Will CPAs Bring the Cloud to Earth for SMBs?

Just last week, I blogged about how some IT pundits and vendors are falling into the trap of turning the cloud into yet another confusing and over-hyped industry buzzword, and the need to bring cloud conversations down to earth for small and medium business (SMB) customers.

A couple of days after I wrote this post, I had a briefing with Intacct, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and it’s subsidiary, CPA2Biz. The three organizations have just announced a significant partnership designed to do just that (http://us.intacct.com/corporate/news_events/2009/040709.php)  through some of the most down to earth people I know—accountants.The gist of the alliance is that AICPA and CPA2Biz have designated Intacct as their preferred provider of financials applications. Together, they will educate AICPA’s 350,000 members about the benefits of moving their financials solutions to the cloud. The deal will give all AICPA members—both CPA firms and their clients—discounts on Intacct solutions, and encourage accounting firms to use Intacct as a platform to provide services for their clients. In addition, AICPA will layer its best practices and vertical templates on top of Intacct’s solution to give accountants additional tools, guidance and content to create a unique CPA version of Intacct. The partnership is a big coup for Intacct, which currently has about 100 accountant partners. By joining ranks with AICPA and CPA2Biz, Intacct gains the potential to dramatically scale its accountant channel–and reach thousands of SMB customers through them. 

Not only does this alliance pose a strong threat to Intuit QuickBooks’ dominance in the small business accounting market, it has the potential to pull SMBs into cloud computing in vast numbers. Intacct, AICPA and CPA2Biz did a lot of homework beforehand, including research that showed online accounting solutions boost productivity by as much as 50%. By dramatically reducing the need for travel, and the necessity of exchanging paper and email files, CPAs have more time to spend providing guidance to clients to help them improve financial performance and decision-making.

Accountants are rarely bleeding edge technology adopters. But AICPA’s backing will give them more confidence in recommending cloud computing to their clients. The fact that Intacct uses IBM for its primary data center, a SunGard facility as a hot standby, and has exceeded all uptime guarantees for the past year should help mitigate concerns about security, reliability and performance. As important, the message that AICPA, and eventually its accountant members, are communicating to SMBs—that cloud computing can help them “improve financial performance, take better advantage of financial advice, and make better, faster business decisions”—is framed in business terms, not cloud speak!

Demandbase—Can it Turn Your Web Traffic Into Treasure?

Like most analysts, my schedule is usually chockfull of briefings from vendors. Some of these are boring, some are interesting, and once in a blue moon, a vendor comes along with a solution that everyone should know about.

Demandbase (www.demandbase.com) is one of these solutions. I initially came across the vendor late last fall, when I was judging for the Destination CRM Awards, and Demandbase was one of the nominees. I wanted to learn more, but between the Christmas holidays and my job change, I didn’t get to schedule a briefing with them until a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s why Demandbase is so interesting—particularly now, in this bruising economy. Companies spend a lot of time and money to drive prospects to their Web sites in the hopes of converting them to paying customers. With email campaigns and a dizzying array of social media (not to mention direct mail and other traditional marketing tactics), there are more tools than ever to get visitors to your site.

But most companies—especially in the B2B space—have a tough time harvesting the quality, “best-fit” leads from the irrelevant traffic. How can you tell if your campaigns hitting—or missing–the mark when it comes to reaching and attracting the right visitors to your site?

Demandbase zeros in on this problem by giving B2B companies much more visibility into who is visiting their Web site, and delivering qualified, scored lead services. Demandbase starts by aggregating and scrubbing lists from major database providers such as Hoovers, LexisNexis, Dun & Bradstreet and ZoomInfo. This provides the underlying business contact data for its lead qualification and scoring services, which are integrated with each other.

These services help you weed out the irrelevant leads and target the quality leads. Demandbase offers free, pay-as-you-go, and subscription based services. Demandbase Stream is the freebie service, and even this offers great value. You download a widget from the Demandbase site, and link it to your Web site with some JavaScript in a couple of clicks. Once you set it up, it displays ticker-style information about who’s visiting your site, what search terms they used, and what pages they looked at. It deciphers web traffic URLs, and filters out the ISPs and other irrelevant data. You can also create a Watch List to alert you when existing customers, prospects, partners and competitors are on your site. Demandbase Stream even works with blogs. (However, some blogs, such as wordpress.com, don’t allow you to add JavaScript to your page, so you have to use the company’s image-based tracking system instead. Its not quite as detailed, but I’ve installed it and am finding that even this more limited information is useful).

Demandbase fee-based services work with Demandbase Stream. For instance, when you see a qualified lead in Demandbase Stream, you can use granular search capabilities to locate specific people in targeted geographic areas, and purchase business contact information from Demandbase Direct. With Demandbase Standard, you create a target customer profile, and buy leads that fit your profile one at a time, or by the thousand, directly from it’s aggregated database. Demandbase can send them via email or to your CRM system. Price per lead depends on the score, and is typically about $2 per record. Demandbase is currently offering $20 worth of free contacts so you can take Demandbase Standard for a free test drive.

The company launched Demandbase Professional last week, which is a subscription service that starts at $325 per month. Demandbase Professional provides all of the services above, and additional features that integrate inbound marketing programs like online advertising, search marketing, social network marketing, etc. that drive traffic to your site with your outbound direct marketing programs.

