What is Bullseye Marketing, and Can it Help Your Business?

bull_center-325Laurie: Today I’m speaking with Louis Gudema, President of revenue + associates, about the Bullseye Marketing Framework. Louis, can you start by giving us some background on yourself?

Louis: I broke into marketing by consulting and it’s been quite a ride since then. I owned my own marketing and website design agency for a dozen years and sold that several years ago, giving me experience working with working with dozens of SMBs, and also the experience of running a small business. I’ve also worked with dozens of non-profits, and some of the largest companies in the world — from MIT startups to The Boston Globe to IBM. These days I am primarily focused on helping SMBs successfully deal with their revenue challenges.

Laurie: You’ve developed what you call the Bullseye Marketing Framework. What is “bullseye marketing,” and why is it important?

First, when I say “marketing” I’m talking about programs designed to increase the leads, opportunities and sales of a company, not vague, awareness activities. So when I say “marketing”, think “revenue”.

Marketing used to be so simple. There were only a few channels: TV, radio, print, direct mail, billboards, and a few more. But today there are at least two dozen major marketing channels including websites, email, social media, mobile, text messages, and so forth. I actually saw a blog post a few days ago that claimed 120 channels! So it’s gotten really complex, even for people who have worked in marketing for years.

Meanwhile, over 5,000 companies are selling some kind of marketing software, what’s often called marketing technology, in dozens of categories. Many of these vendors make copycat claims about the results their software can produce.

So with dozens of channels and thousands of vendors it’s understandable that people running an SMB who aren’t familiar with the landscape just give up. Who can you believe? Where do you start? How can you really produce results that impact the top and bottom lines? That’s where the Bullseye Marketing Framework comes in.

The framework breaks marketing into three phases and suggests that if you want to increase revenue and profits you start in the center and build out to the edge:

  • Phase 1: Take full advantage of your current assets. When I work with companies I typically see that they have lots of valuable marketing assets that they’re not taking full advantage of. These include their current customers, their website, email lists, and how well sales and marketing work together. Since these are all already in-house, companies can often start to see results in just one or two months with a really modest spend by doing a better job with those.
  • Phase 2: Get in front of people who want to buy what you’re selling right now. As a company starts to build out from those current customers the most productive thing is to get in front of people who are looking to buy right now – not in six months, or a year, or sometime in the future, but now. And those people are often searching on Google and Bing. So search marketing, in the form of search ads and search engine optimization, are step two.
  • Phase 3: Build long-term awareness in your industry. Many people who are potential customers are interested in what you’re doing, but they just don’t have the need or budget to buy right now. You want to get in front of those people so that when they are ready to buy you’re top of mind. So that’s where content marketing, display ads, social media programs, sponsoring events, and so forth come into play. And in the long run those can be terrifically valuable, but they tend to take a year or two to really start to produce results.

Now if you think about that for a moment, that’s the opposite of what many companies do. People often think of marketing as advertising and promotion—which are Phase 3 activities here—and start with those. After six months they’re not getting any results and, understandably, they stop, saying “We knew that marketing wouldn’t work for us.”

But it can work. It can produce terrific results, and really give a company a leg up on the competition, when done right.

Laurie: Does this framework help companies figure out what marketing and sales technology solutions can best help them?

Louis: Yes! When considering dozens of types of marketing software it can be hard to know where to start. But by focusing on Phase 1, center circle opportunities first, it narrows the software selection to just five or six types such as a CRM, email marketing, website content management, and conversion optimization. Actually, most of the Phase 1 software can be found combined in some marketing automation programs. Then there are two major types of software that you can use for the Phase 2, middle circle for search marketing, which are the search advertising software – most SMBs can just start with what is provided by Google and Bing – and a package to help with search engine optimization. It’s a lot easier to successfully implement six or eight types of software than 40!

Laurie: How do you help companies use this framework?

Louis: I provide three primary services related to this. First, I offer the Marketing Strategy Sprint, where I help a company, or a product group, review past efforts and what the competition is doing to better focus their marketing goals and approaches. Then we work together to develop a 12-month action plan to optimize their current sales and marketing programs, roll out new programs, and understand what new people or software they might need to execute those plans. This typically only takes three or four weeks – and why I call a sprint. It culminates with a one-day workshop with the senior team of the company to focus and make decisions.

