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. 

 

SMB Adoption and Trends in Marketing Automation

This is the second 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.

SMBs consistently cite factors that impact top and bottom line results as their key business challenges. Attracting new customers, growing revenue, improving cash flow, maintaining profitability and retaining customers are critical, ongoing concerns. So it’s no wonder that they are exploring how marketing automation can help them.

But when it comes to marketing solutions, many small and even medium businesses rely on point solutions such as SEO tools, paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, email newsletters and social media.

Increasingly, however, SMBs are turning to a more integrated marketing approach. SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that in 2014, 20% of small and 25% of medium businesses purchased/upgraded a marketing automation solution in the past 24 months. Meanwhile, 22% of small and 26% of medium businesses plan to purchase/upgrade a marketing automation solution in the next 12 months (Figure 1). Although some of these plans aren’t likely to result in actual purchases, the use and awareness of marketing automation are clearly growing among SMBs.

Furthermore, cloud already has become SMBs’ preferred deployment option for marketing automation, with the number of planned cloud deployments exceeding that of on-premises deployments.

Figure 1: SMB Marketing Automation Adoption and PlansSlide1

Simultaneously (Figure 2) SMBs are also using social sites to better engage with customers and prospects: 48% of small and 57% of medium businesses use at least two social sites.

Figure 2: SMB Use of Company-Managed Websites and Social Sites

Slide3

Mobile marketing capabilities are also quickly becoming a priority for many SMBs. Mobile marketing is becoming an increasingly important component of SMBs’ overall marketing strategy, with 56% of small and 60% of medium businesses agreeing or strongly agreeing that mobile marketing drives business growth (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Mobile Marketing as a Driver of Business GrowthSlide4

SMBs are incorporating mobile marketing into their businesses by using a two-pronged approach. First, they are increasingly providing employees with mobile-enabled solutions for CRM, marketing and advertising, and social media. Second, they are extending mobile functionality to their customers, partners and other constituents via mobile apps and mobile-friendly websites. Providing access to customer service, the ability to purchase goods and services, and the ability to check delivery status are leading areas (Figure 4). In addition, a substantial percentage of SMBs currently provide or plan to provide capabilities that enable customers to access marketing offers and to join and manage loyalty rewards programs.

Figure 4: Use of/Plans for Customer (External) Mobile Marketing SolutionsSlide6

In subsequent posts in this series, we examine how vendors (Act-On, HubSpot, Infusionsoft, IBM Silverpop, NetSuite, ReachLocal, Salesforce.com Pardot, SugarCRM) view the SMB market, and their strategies and plans to help SMBs integrate marketing across different channels and media.

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. 

“Must-Consider” Marketing Trends for SMBs

This is the first 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.

Choosing a marketing automation solution may be one of the most important decisions your business makes. As cloud, mobile, social, analytics and other technologies continue to transform the buyer’s journey, this choice is likely to become even more critical.

As the term “marketing automation” implies, small and medium businesses (SMBs) must automate tasks to scale their marketing campaigns in order to reach more prospects and customers, and to provide them with the right information at the right time in their buying journey. Although many small and even medium businesses rely on point solutions, more are turning to an integrated marketing approach. In 2014, 20% of small and 25% of medium businesses had purchased/upgraded to a marketing automation solution in the past 24 months. Meanwhile, 22% of small and 26% of medium businesses plan to purchase/upgrade a marketing automation solution in the next 12 months, as indicated in SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study.

Figure 1: SMB Marketing Automation Adoption and Plans

Slide1

However, marketing requirements are changing rapidly. Today, buyers conduct much of their research and evaluation online across multiple channels. Because businesses need to be where their customers and prospects are, they must invest to build their digital footprint via websites, social media engagement, search, email marketing and mobile marketing. Simultaneously, they must continue to invest in traditional marketing activities.

