Does Salesforce’s Refreshed SMB Strategy Add Up?

salesforce logoSalesforce hosted its second annual Analyst Summit last week. This year’s format was much more engaging and interactive format than last year, sparking lots of interesting questions and discussions among analysts and the Salesforce team.

At a high level, Salesforce’s executives laid out the company’s key themes for 2016, which included:

  • Continuing to invest in its core CRM space to maintain market dominance. To that end, Salesforce recently introduced its new Lightning user experience and development framework, along with Trailhead, its interactive learning platform to help users and developers transition more quickly and easily to Lightning.
  • Using IoT to strengthen customer engagement. Salesforce announced Thunder, its IoT Cloud, at Dreamforce 2015. Salesforce’s Adam Bosworth emphasized that while Thunder isn’t yet ready for prime time, it is in pilot with several customers. Salesforce is focusing on connecting IoT with business processes and customer experience to help its customers to help drive sales and revenues.
  • Reimaging Wave Analytics to provide better insights to users. Salesforce initially launched Wave Analytics as a platform in 2014, with plans to develop apps on top of the platform over time. After hearing from customers that it was too expensive and focused too much attention on the platform play and not enough on providing enough prebuilt apps for business users, Salesforce introduced its next iteration of Wave at Dreamforce 2015. In addition to a streamlined pricing model, the new version offers prebuilt sales templates and apps that make it easier for sales reps to get more value from their customer data.

Of most interest to me, however, was that Salesforce devoted more time to its strategy and solutions for SMBs than last year.

From SMB Startup To Enterprise Powerhouse

Salesforce.com website circa 1999, courtesy of Internet Archive Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/).

Salesforce.com website circa 1999, courtesy of Internet Archive Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/).

When Salesforce was founded in 1999, it was focused on the SMB market. As a cloud pioneer, Salesforce captured the market’s attention with its story of faster, easier, better and less expensive CRM. While SMBs were its target in the early going, the marketing genius of Benioff and a stellar sales team quickly moved Salesforce upstream, and capitalized on replacing enterprise dissatisfaction with Seibel to become the undisputed 800-pound CRM gorilla in the enterprise market.

To accommodate demands from large customers and a rapidly evolving market, Salesforce expanded its vision over the years to become what it now terms a “customer success platform.” Today, this platform encompasses many parts and solutions, including:

  • Multiple editions of its core CRM solution
  • A veritable storm of clouds (sales, marketing, service, community, etc.)
  • New Thunder and Lightning initiatives
  • More than 35 acquisitions, from ExactTarget to SteelBrick.

However, as I wrote in this post, Salesforce’s SMB Story: Great Vision, But a Complicated Plot Line, amid its enterprise success, the Salesforce story became harder for the average SMB to parse through. And, while the vendor offered relatively low entry-level pricing for it former Group Edition ($25/user/month), SMBs faced a steep jump to Professional ($65/user/month) if they needed more functionality that many wanted, such as pipeline forecasts, campaign management, contract storage and quote delivery, custom reporting and dashboards.

Either as a by-product or intentionally, Salesforce’s SMB story has evolved to focus on the “fast growth” SMBs and digital elite, where it has done an excellent job of capturing market share.

But when it comes the vast majority of SMBs the math is revealing. True, Salesforce is the #1 CRM vendor in SMB: SMB Group’s 2015 Routes to Market study shows that 25% of SMBs (1-999 employees) that currently use a CRM solution use Salesforce. However, 75% use other brands, from old-guard competitors such Microsoft and ACT!, to newer ones such as Insightly and Pipeliner. And then there are all of the SMBs still using Excel, email and/or basic contact management solutions.

Furthermore, according to Salesforce, about 150,000 businesses in total use its solutions, and about one-third of them (or 50,000) are SMBs. When you consider that there are roughly 6.5 million SMBs with employees (plus another 17 million or so solopreneurs) in the U.S. alone, Salesforce has barely scratched the surface in SMB market.

