Sage’s Everest: Building Mind and Market Share With A New Generation of SMBs

everestAt last week’s Sage Summit, one of the featured speakers was renowned British explorer, entrepreneur and adventurer Justin Packshaw. Among other achievements, Packshaw spoke about the challenges he and his team of 10 climbers faced to successfully reach—and then descend—the peak of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on the planet.

Watching Sage’s new (as of November 2014) CEO Steven Kelly interview Packshaw, I couldn’t help but think about the uphill battle that Sage has faced in attracting net-new customers to its accounting and ERP software solutions over the past several years. While many rivals were quick to bring innovative cloud, mobile and social capabilities into their solutions, Sage has taken a slower, more conservative approach. As a result, although Sage has done a fairly good job of retaining existing customers, it has struggled to gain mind and market share with new generation of cloud and mobile savvy SMB customers that it needs to fuel substantive growth.

Making the Case for the New Sage

Steven KellyKicking off the event, CEO  Kelly made his case for a newly energized and more engaged Sage. At the 50,000 foot level, Kelly:

  • Pledged Sage’s commitment to “being the best technology company for small businesses,” by providing small businesses with help to run their businesses, give them more control, and help them make the right choices.
  • Positioned Sage at the forefront of the “golden triangle” of accounting, payroll and payments solutions to make small businesses “100% compliant, 100% of the time.”
  • Reiterated that Sage “loves on premises, hybrid and cloud solutions” and will support all of these models to give businesses choice.
  • Vowed that “end of life” is not part of the Sage vocabulary. Sage won’t force existing customers to go to the cloud before they are ready; instead, it will provide pathways and tools that enable customers to control the pace of their migration.
  • Asserted that the term ERP (enterprise resource planning) really means “expense, regret and pain,” and that Sage will also banish this term from its vocabulary (which by the way, got a pretty big round of applause).

All of the above should be welcome news for existing Sage customers, who have stayed the course through numerous changes in Sage strategy, management and products over the past few years. But, it doesn’t offer much in the way of helping Sage attract net-new customers So how will Sage ascent its Everest? 

Sage Live: Poster Child for the New Sage

sageliveKelly’s roadmap for new growth focuses on rapid, global new solution development for next-generation business decision-makers who are already sold on a cloud and mobile first world. Sage One, Sage’s offering for sole proprietors and very small businesses from pen and paper and spreadsheets, is part of this, but Sage Live  (formerly Sage Life) is really the poster child for Sage’s new approach tailored to the “office of the future.” Notably, Sage Live was designed and developed in six months from when Kelly gave the team its marching orders.

Built as a multi-tenant cloud-based accounting solution. Sage Live is aimed  squarely at growing small businesses who need more power than entry-level accounting solutions offer, and want cloud, mobile and collaborative capabilities out-of-the-box. Pricing starts at $30/user/month for full users (such as finance and accounting users) and $15 per user/month pricing for more casual business users. Slated for U.S. release now, and for UK availability at the end of the summer, Sage Live is designed to be a global solution.

The Salesforce1 Shortcut

Sage choose to build Sage Live on Salesforce1, the largest cloud development platform in the world, to gain development and go-to-market efficiencies, including:

  • A rapid development environment and tools to design, build and bring the solution to market.
  • The ability to embed Salesforce1 mobile and collaborative functionality, such as Chatter, directly into the Sage Live solution.
  • An enormous partner ecosystem to add features and functions for specific markets. For example, Kimble PSA announced its integration with Sage Live at the event. With a partner-centric approach from the get-go, Sage Live doesn’t need to become a clunky, monolithic solution.
  • The same look and feel as Salesforce, giving Sage a natural entrée into Salesforce’s 95,000 SMB installed base customers. 

Customer-Centric Design

Salesforce1’s platform also made it easy for Sage to pull in its best small business accounting experts from around the world to collaborate on Sage Live. Sage also involved customers in its early adopter program from the beginning, seeking out non-Sage customers–both owners and those in financial roles—for input.

What Sage heard is that they are spending too much time juggling too many spreadsheets. As their businesses grow, they need better tools to budget and forecast, the ability to look at their business through different lenses, and more collaborative capabilities. They want a “one-office approach” with easy cloud and mobile access to real-time information for all users.

