Blue-9 Climbs to Success With SAP Anywhere

Blue-black-tunnelGrowing revenues and attracting new customers are the top business goals for small wholesale distributors and retailers. But, in the age of the empowered buyer, these goals are getting more difficult to achieve. Today, both consumers and business buyers have information at their fingertips, and can tap into an ever-widening range of digital content and reviews to learn about products, get advice about different brands, and ratings for sellers. Once buyers decide to purchase, they expect a fast, friendly, efficient shopping experience—online, in-store and on mobile devices. If they don’t get it, they’ll take their business elsewhere.

The result is an environment that is more complex and competitive for small business wholesale distributors and retailers than their predecessors could have ever imagined. But many small businesses use a patchwork of databases, spreadsheets and manual processes to manage sales, marketing and inventory. This may work when a business is very small, but will eventually create a drag on the business as more information falls between the cracks of different applications. Often, just as a small business starts to take off, the owner realizes that relying on different applications that don’t connect leads to mistakes and missed opportunities.

Blue-9 Steps Up to an Integrated Solution to Support Growth

Despite these problems, many small businesses resist upgrading to a more integrated solution, fearing that an upgrade will be too complex, costly and time-consuming for them to use and afford. So I was very interested to speak with David Blake, President of Blue-9, at SAP’s 2017 SAPPHIRE user conference. When Blue-9 was just a year old with three employees, Blake took the leap from a tangle of point solutions to an integrated front office solution.

Launched in 2013, Blue-9 Pet Products developed and manufactures the KLIMB dog-training platform. Blue-9 sells the platform, along with dog harnesses, training videos and other accessories, directly to customers and via dealers and affiliates.

Blue-9 started the business with a WordPress website, Woo Commerce for ecommerce, and Microsoft Excel for inventory tracking. Blake tried using the same web store for both B2C and B2B partner sales, but the B2C site didn’t accommodate the different workflow and processes required for B2B sales. Meanwhile, orders began to surge, and Blake was concerned about not having enough inventory to meet demand. He also wanted to centralize inventory, and integrate Blue-9’s marketing campaigns with its ecommerce operations.

Blake didn’t know that SAP offered a solution for small businesses, but stumbled onto SAP Anywhere, a cloud-based solution that integrates five critical front office functions into one integrated solution, at a tradeshow in 2014. He investigated the solution, and decided that SAP Anywhere could help him solve all of his workflow problems with one integrated solution, quickly and efficiently.

The Blue-9 team migrated Blue-9’s website from WordPress to SAP Anywhere In about thirty minutes. It took them another two week to migrate ecommerce information from Woo Commerce, and inventory data from Excel took.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 1.54.33 PMToday, Blue-9 uses SAP Anywhere to host its B2C and B2B websites, and for ecommerce, payment processing and inventory management. According to Blake, it has the tools he needs to create customer specific pricing for dealers and affiliates, and also provides Blue-9 with a clear view of inventory, integrated across online and in the field consumer and partner channels. The company has also integrated social media marketing, email marketing, and its Intuit QuickBooks Online accounting with SAP Anywhere.

SAP Anywhere also offers a Learning Center that has made it easier for Blue-9 to get new employees up to speed on different tasks, such as creating a P.O. or managing inventory. Notes Blake, “In a small business like ours, all seven of our employees have to wear many hats. This has made it easy for new employees to get up to speed quickly.”

And, instead of relying on a hodgepodge of different application providers and third-party tech support, Blake has one place to go for support. “I’m actually spending less money now on applications and support than I had been before, and now I feel like I have a staff of 10 IT people, available seven days a week, to help if we need it.”

Perspective

As customer expectations grow, the sales environment for small wholesale distributors and retailers is becoming more complex. Using a patchwork quilt of databases, spreadsheets and manual processes to manage sales, marketing and inventory may work when a business is very small, but won’t enable a business to grow.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 2.01.39 PMFor many small retailers and wholesalers, automating and integrating key front office functions with a solution such as SAP Anywhere can help align supply with demand, accelerate business growth and drive sales. A unified solution uses one database to run and integrate applications for different functions, providing a common user interface and a complete view of each customer and inventory.

Once repetitive front-office functions are integrated and streamlined, small business owners have more time to focus on things that can help the business grow—like meeting customers and partners, developing new products and services, evaluating new business opportunities and creating new marketing strategies.