Salesforce’s New SMB Story

Recently, Salesforce has begun to refocus its SMB story, for a few reasons. In addition to the huge, untapped market potential, Salesforce sees SMBs as canaries in the coal mine in terms of requiring the simplicity and ease of use that all businesses—even large ones—increasingly demand from business application vendors. Salesforce also wants to tap into SMB diversity and innovation to help keep pits own focus fresh.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 12.57.27 PMTo that end, Salesforce has recently taken a couple of big steps to refocus its SMB story, including:

  • Launching SalesforceIQ for Small Business at Dreamforce in September 2015. Positioned as “the smart, simple CRM to grow your business,” SalesforceIQ, at $25/user/month, replaces Group Edition as the vendor’s CRM entry point for SMBs. Based on the acquisition of RelateIQ, SalesforceIQ automatically captures, analyzes and surfaces customer information across email, calendars and other channels, using pattern recognition to provide users with sales insights and proactive recommendations.
  • Announcing a free integration between Desk.com, Salesforce’s small business customer service app and SalesforceIQ. The integration gives give SMBs a unified view of their customers, enabling them to provide the more connected, personalized experience that their customers will increasingly demand.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 1.02.03 PMSalesforce also quietly rolled out Trailhead  in 2014, and then showcased it at Dreamforce 2015. Trailhead provides users, developers and administrators with a guided, learning path through the key features of Salesforce to help people get more value from Salesforce solutions more quickly. According to Salesforce, Trailhead earners have passed more than 1,000,000 challenges, earning more than 250,000 badges.

In addition, Salesforce’s AppExchange—one of the first and most successful app stores, which just celebrated its 10th birthday—offers more than 2800 applications that integrate with Salesforce). Many of these are SMB-oriented, and Salesforce continues to ramp up SMB partnerships and integrations, with vendors from MailChimp to Slack to Sage Live (link to blog) on board.

Perspective

There are many things I like about what Salesforce is doing in the SMB space. I think SalesforceIQ gives SMBs a much better bang for the buck than Salesforce Group Edition. Furthermore, the integration between Desk.com and SalesforceIQ gives SMBs a cost-effective way to improve their customers’ experience, and level the playing field against larger companies in today’s increasingly social, omnichannel world.

Salesforce’s ecosystem is also a huge plus for SMBs that are already Salesforce customers. The AppExchange makes it easier for SMBs to find apps that will work well with Salesforce, and reduce potential integration issues. Meanwhile, Trailhead is one of the most fun training programs I’ve seen in the business applications space.

But, Salesforce will need to do more if it really wants to become an SMB mainstay. First, of all, Salesforce needs to improve SMB segmentation and understanding. Sure, it gets those Silicon Valley startups, but it needs a deeper understanding of the broader SMB landscape and their diverse attitudes and requirements.

This leads to my next point, which is that the broader swath of SMBs still need a lot of business and conceptual education about how and why sales, marketing and customer service are changing, and what they need to do to succeed amidst these changes. Salesforce paved the way in educating SMBs about the big picture benefits of the cloud, it should have the same lofty goals in terms of educating them about the new customer journey.

In addition, Salesforce says that there is “a clear migration path” from SalesforceIQ to Sales Cloud. While it sounds like Salesforce can easily migrate data from SalesforceIQ to Sales Cloud, the applications are built on different code bases, and have different user interfaces. So its not intuitive as to how this works in real life in terms of user learning curves. As important, what is the strategy for all of the ISVs on the AppExchange that target SMBs? They’ve integrated with Sales Cloud offerings, not with SalesforceIQ. Since Salesforce is now pitching SalesforceIQ to SMBs, what do they need to do, and how will Salesforce help them? Another question is how does Lightning—and Thunder for that matter—fit into the SMB story?

That said, as evidenced at this event, Salesforce is listening, and is formulating plans to increase investments to educate and engage SMBs both locally and online. While engaging the broad SMB market is never easy, Salesforce has the right attitude, and the brand and budget to create a wider lens through which it can gain the pulse on SMBs it needs to capture SMB attention and market share.

SMB Group’s 2016 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends

Foggy Crystal Ball-128x128Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2016! A more detailed description of each follows below. (Note: SMB Group is the source for all research data quoted unless otherwise indicated.)

  1. SMBs That Make the Business-Technology Performance Connection Outpace Their Peers.
  2. The Battle for Self-Employed Workers Heats Up.
  3. SMBs Tune in to IoT Possibilities.
  4. Public Cloud Is a Done Deal, but Cloud Variants Remain Hazy for SMBs.
  5. Security Remains the Elephant in the SMB Room.
  6. Mobile Solutions Occupy a Bigger Part of SMB IT Real Estate.
  7. SMBs Rethink CRM.
  8. SMBs Move Up the Cloud Analytics Curve.
  9. SMBs Streamline Internal Processes to Focus on Business Growth.
  10. More Tech Vendors Use Big Data to Provide New Business Services to SMBs.

