Highlights from the 2011 SMB Group Collaboration Study

The SMB Group and CRM Essentials recently completed the 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study. We asked more than 800 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers and influencers how they collaborate, what tools they use and what their appetite is for integrated collaboration suites. In this Slideshare presentation, we share some key highlights from the study, including:

  • Top Business Challenges
  • Collaboration Culture
  • How Collaboration Culture Affects Corporate Performance
  • Reliance on and Satisfaction with Collaboration Tools
  • Collaboration Budgets
  • Adoption and Plans for Integrated Collaboration Platforms
  • Top 3 Collaboration Platforms Selected by SMBs
  • Top Reasons to Select a Specific Integrated Collaboration Solution
  • Top Reasons for No Plans to Use an Integrated Collaboration Platform
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View more presentations from SMB Group

Click here for more information about the complete study results and how to order.

Becoming a Smarter Customer

—by Brent Leary, CRM Essentials, in partnership with SMB Group

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them.  This is the first in the series, and was based on a couple recent experiences of Brent Leary of CRM Essentials. The last example is really Brent’s dad’s experience using his iPad – which is the one that really brings it all home…so to speak.

I recently bought a new video camera—a Panasonic AG-HMC150. This was a pretty significant purchase for me because it represents a step up into the semi-pro leagues, as I’m planning to do some documentary style programs. I kicked off my buying process with two things: a question and a search.

I posed a question to my friends first. A few people I know do this professionally, so they were my first stop. And because I posed my question to them on Facebook and Twitter using a couple of hash tags, I received their valuable feedback along with great information from people I’m connected to but didn’t know were knowledgeable about video production. On top of that, I received even more valuable information from people I wasn’t connected to, but who saw my question due to the hash tags I used. So within a matter of minutes, I had a great deal of information to sift through to help me with my big buying decision.

While the feedback was pouring in from my social network, I also took to Google to find product information on video cameras. I found links to review sites, informative blog posts and videos comparing the various aspects of cameras to help me with my decision. I went to manufacturer sites to get specs, and followed that up with trips to CNET for in-depth reviews. All this was topped off by finding a few great online communities created by enthusiasts who are passionate about video production, and in some cases about specific cameras—like the Panasonic AG-HMC150 community on Vimeo.

Within a few days, I went from not knowing what to get, to feeling very confident in selecting the right camera for my needs. I also found a community of knowledgeable, experienced people who I could learn from and collaborate with to help me not only with my buying decision, but also with my video production activities. Once I decided which camera to buy, I used the web to find the right place to buy it. My newfound community recommended a company based on their previous interactions with it.

While this is just my personal experience, individual examples like mine are being replicated all over the web as social, cloud and mobile technologies help connect us to the people and information we need in order to find solutions when we need them. It’s what is driving hundreds of millions of people to spend a growing amount of time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. With these social networks becoming collaborative platforms, and with smart mobile devices providing access from anywhere, we can build and extend relationships to people and information in ways that truly improve how we experience life.

One thing I love to experience every year is watching college basketball’s national tournament, also known as March Madness. I’m not alone, as this is annually one of the highest rated television events of the year. But this year I was even more into the tournament than ever before.

For the first time, every game was shown on one of four television networks. But the big reason I had a much better tournament experience had to do with the free apps for both the iPad and iPhone that streamed all games live—giving me a choice of seeing any game from wherever I happened to be.

Not only did the mobile apps make it possible to stream any game, they also made it possible to keep track of brackets, share information with my Facebook and Twitter friends, and participate in ongoing tournament conversations. The Social Arena, available through mobile apps and multiple websites, provided me with a non-stop flow of tournament information, including insights from on-air personalities like Charles Barkley. The Social Bracket allowed me to vote on who I thought would win each game, but it also tallied up all the votes to see how the overall viewing community picked the games. Finally, the NCAA and Turner Broadcasting hired people to use social media monitoring tools to analyze the chatter taking place around the tournament, in order to provide insights into what was driving conversations.

Now even if I didn’t have the social and mobile apps, I would have been watching the tournament. But because I love all my mobile devices as much as I love watching the games, I experienced March Madness in a way I couldn’t possibly have done in years past. And, as you might have guessed, I’m not the only one who likes both basketball and mobile devices, as you can see from the numbers below:

  • March Madness On Demand (MMOD) was the #1 free app for both the iPhone and iPad in the App Store during the first two days of availability.
  • 36% of all streams were from the iPad and iPhone apps the first weekend of the tournament.
  • The mobile apps averaged 683,000 daily unique users.
  • An average of 67.5 minutes per daily unique visitor was spent streaming MMOD on broadband.
  • The NCAA.com/MMOD broadband site averaged 3.8 million daily unique visitors.