In response, Sage Live’s multi-dimensional accounting engine allows users tag records with geographical, product or other information. Users can then easily pull up different views and reports based on the tags. The solution can also be configured for different role-based views or “scoreboards” giving users just the information most relevant to them.

iwatchEmbedded Salesforce1 real-time social and mobile capabilities make it easy for users to collaborate and share information, ala the “business in the moment” example of Sage Live notifications on Apple iWatch.

Perspective

New and fast-growth SMBs are increasingly gravitating to the cloud for accounting and ERP. SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that 29% of SMBs planning to purchase new accounting/ERP solutions are leaning toward cloud deployments. Sage Live provides Sage with a much-needed solution to tap into this market, and meet it’s elusive (to date) challenge of attracting net-new business. 

While some have questioned the wisdom of building on Salesforce1, I believe that this was a good choice for Sage. Salesforce1 has enabled Sage to skip the plumbing work and to build Sage Live much more quickly than it could have from scratch. Furthermore, Sage gains exposure to Salesforce’s large SMB customer base, and an entrée to Salesforce’s extensive developer ecosystem.

In addition, while Salesforce customers have many choices when it comes to accounting solutions, Sage Live is the only small business accounting solution native to the Salesforce1 platform (FinancialForce is native as well, but aimed more at the midmarket).

Finally, armed with a true “net-native” cloud solution, Sage can apply its extensive expertise as a volume SMB marketer to the cloud and mobile first SMB segment. Sage is even opening a new Customer Business Center, exclusively dedicated to digital marketing and sales for the Sage Live solution.

However, this is not enough to ensure success. I see a few areas in which Sage will need to double down, including:

  • Creating a clear, constant drumbeat to articulate why Sage Live is different from other Sage and its competitors’ offerings. Getting on SMB radar is hard in a market where so many vendors are vying for customers that have outgrown QuickBooks and other entry-level accounting solutions. And, since SMBs rank “Figuring out how different technology solutions can help my business” as one of their top three technology challenges in SMB Group’s SMB Routes to Market surveys. Sage will also need to provide in-depth education to make it to SMB short lists.
  • Persuade Salesforce to more actively promote Sage Live. From what I gathered at Sage Summit, Salesforce sales reps will refer customers to Sage Live if they want to integrate accounting and CRM. This is a start, but fairly passive. Sage Live needs Salesforce to play a more active role to kick-start consideration and adoption. Sage will be a Platinum sponsor at Dreamforce, and it will be interesting to see how Salesforce reciprocates.
  • Prove that it can expand traction with developer partners. To further validate its cloud direction and ambitions, and to fill in key gaps for critical customer segments, Sage must quickly recruit high-profile Salesforce developers to the Sage Live fold.

Prior to Kelly’s appointment, Sage had been investing in new technologies to modernize its existing accounting payroll and payments solutions for quite some time. But progress seemed to be slow, and it was clear that simply moving existing solutions would not be enough to fuel significant  growth. With Sage Live, Steven Kelly is already operating at a bolder, faster and more aggressive pace than his predecessors to pursue this growth. Now, having proved it can get on the fast track with product development, Sage’s next—and bigger challenge—is to get on the fast track with marketing and sales.

Mobile Solutions Play a Big Role in Small Businesses

Small businesses are rapidly moving to mobile solutions to gain anytime, anywhere access to people, information and applications. As mobile becomes a mainstream solution technology, small businesses must also factor mobile into their broader technology strategies and plans. Our 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study highlights the powerful impact of mobile in very small (1-19 employees) and small (20-99 employees) businesses to date, and implications for the future.

Changes in Attitudes

Mobile applications are quickly becoming indispensable for many small businesses. As shown on Figure 1, a half of very small and two-thirds of small businesses regard mobile solutions as critical for their businesses. Slightly more than half of these organizations also view mobile apps as helping to drive business growth. Consequently, it’s not surprising that mobile apps are playing a bigger role in small business operations. A substantial majority see mobile apps as complementing traditional business apps, and 67% of very small and 73% of small businesses believe that mobile apps will even replace some of their current business applications.

Figure 1: Small Businesses are Bullish on Mobile SolutionsSlide1

For small businesses, cash is king. Attracting new customers, growing revenues, and maintaining/improving profitability as top business goals (Figure 2). Small businesses see mobile solutions as very instrumental in helping them to address these and other important customer engagement, workforce and financial goals.