Detailed SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2016:

  1. SMBs That Make the Business-Technology Performance Connection Outpace Their Peers. SMB success is increasingly tied to technology. SMBs that view technology as critical to improving business outcomes are outpacing their peers in terms of business growth. According to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, 29% of SMBs view technology as helping them to significantly improve business outcomes. These “progressive” SMBs are 18% more likely to forecast revenue increases than their peers. Progressive SMBs spend 29% more on technology, are 55% more likely to have fully integrated primary business applications (financials, CRM, HR, etc.) and are 86% more likely to use analytics than their counterparts. By using technology to streamline workflows, slash time spent on repetitive data entry and inefficient processes, gain better insights into opportunities and threats, and create new business models, progressive SMBs are well positioned to tap into new customer requirements, improve customer engagement and experience, and enter new markets. As they move forward, they will continue to outpace their peers and reshape the SMB market.
  2. The Battle for Self-Employed Workers Heats Up. According to April 2015statistics from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), more than 40% of all U.S. workers are contingent, which includes the self-employed as well as temp workers, contractors, on-call workers and part-time employees. That number represents a 10% increase from the previous GAO survey in  The survey spans industries from construction to pet care, and from professional services to Uber and Lyft drivers. This trend shows no sign of abating, with the GAO predicting the percentage of self-employed workers to rise to 50% by 2020. Self-employed workers need tools to manage finances, build brands and grow their business—but they must do all this on a shoestring budget. SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that consequently, many of these workers rely on Excel spreadsheets: 40% of self-employed workers use Excel for accounting, and 85% use Excel or email (such as Outlook or Google) for sales and contact management. On average, median annual spending on technology for businesses with one employee is approximately $3,500, which includes client devices, productivity software, business software, Internet connectivity and mobile data service and device expenses. Vendors such as FreshBooks and Square have been pioneers in developing solutions specifically for self-employed workers. But more vendors, such as Intuit (with QuickBooks Self-Employed) and Sage (with Sage One), are following suit. Although the sheer market volume creates great potential, rapid scale will be required to attain and sustain profitability in this cash-constrained segment.
  3. SMBs Tune in to IoT Possibilities. The Internet has delivered its latest game changer: the Internet of things (IoT). As with the Internet innovations that preceded it, IoT presents tremendous potential for disruption—along with all of the opportunities and challenges that accompany this type of sea change. Yet IoT is still just a buzzword for most SMBs. When asked in SMB Group’s2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, “What are the top three technology areas that are most critical for your business to invest in over the next 12 months?,” IoT ranked at or near the bottom. Only 18% of small and 13% of medium business decision makers selected IoT as one of their top three priorities. But factors such as vendor education and early success stories will help SMBs better understand IoT use cases and opportunities, both to improve internal operational efficiencies and to create new product and services offerings. SMB Group research indicates that SMBs in retail, wholesale/distribution and discrete manufacturing (e.g., auto, electronic equipment) are likely to lead the SMB IoT charge. Regardless of industry, IoT solutions built to move critical, trigger-based data to the Internet (through smart gateway solutions and applications) and store less important data locally will be key to helping SMBs avoid information overload and achieve successful IoT outcomes.
  4. Public Cloud Is a Done Deal, but Cloud Variants Remain Hazy for SMBs. Cloud solutions are already part of the business fabric for most SMBs, with the adoption of cloud solutions surging across all solution areas, according to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study. In fact, the cloud is poised to overtake on-premises deployment in the next year in areas such as collaboration, file sharing and marketing automation. Cloud adoption is also growing in areas in which it has traditionally lagged: Almost one-third of SMBs planning to purchase accounting and ERP solutions say they plan to purchase a cloud offering. But for the most part, SMBs have been choosing public cloud options—despite several vendors’ vocal promotion of private and hybrid cloud alternatives. Although each variant has its pros and cons, most SMBs remain confused about what private and especially hybrid clouds are as well as when and why they should consider them. Most vendors define hybrid cloud as the integration of a public and private cloud; but because private clouds are still rarely utilized by SMBs, the hybrid cloud notion remains hazy for SMBs. Microsoft with Azure Stack for Windows Server, IBM with its Bluemix-powered “cloud everywhere” platform and Dell with Dell Cloud Manager are trying to make private and hybrid cloud options more accessible and manageable. But unless and until vendors offer more articulate, relevant and compelling alternatives, SMBs will continue to opt for the public cloud in the vast majority of cases.
  5. Security Remains the Elephant in the SMB Room. As SMBs rely more on technology to run their businesses, the requirements to secure and protect data and access become more critical and complex. SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that medium businesses rank security as their second most pressing technology challenge, while small businesses rank it as their number-one challenge. However, many SMBs feel overwhelmed, confused and completely inadequate to deal with the magnitude of the seemingly endless potential for digital security breaches that could wreck havoc on their businesses. All too often, they continue to take an outdated, ineffective, 1990s-era “whack-a-mole” approach to security, deploying point solutions to ward off the security threat du jour. However, vendors are delivering more holistic, end-to-end, risk- and rules-based solutions for SMBs. These solutions can enable them to close off the biggest vulnerabilities to their most critical corporate data, wherever it resides—whether endpoint devices, mobile apps, on-premises infrastructure and applications or the cloud. Although most SMBs will need help understanding this approach, once they do, they will be able to face and address the security elephant in a more effective way.