SMB Group has identified several key trends that SMBs should consider when selecting a marketing automation solution, including:

  • Cloud computing: The cloud is quickly becoming the preferred deployment method for marketing automation because it relieves SMBs of IT deployment and management issues.
  • Mobile: Buyers are doing more research, shopping and buying on mobile devices, and SMBs must optimize the buying journey 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 from laptops to smartphones. But many more areas also need to be addressed. For instance, should an SMB develop mobile apps or mobile websites, or use text messaging to connect with customers—or all of the above?
  • Social: Social media has become the equivalent of digital word of mouth, and SMBs need solutions to help them observe, participate in and track the social networks that their prospects and customers use in order to engage and nurture relationships.
  • Content: Content feeds all marketing initiatives and 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 get more value from it.
  • Omnichannel: As the buyer journey evolves to include more touch points, SMBs need to create and maintain a consistent look and feel across different channels as well as gain an integrated view of customer behavior.

Fortunately, many vendors offer solutions to help SMBs capitalize on these trends. But given so many choices, SMBs must carefully evaluate and compare all the options in order to get the best fit for their requirements. Key areas to investigate include:

  • How vendors define “SMB” and position their offerings: Most focus on a particular slice of the SMB market because it’s difficult to satisfy the diverse requirements across the broader SMB market.
  • How many and what percentage of the vendor’s customers are from the SMB segment the vendor targets
  • How well the solution maps to a company’s needs and constraints: Some vendors focus on providing very in-depth marketing automation capabilities, while others combine marketing with CRM in a pre-integrated suite.
  • Internal marketing resources and skills, and whether to take more of a do-it-yourself versus a do-it-for-me approach
  • Pricing, including whether a vendor offers annual, monthly and/or yearly contracts
  • Integration of different marketing and sales activities to gain a unified view of customer and prospects: This is a key driver for marketing automation.
  • CRM tools that need to be integrated: Pure-play marketing automation vendors usually integrate with multiple CRM solutions, while others provide a pre-integrated suite that includes marketing and CRM.
  • How to feed the marketing funnel: Marketing automation without compelling content is like a car without gas. Content nurtures the buyer through the sales funnel. Although you can’t really automate content creation, you can streamline it. Some vendors offer education and even services to help.
  • Tools, services and support programs to help you get the most from the platform, both in the near term and in the future as needs evolve

Vendors have designed their solutions for different types of SMB requirements; there is no one-size-fits-all. In subsequent posts in this series, we examine these requirements and vendor (Act-On, HubSpot, Infusionsoft, IBM Silverpop, NetSuite, ReachLocal, Salesforce.com Pardot, SugarCRM) strategies for SMBs in more detail.

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. 

 

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015

crystal ball

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015! A more detailed description of each follows below.

(Note: SMB Group is the source for all research data quoted unless otherwise indicated.)

  1. Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs.
  2. SMB IT staff and channel partners evolve into cloud managers.
  3. SMBs recalibrate IT strategy and spending for a mobile world.
  4. The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus.
  5. SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey.
  6. KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric.
  7. Analytics gets SMB-friendly with “bring your own data” and freemium offerings.
  8. It’s time to reimagine work.
  9. SMBs place a premium on protection.
  10. SMBs opt for an incremental, integrated solutions approach.