Second, for some companies I act as a fractional VP of Marketing, providing one-quarter or one-third time services to develop and implement these marketing and business development programs. These relationships are a minimum of six months and can last a year or two sometimes.

Finally, I work with other companies to provide help with customized marketing requirements.

The Bullseye Marketing Framework is always top of mind for me, and pretty quickly for my clients, in this work. Frankly I’ve been gratified by how enthusiastic people at SMBs have been about the framework. One person said, “This is great! Why hasn’t anyone else come up with this before?”

Laurie: What kinds of results do you see customers gaining with this approach?

The results for Phase 1 can be swift, significant and not very expensive. For example, for one company in their Phase 1 customer interviews I learned that they were in danger of losing their largest customer; the customer said that if things didn’t improve within six months they’d be gone. The company had no idea! But you can be sure they jumped on that. The CEO was on the phone with them the next day to start to address their issues.

I’ve also helped companies increase leads from their website by 50-100 percent in just a few weeks, and helped others improve how their marketing and sales teams work together to improve lead follow-up and sales conversion. All of these were done quickly and produced quick revenue bumps that paid for the service many times over.

Laurie: How you help companies implement, customize and learn to use these solutions? If so, how?

Louis: Typically this would be done more through the fractional VP of marketing role. After the Marketing Strategy Sprint people have a choice: to implement the plan with their internal resources, hire me to help implement it, or use another agency or consultant. Or any combination of the three.

Laurie: What do companies need to be thinking about as they reassess marketing and sales strategies? What are your top tips and “gotchas”?

Louis: Perhaps the most common source of failure is neglecting the strategy. The company develops a strategy and roadmap, but either doesn’t devote the time, people and money to implement it, or they start to but after a few months they get distracted by something else. It’s really easy to get distracted these days.

Another challenge is from agencies and consultants who try to sell a “one size fits all” approach: they’ll say that every company needs to be doing social media, or inbound marketing, or search ads, or whatever. And since that’s all that they do that’s what they sell, regardless of what the company actually needs now. When all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.

Laurie: Thanks, Louis, for your insights. How can people learn more and contact you if they want to?

Louis: They can email me at louis@revenueassociates.biz. My business site is www.revenueassociates.biz and I also blog about the Bullseye Marketing Framework at www.louisgudema.com . I’m on Twitter @louisgudema. I’d love to hear from them!

 

Modernize your Business with Predictive Insights: Paving the Way for Business Growth

Businesses have always needed the ability to track and measure critical success metrics in a quantifiable way. Yet this is often a tall order for midsize businesses (100 to 1,000 employees) to address. The problem is that when there’s too much information, people find it difficult to fully comprehend it and make informed decisions. In fact, in our 2017 SMB Routes to Market Study, midsize businesses indicated that “getting better insights from the data we already have” as one of their top technology challenges.

Figure 1: U.S. Midsize Business Top Technology Challenges

We live in an age where technology is transforming virtually every industry. As a result, midsize business decision-makers face added pressure to “read the tea leaves” to reduce uncertainty. In this shifting business environment, simply analyzing past performance is no longer enough. You also need predictive capabilities to anticipate trends so they can plan for what’s likely to happen in the future.

A new generation of powerful, yet cost-effective and easy-to-use cloud-based analytics solutions can help level the analytics playing field for midsize businesses. The solutions offer the insights you need to answer key business decisions, such as “Who are my best customers?” or “How can we better match market demand with product supply?” or “How can I recruit and retain employees with the skills the business needs?” Armed with the right insights, you can better assess how they are doing today, and plan for what they should be doing in the future to optimize business performance.

This means that now is a great time for you to rethink your approach to business intelligence and analytics. In this paper, we examine why businesses should start using modern, predictive analytics solutions, and how they can help your business stay on ahead of new trends, opportunities and market shifts.

Dealing With the Data Rush

“Big data” is a big buzzword in the IT industry—and for good reason. According to IDC, 1.7MB of new information is being created for every human on the planet, every second of every day, and 180 zettabytes of digital data will be generated worldwide by 2025.

