium businesses evaluate different marketing solutions, its important to understand how vendors define and target the “SMB market,” which is actually a term that has many definitions, depending upon who you ask.

We at the SMB Group define small businesses as those with fewer than 100 employees, and medium businesses as those with 100-999 employees. Meanwhile, the U.S. Small Business Administration defines a small business as having 500 or fewer employees, and has no standard definition for medium businesses.

Among marketing automation and CRM vendors, several tend to view the SMB size range similarly to the SMB Group definition of up to 1,000 employees. But some rely more on revenues to define their SMB niche. In addition, vendors’ market focus varies significantly. For instance, Infusionsoft concentrates on very small, owner-operated business with less than 25 employees, while IBM focuses on what it defines as midmarket companies, those with 51 to 1,000 employees and at least one dedicated marketing professional.

Figure 1: How Technology Vendors Define and Represent Themselves in the SMB Market

Slide1

Source: SMB Group, 2014

This diversity reflects the very heterogeneous nature and requirements of what is actually a very fragmented SMB market. Small and medium businesses should scrutinize how vendors define and position themselves because different types of SMBs often require very different marketing, sales, solutions and services.

Vendors usually focus on a particular slice of the SMB market because it’s difficult to satisfy the diverse requirements of the broader market. In addition, SMBs should consider how big a footprint a given vendor has in the segment of the market the vendor is targeting—in terms of both the number and the percentage of its customers that are in that segment. Again, this is a good indicator of both vendor commitment to a given SMB segment and its ability to serve those types of SMBs.

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. 

 

SMB Adoption and Trends in Marketing Automation

This is the second 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.

SMBs consistently cite factors that impact top and bottom line results as their key business challenges. Attracting new customers, growing revenue, improving cash flow, maintaining profitability and retaining customers are critical, ongoing concerns. So it’s no wonder that they are exploring how marketing automation can help them.

But when it comes to marketing solutions, many small and even medium businesses rely on point solutions such as SEO tools, paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, email newsletters and social media.

Increasingly, however, SMBs are turning to a more integrated marketing approach. SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that in 2014, 20% of small and 25% of medium businesses purchased/upgraded a marketing automation solution in the past 24 months. Meanwhile, 22% of small and 26% of medium businesses plan to purchase/upgrade a marketing automation solution in the next 12 months (Figure 1). Although some of these plans aren’t likely to result in actual purchases, the use and awareness of marketing automation are clearly growing among SMBs.

Furthermore, cloud already has become SMBs’ preferred deployment option for marketing automation, with the number of planned cloud deployments exceeding that of on-premises deployments.

Figure 1: SMB Marketing Automation Adoption and PlansSlide1

Simultaneously (Figure 2) SMBs are also using social sites to better engage with customers and prospects: 48% of small and 57% of medium businesses use at least two social sites.

Figure 2: SMB Use of Company-Managed Websites and Social Sites

Slide3

Mobile marketing capabilities are also quickly becoming a priority for many SMBs. Mobile marketing is becoming an increasingly important component of SMBs’ overall marketing strategy, with 56% of small and 60% of medium businesses agreeing or strongly agreeing that mobile marketing drives business growth (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Mobile Marketing as a Driver of Business GrowthSlide4

SMBs are incorporating mobile marketing into their businesses by using a two-pronged approach. First, they are increasingly providing employees with mobile-enabled solutions for CRM, marketing and advertising, and social media. Second, they are extending mobile functionality to their customers, partners and other constituents via mobile apps and mobile-friendly websites. Providing access to customer service, the ability to purchase goods and services, and the ability to check delivery status are leading areas (Figure 4). In addition, a substantial percentage of SMBs currently provide or plan to provide capabilities that enable customers to access marketing offers and to join and manage loyalty rewards programs.

Figure 4: Use of/Plans for Customer (External) Mobile Marketing SolutionsSlide6

In subsequent posts in this series, we examine how vendors (Act-On, HubSpot, Infusionsoft, IBM Silverpop, NetSuite, ReachLocal, Salesforce.com Pardot, SugarCRM) view the SMB market, and their strategies and plans to help SMBs integrate marketing across different channels and media.

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. 

“Must-Consider” Marketing Trends for SMBs

This is the first 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.

Choosing a marketing automation solution may be one of the most important decisions your business makes. As cloud, mobile, social, analytics and other technologies continue to transform the buyer’s journey, this choice is likely to become even more critical.