Detailed SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015

  1. Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs. SMBs increasingly view technology as a key business enabler. According to SMB Group research, 67% of small businesses (1–99 employees) and 81% of medium businesses (100–999 employees) say that technology solutions help them improve business outcomes or run the business better. However, most SMBs don’t have the resources necessary to keep pace with technology on their own. Just 19% of small businesses employ full-time dedicated IT staff. And while 86% of medium businesses have internal IT staff, they are typically IT generalists who lack expertise in newer technology areas such as mobile and analytics. As SMB requirements for fast, easy access to new social and mobile analytics solutions, more compute power and storage, and other services have been increasing, cloud adoption has boomed—with 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution and 87% using at least one cloud infrastructure solution. In 2015, cloud solutions are poised for hockey stick growth as more SMB decision-makers turn to a cloud-first approach that not only supports existing business models, but also enables them to develop innovative new products, services and business models. Public cloud adoption will continue to significantly outpace that of private cloud, but more medium businesses in particular will consider a hybrid cloud approach, particularly in industries and applications where security and privacy are top concerns.
  2. SMB IT staff and channel partners evolve into cloud managers. As the cloud becomes mainstream, both internal SMB IT staff and external channel partner roles will evolve from implementation and break/fix support to become more proactive and strategic. SMBs will look for staff and channel partners that can work with line-of-business decision-makers to better align technology investments with business goals, select best-fit solutions and manage cloud service providers. Internal IT staff and channel partners will also need stronger integration expertise to help SMBs get more value from their technology investments. Channel partners will need to cultivate consultative selling and adjust staffing skill sets accordingly. SMB decision-makers will seek help to better understand and articulate new skill-set requirements, and to hire and/or contract for these needs. They will be hungry for thought leadership from SMB vendors, analysts and other influencers.
  3. SMBs recalibrate IT strategy and spending for a mobile world. A growing majority of SMBs now regard mobile solutions as essential business enablers, with 60% saying that mobile solutions are critical to their business. 86% of SMBs agree or strongly agree that mobile apps are a complement to traditional business applications, and 71% believe that mobile apps will replace some traditional solutions entirely. Mobile solutions also account for a growing share of SMBs’ technology budgets. SMB median spending on mobile technology and solutions as a percentage of total technology spending rose from roughly 12% in 2013 to 16% in 2014. Mobile service and device costs still account for the bulk of SMB mobile budgets, but SMB spending in other areas is rising as a percentage of mobile spend. On average, in 2014, SMBs spent 11% of their mobile dollars on apps, 9% on security, 11% on mobile management and 8% on consulting. Planned increased investment in mobile apps and more diverse mobile devices will necessitate a spike in mobile management adoption as well.
  4. The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus. IT vendors and prognosticators have been forecasting explosive growth for more intelligent and connected devices of all types. However, many IoT scenarios have been cast in a consumer light, such as smart watches and Tile (a locator for items such as keys and glasses), and the IoT vision has been fuzzy for many SMBs. In 2015, however, early but compelling use-case scenarios and solutions will emerge, leading more SMBs to the “aha” moments required to spark adoption. For instance, radio-frequency identification (RFID) has been used in logistics to track pallets and crates for some time, but mostly in closed-loop systems for high-value goods. IoT will help reduce RFID costs, making it more practical and appealing to retailers to use in order to help improve inventory accuracy, automate customer checkout and reduce theft. Beacons, which are indoor positioning systems that communicate directly with smart phones via Bluetooth, provide another compelling SMB use case. For example, a network of in-store beacons can identify the location of customers in a store and send them push notifications. Or, a trucking company could install beacons to monitor the state of its trucks, provide more timely maintenance, reduce vehicle downtime and decrease costs. Once SMBs understand use cases more clearly, IoT will hold great appeal because it is mostly invisible to end users, which negates adoption issues, and it provides real-time data for better decision-making and better business outcomes.
  5. SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey. The buyer journey is evolving rapidly and includes many more touch points than ever before. SMBs must transform their marketing approach to connect with more prospects and customers, and to provide them with the right information at the right time in the buying journey. Although many small and even medium businesses rely on point solutions, more will turn to an integrated marketing approach. In 2014, 20% of small businesses and 25% of medium businesses had purchased/upgraded to a marketing automation solution in the past 24 months. Meanwhile, 22% of small businesses and 26% of medium businesses plan to purchase/upgrade a marketing automation solution in the next 12 months. More SMBs will realize that choosing the right marketing automation solution is one of the most important technology decisions they will make, particularly as cloud, mobile, social, analytics and other technologies continue to transform the buying process.