  6. Mobile Solutions Occupy a Bigger Part of SMB IT Real Estate. SMBs continue to turn to mobile solutions to help redefine business processes and pursue new opportunities. SMB Group’s2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study indicates 59% of SMBs view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their business. The effects of mobile adoption impact traditional IT in endless ways. For instance, 85% of SMBs see mobile apps as complementing traditional business apps; 70% believe that mobile apps will replace some of their current business applications; and 48% say their employees are doing significantly more work on mobile devices. As important, mobile solutions account for a growing share of SMB technology budgets, with median spending on mobile solutions as a percentage of total technology spending rising year-over-year. However, while they’ve been swept up in the mobile tsunami, many SMBs have yet to put mobile strategies and solutions in place to optimize their mobile investments. SMBs will need better guidance from vendors both to effectively manage and protect mobile assets and to better integrate them with traditional business applications and infrastructure.
  7. SMBs Rethink CRM. SMBs need an integrated, holistic view of their customers, but “enterprise” CRM has proved too complicated and costly for most. The good news is that vendors are crafting CRM solutions specifically designed and priced for SMBs. These solutions go beyond contact management to help SMBs improve the customer experience; compete in a social, omnichannel world; and access analytics to stay ahead of their customers’ expectations. Examples include Salesforce, which introduced Salesforce IQ as its new sales management entry point for SMBs and followed up with a free integration for SalesforceIQ withcom customer service. This combination provides sales and customer service reps with a complete view of customer interactions across sales and services. HubSpot launched Connect to integrate customer data from different applications, such as billing and payment data from FreshBooks and customer service records from Zendesk, into HubSpot, for a more complete customer view. Meanwhile, SAP rolled out SAP Anywhere & Everywhere to help SMB retailers and etailers manage sales, marketing, ecommerce and inventory activities in a more cohesive way. And Infusionsoft, which has focused on very small businesses from the start, is adding new capabilities to enable buyers to better personalize the Infusionsoft experience to their style and preferences. These vendors—and others—will help more SMBs realize that the time has come to modernize and integrate their CRM approach.
  8. SMBs Move Up the Cloud Analytics Curve. Vendors have been making big investments to build powerful yet cost-effective cloud-based analytics solutions. Designed for business users instead of data scientists, these solutions offer user-friendly interfaces, guided discovery, visualization tools and natural language capabilities to help users quickly get actionable insights from their data. For instance, IBM’s Watson Analytics minimizes the effort required to turn raw data into insight via visualizations. Users connect their data source to Watson and then query Watson about the data in plain English (or their native language). Watson then builds a dashboard or graphics so users can easily visualize the findings. It also offers a built-in predictive engine, which can, for instance, generate personalized offers based on customer preferences and purchasing histories. Another example is Tableau, which recently introduced Vizable, designed for a touch-based, mobile world. Vizable reads a spreadsheet or .csv file, determines the key categories and then displays an initial graphical view of the data that users can explore by pinching, swiping and dragging on the iPad. Vizable also offers a built-in animation engine to help users understand why results change as they manipulate the data. With clear benefits and easy access, SMBs are shifting from on-premises analytics to the cloud. This is particularly true in medium businesses, which cite analytics as the second most critical area to invest in over the next 12 months. Although most of these businesses currently use on-premises analytics solutions, among those planning to purchase or upgrade in this area, 48% plan to use cloud-based analytics solutions. This trend will strengthen in 2016, as more SMBs seek out analytics solutions that are easy to buy and use in order to stay ahead of the market and their competitors.
  9. SMBs Streamline Internal Processes to Focus on Business Growth. SMBs say that attracting new customers and growing the business are their top business goals, according to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study. Unfortunately, many SMBs waste so much time managing the daily internal grind of financial, human resources, procurement and other back-office processes that they don’t have time to focus on growth, opportunity and innovation. But SMBs in fast-growth industries such as software and biotech are role models for a more modern, automated and often cloud-based approach—one that enables them to spend less time on back-office processes and more time on decision making. In turn, early SMB adopters across the spectrum are taking note. They are replacing or foregoing outdated, disjointed back-office systems with next-generation solutions. These solutions enable them to automate drudgery and gain time-saving, visibility, collaboration and decision-making benefits that give them the flexibility to adapt to changing market requirements. As early adopters reap these advantages, pressure is mounting for SMBs that have resisted change. They will need to bite the bullet and update the way they run the business, or they will fall behind their more nimble peers.
  10. More Tech Vendors Use Big Data to Provide New Business Services to SMBs. Tech vendors are increasingly applying analytics to challenge traditional service providers in “non-IT” areas. For instance, Intuit recently launched a new financing alternative in partnership with OnDeck. The service uses small businesses’ QuickBooks accounting data to qualify applicants for lower-rate loans than those available from traditional lenders. Intuit also formed a partnership with Stride Health, which integrates Stride Health’s personalized health insurance, healthcare and compliance management within QuickBooks Self-Employed. Meanwhile, Intacct, which provides cloud ERP software, has partnered with Pacific Crest to provide SaaS businesses with real-time comparisons of their performance relative to their peers and pinpoint specific levers for improving their execution. And IBM continues to push Watson deeper into healthcare, with a planned $1 billionacquisition of medical imaging company Merge Healthcare. IBM’s intent is to apply image analytics to medical images taken by Merge, which are used in medical specialties such as radiology, cardiology and orthopedics. Big Blue also purchased the Weather Company’s digital assets (everything but the TV network). IBM will use the Weather Company’s forecasting data and technology to create services to help weather-reliant businesses to maximize profits. Because so many industries rely on weather data, the opportunities are endless. For instance, retailers need to know if they should stock up on groceries before a winter storm; farmers use weather data to maximize crop yields; and construction workers monitor the weather to determine the best times to pour concrete or operate a crane. As these types of services proliferate and become more powerful and convenient, they offer new ways for SMBs to grow and innovate.