Ready, Set, Grow: Getting the Tech Expertise Small Businesses Need

From job creation to innovation, small businesses have a big footprint in the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses constitute 99.7% of U.S. businesses and employ 48% of the private workforce. As important, small businesses fuel innovation, generating 16 times more patents per employee than large companies.

Small Businesses Need Technology to Start and Grow—But Most Aren’t Tech Gurus

Today, technology can enable more people to start businesses than ever before. So it’s no wonder that small businesses increasingly view technology as a key driver for business success: 64% agree that digital technologies are changing their industry, and 63% view technology as helping them run the business better or achieve better business outcomes (Figure 1).

Figure 1: U.S. Small Business Technology Attitudes

Technology plays a vital role in helping people to launch and grow their businesses. But most small business owners started their company to pursue a passion, build financial independence or create a more flexible lifestyle. Whether a plumber, a spa owner or an accountant, it’s likely that these entrepreneurs don’t have the time or interest in becoming a tech guru.

Unfortunately, they also may not have anyone else to pick up the slack in this area. 33% of small businesses don’t have any IT support at all (Figure 2). And when small businesses have IT staff on the payroll, they tend to be IT generalists, not specialists in certain areas, such as security and storage. Despite this scarcity of IT skills, 66% of small businesses take a do-it-yourself approach to deploying technology solutions. This makes technology tasks—such as keeping systems up and running, securing company information and implementing new solutions—challenging.

In addition, many small businesses say just figuring out which solutions will best help their business is one of their top three technology challenges. Given the growing scope of technology solutions available for small businesses, this isn’t surprising.

Figure 2: U.S. Small Business Support and Deployment

The Small Business Technology Dilemma

Lack of time, resources and technology know-how means that small businesses may make poor technology decisions—or postpone making any decision at all. For instance, many small businesses take an “It won’t happen to me” approach to security. They underestimate how vulnerable they are to security threats, leaving the business open to potential financial, brand and customer trust risks. Likewise, businesses often miscalculate the cost of downtime in terms of employee productivity and lost sales.

Too often, small businesses realize that they are making less-than-optimal technology decisions when they hit a growth spurt. As the customer base increases, transaction volumes rise and hiring expands, IT shortcomings and gaps become much more obvious—and potentially costly. Without scalable technology in place, small businesses can find it difficult to capitalize just when demand for their goods and services rises.

But hiring IT staff—especially those with specific skills—is expensive. And even if a business can afford the expense, technology personnel often prefer to work in bigger companies that can offer more development opportunities. Small businesses can turn to local solution providers for help, but the quality and scope of services offered by individual providers vary greatly, and it may be hard to find the right fit.

Taking Care of Small Businesses with Dell

Dell Small Business can help small businesses get the answers they need to chart a technology course to launch, grow and thrive. Dell’s dedicated small business advisors in Round Rock, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee, can answer both simple and complex questions, from “What is a server, and how can it help my business?” to “We’re setting up a medical practice. What do we need to do to be HIPAA compliant?” (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Types of Questions Dell Small Business Advisors Can Answer

Dell’s advisors can provide this type of expertise based on their years of experience serving small business customers, and they can recommend the solutions that will best fit each business’s requirements. As Rakia Reynolds, founder and CEO of Skai Blue Media (a multimedia public relations agency for nonprofits, tech start-ups, fashion designers and other businesses) said, “My Dell Small Business Advisor has gotten to know our business so well that it feels like he’s a part of our team.”

Perspective

Technology has become a critical business necessity for small businesses. But to get the best outcomes from technology investments, these companies must sharpen their focus and understand what solutions can best help their business. They need to consider individual product decisions, the big picture, and the ongoing investments necessary for a scalable, secure infrastructure that’s ready to meet business requirements.

An expert, trusted resource such as Dell Small Business can answer questions and demystify technology so small businesses have confidence that they’re making the right decisions. With the right technology advice and solutions, small businesses can get more value from their technology investments and spend more time focusing on the business. 

Note: This post is sponsored by Dell.