  6. KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric. Historically, vendors have tended to focus on proving solution value through return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis and metrics. But these assessments and metrics, while often beneficial, are frequently too vague and/or too dependent on nuanced measurements to be compelling for SMBs. In comparison, key performance indicators (KPIs) can provide SMBs with specific, actionable insights on business performance and what areas need improvement. With so many vendors fighting for SMB dollars, SMBs will increasingly seek out those that help them understand what KPIs are most relevant for their business and industry, and those that provide credible, specific metrics about how their solutions affect these KPIs.
  7. Analytics gets SMB-friendly with “bring your own data” and freemium offerings. Most SMBs don’t have data analysts on staff. These businesses often are intimidated by analytics solutions, which have traditionally been expensive, complex and difficult to use. But cloud computing, better user interfaces, visualization tools, improved algorithms and natural language capabilities as well as a growing number of freemium offerings designed for business decision-makers—not data scientists—are poised to change this. For instance, IBM’s Watson freemium offering allows users to bring in data from many sources, and it has capabilities that reduce data preparation and loading time, including a “fix it” button to repair data quality issues. Once data is plugged into Watson, users can query in natural language to analyze information. As more solutions designed for people with little or no data preparation and analytics skills emerge, analytics will become more consumable for SMBs.
  8. It’s time to reimagine work. Whether you prefer the hashtag #futureofwork, #newwaytowork, #reimaginework or something else, it’s clear that change is on the horizon. Processes, tools, attitudes and behaviors are shifting as mobile, social, cloud, analytics, IoT and other technology advances take hold in SMBs. Likewise, demographic shifts are reshaping the makeup of SMB workers as well as their expectations of what technology should do and how it should do it. For instance, millennials and digital natives are rising through the workforce ranks, while baby boomers are starting to retire or move to part-time work. Meanwhile, the ranks of temporary and contract workers continue to grow. The National Employment Law Project found that temporary help agencies, staffing agencies, professional employer organizations and employment placement agencies fill 2.5% of all jobs, up from 1.4% in 1990. In addition, easy-to-use consumer apps and devices have raised the bar for user experience in the business-to-business (B2B) world. This changing mix of resources, behavior, attitudes and requirements will lead more SMBs to seek better, easier and more affordable ways to access, evaluate, buy and get productive with technology solutions. Vendors that understand and plan for this evolution, provide clear solution value and make SMB customers feel that they are part of a strong ecosystem will have a decisive edge as this trend unfolds. Providing easy access and free trials, clear messaging, a delightful user experience, superior support and vibrant user communities will be key to tapping into this trend.
  9. SMBs place a premium on protection. SMBs are already using basic security and backup tools. However, our research shows that most use point solutions that only tackle part of the problem. The use of more comprehensive solutions to protect and manage data is still far from the norm. But greater reliance on technology, an increasing number of “moving parts” (traditional apps and infrastructure, cloud, social, mobile, etc.) and the need to manage data no matter where it resides necessitate better security, control and management capabilities. SMBs need only turn on the news to understand the financial, brand and legal ramifications of data breaches at large companies such as Sony Pictures, Home Depot and eBay. As awareness rises, SMBs will place a premium on more comprehensive solutions from vendors that offer proactive guidance, deeper expertise, stronger service-level agreements (SLAs) and 24/7 support for an always-on world.
  10. SMBs opt for an incremental, integrated solutions approach. New cloud, mobile and social solutions have made it easier for SMBs to access and use new applications, but they have offered little help with integration. Although 63% of SMBs have partially integrated some applications, 79% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code for integration, which underscores the severity of the problem. SMBs typically lack the expertise and resources to manage the entire integration process, and they need solutions that both encompass and better integrate cloud, mobile, social, analytics, security and other technologies. However, SMBs don’t want—and can’t digest—monolithic solutions. Vendors need to accommodate SMB integration requirements with a LEGO-like approach that enables SMBs to acquire only what they need at a given point in time, and then to add on new capabilities (their own or those of partners) with as little friction as possible when new needs arise. Although integration remains one of the toughest technology nuts to crack, we see new hope. Open ecosystems, embedded integration capabilities and stronger APIs should help pave the way, as should toolsets designed to help non-technical users to configure integrations without coding if they understand business integration workflows and requirements. Built-in collaboration and social communities to help users crowdsource information, find experts and share and/or sell integrations will also be key to making SMB integration a reality.