If you are interested in learning more about licensing options for SMB Group’s 2016 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends, please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director of Client Services at lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com or 508-734-5658.

 

Making The Internet of Things Real For SMBs

canstockphoto24687951The World Wide Web became commercially viable 20 years ago, and it quickly became clear that the phrase “The Internet Changes Everything,” was spot on. The Internet has forever changed and continues to transform the ways we do things, both in the business world and in our personal lives. It has spawned and enabled an explosion of innovation, from cloud and mobile solutions to social networking to big data and analytics, destroyed old business models and created new ones.

IoT: The Internet’s Latest Game Changer

Most recently, the Internet has delivered its latest game changer: the Internet of things, or IoT. As with the Internet innovations that preceded it, IoT again presents tremendous potential for disruption–along with all of the opportunities and challenges that go along with this type of sea change. Gartner forecasts that by the end of 2015, there will be almost 5 billion ‘things’ connected to the Internet. By the end of 2020 that number will rise to 25 billion, or more than three things connected to the Internet for each person on the planet.

Yet IoT is barely on the radar of most small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers. When asked in SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, “What are the top three technology areas that are most critical for your business to invest in over the next 12 months?” IoT ranked at or near the bottom. Only 18% of small and 13% of medium business decision-makers selected IOT as one of their top three priorities.

Figure 1: SMB Rank Their Top Three Technology Investment Areas

Slide1Clearly, SMBs need help to better understand this trend, and the opportunities and challenges it presents.