Infusionsoft Spotlight, Part Two: Bite-Size Marketing Campaigns for Small Businesses

This is the second post in a two-part series featuring my conversation with Terry Hicks, Chief Operating Officer at Infusionsoft. We chatted at ICON17, Infusionsoft’s annual user conference. In this post, we talk about Infusionsoft Propel, Infusionsoft’s new solution, which allows small businesses to set up bite-size automated marketing campaigns in just a few minutes. In the first post, we discuss Infusionsoft’s vision to help small businesses win and keep new customers with its customer engagement and marketing solution, and new capabilities that Infusionsoft is adding to it’s core product.

Laurie:  Tell me about Infusionsoft Propel, the new solution that is in alpha or beta now. It sounds like it’s for people who need even more of a marketing shortcut.

Terry:  The background is that with our core products there have always been two parts that customers had to learn. First, they had to decide whether they were trying to follow-up or get repeat engagement from their customers. So, they need a marketing strategy or marketing campaign concept first, and implement it and in our core product. We refer to our core Infusionsoft product as our builder series, because the customers that use it want to build this, and they want customization.

But there are many other small businesses that want an easier starting place, they are willing to stand on the shoulders of others. They don’t want to be the builder, they want to deliver the campaign and see results. They’d like to see results in about three seconds after the campaign is launched.

So, we’ve tried to do a couple of things with Infusionsoft Propel. Number one, build a very simple experience to get yourself set up. Of course you have to say who you are and what your website is, all things that small businesses already know about themselves. No trick questions! Then, we incorporate their branding to customize them for who you are and what product you’re selling. But then you just decide what part of your business are you trying to improve. Are you trying to get new customers, trying to get repeat customers, or trying to get referrals? As soon as they decide on that goal, in just a few clicks, they can launch a campaign to achieve that goal. With really good, base language that can be tweaked, really professionally designed landing pages, emails or whatever components are part of the campaign.  And within 3-5 minutes, it’s on its way.

Laurie:  Which is great, not only because they don’t have to spend a lot of time learning how to use software but they can do it in little bite-sized pieces and as they see the outcomes and they get the results, they can build on that.

Terry:  Right. And when I say they are standing on the shoulders of experts who have done this before, who have thought through these details, those are the experts in our partner ecosystem where most of the campaigns are going to come from. Some have industry specializations, some are really good at getting referrals and recommendations. The small business owner can have the confidence that these have been tested in the marketplace. These campaigns are from the folks whose campaigns and wisdom has been tested.

Laurie:  Tried and true. And if they want to keep going, they can find a great partner to help them.

Terry:  Exactly. It’s a great opportunity for partners because they are always looking for ways to leverage their expertise. Also, sometimes our partners get a little bit anxious about customers that want to tweak campaigns, which may have the effect of making the campaign less effective than their partner imagined. One benefit to our partners is they can reach more customers and spread their knowledge a little bit more broadly, get more clients as a result. Another benefit is that they can put some guard rails on the customer so that customer ultimately gets to success.

Laurie:  I’ve been seeing for years now that the cloud and the SaaS model have really taken the technical barriers off of the small business back to use a solution but nothing is really taken off that lack of business process expertise off their backs. It looks like maybe this is going to be a start, which is kind of cool.

Terry:  Remember we talked about multiple follow ups produce better results, so they are going to get initial nudge and then follow-up with them again. Or if I leave a voice mail, I’ll get a little suggestion on things to highlight in the voice mail. All of it is gently guiding the small business owners so that they don’t forget to do these things. And you know, they know it’s the right thing to do, but people get busy so this helps them get to get to succeed.

Laurie:  When will Infusionsoft Propel be available for general release?

Terry:  We have limited availability right now, a few hundred customers. Folks are signing on here at ICON and they’ll be getting their invitations back and coming online. Probably general release will be by the end of June. It may happen sooner than that. We are testing to make sure we the right strategies in, and enough strategies so we have good product out of the gate. Also, there are always ways to perfect the on boarding experience, so that customers get launched, see the outcomes they want, and then are happily referring Propel to other businesses that could really benefit from it.

Laurie: It sounds like you’re going to start with freemium model?

Terry:  It’s a freemium model and there’ll be a couple different ways that folks will move from free to paid. It’ll be a fantastic freemium model with contact records built-in so you can see the history, that’s a basic piece of functionality that most small businesses need. There will be some prepackaged free campaigns, a couple of other transactional forms, and follow-up sequences that come out of the campaigns. Some customers will need more functionality, like grater sales pipe line management. So that would be a move from free to paid. There will be some campaigns as we progress with partners that will be for fee and over time, there will be add-ons like payments and the payment processing at an incremental cost.