About SMB Group

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is composed of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group’s areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services, and Green IT.

SMB Mobile Adoption Disrupts Traditional IT Habits and Spending

We just published SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions StudyThe survey, which is our fourth annual study in this area, reveals many interesting findings about  how U.S. SMBs are using mobile solutions in their businesses.

For instance, A growing majority of SMBs now regard mobile solutions as essential business enablers, with 60% saying “mobile solutions are critical to our business” (Figure 1). We are also seeing that mobile solutions also account for a growing share of SMBs’ technology budgets, when we compare findings over the past four years, and the composition of spending is changing too:

  • SMB median spending on mobile technology and solutions as a percentage of total technology spending is up from roughly 12% in 2013 to 16% in 2014.
  • Mobile service and device costs still account for the bulk of SMB mobile budgets, but SMB spending in other areas is rising as a percentage of mobile spend
  • SMBs with 10 -999 employees spend 11% of their mobile dollars on apps, 10.5% on security, 11% on mobile management and 8% on consulting

Figure 1:

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The study also shows that mobile applications are becoming more important to SMBs, not only as a complement to traditional business applications, but even as a replacement in some areas. For instance, mobile access has become the preferred interface for collaboration social media apps for a significant percentage of SMBs.

Furthermore, adoption of bring your own device (BYOD) continues to rise: 59% of SMBs with 10 to 999 employees now support BYOD. The top driver for BYOD is that employees prefer to use their own, familiar devices. However, among the 41% not supporting BYOD, security and management challenges are top impediments to adoption.

As reliance on mobile solutions increases, SMBs have a growing number of mobile apps and more diverse mobile devices to manage. Consequently, adoption of mobile management solutions is rising as well. Currently, 45% of SMBs with 10-999 employees use mobile device management solutions, and 36% use solutions to manage mobile applications.

These results highlight just a few of the detailed findings in the 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study. Fielded in November 2014, the study surveyed over 700 U.S. SMB decision makers to provide a comprehensive view of SMB mobile adoption. The full study package includes findings for very small business (1-19 employees), small business (20-99 employees), and medium business (100-999 employees) across relevant areas, including:

  1. Attitudes about mobility
  2. Information sources and decision making for mobile solutions
  3. Mobile app adoption for internal (employee) users
  4. Mobile app adoption for external (customer, partner, supplier) users
  5. Top benefits and challenges in using mobile solutions
  6. Management of mobile solutions
  7. Budgets for mobile solutions
  8. How mobile adoption affects IT spending and behaviors
  9. Segmentation by industry, business outlook, technology spending, etc.

For more information and pricing for complete study results or for a focused segment, please see the study brochure. For a detailed table of contents, send and email to lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com or 508.734.5658.

 

 

California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story  

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Salesforce.com’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers on how they are rethinking their business models and using technology to get ahead. The second post, Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Salesforce.com’s approach in the SMB market.


dreamforce2014
Each year, the festivities at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user event, intensify. At Dreamforce 2014, the entertainment ranged from musicians as diverse as Bruno Mars and the Beach Boys; politicians as similar as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore; Hawaiian blessings and hula dancers; and Salesforce’s erstwhile mascots, Chatty and SaaSy. Beanbag chairs, giant chessboards, free pedicabs, and lots of liquor-fueled parties added to the carnival-like atmosphere.

But there were also many Salesforce-related keynotes, led by CEO Marc Benioff, and hundreds of Salesforce sessions. Of course, I was most interested in the SMB keynote, led by

The Technology Trifecta

Salesforce sees SMBs as being uniquely suited to use cloud, mobile and social technologies to create new business models and to win customers over from larger, but often slower-moving businesses.