What Is The Internet of Things (IoT)?

As with most tech terms, there is an over-abundance of definitions for IoT. Perhaps the most “official” is from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. technology agency chartered to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards. According to NIST, IoT is part of what it terms cyber-physical systems (CPS):

Cyber-Physical Systems or “smart” systems are co-engineered interacting networks of physical and computational components. These systems will provide the foundation of our critical infrastructure, form the basis of emerging and future smart services, and improve our quality of life in many areas.  Cyber-physical systems will bring advances in personalized health care, emergency response, traffic flow management, and electric power generation and delivery, as well as in many other areas now just being envisioned.

In laymen’s terms, IoT is when “things”–objects, people, animals, etc.–are equipped with sensors and assigned an IP address. These sensors are programmed to send data over a network automatically, so you can access and use the data to make better decisions. Using IoT, people can monitor, measure, access and manage the physical environment more efficiently. For instance:

  • Planes with internet-connected parts can send data to predict maintenance requirements and improve flight and fuel efficiency.
  • Tennis players can track and analyze ball speed, spin, and impact location to improve their game via sensors in their racquets.
  • Smart buildings can monitor energy use in real-time, so they can use heating and cooling resources more effectively, and run elevators based on actual occupancy.
  • Manufacturers can operate more efficiently by enabling equipment to proactively call for maintenance before a failure occurs.

While wearable, consumer IoT devices have garnered much of the early buzz, most experts agree that business and public sector opportunities will dwarf those on the consumer side. But, commercial IoT systems have the capacity to ingest vast quantitative of data from different sources. All of this data must be normalized and secured, and then analyzed to make sense of it. These are the hard bits, and most SMBs need help to understand these variables to effectively harness the power of IoT.

Unpacking IoT at DellWorld

Dell World 2015  provided a glimpse into its approach to create an IoT solution that does much of the heavy lifting with the Dell Edge Gateway 5000 Series. Dell’s Gateway collects, manages, and secures sensor data, using Edge analytics for analysis and to mitigate potential data overload issues. The solution determines what data is important, and transmits that to the cloud for analysis and action, leaving unnecessary data on the local device.

rcr logoSeveral Dell customers demonstrated how they use the solution. For example, RCR Racing uses Dell’s Gateway solution in its “Smart Pitstop.” Racing at speeds of 190 mph or more, successful pit stops are essential for RCR car performance. In fact, auto races can be won and lost because of the many actions–from wheel changing to refueling–that the pit crew performs in a matter of seconds. In addition to monitoring performance indicators in its Smart Pitstop dashboard, RCR assesses pit crew performance. By monitoring key variables, such as how the heart rate of a tire changer affects how well they secure the tire, RCR improves performance and increase confidence. Looking ahead, RCR plans to add more sensor information, such as weather and track data into the dashboard to further improve outcomes.

eiganDell is also working with third-party software vendors and system integrators for domain expertise. At DellWorld, Eigen Innovations demonstrated how it uses Dell’s Gateway in its Intellexon Gateway in factory floor environments to collect boiler room data with thermal imaging cameras. The cameras monitor the melting process, and proactively alert for certain conditions so that very expensive equipment can be fixed before it goes down. Eigen builds human expertise into the system, training it to crunch relevant data in the cloud and analyze it for continuous monitoring.

In addition to providing data filtering, Dell’s Gateway normalizes data from different sensors–even data from older, non-Internet compliant sensors–into a unified state for analysis. Combined with included security and manageability capabilities, Dell’s Gateway offers a holistic IoT approach.

The Time Has Come To Explore IoT

canstockphoto28600859With limitless potential use cases, and early adopters already experiencing great outcomes, IoT could be the biggest Internet-fueled game-changer yet. But along with boundless opportunity come questions and challenges, especially for SMBs, who typically lack IT resources and expertise. Where do I start? What projects are realistic for my business? How do I store, secure and analyze it? These are just some of the questions to consider.

To avoid getting overwhelmed, break things down and take a practical approach:

  • Pick a small, realistic test project, using devices you already have for sensors. Some companies have even used old smartphones to get started.
  • Address a clearly defined business problem or opportunity with an affordable solution.
  • Identify goals and metrics–such as lower fuel consumption, proactive alerts, or more efficient operations–so you can measure effectiveness.
  • Look for pre-configured solutions specific to your use case/industry so that you don’t have to figure out how to pull all the pieces–security, analytics, storage and management–together.
  • Seek help from vendors and partners that can help reduce IoT complexity and risk and help you gain benefits more quickly.