Laurie:  They can get their feet wet and kick the tires for free.

Terry:  Yes. We are really hoping that the freemium model will get them small benefits they’ll see quickly, and then they’ll consume more strategies and the functionality they need that makes it right for their business.

Laurie:  Terry, this has been great. Thank you so much!

This post was sponsored by Infusionsoft.

Infusionsoft Spotlight, Part One: Simplifying Growth For Small Businesses

This is the first post in a two-part series featuring my conversation with Terry Hicks, Chief Operating Officer at Infusionsoft. We chatted at ICON17, Infusionsoft’s annual user conference. In this post, we discuss Infusionsoft’s vision to help small businesses win and keep new customers with its customer engagement and marketing solution, and new capabilities that Infusionsoft is adding to it’s core product. In the second post, we talk about Infusionsoft Propel, Infusionsoft’s new solution, which allows small businesses to set up bite-size automated marketing campaigns in just a few minutes.

Laurie:  Today I’m speaking with Terry Hicks, Terry, can you tell us a little bit about your role?

Terry:  Sure. I’m responsible for product development, sales and marketing, customer success, business development, basically all the operational parts of the business focused on building our products, serving our customers and growing the business. Obviously, there are lots of talented people in our team. We focus on Infusionsoft’s vision and strategy and solving problems for our customers and helping them to grow.

Laurie:  So, what is Infusionsoft’s mission and big picture vision?

Terry:  Our big picture vision is to simplify growth for millions of small businesses. Infusionsoft is a SaaS product that helps our customers connect with their prospects and customers, and increase the likelihood that the prospect will become a customer, and that customers will come back for more and will also refer new customers. We do that through customer engagement software that also includes contact management, information about who the customer is and what business they’ve done with the company. Then we automate the follow up that small businesses need to do to save them time.

Laurie:  There are some really interesting statistics that were shared earlier at the event about follow-up, and how critical it is.

IMG_7913Terry:  Right. We see that if you follow-up eight times, then you’re going to get about eighty percent of the opportunity. We are all busy and we get distracted and so while somebody in the moment might say, hey, I really need this service or I really need this product, but often things come up in life and they go to the next thing. If you don’t follow-up enough, you’re going to miss out on the sales opportunity. There’s a speed component and a number of times component to it. Both are important. That’s why product like ours that allows that follow-up to be automated and personalized really helps give the small business owner who is juggling so many things the ability to improve the performance of their business. That’s why I always talk about multiplying their time by automating follow up for them.

Laurie:  How does Infusionsoft define small business?

Terry:  For us, it’s less than 25 employees. There are very small businesses, one or two employees, that can be very sophisticated and have a high revenue, and there are some larger businesses like up to a hundred, that operate very much like a small business. But our sweet spot is 25 and fewer employees.

Laurie:  So truly focused on very small business, not really kind of stretching that definition.

Terry:  Right, because when you start having much larger business, the solution needs to consider other things, like specialized skill sets, departmental focus, things that really require that your tools adapt more to that expert. But with the small business, you’re dealing with people who are swapping hats on and off, all throughout the day. They are switching from one thing to the other. So that has implications on how the solutions work.

Laurie:  You made several key announcements here at ICON17. Can you jgive us your take on the highlights?

Terry:  Yes. First, when we talk about simplifying growth, the simplify part of it is really so critical and what we have been working on since last ICON is simplifying some of the capabilities that are most commonly used. A great example is the new landing page. The old landing pages’ feature was pretty robust but you had to start from scratch most of the time. But sometimes it’s easier to edit or tweak than it is to say, wow, that blank page is staring at me. So, you might say let me sit down to that later when I can really think that through.

IMG_7919But the new landing pages have a much more modernized UI that allows very easy drag and drop, and dozens of dozens of templates and little template widgets so you have a really great starting place to quickly get to the outcome you want to get to. The other thing that is really important is making sure landing pages on mobile devices look great. everything has to be mobile first, and 100% of our new landing pages are mobile responsive and optimized for mobile.

Laurie:  It takes the burden off the back of business owner to say where do I start. It also offers best practice advice about what you should put on a landing page, right?