Figure 2: Top Small Business GoalsSlide2

For instance, 70% of very small and 87% of small businesses agree that mobile solutions play a significant role in improving customer experience and retention (Figure 3). Almost two-thirds see mobile as playing a significant role in helping them to attract new customers.

Figure 3: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Customer ChallengesSlide3

Survey respondents are also convinced that mobile solutions help them create a more effective, productive workforce environment, with 74% of very small and a close to unanimous 91% of small businesses seeing mobile as boosting employee productivity. Furthermore, almost two-thirds see mobile solutions as helping them to attract and retain quality employees, reflecting the reality that people increasingly want to gain the same level of mobile access, convenience and information in their business lives as they are getting as consumers. Mobile solutions are likely to become even more important to recruiting new employees as small businesses seeking to hire more younger workers and millenials.

Figure 4: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Workforce ChallengesSlide4

Perhaps most telling, small businesses see mobile solutions as playing a significant role in helping them meet critical top and bottom line business challenges, such as reacting quickly to changing market conditions, reducing operating costs, improving cash flow, and growing revenue.

Figure 5: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Financial ChallengesSlide5

More Work Is Getting Done On Mobile Devices

Businesses are taking advantage of providing employees with the ability to work anytime, anywhere via mobile devices (Figure 6). Small business use of basic collaboration and productivity tools such as email, calendar and contacts is already mainstream, with upwards of 80% of very small and small businesses already using these apps on mobile devices. However, some mobile collaboration and productivity apps are poised for strong gains next year, with 20%-plus of small business respondents planning to deploy mobile conferencing, document management, find-me-follow-me presence, personal assistant and/or document editing and creation apps within the next 12 months.

Figure 6: Small Business Employees are Doing More Work On Mobile DevicesSlide6

Mobile business apps have made strong gains over the past three years, particularly among businesses with 20-99 employees, where the number of mobile business apps used regularly jumped 27% over the past year. We expect this trend to continue, as respondent’s plans to add new mobile business apps in the next 12 months were strong across the board. Mobile apps for time management and capture lead the way, with 25% of both very small and small businesses planning to add this capability; followed by mobile marketing and advertising (24%); business analytics (23%); and financial management/payment processing (23%).

Small Businesses Are Deploying Mobile Web Sites and Apps for Customers

Since attracting new customers and growing revenues are top goals for small businesses, it’s not surprising that they are investing in mobile web sites and apps for customers, partners and suppliers. 48% of small businesses now have a mobile-friendly website, and 30% offer at least one mobile app for customers. Growth across all functional areas is up dramatically year-over-year (Figure 7), and plans to add more external-facing apps are healthy.

Figure 7: Small Businesses are Rapidly Adopting Customer-Facing Mobile AppsSlide7

Small business attitudes about mobile solutions are remarkably positive, and small business ascent up the mobile adoption curve has been nothing short of revolutionary when compared to other technology areas.

As a result, mobile is already having a significant impact on decision-making in other IT areas (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Mobile Impact on IT DecisionsSlide8

Perspective

As the mobile-first mentality becomes more pervasive, small businesses will need more guidance to ensure that their strategies for cloud, networking, infrastructure, legacy applications and devices support, enhance and integrate with the mobile solutions they deploy. By developing a holistic strategy, rather than taking a reactive approach, small businesses can both maximize value from their mobile investments, and reduce management headaches down the road.

This is the second post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses how small businesses are using mobile technologies in their businesses.

Trends in Small Business Adoption of Mobile Solutions

Mobile technology is revolutionizing how small businesses get things done. Over the last few years, SMB Group has conducted detailed surveys to quantify the impact of mobile in the small business market. Having recently published our 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, we thought the timing was right to look at some key benchmarks to illuminate just how quickly very small (1-19 employees) and small (20-99 employees) businesses are evolving in the mobile solutions area.

Mobile Making Steady Gains as a Percentage of Overall Small Business Technology Spending

Mobile solutions also account for a growing share of very small and small business technology budgets (Figure 1). Year-over-year, median spending on mobile solutions as a percentage of total technology spending has risen 10% year among very small businesses, and 7% among small businesses.

