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.

 

As The Cloud Turns: Dell’s 1-5-10 Cloud Roundtable

The roots of cloud computing date back to the late 1990s, but the “cloud” continues to evolve—as does the conversation about its impact on technology and business. So I welcomed the opportunity to moderate a discussion of cloud past, present and future at Dell’s recent 1-5-10 Cloud roundtable in Washington DC. Dell’s 1-5-10 series is designed to engage Dell customers, executives and influencers in discussions exploring the implications of major tech trends over the one, five and ten years

Top Takeaways

  • IMG_2915The cloud means different things to different people–but “game changer” is the common thread. We kicked off the roundtable by asking participants to describe cloud in three words or less. Customers chose descriptors such as cost-effective, flexible, reliable and mobile. For instance, Edima Elingewinga, Executive Director, Information Technology at the United Nations Foundation, used mobile as a key descriptor, noting that “Cloud facilitates communication all around the world. That is critical, and that is what drove us to the cloud.” Meanwhile, Dell execs used terms such as digital services enablement, future-ready, and scalable to describe the cloud. However the group was in consensus that the cloud is a game-changer for businesses, government and non-profits.
  • us government sealFederal government adoption of cloud has slowed since the Cloud First policy was established. Cloud First is an initiative launched in 2011 by then US CIO Vivek Kundra. The policy mandated that government agencies had to evaluate a cloud computing option first, and had to have a strong rationale on why they could not use cloud before they could purchase traditional on-premises solutions. As Dell Director of Product, Cloud Management Systems James Urquhart noted, “If you look at this from 2010-2013, you’d have to argue that the federal government as a whole was ahead of the enterprise” with a top-down approach and mandate. But, despite early advocacy and some marquee cloud deals, federal adoption has been more sluggish than many had anticipated, as noted in a 2014 report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), CLOUD COMPUTING : Additional Opportunities and Savings Need to Be Pursued. David Lancaster, Dell Federal marketing executive, believes that this is due in part to different agencies having different requirements for different types of clouds—which makes the sourcing process complex and time-consuming. “The federal government is more concerned about private cloud because of security,” added Dr. Lon D. Gowen, chief technologist and special advisor to the CIO at USAID. According the GAO report, legacy migration concerns, cultural barriers and skills deficits also put a drag on adoption.
  • The silver lining in Cloud First is that it sparked adoption in the private sector. Government endorsement of Cloud First paved the way for the private sector to become more bullish on cloud adoption. As Edina Elinewinga, commented, “If the government can trust the cloud, we can trust the cloud.” As a result, private sector adoption is now outpacing that of the federal government.
  • cloud question markCloud computing decisions are becoming more strategic and complex. Whether in business or government, cloud conversations are evolving into discussions of how cloud computing can provide strategic business benefits. As Executive Director and General Manager of Dell Cloud Services Jeremy Ford commented, “The cloud is an enabler, not the point of the discussion. The more organizations view it as an enabler, the more successful they’ll be.” Dell Vice President and General Manager for Engineered Solutions and Cloud Jim Ganthier observed that the conversation is shifting away from “either/or” private or public cloud to one of an “and” conversation in an increasingly hybrid cloud computing world. As Dr. Phil Yang, director of the NSF Spatiotemporal Innovation Center stated, “Choosing the right cloud is like match making, you need to think of it like uber legos.” Participants agreed that most organizations will choose to utilize both public and private clouds, depending on a requirements, constraints and other considerations.
  • Cloud is changing the role of IT. As the cloud conversation shifts to business enablement, IT is increasingly expected to serve as a strategic advisor to the business. Edina Elinewinga said that she has become more of a technology broker in her role now. In addition, IT must assume responsibility for developing a coherent strategy to guide organizations in how to use and integrate different types of cloud deployment models and providers.
  • Cloud will become the fabric of our lives. Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) will drive cloud growth over the next 10 years, affecting every aspect of cloud decision-making—from infrastructure and management to strategy requirements. “Big data and IoT are examples of usage models that wouldn’t have been practical or enabled without the cloud,” observed Jeremy Ford. “In about 10 years, everything will be part of the cloud, and we won’t use the word cloud to describe what we are using,” according to Dr. Phil Yang. And Jim Ganthier predicts that “We won’t be talking about “the cloud” in the future. It will be all about the data generated and how we use it.”
  • digital securityPrivacy and security concerns will continue to be top of mind cloud concerns–and power issues will enter the discussion. Privacy and security issues will intensify as more devices, more data comes into play. Edina Elinewinga noted that she is focused on how to keep the work environment and data secure as more and more UN Foundation employees bring different technologies and applications into work. As cloud computing becomes more ubiquitous, power issues will also arise. Dr. Lon D. Gowen predicted, that we’ll need “power over the airwaves to enable future generations of cloud computing.

Summary and Perspective

The cloud conversation is increasingly centered on business problem solving, enablement and innovation. And, big data and IoT are likely to fuel exponential growth in cloud adoption and use cases beyond what most of us can even imagine today.

However, as cloud computing becomes a ubiquitous solution for more problems, cloud alternatives and issues are also becoming more numerous, nuanced. Cloud choices will also become more inter-dependent and related. As complexity and choice expands, brokerage services will become essential in helping most organizations navigate the cloud landscape.

As business reliance on the cloud grows, IT and business decision-makers must align to meet business requirements and optimize long-term security, agility and flexibility with cloud solutions. Both groups will also need guidance and education to build a common foundation from which they can engage to optimize their cloud investments.

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

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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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