Terry: Exactly. And that’s absolutely necessary for a small business owner. I trust my bicycle shop repair guy to fix my bike. He does that all the time. He knows how to do it, he knows how to tune it, if I’m choosing a new bike, which one. But when it comes to marketing, not only he doesn’t know, he doesn’t want to know. He got passion about the bike shop and so we need to give them that simplified path to marketing success.

This post is sponsored by Infusionsoft.

Welcome to Wonderland: Dell EMC’s Virtual Ecosystem For Women Entrepreneurs

Unleashing a fire hose of announcements is the norm at vendor conferences, and Dell EMC World 2017 was no exception. This year’s announcements spanned a wide range of topics, from data center modernization to augmented and virtual reality, and from hybrid cloud to security.

However, as a woman business owner, one announcement stood out for me: Hello Alice, Dell EMC’s new data-driven platform, powered by Circular Board, which connects female entrepreneurs with mentors, resources and events that can help them start, grow and thrive.

How Alice Was Born

Women-owned businesses currently employ 7.8 million workers in the U.S. and generate $1.3 trillion in revenue overall. But only 2% of women entrepreneurs in the U.S. have reached more than $1 million in revenues. Unfortunately, many women find it difficult to access the resources they need to build and grow their businesses. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, they find that they have entered a new world with new rules—but without connections and guidance to help navigate it.

For instance, according toe CrunchBase Women in Venture report:

  • Among the top 100 venture capital firms, just 7 percent of the partners, or 54 of 755, are women.
  • Between 2010 and 2015, only 10 percent of venture dollars globally (from a total of $31.5 billion) funded startups that reported at least one female founder.
  • Only three female co-founded venture firms are in the top 100.

To turn this tide, Circular Board, the first virtual accelerator for women entrepreneurs, approached Dell in 2016 with a new idea to disrupt the startup world: What if we could   build an entirely new ecosystem, designed especially for women founders? Dell, which has a long history of supporting growing businesses and women entrepreneurs, jumped on the opportunity, and Alice was born to help women entrepreneurs build more scalable and sustainable businesses.

Pivotal, Dell Technologies’ cloud native development platform company, supplies a good part of Alice’s DNA. Pivotal developed Alice in about three months. The Circular Board incorporated Pivotal’s software development methodology and cloud technology in its accelerator, endowing Alice with machine learning capabilities so she can grow and evolve with the female entrepreneurs she engages with.

How Alice Helps Female Founders

Alice helps level the playing field by helping women founders connect with the mentors and resources they need to successfully launch and scale their businesses. According to Carolyn Rodz, founder and CEO of Circular Board, “Alice instantly filters millions of resources down to the personalized, verified content that enables founders to scale to the highest heights, no matter where they are located or who they know.”

Alice uses a conversational interface to connect women entrepreneurs with the resources needed to scale based on startup stage, location, industry, revenue and individual needs. As more users engage with Alice, she gets smarter. Alice uses her intelligence to help guide women to resources, mentors and events that are aligned with their goals and financial, legal, marketing, technology and other requirements.

Alice provides each user with a personalized data and real-time modules. Users can also search, sort and filter queries by location, industry, annual revenue, employee count, years in business and content publication source.

Go Ask Alice

At the Mad Tea Party, the there was plenty of room at the table, but when Alice came, the Mad Hatter, March Hare and the Cheshire Cat cried out to Alice, “No room, room!” Likewise, there is an abundance of money, technical resources and expertise in the startup world, but women founders often find it “curiouser and curiouser” to decode and succeed in it.

But Alice is available now at www.helloalice.com. So if you are a woman founder, go ask Alice for help to navigate the startup system, and get access to the resources you need to scale your business.

 

Can Propel Take Infusionsoft—and Small Business Marketing—to the Next Level?

Founded in 2001, Infusionsoft has always focused on providing small businesses with 25 or fewer employees sales and marketing automation solutions to help them grow. Over the years, Infusionsoft now has 34,000 companies and over 135,000 users subscribing to its solution. However, it has just scratched the surface when it comes to penetrating the very large and diverse small business universe.

Infusionsoft has faced challenges in expanding its footprint because although its solutions have proven to be powerful and effective, they take considerable time and energy to configure and learn to use. While there are certainly some small businesses with the appetite to make this investmentpeople Infusionsoft calls “builders”there are arguably far more that lack the time or interest to make this investment.