While zettabyes may be hard to wrap your head around, just consider all of the different types of information that’s moved from physical to digital form over the last several years:

  • Doctors have moved from paper charts to electronic medical records.
  • Merchants have moved from paper credit card imprinters to POS terminals to virtual terminals to mobile payment devices.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) technology is equipping objects—from Fitbits to traffic sensors to seismographs—to record, report and receive data, and create entirely new digital data streams.
  • People are growing their digital footprints on a myriad of social networks, and via their interactions with the companies they do business with.

Figure 2: U.S. Medium Business Attitudes About Decision-Making and Use of Analytics Solutions

Although 62% say they currently use an analytics solution to support this data-driven approach, many midsize businesses rely primarily on spreadsheets or homegrown tools for data analysis: In SMB Group surveys, spreadsheets are the most frequently used analytics tool among midsize companies. Because they don’t often have data scientists on staff, many feel that moving from basic tools that analyze internal, transactional data to a more comprehensive analytics approach is out of reach.

Figure 3: U.S. Midsize Business Top Business Challenges

The Limitations of Spreadsheets

As Albert Einstein noted, “Information is not knowledge.” Midsize businesses may have plenty of data, but if they’re using spreadsheets, they will reach a tipping point where they lack the means to extract knowledge and insight from it. In fact, many midsize businesses struggle to get the information they need to meet the wide range of complex business challenges (Figure 3) on their plates.

This is because as powerful as spreadsheets are, they have limitations that can lead to inefficiencies and expose the business to potentially damaging risks, such as inaccurate calculations and security breaches. When spreadsheet analysis is the norm, it’s also likely that everyone is crunching their own data–which can results in conflicts about what’s the “right” version of the truth.

In addition, spreadsheets must accommodate the increasing volumes of digital information that are being created every day. But as spreadsheets grow, they also get slower. It takes more time to run queries, and links and formulas are more likely to break.

Finally, spreadsheet analysis is typically limited to providing information to tell you about what’s already happened–limiting most midsize businesses to using analytics for descriptive purposes only (Figure 4). This stops short of answering predictive questions that can you evaluate what could happen in the future, or providing insights about possible outcomes so you can determine the best course of action for a given situation.

Figure 4: Ways in Which U.S. Midsize Businesses Use Analytics

 Advancing Your Business with Predictive Insights

But new technology is advancing at warp speed in the analytics space. Vendors are building powerful, yet easy to use solutions that help midsize businesses gain the benefits of predictive insights so they can stay ahead of market and competitive trends.

These solutions use database technologies that can deal with both structured data, such as transactional data from orders or payments, as well as unstructured data, such as emails. They can pull in and analyze both internal data, as well as data from external sources, such as social media. They also use technologies to speed data processing, number crunching and analytics to deliver analysis more quickly to decision-makers.

Modern predictive analytics solutions are also easier to “layer” on top existing data than in the past. As important, they are often designed for business users, offering capabilities such as:

  • User-friendly interfaces, with guided discovery to make it easier to ask the questions that will lead to “aha” moments and insights.
  • Visualization tools that turn rows of data into visuals that represent what the data says in intuitive ways that makes it easier to communicate the story the data is telling.
  • Natural language capabilities so users can easily query the data.

Some vendors provide pre-packaged applications that integrate all of the components necessary for analytics solution, including connectors to business solutions; the data model; tools to extract, transform and load (ETL) data; a semantic layer; query and reporting capabilities; and predefined metrics, reports and dashboards. Many solutions offer free-trials, and are available as subscription-based services. This takes the friction out of the buying process, and makes using analytics solutions much more affordable.

For instance, IBM offers a free trial for SPSS Statistics and a Subscription payment model of $99/month, without any term commitments, from the IBM Marketplace.

The self-service offering is easy enough for business users to learn to use, while also providing advanced capabilities that data scientists expect. From one online interface, users can subscribe to and download SPSS Statistics Service, which will help you to:

  • Improve business decision-making processes and business outcomes by quickly gaining insights from data sets in any format, including spreadsheets.
  • Eliminate labor-intensive manual checks with advanced data preparation capabilities.
  • Monetize the data you own by analyzing trends, forecasting, and planning to validate assumptions and drive accurate conclusions.

