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, of course, 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.

 

Why Should You Take 3 Days Out of Your Schedule to Attend Dell World?

dell worldFrom November 4-6, Dell will host roughly 5,000 customer, partner and influencer attendees at its fourth annual Dell World conference in its hometown of Austin, Texas, and up to 10,000 attendees will tune in live online. 

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Dell World is Dell’s premier annual customer and partner event. Having found the three prior Dell World events I attended to be both informative and fun, I was eager to find out what’s on tap for this year’s event. So I was delighted to get a sneak preview from Jeanne Trogan, Dell’s Executive Director of Global Events, about what Dell World will offer.

With time arguably being our most valuable asset, here’s my take on why you’d want to take 3 days out of your busy schedule to attend Dell World based on this preview. 

  1. Gain a clearer understanding of how technology can help solve business problems and meet business goals.

Companies want to harness technology for better business outcomes, but it’s often hard to figure out how to do this. According to SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study, small and medium businesses (SMBs) increasingly view technology as a means to automate operations and work more efficiently, and as a vital tool for creating and sustaining a vibrant, growing business (Figure 1). But the same study also shows that figuring out how different technology solutions can help their businesses is a top challenge for many SMBs.

Figure 1: SMB Technology Perspectives

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With this in mind, Dell World will provide customers–from SMB to large enterprises–with high-level advice and expertise to help them understand how and why key technology trends are reshaping business and consumer practices and behaviors. Keynote speakers, including Dell CEO Michael Dell and other tech and business innovators from business and academia will put cloud, mobile, analytics, security, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other trends into sharper focus, and help attendees stay ahead of the technology curve.

  1. Learn how to turn strategy into reality.

Refreshing your technology strategy and direction is the critical first step, but then you have to figure out how to execute. In fact, figuring out cost-effective ways to implement and/or upgrade solutions and to keep them up and running are also daunting challenges for SMBs (Figure 2).

Figure 2: SMB Technology Challenges

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Dell World is chock full of interactive sessions as well as hands-on labs and demos to help attendees kick the tires on new solutions, and fulfill the new technology requirements that their businesses require. Attendees can choose from more than 70 breakout sessions for a deeper dive into how to make technology work for the business. For instance session topics range from how to conquer cloud chaos to how to maximize mobility benefits without compromising security, and labs address areas such as big data and analytics, desktop virtualization, and streamlining IT management.

In the Solutions Expo, attendees can get an up close and personal look at the latest solutions. This year, Dell is reorienting the Solutions Expo from a Dell product-centric approach to a customer-centric problem and solution approach. The floor will feature different paths that start with technology problem areas, and guide customers toward relevant solutions and information. I think Dell’s refreshed approach to the Expo floor and demonstrations will be something that customer attendees will appreciate.

  1. Learn outside the classroom.

Just like when you were in school, sometimes the most important learning you do takes place outside of the classroom. Networking is a key part of Dell World with other attendees for fresh perspectives, exchange information and compare notes, not just at the event, but over the longer term. In addition to the serendipitous meetups that will happen spontaneously throughout Dell World, Dell is also scheduling meetings, such as an Executive Summit for CIOs, to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction.

  1. Enjoy Austin.

congress-avenue-bridgeIf you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about! If you haven’t been there, you’re in for an amazing experience. In fact, Dell keeps asking attendees where they want to have Dell World, and people want to come back. Austin has something for everyone, whether you love music, great food or the great outdoors. For starters, Dell World will feature both Weezer and Duran Duran in concert–something for everyone from millennials to baby boomers. Get some fresh air with a walk or run around Town Lake, and grab a bite or drink at the Hula Hut as a reward. At night, check out the live music and gourmet food trucks on Rainey Street, or at Austin City Limits. And don’t forget to check out the nightly bat migration under the Congress Street Bridge. Last but not least, there’s the history–Dell was born in Austin in Michael Dell’s University of Texas dorm room. Since then, Austin has grown as a tech mecca.

Dell World also marks the one-year anniversary since founder Michael Dell won an extended battle to take the company private. In a recent CNBC interview, he expressed how liberating its been to off the Wall Street treadmill and able to focus on customers, and invest more time, R&D and energy on their behalf. I have a feeling that attendees will probably pick up on how this more positive energy is coming to fruition at Dell World as well.