Figure 1: Mobile Accounts for an Increasing Share of Small Business Technology Budgets

Slide1

 In addition, both very small and small businesses continue to be bullish on mobile spending plans (Figure 2). In 2014, 48% of very small businesses and 70% of small businesses forecast that they would increase mobile spending in the coming year.

 Figure 2: Small Businesses Mobile Spending Plans Continue to Rise

Slide2

Mobile Applications Play an Increasingly Bigger Role in Small Business

Trending analysis shows that mobile applications are becoming more critical for small businesses. Both very small and very small businesses continue to incorporate a growing number of mobile apps into their day-to-day business operations (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Increasing Use of Mobile AppsSlide3

Since upwards of 80% of very small and small businesses already use basic collaboration and productivity tools such as email, calendar and contacts, growth is tapering somewhat in this area. However, some mobile collaboration and productivity apps are poised for strong gains next year, with 20%-plus of small business respondents planning to deploy mobile conferencing, document management, find-me-follow-me presence, personal assistant and/or document editing and creation apps within the next 12 months.

Mobile business apps have made bigger gains over the past three years, particularly among businesses with 20-99 employees, where the number of mobile business apps used regularly jumped 27% over the past year. We expect this trend to continue, as respondent’s plans to add new mobile business apps in the next 12 months were strong across the board. Mobile apps for time management and capture lead the way, with 25% of both very small and small businesses planning to add this capability; followed by mobile marketing and advertising (24%); business analytics (23%); and financial management/payment processing (23%).

Furthermore, 67% of very small and 73% of small businesses believe that mobile apps will replace some of their current business applications, further underscoring that mobile apps are becoming core to the business (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Mobile Apps Increasingly Likely to Complement/Displace Traditional Business AppsSlide4

BYOD Support Still Gaining

Employees increasingly want to use their own devices to access corporate data. This is part of a growing trend dubbed Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). In the BYOD model, employees can use the device of their choice for work. BYOD has both pros and cons. Most people think it helps improve employee productivity, and some think it can lower costs. However, most also agree that BYOD devices are more difficult to manage and secure than company owned devices.

Despite these tradeoffs, small business support for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs for employees also continues to enjoy strong growth (Figure 5). Top drivers for the 60% of small businesses that currently support BYOD support include employee familiarity/preference for their own device (71%); saving money (63%); and meeting employee expectations/demands (42%). Roughly one-quarter of these businesses pay for all smartphone device and service expenses. In contrast, 20% cover smartphone service plan costs only; 18% cover business use expenses only, and 20% provide employees with fixed monthly stipends. Interestingly, 18% expect employees to use their own mobile device for work but do not cover any BYOD expenses.

Figure 5: Growth In Small Business BYOD SupportSlide5

But BYOD challenges hinder wider adoption. 40% of small businesses don’t support BYOD due to security concerns (56%); difficult to manage (54%); and because reimbursing employees for BYOD is too time consuming/complex (38%). These businesses are not likely to add BYOD support until it is easier to partition, secure, bill and manage work-related versus personal mobile use and expenses.

Small Businesses Slower to Add Mobile Management Capabilities

In fact, small business adoption of bright and shiny mobile devices and apps has quickly outpaced their embrace of mobile management solutions in general. As shown on Figure 6, only 43% of businesses with 20-99 employees are using a mobile device management solution, while just 33% use a solution to manage and secure mobile apps.

Figure 6: Small Business (20-99 employees) Adoption of Mobile Management SolutionsSlide6

In addition, while small business spending on mobile devices, service plans and apps as a percentage of total mobile spending has risen from 2013 to 2014, spending on mobile management, consulting and security has declined somewhat from 2013.

But it does not appear that cost is what’s holding small businesses back. Just 16% of respondents said that they didn’t’ use a mobile management solution because they are too expensive. Instead, the biggest obstacles are they don’t think they need it (51%); they don’t know which solution is right for their company (22%) and they don’t have the resources to deploy it (22%).

Perspective

Small businesses are clearly swept up in the mobile tsunami, and mobile solutions are becoming essential to small business success. However, small business adoption of mobile devices, apps and services is rapidly outpacing their ability to secure and manage mobile assets.

Without appropriate mobile device, application and data management policies and solutions in place, small businesses risk putting their corporate financial and brand security at ever-higher risk. In addition, as reliance on mobile solutions rises without adequate attention to management, many small businesses will find manual attempts to track and manage mobile use increasingly time-consuming and frustrating.