Users can input and aggregate data from multiple sources–whether from spreadsheets, email, call center notes, transactional data, sensors, social media or other inputs. Once the data is aggregated, decision-makers can get a clearer view of the business and the market, and get everyone on the same page to enable more efficient and effective decision-making.

With these capabilities, you can start thinking about moving beyond descriptive analysis, which provides insight into the past to answer, “What has happened?” to predictive analytics, which use statistical models and forecasts techniques to understand the future and to answer, “What could happen?” For instance, you can use predictive analytics to anticipate customer behavior and purchasing patterns, predict sales profitability trends, or forecast inventory demand, such as:

  • Who are my best customers?
  • How can I reduce customer churn?
  • Where should I open a new store or facility?
  • How is a new competitor affecting my business?
  • How can I improve employee engagement and performance?

As a result, you’ll be able to more readily identify and act on opportunities for cost savings, efficiencies and new business opportunities. Because SPSS Statistics Service is subscription-based, businesses can adjust resources up or down as needed for peak decision-making times, such as during the holiday season for retailers.

Smoothing the Shift

Although analytics solutions have gotten easier to access, use and gain insights from, Inertia and the tendency to stick with “the devil you know” prevent many businesses from moving from spreadsheets to more capable analytics solutions. In most cases, key stakeholders must be on board to help spearhead this shift.

One of the best selling points for this transition is that many studies show that businesses that can effectively harness and use data can gain dramatic market advantages over those that don’t: SMB Group’s 2017 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that midsize businesses that use “purpose-built” analytics solutions are 80% more likely to expect revenues to rise than those that rely on spreadsheets for business analytics.

Often, a good way to get started down a successful path is to cherry pick your first use case. Determine the most obvious missing information links, and at those where having better insights would yield the most immediate value. You should also identify areas where spreadsheet use is heaviest, as this may indicate that people looking for better business decision support and may be more willing to try new tools. Choose a place where you can quickly demonstrate the value, and build from there.

The best place to start will differ for every firm, but here are some pain points questions to think about in different functional areas to get started:

  • Sales and marketing: Is the organization more reactive than pro-active in addressing critical situations such as declining pipeline, increase customer churn, lowering conversion rates. Do you lack visibility into sales and marketing activities and effectiveness? Does a lack of visibility into customers’ buying trends undermine your ability to up-sell and cross-sell?
  • Finance: Does it take too long to close the books? Is it difficult to measure actuals against targets? Is it challenging to analyze large volumes of data? Is the budgeting process complex, inefficient and lengthy? Do you spend too much time producing reports for others in the organization?
  • Operations, manufacturing and customer service: Does the team lack visibility into overall performance of the supply chain, preventing them from taking timely corrective action? Is it difficult and complex to adjust to shifting customer needs and demands? Is there information disconnect with other departments, such as sales and marketing?

Across business functions, predictive analytics provides insights to help you solve these problems by answering three critical questions:

  • How are we doing?
  • What is driving our current performance?
  • What should we do to improve results?

As a result, managers can make better, faster decisions to drive growth, reduce costs and create better business outcomes.

Summary and Perspective

While decision-makers must do their homework to determine which analytics solutions will be the best fit for their businesses, the advantages of fact-based decision-making cannot be underestimated.

At a time when the business environment is undergoing rapid transformation, and information is proliferating at an unprecedented rate, midsize businesses need an intelligence edge that spreadsheets can’t provide. Being able to easily access, understand, analyze, report and act on critical information will increasingly become a make or break factor for business success.

Predictive analytics solutions can provide midsize companies with insights needed to spot new opportunities, avoid mistakes and identify small problems before they mushroom into big ones–and stay ahead of market trends and the competition.

© SMB Group, 2017

SMB GROUP, INC.

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is composed of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group’s areas of focus include Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services, IoT and Green IT. Read our 2017 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for our views on game-changers in these and other areas of the SMB market.