Worms and Trojans and Snorts—Oh My! Perspectives on Dell’s 1-5-10 Security Discussion

digital securityLast week, I had the opportunity to join Dell’s 1-5-10 security panel discussion. This was the first in a series of small group events hosted by Dell to consider security trends and implications over the next one, five and ten years. Session attendees included Dell security experts, customers, partners, press and analysts. We discussed what small and medium businesses (SMBs) should be thinking about as they prepare for the future, and what vendors need to do to help them more easily secure their businesses.

Verna Grace Chao, director, Dell global security solutions, kicked off the session by asking us for our favorite security terms. The sheer magnitude of cyber-security issues and risks quickly bubbled up as people reeled off terms such as honeypot, snort, worms, hijack, Trojan, trampoline, phishing and ransomwear and more. I couldn’t help but think how difficult it is for business decision-makers to understand what all these terms mean, let alone stay ahead of threats and safeguard corporate information.

Of course, this challenge is even more daunting for small and medium businesses (SMBs) that lack internal expertise in this area. SMB Group research indicates that on average, only 19% of businesses with less than 100 employees have full-time, dedicated IT staff, and 27% have “no IT support” at all. Meanwhile, although 86% of medium businesses have dedicated IT staff, these resources are likely to be IT generalists, not security experts. As Michael Gray, Director, Thrive Networks, an IT solutions provider owned by Staples said, “there aren’t chief security officers in SMB.” So, despite mounting security risks and their increased reliance on the Internet and technology to run their businesses, many SMBs are under-prepared to deal with today’s threats, let alone those that the Internet of things (IoT) will usher in tomorrow.

Security Steps To Take Today

stepsFor many SMBs, the first step is to become more security aware. The Internet, mobile, cloud, social and other technologies provide many great business benefits. But they also open the door to more vulnerabilities. Too often, digital convenience trumps security, and SMBs choose not to see themselves as potential cyber-targets. Even worse, ITIC survey data shows 35% of firms don’t know if or when BYOD mobile devices have been hacked! Obviously, if you don’t know you have a problem, you can’t fix it.

According to ITIC, hacking is the #1 type of breach, representing more than 25% of all breaches recorded in 2013. Sub-contractor (14%), mobile (13%), insider malfeasance (12%) and employee error (9%) followed. In all, these breached exposed a whopping 91,978,932 records.

Without strong security measures in place, many SMBs are easy targets for hackers. And, because SMBs are often digitally connected to larger business partners, they are increasingly attractive targets. Hackers can potentially not only gain entrée to the SMB’s data, but also gain access to data of the SMB’s bigger partners.

Panelists agreed that if you haven’t yet done so, now is the time to conduct a security audit to determine what potential vulnerabilities pose the biggest financial and brand threats to the business. A solid plan incorporates both measures to prevent breaches from occurring in the first place, and those to detect, prevent and respond to incidents when they do occur.

Business owners and stakeholders need to take a more active role in this process, as Brett Hansen, executive director, Dell Client Solutions Software, explained. The security discussion needs to move from being a tech-only discussion to one where business stakeholders help identify, quantify and prioritize critical business vulnerabilities.

Since SMBs often lack the internal resources required to plan and implement the right level of security, they are increasingly turning to managed service providers (MSPs) for security expertise. A good MSP can help you get a better handle on what vulnerabilities could trigger disruptions, what the impact would be on the business, and develop a risk management plan that aligns with your business requirements and budgets. MSPs can help make security a solvable challenge instead of mind-boggling, unsolvable one. While you can’t eliminate every risk, you can close off the biggest vulnerabilities for your business—and gain peace of mind. Some of the basic measures to take include data encryption; data containerization for BYOD devices (meaning that personal and corporate data are securely separated); and securing the perimeter from unauthorized access.