At ICON17, Infusionsoft’s annual user conference, the vendor announced, among other things, Infusionsoft Propel, a new solution designed to meet the needs of these customersand help Infusionsoft take its own business to new heights.

Infusionsoft Propel: Turnkey Marketing Campaigns for Small Businesses

Infusionsoft Propel offers small business a new and different way to automate marketing campaigns. Designed from the ground up to offer a fast, guided experience to create automated marketing campaigns and follow up, users can set up and launch bite-size automated campaigns in minutes.

Infusionsoft Propel is built specifically for users that don’t have the time or interest to learn how to use software. Users select a templated campaign from a gallery, such one designed to get repeat business with a special offer, or get reviews on social media (Figure 1). The tool pulls in the company’s logo, branding, and colors automatically, and optimizes the campaign for both mobile devices and desktops. It also uses pre-built connectors to pull in and organize data from other applications, such as email, Facebook, and Intuit QuickBooks Online, so users have all the info they need in one place.

Figure 1: Infusionsoft Propel Screenshots

Once launched, Infusionsoft Propel gently reminds the user to set and complete follow up activities.Infusionsoft is using Google’s App Engine and machine learning to help shape this automated follow up.

In limited access beta now, Infusionsoft expects to launch the product for general release later this year as a freemium offering, with pricing for upgraded versions driven by factors such as consumption and list sizes.

While Infusionsoft has seeded the offering with several campaigns, it’s also bringing partners on board, providing them with full access to Infusionsoft Propel via Infusionsoft Partner Edition. Partner Edition offers tools to help partners build, package and deploy campaigns, and to manage clients. Infusionsoft’s goal is to have partners develop specialized campaigns that meet a spectrum of micro-verticals and other specific requirements.

Perspective

Attracting new customers, growing revenues and maintaining profitability are top challenges for small businesses (Figure 2). But many are consumed with just keeping up with day-to-day tasks of running the business. They don’t have marketing expertise or experience, and are wary of the time it takes to get productive with a new solutioneven though they may see the need and want to try one.

Figure 2: Top Business Challenges for Small Business

Infusionsoft’s vision to serve these customers is a lofty one. Infusionsoft Propel caters to these small business users, and the growing expectation that people have for the immediate gratification they get from consumer apps, such as Facebook and Instagram.

Designed to compete against the inertia that prevents many small businesses from implementing marketing solutions, Infusionsoft hopes to give the enormous market of businesses that need an easy on-ramp to marketing automation so they can stay connected, nurture customer relationships and grow without becoming marketing gurus.

Infusionsoft Propel looks good on paper, and in the demos. However, this initiative represents a big shift from Infusionsoft’s flagship solution, not only for Infusionsoft, but also for the partners that are essential to scale and accelerate market growth.

To succeed, Infusionsoft needs to elevate market awareness for Infusionsoft Propel and the Infusionsoft brand to a new, broader and different type of SMB customer, and convince them that this solution really is easy.and provides clear beneifts At the same time, the vendor needs to develop a compelling business model to get both existing partners engaged, and to recruit new ones that may, in some cases, be a better fit for Infusionsoft Propel customers.

 

 

Intuit: Big Plans for Helping Small Business Work Smarter

Even though I have tracked Intuit for at least 15 years, I didn’t know that Intuit has about 100 patents pending before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office related to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and more than 30 machine learning systems in production—until I attended Intuit’s Innovation Gallery Walk in New York last week. Intuit uses the Gallery walk to showcase new solutions that it has recently brought to market, as well as those that are still in development.

At this year’s event, Intuit unveiled some of the ways it is using artificial intelligence, machine learning and other new technologies to “power prosperity for small businesses and consumers.” With 26 product innovations demoed at the event, Intuit has clearly been busy! While I didn’t have time to see all of these demos, I did learn about some of the ways in which Intuit is putting these technologies to work to help make it easier for small business to manage their businesses more efficiently, intelligently and profitably.