As the term “marketing automation” implies, small and medium businesses (SMBs) must automate tasks to scale their marketing campaigns in order to reach more prospects and customers, and to provide them with the right information at the right time in their buying journey. Although many small and even medium businesses rely on point solutions, more are turning to an integrated marketing approach. In 2014, 20% of small and 25% of medium businesses had purchased/upgraded to a marketing automation solution in the past 24 months. Meanwhile, 22% of small and 26% of medium businesses plan to purchase/upgrade a marketing automation solution in the next 12 months, as indicated in SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study.

Figure 1: SMB Marketing Automation Adoption and Plans

Slide1

However, marketing requirements are changing rapidly. Today, buyers conduct much of their research and evaluation online across multiple channels. Because businesses need to be where their customers and prospects are, they must invest to build their digital footprint via websites, social media engagement, search, email marketing and mobile marketing. Simultaneously, they must continue to invest in traditional marketing activities.

SMB Group has identified several key trends that SMBs should consider when selecting a marketing automation solution, including:

  • Cloud computing: The cloud is quickly becoming the preferred deployment method for marketing automation because it relieves SMBs of IT deployment and management issues.
  • Mobile: Buyers are doing more research, shopping and buying on mobile devices, and SMBs must optimize the buying journey 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 from laptops to smartphones. But many more areas also need to be addressed. For instance, should an SMB develop mobile apps or mobile websites, or use text messaging to connect with customers—or all of the above?
  • Social: Social media has become the equivalent of digital word of mouth, and SMBs need solutions to help them observe, participate in and track the social networks that their prospects and customers use in order to engage and nurture relationships.
  • Content: Content feeds all marketing initiatives and 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 get more value from it.
  • Omnichannel: As the buyer journey evolves to include more touch points, SMBs need to create and maintain a consistent look and feel across different channels as well as gain an integrated view of customer behavior.

Fortunately, many vendors offer solutions to help SMBs capitalize on these trends. But given so many choices, SMBs must carefully evaluate and compare all the options in order to get the best fit for their requirements. Key areas to investigate include:

  • How vendors define “SMB” and position their offerings: Most focus on a particular slice of the SMB market because it’s difficult to satisfy the diverse requirements across the broader SMB market.
  • How many and what percentage of the vendor’s customers are from the SMB segment the vendor targets
  • How well the solution maps to a company’s needs and constraints: Some vendors focus on providing very in-depth marketing automation capabilities, while others combine marketing with CRM in a pre-integrated suite.
  • Internal marketing resources and skills, and whether to take more of a do-it-yourself versus a do-it-for-me approach
  • Pricing, including whether a vendor offers annual, monthly and/or yearly contracts
  • Integration of different marketing and sales activities to gain a unified view of customer and prospects: This is a key driver for marketing automation.
  • CRM tools that need to be integrated: Pure-play marketing automation vendors usually integrate with multiple CRM solutions, while others provide a pre-integrated suite that includes marketing and CRM.
  • How to feed the marketing funnel: Marketing automation without compelling content is like a car without gas. Content nurtures the buyer through the sales funnel. Although you can’t really automate content creation, you can streamline it. Some vendors offer education and even services to help.
  • Tools, services and support programs to help you get the most from the platform, both in the near term and in the future as needs evolve

Vendors have designed their solutions for different types of SMB requirements; there is no one-size-fits-all. In subsequent posts in this series, we examine these requirements and vendor (Act-On, HubSpot, Infusionsoft, IBM Silverpop, NetSuite, ReachLocal, Salesforce.com Pardot, SugarCRM) strategies for SMBs in more detail.

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. 

 

The Cloud: Mother of Re-invention for IBM

ibm logoAs a 104-year old company, IBM has undergone many makeovers over the years to tack to the ever-changing winds of the technology industry and the market. 2015 ushered in what may prove to be one of it’s biggest transformations, when earlier this year, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty dramatically reorganized the company to better align with today’s cloud, mobile and analytics oriented technology landscape, and with the increasing consumerization of the business technology market.

This time, IBM’s restructuring puts software in the spotlight. IBM is replacing its former software, hardware and services silos with a more holistic approach designed to synchronize with customers’ growing preferences for cloud-based solutions. Research, Sales & Delivery, Systems, Global Technology Services, Cloud, Watson (IBM’s artificial intelligence and analytics), Security, Commerce and Analytics are now IBM’s main business units, with Mobility as an overlay to these groups. Meanwhile, IBM hardware and software channel teams will both report into IBM’s global Business Partner Group.

interconnect2015-800x160InterConnect 2015: Hybrid Cloud Takes Center Stage

In February, we had our first chance to see how these organizational shifts are coming to life. At IBM InterConnect, IBM rolled what had previously been three separate events for three different solutions groups (Pulse/Tivoli, Impact/WebSphere and Innovate/Rational) into one, reflecting the organizational changes. IBM took advantage of this opportunity begin to put its new story in perspective for an audience of over 21,000 customer, partner and influencer attendees.