Looking Ahead

telescopeTrends such as wearables, smart homes and smart cars are exciting and offer many benefits to businesses. But, they will also unleash new security vulnerabilities, especially as more devices and information become interconnected. Jon Ramsey, Dell fellow and CTO, Dell SecureWorks, commented that as cyber and physical domains continue to merge, the risk equation also changes substantially, and will require an expansion of single sign-on to help safeguard all aspects of our digital lives. Participants agreed that these trends will require a shift in the security mindset. Some of the changes forecast include that security solutions will:

  • Move beyond protecting data where it resides, to protecting data dynamically, wherever it goes.
  • Proactively account for the “human factor.” As security issues increase and become more diverse and complex, they need to become more contextual to make it easier for us humans to do the right thing. Biometrics, from eyeball to touch to even genome identification were mentioned as possibilities in this area. As Patrick Sweeneyexecutive director, Dell SonicWALL mentioned, security solutions should act more like more like an airbag than a seatbelt.
  • Become more adaptive, with capabilities to generate new defenses proactively as new threats emerge. According to Ramsey, “Every threat starts out as an unknown threat, we need to expose it and make it known to defend against it.” Risk analysis risk analysis engines will need to look further beyond individual events to act more proactively to accomplish this.              

Perspective

The good news is that in the future, security solutions are likely to be more adaptive, less dependent on humans to make them work, and more capable of proactively eliminating threats. However, far too many SMBs are falling short even when it comes to many security basics—such as encryption, containerization and perimeter security—leaving them far too susceptible to negative business consequences.

Cyber-security threats may seem endless, insurmountable and even unlikely to many SMB decision-makers. But this session underscored that while we can never eliminate all possible breaches, SMBs should be seeking out the solutions and expertise they need now to get the basics in place for today and to help them prepare for tomorrow.

How The Cloud Can Help SMBs: A Conversation

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 12.27.13 PMLast week, I had the opportunity to be a panelist on IBM’s first virtual influencer event on Spreecast, (a great new platform that connects you with people through video conversation) about how the cloud can help small and medium businesses (SMBs) to build their businesses from the ground up, compete more effectively with big businesses, and grow.

Paul Gillin, veteran tech journalist and social media expert at Profitecture (@pgillin) moderated the panel, which included me, IBM General Manager, IBM Midmarket John Mason (@jcmason), and Subbu Balakrishnan, CTO and co-Founder of Good.co (@backslash0), a career platform built on SoftLayer that helps people find best-fit workplaces and jobs. 15-20 other SMB thought leaders also joined us via Spreecast’s chat function.

You can watch and listen here for the full conversation, but here are a few of the key perspectives I took away from this lively and interesting discussion:

  • All panelists agreed that the momentum for SMB adoption of cloud services is rising rapidly. SMBs increasingly see that by using cloud solutions, they can focus more of their resources and money on their core business, and leapfrog slower-moving competitors.
  • With the help of SoftLayer, Good.com went from idea to over 100,000 users in a year and a half using a credit card to pay for cloud infrastructure. According to Subbu, this is something the 15-20 employee company would not have been able to accomplish if they had to build out their own cloud infrastructure.
  • Many startups are forgoing on premises software entirely, opting to do as much as possible in the cloud. The cloud removes technology and capital barriers to get up and running. They can skip a whole generation of software to get their companies off the ground more quickly. The cloud is quickly becoming the preferred way for startups to go.
  • Once you’re up and running, the cloud gives you a flexible infrastructure to scale and grow the business.
  • The rate and pace of technology change continues to increase. The cloud not only provides SMBs with the benefits of infrastructure scale, but with access to the increasingly specialized technology skills and expertise that are necessary today.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the cloud. Public, private, hybrid, shared, or dedicated—each company will have different requirements for different solutions.
  • Business partners play a critical role in helping many SMBs take full advantage of cloud services by fully understanding the SMB’s business requirements. Skilled and trusted partners can translate SMB business requirements into the best-fit cloud solution so the SMB doesn’t have to parse through all of the cloud variants on their own.

Nine Signs Michael Dell Will Be the Comeback Kid

14111426889_67f83375a7_zA couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Dell’s annual analyst conference (DAAC), an event I’ve attended for many years. The big difference this year, of course, is that this is the first DAAC since Michael Dell took his now 30-year old company private several months ago.

As a longtime Dell watcher, I’ve been tracking Dell’s journey from hardware vendor to become an end-to-end IT solutions and services provider (see my 2011, 2012 and 2013 perspectives). The event persuaded me that Dell is well on its way to accomplishing its mission to reinvent itself and offer customers a differentiated, more cost-effective and easier-to-use IT experience.