Turner was able to leverage our love of social/mobile tools to provide viewers with a whole new level of engagement with the tournament. And, as Fast Company magazine stated in an article about the project, Turner is fit to deliver “a true revolution in sports. And in return they’ll get audience data, captivity and flexibility like no sports broadcasting has ever seen before.” As a side note, television ratings were the best they’ve been in 15 years.

It is clear today that people depend heavily on social networks and mobile technology. Now, more people have accounts on social networks than they have email accounts, and mobile device sales are poised to surpass combined desktop/laptop sales within the next year in the United States. Google+, a network only a couple of months old, already has more than 25 million users sharing over 1 billion pieces of content daily. The ease of content creation and distribution has led us into the age of the zettabyte (with 21 zeroes after the “1”)—which is the amount of information estimated to be available to us online today.

It’s not just the younger generations that are heavily dependent on these technologies. Baby Boomers, and people from earlier generations, are also adopting these tools. I know this from firsthand experience, watching my soon-to-be 80-year-old father using his iPad to do things he had never done before on his desktop computer. He reads books, listens to NPR, watches videos and shares information with his siblings on Facebook—and even Twitter. He uses Bank of America’s app to do his banking. He shops on Amazon.com and Apple’s App Store. He even mentioned reading a few of my blog posts, something I can’t remember him doing before.

Quite honestly, my father loves his iPad because it allows him to easily do so much more. And these tools enable today’s customer to do and experience more than imagined just a few short years ago. But, the fact that customers are smarter today has more to do with having better technology at their disposal than being brainier. Customers have always wanted more information and access to the right people. They have always wanted to be listened to, and have their ideas incorporated into developing better products and services. They’ve also wanted to be valued beyond the financial transaction that they bring to a company’s bottom line.

And now, because technology has empowered them to get together, share experiences and amplify their collective voice, customers expect companies to engage them with these new tools and communication channels. As customers leverage social and mobile technologies to improve their knowledge and life experiences, they will look to build relationships with businesses that will do the same. Well, at least my father and I will.

This is the first of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll look at key points businesses need to consider to best serve the smarter customer. In the meantime, we’d love to hear how you’re using the web, mobile and social technologies to become a smarter customer.

Salesforce’s Dimdim Acquisition–Adding to a String of Collaboration Pearls

The SMB Group has followed (and used!) Dimdim, which has provided innovative, easy to use Web conferencing services in a freemium model with very liberal terms of use, for a couple of years. In January, Salesforce.com acquired Dimdim for $31 million.

Immediately after the acquisition, Salesforce announced that while Dimdim would remain “fully operational during the transition,” it would “no longer be accepting new registrations.” Instead, Salesforce is focusing on bringing Chatter and Dimdim together to provide what it terms “Facebook for the enterprise.”

What’s Next

Last week, we had a follow up briefing with Salesforce’s Mike Micucci, VP Product Management, and Steve Chazin, Senior Director, Product Strategy, to learn more about these plans. Essentially:

  • Salesforce will peel off the Dimdim front end and reconstitute Dimdim’s real-time collaboration capabilities into Chatter. This will give Salesforce a way to provide Chatter users with real-time presence capabilities, so users can see who else on their team is online and their status via a button on their Chatter screens, and start “in context” meetings on the fly.
  • Salesforce will focus initially on connecting internal team members via Chatter, but over time, will broaden this to connect partners and customers as well, integrating them with its Activa acquisition. (Salesforce acquired Activa, an enterprise chat startup that provides on-demand live chat software for customer service, support and online sales interactions last September).
  • The vendor will also explore incorporating audio, screen sharing and video capabilities from Dimdim into Salesforce as well.

While Salesforce is currently deferring to standalone Web conferencing partners (they actually conducted their briefing with us via Citrix GoToMeeting!) in the realm of scheduled meetings, I believe that its only a matter of time before they turn this service on, as users will want it.

Quick Take

With over 1 million registered users, it’s safe to say that Dimdim’s service will be missed by many SMBs–including the SMB Group!

