Unit4 Kicks Off North America Market Focus

unit4_logoUnit4, long-time European ERP leader, is making a concerted push into North America. To that end, it hosted industry analysts at the beautiful 60 State Street Boston venue on June 10. Read my Storify account of the event here.

Charting a Course in the ERP Clouds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perspective

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

Vendor Strategies to Help SMBs Capitalize on Marketing Automation

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

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

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

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

Slide1 Slide2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide1 Slide2

Source: SMB Group, 2014

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

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

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

Top Marketing Trends for SMBs: Vendor Views

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1: Vendor Views on Top Marketing Trends for SMBs

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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

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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. 

 

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