As discussed in SMB Group’s Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, Salesforce is in violent agreement with other technology vendors. The nine major vendors we interviewed for the report (including Salesforce) all view cloud, mobile and social as providing SMBs enormous opportunities to gain business advantages. With customers and prospects racing into the digital future at breakneck speed, SMBs that use technology to stay ahead of their customers will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

Though many technology vendors offer SMBs solutions to capitalize on these trends, Salesforce’s SVP of SMB, Tony Rodoni, and Desk.com VP, Layla Sekla of course touted Salesforce as best positioned to help SMBs harness technology to:

  • Scale their businesses with one integrated system
  • Gain better visibility into data
  • Engage customers in new ways

The Salesforce worldview (and that of the customers that joined to tell their stories) skew heavily toward what they described as a “typical silicon valley startup.” These are companies that want to conquer a large market using disruptive technology–ones that will launch and soon face a “tidal wave of demand.”

In reality, this segment represents only a tiny fraction of the SMB universe. But, from my perspective, they zeroed in on how businesses of all kinds can think about and apply technology to improve business outcomes.

Differentiate With Great Customer Service

The heat is on for all companies to provide a great customer experience for obvious reasons. Unhappy customers are likely to stop buying and share their dissatisfaction, costing your business money. Happy ones are likely to come back for more and recommend your business to friends and family. Social media of course, amplifies the influence of customer experience.

muncheryWith this in mind, Munchery is bringing new meaning to meals on wheels. Munchery provides meal delivery of “wholesome prepared dinners, handmade by top local chefs using only the best ingredients, for same-day delivery to your home or office.” In 6 months, its revenues have grown by 400%. Munchery credits its success to using providing customer support “that’s as good as the meals.” The company uses Desk.com to:

  • See what social networks their customers are using, and what they’re saying. Are there trends in what foods people want, such as kale or quinoa (they are in San Francisco!)? Once Munchery spots these trends it integrates them into marketing and meals.
  • Intake cases from Munchery’ mobile app to adjust orders on the fly and respond to them. Munchery can provide great service, and happy customers can also add an extra tip if they’d like. This responsiveness is helping Munchery turn customer problems into opportunities, and create evangelists.
  • Streamline internal communications. The company’s 100 drivers use Desk.com to communicate back to headquarters to help optimize routes and deliveries.

Outsmart The Competition By Re-thinking the Problem 

Accessing, analyzing and acting on data can give SMBs a big advantage over the competition. But building and managing infrastructure to do this takes a lot of time, money and expertise–all scarce resources for SMBs.

zenpayrollAccording to ZenPayroll’s CEO, one-third of SMBs get fined for inaccurate payroll. The three-year old start-up the entered the payroll market, which is dominated by big players such as ADP and Paychex, with a strategy to differentiate by giving users “delightful modern payroll” that works right on day one. While competitors position payroll as a chore, Zen thinks of payroll as employees getting paid and employers showing appreciation. It provides SMBs with a paperless, cloud-based, mobile-first solution in 97% of the U.S. Its 60 employees use Desk.com to solve support issues once, and then take proactive measures to ensure they aren’t repeated. Zen also uses Pardot to automate marketing, sales and nurturing and grow its business, which now processes more than $1 billion in payroll annually. Reeves’ advice to other business owners is to rethink the problem you’re tackling.

Personally Engage Customers

Getting the right message at the right time to customers at the right time is essential in today’s multi-channel world. In addition, the more personal the message, the less likely it is to end up in the spam filter. Salesforce introduced both a B2B and B2C customer to illustrate the importance of personalized engagement.