But Salesforce has set its sights on a much bigger picture–one in which it is building, acquiring and integrating the components it needs to become a major player in the collaboration space. As we discuss in Moving Beyond Email: The Era of SMB Online Collaboration Suites, Salesforce’s collaboration strategy is oriented towards social media, real-time activity streams and tight  integration with its CRM offering.

The Dimdim acquisition gives Salesforce the ability to aggregate and integrate real-time capabilities across the Salesforce cloud, via a single mechanism, with multi-device access. Combined with its own Chatter platform, and acquisitions of Activa and GroupSwim, which provides collaborative semantic analysis technology (a fancy way of saying that it has technology that allows people to automatically analyzes and tags content with keywords in a collaborative way to make for easier, more relevant searching), Salesforce is stringing together an impressive set of collaboration capabilities.

Salesforce indicates that more than 60,000 companies have already deployed Chatter, and the vendor recently unveiled Chatter Free, a freemium service to entice non-Salesforce customers to the Chatter fold. With viral routes into both installed base and off base customers now in place, look for Salesforce to give the existing collaboration powerhouses–Google, IBM Lotus and Microsoft–an interesting run for the money.

Small Businesses Want to Go Mobile–But Need Less Expensive Data Plans

We just published our latest SMB Group survey study, “2010 Small and Medium Businesses Mobile Solutions Study,” which reveals that although just a small percentage of U.S. small and medium businesses (SMBs) currently use mobile applications, they are revving up plans to implement mobile business applications to help fuel growth.

Judging from the types of mobile business solutions that these businesses are most often planning to deploy–mobile marketing, customer service management, social media marketing, time management and field service–it’s clear that they want to use mobile solutions to help them meet their top business goals of attracting new customers, growing revenues and improving customer satisfaction.

SMB plans to implement mobile business applications are very strong–in some cases, plans to deploy are almost triple current use. However, the high cost of mobile service plans threatens to stall SMB adoption of smartphones and other devices that enable employees to take advantage of mobile business solutions. This is particularly true in very small businesses (1-19 employees), where 40% cite high voice and data costs as a the top barrier to broadening mobile solution use by employees. Even when we look at the total small business group (1-99 employees), 37% say these costs are their top obstacle. As a result, 43% of small businesses currently provide voice-text phones and plans only to employees.

Of late, service providers are offering more limited choices for voice-text only phones. This will give some small businesses the push they need to bite the bullet and invest in data service plans. But, these findings underscore that small businesses need more flexible and affordable data plans in order to take advantage of the mobile applications that can help their businesses grow.
It will be interesting to see what types and which vendors will be willing to shake up the status quo with some new pricing schemes, bundles and incentives to help small businesses act on this opportunity.

What is Social Networking, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published in Small Business Computing, April 7, 2009)

Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Huzitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month Laurie looks at Social Networking.

What is Social Networking?

Social networking, also referred to as social media, encompasses many Internet-based tools that make it easier for people to listen, interact, engage and collaborate with each other. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, message boards, Wikipedia and countless others are catching on like wildfire.

People use social networking to share recipes, photos, ideas and to keep friends updated on our lives. In many cases, you can use social networking tools from mobile devices, such as Blackberries and iPhones, as easily as from a PC or Mac.

By its very nature, social networking is interactive. You can tell anyone (that you want to talk to, and that wants to listen to you) anything about your opinions and experiences—and vice versa–through blogs, Facebook pages, videos and even 140 character messages called tweets. You can also build communities based on common interests, causes and concerns.

While we don’t have room to discuss all of the social networking sites, here’s a sampler to help you get your head around today’s most popular social networking tools:

    * Blogs are sites that people set up to provide information and opinions about events, ideas or anything else they want to discuss. Blogs can include links to other related sites, photos, videos and sound as well as text. The number of bloggers is growing exponentially; eMarketer estimates that in 2007 there were almost 23 million U.S. bloggers and more than 94 million blog readers.

    * Twitter is a micro-blogging site. Twitter members post text messages called “tweets” of 140 characters or less, using either a computer or a cell phone. Other Twitter users can “follow”” your posts, but you can decide if you want to let them follow you or not. Compete.com, a Web-traffic analysis service, says that Twitter had 6 million unique visits in February 2009.

    * Facebook is a social networking site where you can set up a profile, join different communities, and connect with friends. More than 175 million people currently use Facebook—and the fastest growing demographic is people over the age of 35.