Why? Because Michael Dell has not only unchained his company from Wall Street’s myopic quarterly demands, but because he is also building a powerful value proposition for customers that puts Dell on a solid comeback trail. Key evidence for Dell being on the right track include:

1. Customers increasingly view Dell as a key partner. Dell’s mission to engage in deeper conversations with customers of all sizes is paying off. At DAAC, customers used superlatives to describe how Dell is delivering more complete solutions, higher value, lower costs, and a better customer experience. For instance, Ted Colbert, Boeing CIO, discussed how the Dell relationship has expanded from day-to-day operations to some of the most strategic initiatives. He also described working with Dell as “purposeful,” in contrast to a more scatter shot approach of “just throwing hardware at us like some other vendors.” Exasol CEO Aaron Auld talked about how Dell “provided them with the support they needed to win new business and grow,” and Jenkon Director of Information Systems, Steve Shinsel described Dell’s end-to-end solutions support as “phenomenal.” Yes, I know vendors handpick customers to attend these events, but in addition to the unprecedented level of enthusiasm I heard from these customers, Dell’s aggregate NPS (Net Promoter Score) of 52 and 90% customer retention are best in class.

2. Business is growing. Since going private, Dell says it has added 18,000 new customers to its ranks and is seeing steady growth in it’s software and services businesses, among others. In fact, the company’s PC business has enjoyed five consecutive quarters of market share growth. I think customers were naturally anxious as they waited to see how things would play out, but are now giving Dell a vote of confidence with their wallets. Furthermore, the company appears to be headed toward profitable growth, according to CFO Tom Sweet, who told us the company paid down $1 billion of debt in the first quarter of this year. Dell’s goal is to get back to “investment grade” status within the next four years.

 Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 4.54.52 PM3. Entrepreneurial DNA runs deep and can now fully surface. Check out Michael Dell’s twitter handle! He knows what it takes to build a company from scratch, and being self-employed suits him. Freed up from Wall Street constraints, Dell can again operate in both a more strategic and agile fashion, and infuse employees with the entrepreneurial spirit as well. Dell’s high-level strategy remains the same to bring complete IT solutions to customers, be accessible and listen to what customer want. But the company can now more easily place some new bets to fulfill this mission. For example, Dell is investing to become a value-added cloud broker, positioning itself as an advisor to customers, rather than an OEM. In a very cloudy world, Dell’s Switzerland approach should be attractive to many customers. Furthermore, Dell has upped itsR&D spending from 1.6% of revenue to 2.1%. Last but not least, its hard to think of a more socially savvy tech CEOlistening ears are on!


14296498661_36be143384_z4. Execs and employees are all in.
 Other than customers, employees are any company’s best advocates. But, when there’s a lot of uncertainty in corporations, employees usually look for the nearest exit. But Dell is an exception. Despite a long, drawn out, uncertain and contentious (aka Carl Icahn) privatization process, Dell retained many of its top execs, such as Karen Quintos Senior VP and CMO; Jeff Clark Vice Chairman, Operations and President, Client Solutions; and Tom Sweet, Senior VP and CFO. Dell also attracted the fresh talent required for its transformation, including Andi Karaboutis, CIO; John Swainson, President, Software; Suresh C. Vaswani, President, Services. Renewed energy, excitement and loyalty were palpable in my conversations with employees too: when I asked how and why they stayed the course, they said they believed in Michael Dell’s vision—and several told me they bleed “Dell blue.”

5. Investment in a collaborative partnering model. Dell’s direct connection to customers provides Dell with many advantages, and will continue to be a key route to market for the company. But, Dell is investing in the channel to ensure it can sell to and service customers in today’s increasingly omni-channel world.  Dell has bridged what has sometimes been a gap in trust between it and the channel with a more collaborative partnering model. Dell is integrating regional channel and direct sales structures, paying Dell sales more for sales via the channel, and linking up regionally and locally with partners to pursue joint opportunities. Dell’s expanded portfolio also provides more partners with more headroom to grow with Dell. The results? Channel sales grew faster than direct sales in last quarter, and attach rates for channel sales are now within 3 to 4 points of the attach rates with Dell direct sales.