firstmileFirst Mile told the B2B story. When it launched 2 years ago, U.K-based First Mile saw the recycling market as overcharged and underserved. Its mission is to displace entrenched, inefficient competitors by making recycling easy and responsive. First Mile sees customer engagement as its key to its strategy, and uses innovative business practices and technology to power it. For instance, established competitors require long contracts, so First Mile requires no contracts. While competitors never call their customer except when its renewal time, First Mile makes 100 calls a day to get feedback. The company uses the Salesforce platform and apps to get and analyze recycling stats and help minimize attrition. First Mile’s field sales people also recently began using iPads and Salesforce to directly enter leads into Salesforce, “quadrupling the return on investment from field sales,” over the former double-entry paper and pen to Salesforce method. First Mile’s advice to other SMBs? There are lots of free or low-cost cloud solutions out there. Try the ones you think will help you to find out which ones will give you the return you need.
georgestreetOn the B2C side, George Street is putting a new twist on wedding photos and videos by connecting photographers to brides in 50 cities across North America. George Street handles everything but taking the photos or videos. For brides, George Street creates a personalized experience to ensure they have a great wedding photography experience. The company uses several Salesforce and AppExchange solutions, including Pardot, Salesforce and Chatter lead generation, sales and contracts, photographer and shot selection, notifications and sharing photos. George Street has also created a community for brides to talk about everything from cakes to dresses. It helps facilitated last-minute requests, such as a new shot request, with Chatter. Before they used Salesforce, they did a lot of this manually, but by developing a Salesforce app to automate the process, they’ve sped up the process and can provide a better experience. For instance, it used to take 7 days from a bride’s initial appointment with George Street to close a contract, now the average close time is 24 hours. Automation has helped them scale, increasing the number of weddings they handle by 250%. And, they’ve reduced case incidents by 200%. George Street’s guidance for other SMBs is to focus on delivering an exceptional experience. Automate back-end so your people can spend more time with clients, make them happy and generate boost referrals. Finally, if you’re using Salesforce, find a good developer to help you make the most of it.

Perspective

The writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t will face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey. Is Salesforce right for you? Read Part 2 of this blog series, Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, to help you decide.

Disclosure: Salesforce paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is part two of a two-part blog series discussing Salesforce.com’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. Part One, California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story, provides perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, provides a more detailed glimpse into Salesforce.com’s approach.

The writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t will face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey, and one-size-fit all doesn’t apply in SMB. Is Salesforce right for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

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Top Technology Game Changers for SMB

Fifteen years ago, Marc Benioff founded Salesforce with the belief that multi-tenant, cloud computing applications democratize information by delivering immediate benefits while reducing risks and costs.

So it’s not surprising that while the cloud isn’t new, it continues its reign as Salesforce’s top game-changing trend. Salesforce sees cloud as removing the technology and cost barriers so that SMBs can:

  • Bring best practices and automation into their businesses so they grow, do more with less and do it better.
  • Gain real-time visibility into their businesses to improve decision-making.
  • Centralize information, making it easy for everyone to collaborate, no matter where they are, and providing a built-in way to retain knowledge as employees come and go.
  • Take advantage of enterprise class security and reliability trusted by thousands of enterprises at an affordable cost that scales with their business.

Salesforce views the cloud as the foundation and springboard for SMBs to benefit from other game-changing trends, namely mobile and social solutions. Salesforce believes that mobile is becoming the “new normal” user experience. People are already running their personal lives on mobile devices, and increasingly want to click into apps, dashboards and info on mobile devices for work. To that end, the vendor’s Salesforce1 initiative puts mobile first by making 100% of Salesforce functionality and information available to users in a relevant interface on any device.

Social collaboration is also key, not only in terms of marketing, but to help SMBs deliver more responsive service that customers increasingly expect. Social tools and analytics let SMBs increase context about customer and prospect interactions so they personalize how they engage and support them. For instance, Salesforce Chatter can run across everything in Salesforce and some of its partners’ apps, allowing everyone—from the CEO to the receptionist—to get on the same page whether to more readily spot new opportunities or to head off potential problems.