    * LinkedIn is a social networking site with about 38 million members. While it shares a lot of the same features and capabilities you’ll find on Facebook, LinkedIn focuses specifically on helping people build career and business communities.

    * Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Articles provide links to related information. In 2008, Wikipedia had 684 million visitors, and 75,000 contributors working on more than 10 million articles.

    * YouTube is a site to share and watch videos. Anyone can record a video and then upload and share it via the YouTube site. Everyone can watch the videos on YouTube.  In January, The U.S. Congress and YouTube announced the launch of official Congressional YouTube channels, which gives each member of the House and Senate the opportunity to create his or her own YouTube channel.  

The world of blogs, tweets and wikis can be confusing for many people. Even if you are comfortable using Facebook, YouTube and other services in your personal life, you may be wondering if social networking can be a useful tool for your business.

The answer is a resounding yes. Small businesses can use social networking for many practical purposes. You can use these tools (which are usually free) to locate experts and find information, pose questions and get answers. Thoughtful use of social networking services can help you move beyond conventional, one-way marketing, such as advertising, and tap into a more interactive marketing approach. For instance, you use social networking tools to:

    * Research ideas, and learn more about what customers and prospects are saying about their needs and experiences, and about your products and related areas.

    * Gain new market and competitive insights to improve your products and services.

    * Create and join conversations with customers, prospects, partners and other constituents about key issues and concerns.

    * Create positive word-of-mouth about your products and services.

    * Grow your company’s reputation as a thought leader. 

What to Consider

Navigating through the social media maze can be overwhelming at first. If you’re just starting out, remember you can start small. In fact, I’d recommend taking smaller steps first, before you tackle writing your own blog or creating an online community. Here are a couple of easy ways to get started.

    * Monitor relevant online conversations in social media. Tuning into online conversations can provide you with insights for marketing and new products and services. Google Blog Search and other tools can help you find relevant blogs, and you can set up an RSS reader, like Google Reader, to get content delivered to you automatically.

    * Join conversations. You don’t have to write you own blog—you can comment and respond or answer questions in other blog posts, or on Twitter. Follow the same rules of etiquette you’d use in the physical world—make your comments relevant, behave ethically and be authentic—and remember to identify yourself and your company.

    * Use relevant communities for market research. On LinkedIn, for instance, you can join relevant professional communities to discuss what’s going on in your industry and ask questions. Or try Facebook Polls to poll targeted Facebook users, based on demographic data. With this tool, you can field a single-question poll in a few minutes, and get responses from hundreds of people in less than hour. 

As you get more involved, you’ll learn as you go about the different types of social media, how other small businesses use them, and approaches you can use to launch your own online community, blog or YouTube video. So get in and join the conversation!