Demandbase closed an $8 million round of funding last summer, and says that it is growing 30% quarter over quarter. This trajectory should continue, since Demandbase addresses a challenge that is ever present, but particularly compelling when times are tough. So compelling that I think the right question is, can your B2B business afford not to try it? 


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Reading the Top Trends Barometer at the 2009 Small Business Summit

Just got back from Small Business Summit 2009—an awesome event put on by Ramon Ray (www.smallbiztechnology.com) and Marian Banker (www.primestrategies.com ) at the Digital Sandbox in New York City. Turn out for the Summit was terrific, and attendees were treated to a great, interactive agenda including speakers, experts, sessions and networking—hosted by Ramon, who is a terrific at working a room.

On the train ride back up to New Hampshire’s frozen tundra, I started writing a blog about the hot topics that jumped out at me during the event. A feeling of déjà vu quickly came over me as I realized I was getting a great read on the trends I had blogged about in my last post, 2009 Small Business Trends: No Longer Business as Usual (just scroll down to the next post for this one). Based on the interactions I had with small business people and vendors at the Small Business Summit,  I think these trends are gaining momentum even more quickly and forcefully than I’d anticipated just last week. So in this post, I’m revisiting these trends with new, fresh evidence from the Small Business Summit that underscores how quickly they are taking shape.

1. Catch the social networking wave. Social networking took center stage at the Summit. Keynote speaker Bob Pearson, chief social media guru for Dell, kicked off the event with his presentation and set the tone for the rest of the day. Bob explained why social networking is so important, and provided down to earth recommendations that your grandma could understand about how small companies can get in the game. He encouraged people to “just get in and do some science experiments” and learn as they go (check out this link for Dell’s primer on social media: http://www.facebook.com/dellsocialmedia). Attendees couldn’t get enough information, asking lots of questions about where and how to set up blogs, how often to post, how long their posts should be, what does Twitter work best for? A few people said that they were going to start blogging right away, and the tweet volume rose through the roof! Furthermore, the vendors at the show are walking the walk themselves, creating, monitoring and responding across the social media spectrum.

 2. Demand solutions that do more for less. Well duh! Of course this is big. Gene Marks, Marks Group PC, emphasized that now is the time to re-negotiate everything, high tech or low, from insurance and rent to IT vendors and consultants. Ramon’s discussion of how to get free publicity through media coverage was spot on, of course.  Panelists and speakers representing a diverse group of vendors and solutions highlighted the abundance of free and low cost solutions available, designed especially for small businesses.  For example, on demand and software-as-a-service vendors were well represented, with the likes of Microsoft Office Live, Google, Campaigner and InfusionSoft on hand. Intuit was promoting its free QuickBooks SimpleStart, and free six-month trial for Intuit Payroll Online.

3. Find fresh technology alternatives more appealing. The audience at this event knows that they will have to work smarter, not just harder, to survive and thrive through this downturn, and come out ahead of the competition when things turn up again. Elance presenter Brad Porteus made a compelling case for using online freelancers for all those pesky jobs you need to do—but don’t have time for. This generated a lot of buzz—one of the attendees piped up that she was going to get an Elancer to track her brand across the Web. Attendees also asked a lot of questions about how they could use technology to become more relevant and create more value for their brands and businesses. They wanted to know things such as how and when to use videos, podcasts and polls, and how to use collaboration tools to foster improved communication and project management build the group dynamics they’ll need to rise above the competition.

4. Favor software-as-service (SaaS) over packaged software that they have to buy, install and manage. As I noted above, many of the vendors at the show were featuring SaaS solutions. What I didn’t hear were many attendees voicing concern about SaaS security or data ownership issues. What I did hear were many conversations between attendees and vendors, with attendees trying to figure out if a particular on demand solution would work to satisfy a specific business requirement. A clear signal that  that the issue of on demand versus on premise is becoming a moot point. Campaigner, which offers on demand email marketing, was a hot spot. Email marketing—like most application areas—is still very underpenetrated in terms of small business adoption. But economic conditions are sending these companies a loud wake up call to take action. They’ll look for an easy, fast on ramp to try, buy and get results—and find SaaS solutions fit the bill.

5. Increasingly turn to non-Microsoft desktops and servers. Ok, this wasn’t a topic that came up at all during the event, so this is all based on my very casual observations. It just seems that everywhere I go, and at this show as well, there are more and more people pulling out MacBooks instead of Windows notebooks. I think that many of the new solo entrepreneurs that will emerge from the layoffs will opt for Macs. Sure, Macs cost more than Windows PCs, but many people suffered a lot of problems with Windows PCs. When  they have to spend their own hard earned money, I think these newbies will turn to Apple in greater numbers.

6. Innovate beyond what we can anticipate.  What can I say, other than spending a day with small business people and vendors who are committed to the success of small businesses is inspiring! Small businesses didn’t get us into this mess, but they will pull us out. Many of the vendors had great examples of their small business customers using their solutions to innovate. I could see the gears spinning as people thought about ways they could apply a couple of the tricks they learned when they got back to their office–or just as likely, their home office. Their drive, energy and creativity will lead to new business models, products, services and solutions that will revitalize the economy.

I’m already looking forward to the 2010 Small Business Summit to see how fast these businesses will run with some of these things, and will be very interested to see where they’re at next year. In the meantime, if you are part of a small business, let me know what’s at the top of list to help your business in 2009.

 


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