dell legacy of good6. Ethics, sustainability and diversity. In May, Dell was recognized as a 2014 World’s Most Ethical Company by the Ethisphere Institute, an independent center of research promoting best practices in corporate ethics and governance. Quoting the Institute, the EI award is given to companies “that continue to raise the bar on ethical leadership and corporate behavior.” Dell has also been recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability for many years, and recently upped its commitment when it announced its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Among the 21 corporate responsibility goals outlined in the plan, Dell has set 12 goals specific to environmental sustainability. Building on existing initiatives, these 12 environmental goals focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact of company operations, driving social and environmental responsibility in the industry and supply chain, and promoting technology’s role in addressing environmental challenges. Finally, Dell’s executive team and workforce are diverse. Dell has also stepped up to help women entrepreneurs via Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN). Recent research from The Intelligence Group’s Cassandra Report indicates that among millennials, 59% say that a company’s ethics and practices are important factors in deciding what brands to buy. Pretty powerful stuff—and very tough to fake.

14113197698_5fef929bdb_z7. Stringing pearls instead of looking for one big rock. Dell has been investing strategically to acquire the IP and expertise it needs to package software and services in a more digestible way. While the theme at last year’s DAAC centered on the 12 acquisition Dell made, this year, the vendor spent more time discussing progress to integrate them and bring more complete solution value to customers. For instance, John Swainson discussed how, in the mobile management area, Dell combined Wsye, KACE and other assets for a single enterprise mobile management (EMM) solution to manage PCs, Macs and mobile devices. The vendor is looking to doing something similar in the cloud, giving customers a way to manage public, private, multi-cloud environments with open, scalable solutions. More recently, Dell acquired StatSoft, and intends to leverage this to reduce entry costs and barriers for customers in the analytics area. Just as important, Swainson emphasized that Dell will follow “the 80/20 rule,” to keep its software solutions as simple as possible to acquire and use.

14113201388_6075815e58_z8. The PC isn’t dead! There’s no question that the traditional PC market is declining, but Jeff Clarke took the stage to the tune of “we are not dead yet” from Monty Python’s movie Spamalot to deliver his “Top 10 reasons the PC is (not) dead” message. Good news for Dell, as PCs are the entry point for 70% of new customers. Of course, Dell also offers a growing array of other client devices—from Wyse thin clients to Chromebooks to tablets and laptops.

9. SMB growth and focus. Good segue from #8, as Dell’s fastest growing client business is the SMB market, which grew 28% in the last quarter. In my opinion, the “personal” in PC translates into Dell’s capability to expand SMB business into other solution areas. Furthermore, in an age of technology consumerization, consumer, prosumer and small business are inextricably linked. PCs provide Dell with a launch pad to expand SMB business into other areas. Dell’s direct model, which enables Dell to reach deep into SMBs, its continued focus on listening to customers, its new, collaborative partnering model and vision to sell more value at lower cost, should help keep Dell on this SMB growth trajectory.

In a nutshell, this isn’t your father’s Dell—or Wall Street’s Dell. It is Michael Dell’s Dell now, and it’s starting to benefit not only from being a private company, but also from the fact that as a private entity, it can more fully capitalize on the equally advantageous qualities summarized above.

 

SAP’s Big Bet on SMBs—With a Fast Growth, Millenial Twist

sapEarlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with Kevin Gilroy, SAP’s Senior VP and GM for Global Small and Midsize Enterprise Segment & Indirect Channels to hear about SAP’s plans to go big in the small and medium business market, which SAP refers to as small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In a nutshell, the vendor is dramatically ramping up market, channel and solution initiatives to boost its profile and market share in SME.

These initiatives come with an interesting twist. Much of what SAP intends to do in the SME space will focus on recruiting partners—from both developer and VAR ranks—who can provide start-up millennial businesses with next generation solutions to help them grow at lightening speed.

The company claims that it is coming at this from a position of strength, with 80% of its 253,000 customers coming from the  SME ranks. But, SAP’s defines SMEs, as companies with revenues under $1 billion, which skews larger than how most vendors and analysts define it. So what shape will SAP’s new SME initiatives take?

Sharpening the SME Lens

telescopeTo put things in context, SAP’s courtship of SME isn’t new. As I discussed in Top SMB Takeaways: SAP Sapphire 2013, SAP has been sharpening its SME lens for a while. Last year, the vendor announced several new programs to bring the benefits of HANA’s data-crunching power to SMEs,  provide customers with the choice of running its solutions in public, private or hybrid cloud environments, and to make its solutions easier to buy and use.