By Laurie McCabe
July 27, 2009
Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month Laurie looks at Unified Communications.
What is Unified Communications?
Most of us use several different tools and devices to communicate. At a minimum, you probably use a cell phone, a landline phone, fax and e-mail. Many of us also other tools as well, such as instant messaging, texting and Web conferencing.  Unified communications (UC) solutions incorporate these different modes of communications into one system.
Unified communication solutions take advantage of new technologies to integrate and streamline messages from many sources. For instance, a unified messaging system lets you access multiple phone lines, e-mail, fax and instant messaging from one place. These solutions break down communications barriers so that it’s easier and faster for you to find, reach and communicate with other people, and vice versa.
It’s important to remember that UC isn’t one tool, but a solution that pulls together all of the communication and collaboration tools that you’re already using (plus some new ones you may want to add) so you can communicate through a consistent interface and experience. For instance, with a UC solution, you give your customers just your office phone number, and calls to that number will also ring simultaneously on your cell phone.
UC solutions can integrate both non-real-time communications tools, such as traditional phone lines, e-mail, fax and voice-mail, with real-time communications tools such as instant messaging (IM) and Web conferencing. They can also incorporate many other communication tools, too, such as and voice over IP (VoIP) telephony solutions, text messaging, screen sharing and video conferencing—just to name a few. Many use presence awareness technology that locates where people to see if they’re available, (think IM buddy list).
Why Should You Care?
Whether you’re a sales person, a construction worker or an attorney, you’re likely to be on the go, or working from different locations throughout the week. UC solutions can help you get more done more quickly. They help you and stay connected to your co-workers and customers, whether you’re on the road, in the office or working from home.
Depending on where you are and what the situation requires, your preference for the device you use (cell phone, PDA, notebook desktop computer, fax machine) is likely to change, as is the mode of communicating (traditional phone service, IP telephony, cell phone, text message, IM, etc.).  Everyone else is in the same boat. So, while it’s nice to have all these handy tools, it’s a chore to remember different numbers, and to constantly check different services for messages.
UC can help you be more productive and save you time by letting you move seamlessly from one device and mode of communication to another. For example, using a UC solution, you could:
    * Have your calls follow you. For instance, say you dial into a conference call from your home phone at 6:00 a.m. When you walk out the door, the call transfers automatically to your cell phone—without interruption. When you get to the office, the call transfers to your office phone, which has the capability to also initiate a Web conference. 
    * Find people you need more quickly. Let’s say you and your sales manager both have busy schedules. You will both be in and out of the office in between sales calls. You’re in the last throes of negotiating a deal, and you need to get his buy-in on a discount—but you have no idea where he is.  A UC solutions tracks down your boss for you. It knows the phone number where your boss is located, and automatically forward the call to the phone line he can access. 
UC can also help you operate more flexibly and save money.  Say, for instance, you hire five more employees; the solution will easily accommodate remote workers. With a UC solution that includes IP telephony, it’s easy and fast to add new phone lines for new workers, wherever they’re located. Instead of having to move to a bigger office and pay higher rent, the new employees can work from home with just an Internet connection.
What to Consider
UC can be a confusing area to evaluate because different vendors design and build their solutions with different assortments of communications and collaboration tools. If you’re considering UC, start by putting together a list of communication pain points and problems that your company faces. Depending on the nature of your business, its size, and how people work, you may want very different capabilities than the business next door. You’ll also want to look for a solution that is flexible enough to let you add new capabilities as you need them.
The other area you’ll want to consider is how you want to deploy the solution. Companies such as Avaya, Cisco and many others sell UC solutions — designed specifically for small businesses — that package up systems, software and phones. IBM just announced that it will add a real-time communication version to its Lotus Foundations line, which is designed for small businesses that want one appliance to support communications and collaboration. Finally, vendors such as PanTerra provide software-as-a-service (SaaS) UC solutions through its partner channel. 

Six Signs that It’s Time to Bring Your Cloud Speak Down to Earth

I know its hard to believe, but industry insiders often make and drink too much of their own Kool-Aid! Unfortunately, this seems to be happening all too frequently with cloud computing, the latest in a long line of our industry’s over-hyped buzzwords. Here’s how to tell if you need to come back down earth when communicating about “the cloud” with the rest of the universe.

1. You are incapable of providing a clear definition, in plain English (or whatever your primary language is) of what cloud computing is.  Even for the most introductory purposes, you are constitutionally unable to sum up cloud computing simply, such as “a scalable computing model that lets people access and use software, server and storage resources over the Internet”. 

2. You have become fanatical about “the cloud”. You’ve lost the ability to even-handedly assess the pros and cons,  or let any doubts about security, privacy or performance temper your zeal (even as Google argues that technology has ensured that “complete privacy does not exist”). You’ve decided that “the cloud” way is the only way.

3. You spend a disturbing amount of time pondering and debating questions such as, “is a private cloud (a private cloud being a cloud architecture and services that an organization builds for its own use) really a cloud?”—even as you acknowledge the existence of private clouds.

4. You feel compelled to make nuanced distinctions between cloud computing and software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, and anything-else-as-a-service—even though hardly anyone else cares.

5. You feel more at home marketing the benefits of “the cloud” than marketing the benefits of your solution—whether its CRM, collaboration, financials or flying monkeys.

6. Software and computer appliances annoy you. After all, appliances offer customers many of the cost, time, management and ease of use benefits as solutions offered via the cloud. But appliances—and customer data–sit on customer premises, and vendors provide service, maintenance and upgrades over the Web—kind of reverse cloud. If appliances take off, wouldn’t that slow down “the cloud” as you currently define it?

If you answered “yes” to three or more of the above questions, it’s time to put down the Kool-Aid and remember that the vast majority of business decision makers “really don’t know clouds at all” (thanks, Joni Mitchell). They are just trying to figure out how run payroll more cheaply, collaborate more productively on new widget design, or sell more widgets. Meanwhile, many IT people believe the cloud was invented to take their jobs away. So please bring your cloud conversations down to earth, before “the cloud” is vaporized.

  

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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