IBM has cast it’s hybrid cloud strategy in the starring role of the next chapter of it’s story, with mobile, integration and business process, security, IoT and data, and the partner ecosystem in key supporting roles. Needless to say, IBM was trying to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but here are the key themes that it emphasized:

  1. The hybrid cloud is key to digital transformation. IBM wants to provide customers with an open, flexible cloud experience across public and private clouds. IBM highlighted the importance of portability, announcing Enterprise Containers, based on a partnership between IBM and Docker. The partnership will result in IBM solutions integrated with Docker Hub Enterprise (DHE) to help companies to more efficiently run and build applications that will run anywhere, from a developer’s laptop to the IBM Cloud or on-premises. IBM also introduced Virtual Machines and Containers are now integrated as core infrastructure options in Bluemix, its cloud development platform, and virtual machined (VMs) powered by OpenStack to help IT deliver consistent, scalable business services and integrated monitoring.
  2. IBM MobileFirst, to help companies build and manage the mobile apps. According to IBM, 85% of enterprises have a mobile app backlog. IBM is positioning its MobileFirst Platform v7, announced at the event, to help companies to catch up with the backlog, and to get more value from their mobile app investments. Enhancements include capabilities to enable more efficient development, secure integration, continuous delivery, as well as an improved UI. IBM has also added a new component, the MobileFirst Platform Cloudant Data Layer Local Edition, for web and mobile access.
  1. Integration at the heart of hybrid. IBM had an Integration Booth at the event, and introduced 5 new services designed to connect clouds, refine and sync data across applications and clouds. These included API Harmony, API Harmony, which uses Watson to help developers find the right IBM or a third-party API for integration requirements; and Secure Gateway, to securely connect APIs, existing data, and systems to Bluemix through a Passport service.
  2. A new way to think about security. Most surveys show that security concerns are still the key inhibitor to cloud adoption. To help address this, IBM is encouraging customers to take a more proactive, analytics-based security approach. The vendor announced over 70 new security products and enhancements, and highlighted two 2014 security acquisitions, Lighthouse Computer Services and Crossideas as evidence of its focus on beefing up cloud and mobile security offerings to help businesses better protect, detect and respond to threats.
  3. IoT and data as agents of business transformation. The Internet of Things (IoT) and big data are two of the hottest IT trends. These two trends are also tightly connected, as the billions of IoT objects and devices coming online are generating massive quantities of data, which must be tracked, analyzed and put to practical use. As IoT exponentially accelerates data volume, velocity and variety, companies will need high-powered analytics solutions to harness and generate insights from it. This trend is behind IBM’s newly formed Internet of Things division, and initiatives that IBM is now exploring to leverage Watson analytical capabilities in an IoT world.
  4. The ecosystem is vital to IBM’s cloud success. In order to fulfill on its goal of creating the “most successful cloud ecosystem and developer experience in the industry,” IBM is ramping up programs for developers, ISVs, entrepreneurs and colleges and universities. In addition to more traditional programs, IBM is targeting top local communities and cities for as event hubs for meetups, classes, hackathons, learnathons and other programs designed to build a next-generation partner ecosystem in the cloud. 

White Clouds in Blue SkyPerspective

The changes that IBM is making to its organization and to its solution and partner focus are major ones. In the past, IBM operated in a more siloed manner, with each business unit owning its own P&L, budget, headcount and control. Back in the day, when companies often pursued different buying journeys and sought out different vendors for hardware and software, this made sense.

However, cloud computing has significantly blurred these lines. In the cloud model, buyers more often seek a solution, not piece parts. IBM’s new structure and vision are designed to meet these new expectations and demands. In an ideal world, these changes will enable IBM to more easily bring its technology innovations (such as Watson, Bluemix, and joint open source solutions) to market, and take center stage among in the cloud and adjacent markets.

But, the world is not ideal. Although IBM may have more IP, patents and research fellows than the next few tech vendors combined, it faces significant obstacles in terms of competing with more nimble competitors. To help address this, IBM recently hired Kevin Eagan, longtime Microsoft executive, as Vice President and General Manger for IBM’s Digital Channel. Eagan takes on the daunting task of making IBM easier to do business with, and as such, will play a pivotal role in IBM’s future cloud fortunes.