Sponsored by IBM

As Machines Get Smarter, How Will the Way We Live and Work Change? Part 2: Shifting Human–Machine Dynamics

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Every day, we see new examples of how technology is reshaping the dynamics of human–machine partnerships at work and at home. Some of the changes we can already see include everything from smart watches to drones to self-driving cars.
How will the next wave of technology disrupt our lives and change the nature of human and machine partnerships, and how quickly will this disruption happen? Although no one knows the exact path this latest round of innovation will take, Dell Technologies has partnered with Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore how these trends are likely to take shape in their new report, The Next Era of Human–Machine Partnerships: Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030 . In the first post in this two-part series, I discussed the emerging technologies that will underpin these changes. In this second installment, I examine how these technologies are likely to reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

What will the brave new world of 2030 look like? The Dell/IFTF study highlights the following key shifts in human–machine relationships:

  • People become digital conductors. We already use apps for many tasks, from finding jobs to hailing rides. Personal assistants—or chatbots—help us turn off the lights, monitor home security and order products online. As technology helps us to orchestrate more activities and tasks, more of us will become “digital conductors,” using more personalized apps to predict, meet and respond to more of our needs. Expect solutions to help us monitor and care for elderly relatives, understand the role our emotions play in making a decision and help us to run errands. We’ll “conduct” these apps through connected devices. In the future, machines will become extensions of ourselves. Honor, for instance, has developed a platform to match elderly patients with doctors and care professionals as well as coordinate meals, transportation, housekeeping and companionship. OhmniLabs is working on an affordable telepresence home robot. With one click of a button, a person can be in the same room as his/her family, friends and colleagues without being physically present.
  • Work chases people. There’s little doubt that machines will replace humans in many jobs: PwC predicts that robots could take over 38% of U.S. jobs in the next 15 years. However, IFTF authors contend that new jobs will replace them. The percentage of “gig” or contract workers will grow to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Instead of workers looking for jobs, organizations will compete for the best talent for specific jobs, using solutions such as reputation engines, data visualization and analytics to automate the process. Companies will also change the way they work, adopting more capable solutions that streamline collaboration across geographies and time zones. Glowork, the first women’s employment organization in the Middle East, has launched a platform that links female jobseekers with employers. So far, it has put more than 3,000 women in the workplace and located work-from-home jobs for 500 women. By leveraging big data, employers can search for candidates based on different search criteria.
  • In-the-moment learning becomes the norm. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that today’s learners will have 8 to 10 jobs by the time they are 38, and IFTF estimates that 85% of the jobs they’ll be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. This makes the ability to learn new skills a worker’s most valuable asset. But how will people—especially the growing population of gig workers—learn new skills? Probably not through traditional HR and training processes. Instead, they’ll need to do more learning on the fly, with “in-the-moment” learning becoming the norm by 2030. New technologies such as AR and VR will facilitate this trend, guiding, for example, a new field service technician through an HVAC repair. DAQRI, which is based in Los Angeles, is using AR devices to display digital work instructions in workers’ physical environment, helping them to complete tasks more efficiently.

Technology: The Fabric of Our Future Lives

No one knows exactly how these trends will unfold; and while some people are excited about them, others are uneasy about what may happen. Will machines steal jobs from people and lead to unemployment? Will bad guys create evil robots like the Terminator in the movie of the same name and Ava in Ex Machina?

But whether we’re ready or not, it’s safe to assume that technology will continue to play a bigger role in our business and personal lives. Think about it: the internet was a novelty 20 years ago, and “dumb” phones outsold smartphones until 2013. Now, both are ubiquitous. The next round of technological change is likely to be as inevitable and pervasive, so the best route is to start preparing for it by asking critical questions, such as the following:

  • How can we, as individuals, get smarter and keep learning?
  • What skills are most likely to be automated?
  • What human skills will have the most value?
  • How can we use new technologies as tools to accomplish goals, for our businesses and ourselves?
  • How can we build people skills and digital infrastructure for the future?

Recognize that what seems disruptive today will become part of our individual and business fabric tomorrow. By thinking proactively about the next level of human and machine interactions in the workplace now, we will be much better positioned to reap the benefits in the future.

You can read the full Dell/IFTF report  for more food for thought and take the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Survey to help assess your organization’s readiness for the future. 