As I noted in that post, SAP was focusing these initiatives not at the SME masses, but on high-growth SMEs, which SMB Group call Progressive SMBs. Progressive SMBs are growth driven, and more likely to invest in and use technology to gain market and competitive advantage than other SMBs. Our data shows that Progressive SMBs are also much more likely to anticipate revenue gains than peers whose tech investments are flat or declining.

Now, SAP is further sharpening the lens to zero in on millennials that are starting, running and making decisions in SME companies. According to Gilroy, millenials have a different view on technology than older counterparts. They are more comfortable with technology, and more likely to view it as a growth engine, instead of as a cost-cutter.

With a broad portfolio of cloud, mobile, analytics, ecommerce, talent management and ERP solutions, SAP offers many entry points for  these SMEs. The vendor has made some key acquisitions, including Ariba for ecommerce, and Success Factors for talent management, that broaden its footprint in the born on the cloud solution space. SAP has also introduced cloud-based options for many of its traditional on-premises solutions, such as SAP Business One. SMEs often prefer cloud solutions because they can usually be deployed faster, with less technical expertise and without big upfront capital expenditures, paving they way for SAP and its partners to expand their addressable market.

Furthermore, SAP is infusing HANA into its SME offerings, announcing general availability of the 9.0 version of the SAP® Business One application, version for SAP HANA. This is the first business management solution for SMEs running on SAP’s in-memory HANA computing platform. It enables SMEs to analyze structured and unstructured information within seconds instead of days, and use predictive analytics to gain new insights into data and optimize business decision-making.

Powering Up Partner Programs

1-hands-holding-jigsawSAP is powering up partner recruitment to fuel SME expansion. The vendor recruited 500 partners in 2013, growing the partner base to more than 11,500 worldwide, with about 1,000 in the U.S. Gilroy indicated that SAP is planning for double-digit channel growth, but will take a selective recruiting tack. In addition to looking for partners with a next-generation development vision, such as Liquid Analytics, SAP wants partners that are ready to scale their businesses to keep pace with SAP’s double-digit growth in SME.

The vendor has introduced and refreshed several programs to help partners go to market more effectively, including:

  • SAP Marketing University, a free, foundational marketing program to empower partners with the marketing skills they need to grow their businesses. SAP indicates the program has already led to over $1 billion in lead generation activities. Once partners have gone through the program, SAP provides them with the same marketing assets that are available to its internal marketing and sales teams.
  • Partner involvement in SAP’s Run Like Never Before ad campaign, launched in October of 2013. To data, more than 200 partners have taken executed campaigns as part of this program, which is 100% MDF reimbursable.
  • New “buy now, pay later” SME financing options that give SMEs zero-percent financing for up to 24 months for the purchase of any SAP product on the reseller price list.

Perspective

We’ve all seen how quickly innovative, fast-growth SMEs can become marquee brands, from tech sector stars such as LinkedIn to consumer brands such as Green Mountain coffee . SAP sees this too—and that technology is putting the creation-destruction cycle for businesses in hyper-drive.

So SAP’s big bet on becoming the leading IT solutions provider for these high-growth SMEs makes sense. As important, SAP is making an authentic effort to consumerize the SAP experience by reducing friction in choosing, buying and using SAP solutions.

But in this noisy SME space, crowded with competitors coveting the same high-growth SMEs, SAP still needs to do more to dispel the long-standing myth that SAP is only a big business brand. Although SAP solutions may be a good fit for high-growth SMEs, the vendor isn’t a household name with them or the millenials that its is seeking out.

SAP will also need to be cautious not to overplay the millennial hand. While millenials are likely to be more digitally savvy than older generations, the U.S. Small Business Administration says that self-employment among younger age groups has actually been dropping. From 2005 to 2010, self-employment among indi­viduals age 25 and under decreased 19 percent, compared to a 7 percent drop in the overall population. In reality, self-employment rates increase with age. For example, they were 2 percent for those 25 and under and 23 percent for those 65 and over in 2010. Simply stated, while millenials may prove to apply technology in business in more innovative ways, they are a relatively small part of the entrepreneurial population.

However, SAP is moving in the right direction. As it increases its investment to understand and engage with SMEs, SAP can continue to fine-tune its SMB story, and widen the circle of high-growth SMEs that will hear it and relate to it.

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