Finally, keep in mind that most big businesses have big plans to instrument their operations for IoT to reap the intelligence and performance gains that IoT offers. SMBs need to get on the IoT learning curve to gain these same advantages and compete on a level playing field.

P.S. Dell is sponsoring an Internet of Things Contest! Design your IoT solution with real business impact for a chance to win one of 16 prizes worth up to $150,000 in value.

This post is sponsored by Dell.  

Automation and Insight: Intacct’s Focus for Dreamforce 2015

This video interview was recorded on September 16, 2015, and originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight.

Laurie: Today I have the opportunity to talk to Rob Reid who is CEO of Intacct, which is a cloud-based financial management solutions company. We’re here at Dreamforce 2015 for this SMB Spotlight. Rob, I’m delighted to be speaking with you.

Rob: It’s a real pleasure. It’s always good to see you.

Laurie: Thanks and likewise! Before we kind of get into some of the specifics of what Intacct is focusing on at Dreamforce, can you provide a quick review about Intacct–who you are and what you do?

Rob:  Sure. At Intacct we deliver ERP solutions for midmarket firms. We focus on being best in class and complementing other best in class applications like Salesforce. So connecting the front office and back office seamlessly is one of the things that we really focus on at Intacct . We’re doing that for midmarket firms that are typically going through a lot of growth that want to automate their processes so they can invest in their mission. You know, so maybe they can hire more engineers, or if they’re a not for profit going on out and really helping the world. We help them eliminate some of the costs of running the business so that they can go and attempt the big things.

Laurie: Yes, helping midmarket companies to automate a lot of backend processes. So how did you arrive at this focus?

Rob: So you know the industry has pretty much segmented for while when we got into the market several years ago. There were solutions initially for enterprise corporations, such as Oracle and SAP. And because there are millions of very small businesses in the United States and across the world, businesses like Intuit went after that arena. And requirements are significantly different between what a large enterprise needs and what an owner/operator needs. But in the middle market, in the past, it was pretty much Microsoft and Sage with offerings there to help those organizations grow and to try to become larger companies. And unfortunately, Microsoft and Sage didn’t migrate to the cloud too quickly. The cloud changes the economic model, it’s a more cost-effective, easy to use type of environment, and enables much better reporting than ever before. So organizations like Intacct went on in to that sector to take advantage of cloud, and it’s been working great for us. We’ve been achieving 40% growth for the last four to five years. We now have 9,000 customers in locations all over the world in every continent other than the Arctic, and it’s just working for these organizations.

Laurie: Here at Dreamforce, you have some announcements or focal points that you’re highlighting here at Dreamforce. Could you talk about that?

Rob: I’d be glad to. At Dreamforce we’re showing Intacct Subscription Billing capability, which allows you to automate the subscription billing practices that you have. So many different industries are moving to subscription billing, they need an adaptive way to do the monthly billing and then connect that from a revenue recognition perspective. So we offer Intacct Subscription Billing, on top of the Salesforce1 platform. It’s totally integrated in with Salesforce, so there’s a seamless flow from the front office into the back office, so you’re accurately billing your customers. In turn, customers are happier, and will pay the bill faster. We’ve tied the revenue recognition requirements in and automated the whole overall process.

Laurie:  You’re absolutely right, even products now are on subscriptions, like on Amazon I have certain things set up for subscription, like vitamins, because I know that I’m going to need them every so often. I think that subscription capability is going to be key for a lot of companies.

Rob:  I’m glad you brought that up about getting your vitamins and other consumer things, but I want to clarify that our subscription billing solution is really focused on B2B type organizations. There are solutions from our partners that do a great job for the B2C area.

Laurie: So you integrate with partner solutions to handle the subscription billing in a B2C environment. Ok, what else is Intacct focusing on here?

Rob: In addition to automation to help organizations take out costs, they need to know exactly what’s going on with regard to revenue and their overall performance. They need to get information to the management team and all the employees about what’s going on in real time. They need empirical data to make both strategic and tactical decisions. If they can see what’s happening, they can spot opportunities and go after them. Or if all of a sudden there’s a new issue starting to bubble, you’ll see it and you can hone in on it. So we have delivered the Intacct Visual Board Book to give organizations the ability to see not just gap performance measures, but the operational measures that go on all the time. In today’s world, many times the operational measures are more important than the gap measures.