IBM also faces substantial pricing and margin hurdles. Will the board of directors and stockholders be willing to cannibalize traditional, higher margin business to build higher volume, but lower margin cloud business? Finally, can Big Blue get 400,000 IBMers energized and organized for the new mission?

At Interconnect, IBM demonstrated that it understands the magnitude of change that cloud, mobile, big data and IoT have wrought, and articulated its strategy to get ahead of the curve and the competition. Only time will tell if IBM can meet the necessary and perhaps more formidable challenges to change its systems, business model and culture to make this vision a reality.

Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 4: KPIs Trump ROI and TCO as the New “Show Me” Metric

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The fourth of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Kalynn: Now there’s a very interesting trend that I want you to talk about and that has to do with key performance indicator (KPIs), that versus return on investment, ROI, because in digital marketing the thing that small business has been saying all along about social media is, “but what’s the return on my investment? If I pay a company to do this how soon am I going to be on the front page of Google? Or how often is my phone going to ring?” Those are very hard things to determine and they’re very hard things to track quite often because a lot of what goes on in digital is similar to networking. What’s the ROI of networking? I don’t know. So talk to me about these key performance indicators versus return on investment.

Laurie: I think historically, the vendors anyway, in white papers and other kinds of educational collateral, have tended to focus on proving that their solutions can return value via these return on investment type of models and analysis, which honestly are kind of complex and very big picture. You have to factor in everything to an ROI. Likewise there’s another thing called a total cost of ownership calculation where you have to figure out all the money you invested for a solution and how much that solution is going to cost you over let’s say a five-year period. The assessments and metrics, while they can be a bit beneficial, they’re usually kind of vague and they’re very dependent on nuance measurements.Honestly, I’ve yet to run into very many small and medium businesses that every do any kind of ROI or TCO calculation at this big picture level because they’re very complicated to do, and time-consuming.

So what we’ve been seeing is there’s something that most companies have been measuring for years, whether or not they call it KPI, but key performance indicators. These are more discrete metrics. Some of them are general, for instance, what’s the time it takes to close your financial books, right? Probably most companies have that function because hopefully they’re making some money and they have to close the books. Are you doing that with a shoebox full of stuff or are you doing that with Excel, or are you doing that with QuickBooks, how are you doing that, what’s your process, and how much time it’s taking you is a key performance metric.

Then there are also metrics that are also very industry specific. For e-commerce we might want to measure things like conversion rates, what is our rate of visitors to the website that actually convert into paying customers? A nonprofit might want to measure the number and increase in donors and the average contribution per donor. There are a lot of different KPIs, the nice thing about KPIs is that they give small and medium businesses more specific very actionable insights on business performance so they can see where they’re doing well and kind of measure and monitor where they need improvement. What we’re seeing is a lot of vendors starting to kind of cater to this more specific measurement requirement and giving small and medium businesses more information about the kind of metrics and benefits that existing customers are getting for their key workflows and business processes.

I think if you’re contemplating any kind of new business solution it really makes sense to seek these out to really understand okay, what were the specific areas of the business solution impacted, and how, and by how much, how much time did it reduce? If it was a revenue metric how did it affect revenues? If it was a conversion rate what was the number or the percentage of new customers that are converting? How did that change that? Repeat customer sales, whatever it is, but I think this more discreet metric is a good way to go for small business because I think it will give you a lot more actionable information and the solution is going to give you the kind of results that you’re going to need.

Kalynn: They seem much more concrete for small businesses. If it’s the kind of thing that you can put on an Excel spreadsheet every month and track and see a trend line that’s either going up or going down then you feel that you have some sort of control over it. Was it Peter Drucker? Who said that if you’re not measuring it then you can’t do anything about it? One of those business gurus, right?

Laurie: Yeah. I remember that quote.

Kalynn: It was something like if you’re not measuring something then how do you ever expect to be able to change it because you don’t really know what’s happening, anecdotal stuff is not going to help you.

Laurie: As a matter of fact a lot of the vendors we’ve been talking about are using analytics to build in these reporting capabilities to help you see those metrics in your own business, more easily. They are kind of taking that oh I’ve got to be a data scientist out of the equation so the rest of us can understand what’s going on in our business. For instance, Intuit is providing a service where you can benchmark yourself against other companies in your industry on some of these KPIs. For instance if you’re a salon and spa owner in the northeast you can say this is kind of what my customer retention rate looks like, repeat business or up selling, selling product with the service, whatever you want to measure. Then you can also opt in to get aggregate information from people with similar businesses. So you can see am I ahead? Am I behind? Then focus on the areas that you need to improve.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Slide Show Version! SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Tech Trends for 2015

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015 in slide show format!

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