Using Sales Management Solutions to Boost Sales Productivity and Customer Satisfaction

SMB Group research consistently shows SMBs view attracting new customers, growing revenues, maintaining profitability, improving cash flow and improving customer experience and retention as their top business goals (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals

Slide1

With that in mind, I was interested in talking with Karen McCandless, market researcher at GetApp, a sales management software comparison and reviews site, on her latest study. The study shows that a majority of B2B sales professionals lack  confidence in their sales strategy. Karen, can you tell me a little about the study, and what you found?

Karen: For our study, we surveyed 250 B2B sales professionals in North America. We found that 67% think that their small business selling strategy needs improvement to help them generate leads. Digging deeper, it seems that they are more concerned about the quality of leads than the quantity of them.

Laurie: Yes, we hear the same thing. For lack of a better term, SMBs often take a shotgun approach that may bring in lots of leads, but fails to bring in quality leads that are a good fit for the business.

Karen: Exactly. In fact, we spoke with Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Tiffani Bova, for our study, and she explained that the biggest opportunity to improve lead performance was to, “incorporate personalization and intelligence into [the] sales process.” This missing element is backed up by our data as well: Just 10% of sales reps believe that their B2B customers are looking for any kind of personalized service when purchasing. These facts help paint a picture as to why that two-thirds of sales professionals think their sales strategy needs help.

If salespeople rarely think their customers want personalized service during the sales process, it leads to B2B customers focusing more on factors like ‘price’ when it comes to purchasing (which 64% of our customer sample cites as the most important purchase factor), forcing salespeople to fight over price.

Laurie: Sure, and the race to the bottom is one most SMBs can’t win against large companies. So, your survey also looked at how SMBs can use sales management software to help them to compete more effectively. What did you learn here?

Effect of sales software on revenue_GetApp 2016Karen: We found that 66% of SMB sales professionals currently use sales management software, while a third still doing things manually. Not surprisingly, among those using these solutions, 86% have seen an increase in revenue, and 93% reported a boost in productivity.

Laurie: We see very similar results in our studies. Technology is increasingly part of the business fabric, and SMBs that invest in technology to automate business processes can get a great return on their investment.

Karen: It can really help automate manual, time-consuming tasks, freeing reps up to focus more time on areas such as prospecting, nurturing and closing deals. These solutions also give sales reps more information about their leads and prospects so they can make better decisions. Together, this can help improve the sales process.

Laurie: Were there any other key findings from this study?

Karen: Yes. We heard very positive things on the value of sales training: 92% of respondents said that the additional training they have received has increased their selling abilities. We also found that sales people view one-to-one coaching, delivered on an ongoing basis, as the best type of sales training.

Subject matter is also important, such as equipping sales professionals with the right software training to help them to harness the soft skills they have developed. In addition, we found only 15% of salespeople use social media to generate leads and better engage potential B2B clients (compared to 27% for both phone and in person).

Laurie: Yes, this is a critical area that sales people need help with, because online reviews, ratings and social media increasingly shape buying decisions. But even though technology solutions offer great benefits, SMBs are often confused and challenged when it comes to deploying new tech solutions. In fact, in our 2015 SMB Group Routes to Market Study, respondents ranked “implementing new technology solutions” and “figuring out which technology solutions can best help my business” among their top three technology challenges. Your thoughts on this?

Karen: Well, if you’re a small business looking to implement a sales management or CRM for the first time, you need to take several considerations into account. This includes factors such as deployment speed, cost, training needs, features, integration with other software you are already using, can it grow with your business, and mobile capabilities. Cloud-based sales management software can help here, as having the software hosted generally means quicker setup (with less downtime), predictable cost with less to pay up front, the ability to add and remove users easily, simplified IT management, and more updates more often. Plus most cloud-based systems these days are intuitive and have mobile capabilities, which makes adoption easier.

Laurie: Yes, all of the above. In fact, we find ease of use often trumps price when SMBs are making software decisions, so its no wonder that cloud based CRM is becoming the norm. And while the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices. In our 2016 SMB Collaboration, Communication & Mobility Study, 67% of SMBs said that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. Any final insights?

Effect of sales software on customer satisfaction_GetApp 2016Karen: In addition to the increases in revenues and productivity, we found 78% of salespeople have seen an increase in customer satisfaction after adopting CRM solutions, which I think underscores the fact that these solutions free up salespeople to focus on creating a selling process that caters to the customer, thus allowing small business to have a leg up and compete with the big fish.

Laurie: Absolutely agree with that, Karen, and thanks for sharing these findings and your perspectives with me.

Dealing From a New Deck: Oracle Buys NetSuite

Slide1Everything came full circle with NetSuite today, when Oracle announced that it plans to acquire NetSuite for $9.3 billion.