Getting More Insight, More Easily with Natural Language

For most small business owners, time is the most precious commodity. Intuit has created an open, natural language application programming interface (API) to develop conversational user interfaces for its solutions. For instance:

  • Intuit is testing a new chatbot, which let users query their phones in a Siri-like fashion to get answers from and execute tasks in their QuickBooks account. For example, a user might ask, “What clients owe me money?” and then take tell the system to send reminders to clients to pay overdue invoices.
  • Intuit’s Smart Mirror experiment turns your mirror into a virtual assistant by blending the power of natural language queries with the Internet of Things (IoT). While you’re shaving or putting your makeup on, you can ask the mirror to tell you what’s going on with the weather or the stock market, or ask it to pull information about your business from your QuickBooks Online account. The mirror is a potential proxy for an almost unlimited array of objects, and Intuit’s goal to provide QuickBooks users with information when, where and how its most convenient—whether your mirror when you’re getting ready for work in the morning, your car en route to a client’s site, or your Amazon Echo when you’re making dinner in the kitchen.

    Figure 1: Intuit’s Chatbot and Smart Mirror Experiment

 

Helping Self-Employed Workers Save Time and Money with AI and Machine Learning 

Intuit estimates that the percentage of self-employed—aka “gig” workers—will grow from about 36% of the workforce today to 43% in 2020. Self-employed workers often use the same accounts and credit cards for business and personal expenses. Managing and untangling this information can be difficult and time-consuming, and lots of information often falls through the cracks at tax time. In some cases, it all falls through the cracks: Intuit found that 30% of its QuickBooks Self-Employed users claimed no business deductions in 2015—and as a result, likely paid more taxes than they owed.

To help gig workers get organized, keep more of the money they earn, and gain more visibility into their businesses, Intuit is infusing AI and machine learning into QuickBooks Self-Employed. For example:

  • Expense Finder helps uses to identify more taxable deductions. QuickBooks Self-Employed securely connects to a client’s bank account, automatically finds and imports business transactions from the past year, and sorts them into Schedule C categories, to reveal potentially deductible expenses.
  • Automatic mileage tracking tracks mileage every time you drive your car, whether the QuickBooks Self-Employed app is open or not. At your convenience, you simply swipe to the left or right to tag mileage for each trip as a business or personal expense.
  • You can snap photos of receipts, and the app automatically reads all the relevant info from the receipt into the system so you don’t have to spend time typing it in.

Figure 2: Growth of the Gig Economy and QuickBooks Self-Employed Mileage Tracker

 

Inuit is also creating a new offering that combines QuickBooks Self-Employed and TurboTax, called TurboTax Self-Employed. This solution will make it easier for self-employed workers to separate business and personal expenses and file taxes more accurately.

Reducing Friction With Partner Integrations

Over the past few years, Intuit has built out its partner platform to help extend the power of QuickBooks Online through third-party solutions. The platform has provided third-party developers with tools to build data integration with QuickBooks directly into their solutions, and Intuit’s app store has over 450 applications. Intuit continues to push ahead on this front, with new capabilities, such as:

  • A deeper collaboration with G Suite by Google Cloud, which gives QuickBooks users the streamline workflows. With the new integration, users can for instance, send invoices directly from Gmail to their clients.
  • Partner apps that are embedded in QuickBooks Online. T-Sheets and Bill.com have revamped their user interfaces with the QuickBooks Online look and feel, and embedded them in the QuickBooks online application to give users a fast, easy on-ramp to add new services. Via machine learning, QuickBooks Online flags when certain thresholds are met—such a number of employees or transaction volume—when a time sheet or bill paying solution would make sense. Users are offered a 30-day free trial, and if they decide to continue, pay the monthly charge from their QuickBooks account.

Intuit has also streamlined its online financing program. The vendor has simplified and shortened the application process to 5 minutes by using more of the data loan applicants already have in their QuickBooks Online system. With eight lender partners in the platform, Intuit is also providing loan applicants with easy to understand, comparative information on lending offers so they choose the offer that works best for their businesses.

Figure 3: Intuit Financing Application

 

Summary and Perspective

As Intuit CEO Brand Smith noted in his remarks at the event, Intuit’s mission is to “power prosperity around the world for consumers, small businesses and the self-employed through its ecosystem of innovative financial management solutions.” Founded in 1983, this now 34-old company has been able to thrive not by resting on its laurels, but by embracing change to stay ahead of the curve.

As evidenced at the Gallery Walk, Intuit is continuing this trajectory, investing to innovate with AI, machine learning, IoT and other technologies that will help its customers—and Intuit itself—with new and better ways to flourish well into the future.