This is the second post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell. The first post examines the emerging technologies that will underpin changes in human–machine dynamics.

As Machines Get Smarter, How Will the Way We Live and Work Change? Part 1: Key Technology Drivers

You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that machines are getting smarter. Every day, we see new examples of how entrepreneurs, businesses and academics are using new technologies to reimagine how things get done. Not that long ago, for instance, ADT provided armed security guards to protect property. Today, ADT has transformed to become the largest professional installer of home automation solutions in the United States. From manufacturing robots to self-driving cars to devices to help us manage our homes, technology is reshaping the dynamics of human–machine partnerships.

Depending on your point of view, the next round of innovation may be exciting, scary, confusing, uncertain—or all of the above. How will the next wave of technology disrupt our lives and change the nature of human and machine partnerships, and how quickly will this disruption happen?

Although no one knows the exact path this latest round of innovation will take, Dell Technologies has partnered with Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore how these trends are likely to take shape in their new report, The Next Era of Human–Machine Partnerships: Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030. In this post, the first in a two-part series, I examine the emerging technologies that will underpin these changes. In the second installment, I discuss how they will reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

The Next Technology Wave

According to the Dell/IFTF study, the following key emerging technologies will radically change how humans and machines engage:

  • Robotics: Robots have been around for a while—especially in manufacturing, where they’ve mainly performed repetitive and/or dangerous tasks that don’t require a lot of problem-solving skills. But technology is expanding robots’ capabilities, enabling them to do more in manufacturing and to take on new roles, from driving our cars to administering physical therapy. For example, some rehab facilities already use wearable “exoskeletal robots” to help patients recovering from spinal cord injuries and strokes to stand, reach for objects and relearn to walk.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning make computer programs and machines “smart” by enabling them to learn, change and predict patterns as they are exposed to new data, as well as to converse with users to answer queries and provide insights. Unlike humans, programs that use these technologies can crunch massive amounts of data quickly and efficiently. For instance, many financial trading firms use these systems to predict and execute high-speed, high-volume trades. In healthcare, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD) is helping radiologists find early-stage breast cancers that might otherwise be missed. And, as I wrote about previously, Alice (which is powered by Circular Board and partnerships with Dell and Pivotal) is the world’s first AI platform for female entrepreneurs. Alice uses machine learning to guide and connect these women with mentors, referrals, capital and other resources needed to start and grow their businesses.
  • Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are transforming how we engage in both virtual and physical worlds. VR “blocks out” the physical world, taking the user to a simulated, digital world. VR is often used for training, such as in the military, where soldiers can prepare for combat situations without the risk of death or a serious injury. AR adds a digital layer on top of the physical world. The best-known example is the AR game PokĂ©mon Go, which uses your smartphone’s GPS to mark your location and move your PokĂ©mon avatar, and uses your smartphone camera to show you digital PokĂ©mon in the real world.
  • Cloud computing: I know, after 20 years, cloud computing no longer seems like an emerging technology. However, cloud computing is the backbone that provides scalability, flexibility, cost, speed and ease-of-deployment benefits that enable businesses and people to continue to take advantage of newer technologies. For instance, Chitale Dairy’s “cow to cloud” initiative uses the cloud to improve farming for 50,000 dairy farmers in India. Chitale has outfitted more than 200,000 cows with RFID tags to monitor their health habits. Information from the tags is sent to the cloud to be analyzed, and alerts are sent to local farmers regarding when to make dietary changes or arrange vaccinations.

The Chitale story also underscores how some of these technologies are maturing, converging and coming to life as part of the next generation of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Liam Quinn, chief technology officer and SVP of Dell Technologies, the cloud provides the technology required to dynamically distribute and allocate resources across different platforms and devices. Now, organizations can attach gateway-to-legacy IoT systems so they can send the data they’re already capturing to the cloud to analyze and use it to run their businesses more intelligently. These advances also make IoT more cost effective and manageable, and they will enable companies to develop entirely new IoT solutions to improve efficiencies and facilitate new business models.

You can read the full Dell/IFTF report  for more details and insights on these trends and take the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Survey to help assess your organization’s readiness for the future.

This is the first post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell. The second installment looks at how these technologies are likely to reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

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.