Laurie: If you can see where you’ve got either an opportunity or an issue and fix that or address it right away it’s gonna make a big difference.

Rob: Yes, and since we’re here at Dreamforce, there are a lot software companies here, and the change in monthly recurring revenue is actually the most comprehensive way to look at a software company’s health. Looking at revenue from the past, you’re always looking at things in the rearview mirror. When you’re seeing changes in real-time, you know exactly what’s happening. For instance, one of the challenges for most subscription-based software companies is the cost of customer acquisition. Well at Intacct, we’re providing you that information in real-time. Our Visual Board Book it’s keeping track of cash, it’s keeping track of what your customer lifetime value is, all that’s automated and provided visually. Everything is data-driven so that you make the right decisions. So as important as it is to have a financial management system to automate your processes, I think it’s even more important to be able to have the empirical data to make the right decisions.

Laurie: Right, have the insights and get everybody on the same page instead of everybody having a different opinion about what to do.

Rob: You know, you and I have known each other for a long period of time. I’ve been in Fortune 500 companies and I’ve never had more information to make the right decisions than I have right now at Intacct. We use Salesforce, we use Intacct, we use Marketo, we have about 30 different cloud solutions that we’ve integrated in together. We’ve got dashboards on everything and know what’s going on in the real-time.

Laurie: So these capabilities help you grow a business and sustain a business.

Rob: Yes, and that draws us back to that midmarket. According to The Economist, 89% of all the jobs created in our economy since the Great Recession are in the midmarket. The midmarket is driving our economy today. In fact, enterprise level new jobs have gone down 10% since the Great Recession. So we’re helping growth-oriented midmarket organizations take it to the next level. It’s just really an exciting time.

Laurie: We have known each other a long time Rob, and I know you have a lot of experience in business, and you were also honored with the Glassdoor CEO of the Year award last year. I’m looking forward to Part 2 of this interview, where we’ll talk about your management tips for midmarket businesses over and above automation and analytics.

Are You Keeping Pace With Your SMB Customers?

The good news for tech vendors: SMBs are bullish on their own growth, and on using technology to help achieve that growth. The bad news: tech vendors may not be doing a good enough job helping SMBs understand, evaluate and buy the tech solutions that will best help their businesses.

SMB Group recently completed our 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, which provides an in-depth look at U.S. SMB (small businesses: 1-99 employees, medium business: 100-999 employees) technology adoption, the decision-making process, and the buying cycle. Among the findings, we learned that “figuring out how different technology solutions can help my business” is the number one technology challenge for small businesses, and the number three challenge for medium businesses.

Figure 1: Top Three Technology Challenges for SMBs

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SMBs need tech vendors to provide them with a more informative, consistent purchasing experience to help them punch through the confusions knothole. Though the priority rankings differ a bit between small and medium businesses, the top two asks for both small and medium businesses are for vendors to provide a consistent experience across online, mobile, offline and other channels and to more clearly articulate how the solution helps improve specific business goals. Number three for small businesses is the desire fro better real-time online chat/phone support to answer questions, while for medium businesses, its help in connecting with reference customers with similar needs.

Figure 2: Top Ways Tech Vendors Can Improve the SMB Purchasing Experience

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The “SMB market” has always been a tough nut to crack as it actually comprises many different diverse markets. In addition to standard employee size and industry segmentation, SMBs vary widely in terms of business maturity, attitudes about technology, and a host of other variables. Furthermore, it’s a very volatile market: about 50% of new businesses fail within the first five years.

Today, these age-old challenges are compounded by the fact that the digital, social and mobile revolution raising SMB buyers’ expectations of tech vendors’ across solutions, marketing, sales add service.

As competition for SMB mindshare and market share continues to rise, tech vendors will need to work smarter to earn SMB dollars. Vendors need to do a better job of understanding the intricacies of the SMB market so that they can personalize content to nurture buyers along the their journey, providing them with an informative, helpful and consistent purchasing and service experience across channels.

Please contact Lisa Lincoln at (508) 734-5658 or lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com for more information about the 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study (including a Table of Contents), 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

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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

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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.

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