Study findings strongly suggest that while small businesses have quickly grasped how mobile can help their businesses, they are still struggling to understand the why, what, and how of mobile management. Vendors will need to dramatically ramp up education, guidance and consulting initiative and services to help more small businesses understand and take action in this area.

This is the first post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses how small businesses are using mobile technologies in their businesses.

The State of SMB Adoption of Mobile Apps and Management Solutions

Slide1We recently published two new Perspectives reports that provide in-depth data and insights about the state of SMB mobile solution adoption. These reports tell an interesting story: While 55% of small and 65% of medium businesses view mobile solutions as critical to their businesses, and as mobile budgets continue to rise, SMBs are challenged by high data service costs, uncertainty about which solutions are the right fit for their businesses, security and management concerns, and integration.

The first, SMB Adoption Trends and Requirements: Mobile Applications, examines SMB drivers, challenges, requirements and future implications for SMB adoption and of mobile applications. Some of what we learned includes:

  • 84% of small and 87% of medium businesses view mobile apps as complementary to traditional business applications, and a majority envision that mobile apps will replace some traditional applications.
  • Employee use of mobile collaboration apps is ubiquitous, and adoption of mobile business apps jumped 9% in small and 5% in medium business from 2013 to 2014.
  • SMBs are rapidly adopting customer-facing mobile websites and apps to help attract new customers, respond faster to external constituents and keep up with the competition.
  • Security concerns, development and deployment costs, and lack of a strong business case are preventing SMBs from implementing more mobile apps.

The second report, SMB Adoption Trends and Requirements: Mobile Management, explores how SMBs are handling mobile management today, their future plans, and what they need vendors to do to better serve their needs. For instance, we found that:

  • From 2013 to 2014, spending for mobile consulting, management, apps and security services rose in terms of actual dollar expenditures. However, dollars allocated for these areas decreased as a percentage of the total SMB mobile spend, while the percentage allocated for mobile devices and services continues to grow.From 2013 to 2014, small business support for BYOD jumped 33%, while medium business support grew 10%. However, BYOD adopters are struggling to determine the best policies to administer and reimburse for BYOD device and service plans.
  • Less than half of SMBs have implemented mobile device management solutions, while about one-third use a mobile application management solution.
  • 29% of small and 28% of medium businesses are seeking services to help them craft mobile strategy, security, use and management policies.

These reports underscore that although many SMBs want to continue to expand their use mobile technologies to transform their businesses, they need vendors to provide them with easier access to better solutions to manage and scale their mobile capabilities.

For More Information
Report highlights, detailed table of contents and pricing are available for each report by clicking on the report links above. 
Please contact Lisa Lincoln, lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com or 508.734.5658, for additional information or to order.

Vendor Strategies to Help SMBs Capitalize on Marketing Automation

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

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

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

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

Slide1 Slide2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide1 Slide2

Source: SMB Group, 2014

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

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

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

Top Marketing Trends for SMBs: Vendor Views

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1: Vendor Views on Top Marketing Trends for SMBs

Slide1

Source: SMB Group, 2014

While these trends are clear, many SMBs struggle to overcome issues that prevent them from taking a more streamlined, integrated approach. Some of the most prominent obstacles that stand in their way include:

  • Scarce marketing expertise and bandwidth: In small companies, employees wear many hats. Part-time marketers may lack confidence in their ability to get full value from a marketing automation solution. Meanwhile, though larger SMBs have a dedicated marketer or team, these resources are usually time-constrained. Carving out time to investigate, evaluate, deploy and become productive with a new solution is difficult.
  • Lack of budget: SMBs want transparent, affordable pricing. Many have been burned in the past with solutions that didn’t provide expected value. As a result, they fear hidden costs and are reluctant to make long-term financial commitments before knowing a solution will work well for them.
  • Poor alignment between sales and marketing on objectives and measurements: Aligning marketing and sales objectives and measurements is critical, but when sales and marketing use disconnected solutions, too much information falls through the cracks and/or gets lost in translation.
  • Lack of digital and technical skills to get full value from the solution: Although cloud-based marketing solutions remove the technical burdens of solution deployment and management, some require HTML expertise and/or integration with CRM, sales, accounting and other applications.

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

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