Together, these trends make things more transparent. It’s easier for people to collaborate to get the job done, instead of operating in silos. Salesforce introduced its Communities solution, which its customers can use to manage external relationships with customers and partners in a protected or non-protected way, furthering extending social collaboration capabilities from within Salesforce.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior

As SMBs get more familiar with cloud, social and mobile solutions, Salesforce sees several key shifts underway:

  • Rising expectations for centralized, single sign-on access to apps and data, with everything needed to get work done pulled together from different apps for a complete view.
  • Demand for solutions with built-in collaboration capabilities. Business owners see that collaboration helps the business to deliver better customer and employee experiences, because information flows both ways and provides better visibility to make decisions.
  • Customer service as the “new wave of marketing.” Better visibility and engagement with customers has raised awareness about the importance of servicing and engaging with customers throughout the whole life cycle to drive business, leading service people to take more ownership of the brand.
  • “Try before you buy” is the new normal. SMBs now expect to try—without having talk to rep—solutions before buying them. Salesforce cited one customer who wanted to get Desk.com, Salesforce’s small business help desk service, up and running by himself while watching the Super Bowl.
  • Friction-free technology. SMBs increasingly look for a frictionless technology experience. They have less patience for solutions that can potentially take too much time or cost too much money. They want vendors to demonstrate ease of use upfront, and provide transparent pay as you go pricing.

Although the cloud isn’t new in the industry, Salesforce believes that the concept of being able to gain advantages from enterprise-class software without having to worry about infrastructure is still something many SMBs are just starting to understand. Salesforce’s view is that while the cloud is more common today, some things aren’t “true Cloud” and SMBs are still learning about the nuances of the cloud value proposition. To that end, Salesforce is expanding its educational commitment to SMBs around business best practices. The vendor:

  • Doubled the amount of SMB content at its annual Dreamforce event last year over the prior year, with over 150 SMB breakout sessions, a dedicated networking and expert interaction area, ask the ask experts panels, a dedicated keynote as well as inclusion in other keynotes with SMBs alongside big companies.
  • Will move from one SMB message to differentiated messaging for different types of SMBs and decision-makers, to make it more relevant for different segments and roles.
  • Has recently introduced new SMB resources, including small business blogs, a customer success community.

Perspective: Salesforce as SMB Technology Catalyst

salesforcelogoAs one of the first true cloud computing pioneers, Salesforce seized on the fact that cloud computing removes the barriers for small businesses to gain the same business benefits from technology solutions as larger companies.

Salesforce—via its vision and strong customer proof points—has painted a vivid picture of how SMBs can use cloud, mobile and social solutions offerings for a more user-friendly, streamlined way to run their businesses.

At the low end of the market, many Salesforce customers move directly from Excel or from pencil and paper to Salesforce, underscoring both ease of use and the resulting business value of having real-time information access, anywhere from any device. And, even as it’s grown its star-studded Fortune 500 customer roster, Salesforce has kept SMBs in the spotlight, investing to educate the broader market about how they can use and benefit from these technologies.

Over the years, of course, Salesforce has also broadened its vision and developed and assembled many more components to enable this vision. For instance, there are now 4 editions of Sales Cloud, 3 of Service Cloud and 4 of Marketing Cloud.

At the upper end of SMB, companies may have enough staff, expertise and time to sort through Salesforce’s expanded portfolio, and figure out what’s right for them. But, Salesforce’s story may be getting confusing for smaller SMBs. While entry-level pricing is low, how many small businesses can jump from Group Edition ($25/user/month) to Professional ($65/user/month). While Professional Edition offers a lot more functionality (including pipeline forecast, campaign management, contract storage and quote delivery, custom reporting and dashboards, and a complete view of the customer across sales and service, the price differential is tough for many SMBs to absorb. Alternatively Salesforce does offer desk.com at $29/user/month to customers that have customer service requirements. Again, however, it can be challenging for SMBs to figure out which approach will work best and be most cost-effective.

However, Salesforce plans to increase investments to engage SMBs both locally and online. Not only will this help Salesforce educate more SMBs about the power of technology in business, but also it should give Salesforce a wider lens through which it can get a better pulse on SMB requirements. In turn, this should help Salesforce simplify and streamline solution packaging and positioning. All of which bodes well for its potential to help more SMBs understand and use technology as a game-changer.

Want to know more about how Salesforce’s SMB customers use Salesforce? Read Part 1 of this blog series, California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story, for perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers on how they are rethinking their business models and using technology in their businesses.

Disclosure: Salesforce paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

 

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