Flashback

In 1998, Evan Goldberg, founder of what was then NetLedger, visited our analyst team at Summit Strategies, where I started my analyst career at back in the day. At the time, traditional software companies were starting to dabble with the application-hosting model. In this model, application service providers (ASPs) hosted software designed for on-premises delivery and delivered it to clients over the Internet. But Goldberg’s NetLedger was the first (to my knowledge) to deliver software designed from the ground up to be delivered over the internet, as a service. It would take a few years for the term “cloud” to be coined, but the seed was planted.

At the time, NetSuite and a handful of other pioneers, most notably Salesforce, were the upstarts of the software industry. They rattled traditional software vendors’ comfortable development, licensing, delivery and service models with multi-tenant architectures, subscription licensing and 24/7 service designed to revolutionize the software industry. They pledged to “democratize” software, and make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to take advantage of solutions that previously had been out of reach.

However, even as NetSuite built its revolutionary persona, it relied on the old guard for money and technology. NetSuite was built on Oracle’s database, and Larry Ellison, Oracle’s founder, provided financial backing for the fledgling company from the start. In 2001, Oracle even briefly tried marketing the Oracle Small Business Suite, powered by NetLedger, as its solution for small businesses. Since Oracle didn’t have an effective small business sales or marketing organization, that offering was quickly scrapped, and in 2003, NetLedger became NetSuite.

Fast Forward

canstockphoto9457335Oracle’s acquisition of NetSuite was pre-ordained since 2008, when the “great recession” hit, and the OPEX cloud model became much more attractive to cash-strapped companies. People tried cloud computing because they had to—and surprise—they liked it. Not just because of the licensing and pricing advantages, but also because of the speed, ease, scalability, accountability and service advantages it provided. They never turned back, and today cloud computing is not only mainstream, but poised to overtake traditional on-premises computing in many solution areas: Gartner projects it will be a $204 billion market in 2016.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that Ellison notoriously derided cloud computing in the past, he continued to invest in NetSuite, and now owns about 40% of the company. Ellison has also changed his cloud rhetoric over the years. In 2015 he said that “We no longer pay any attention” to traditional competitors such as SAP and IBM, and that Oracle would be the “biggest company in the cloud.” Recently, he put a number on that, saying that he would beat Salesforce to become the first $10 billion cloud company.

In reality, however, cloud revenues are still a very small part of Oracle’s business. The company’s fiscal 2016 Q4 results state that Oracle’s total Q4 revenues were $10.6 billion, with cloud plus on-premise software revenues accounting for $8.4 billion of total revenues. While cloud software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) revenues were up by 66%, they tally up to just $690 million for the quarter. And even as Oracle purports to be growing its cloud business at a brisk pace, a former Oracle finance manager has been accused the company of “cloud washing”—inflating its financial results by re-categorizing existing solutions as to fit in the cloud bucket.

Dealing From a New Deck

deck of cardsEllison has hedged his bets for a long time. He’s played his traditional hand at Oracle, while also holding a great cloud card with his NetSuite investments. He could use NetSuite to experiment with the cloud, and see how things unfolded, without unnecessarily disrupting business as usual at Oracle.

If nothing else, this deal signals that things have now unfolded. Along with buying market share, Oracle is buying Netsuite’s cloud culture and sensibility—which it needs.NetSuite has paved the way in the cloud, and will add to Oracle’s cloud credibility. Oracle gets a credible cloud offering in NetSuite—no cloud washing required—to compete against the likes of Salesforce, Workday, and a slew of other pure cloud companies. And, the Oracle sales and marketing machine should help push NetSuite into consideration in more and bigger deals.

But, while NetSuite’s growth has been strong, increasing at more than 30% for the last few quarters, the company announced that in Q2 2016, it hit Q2 revenues of $230.8 million. So, NetSuite alone is  not going to get Oracle to $10 billion in cloud revenue anytime soon.

Maybe more important, we live in an age where digital disruptors often hold the best cards, customers have more choices, and digital word of mouth supersedes corporate sales and marketing tactics. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how Oracle will play its new hand out.

 

SAP’s Digital Transformation Story For SMBs

“Digital transformation” is one of the top trending buzzwords in technology today. But what does digital transformation mean? In broad terms, many define it as using digital technology to enable innovation and new, often disruptive, business models. However, technology vendors put different spins on digital transformation, depending on how their solutions fit in to the puzzle.

Most small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers view technology as a key to improving business processes and outcomes (Figure 1). But at the same time,SMBs rank “figuring out which technology solutions can help my business” as one of their top three technology challenges. Although SMBs have bought into the concept of using technology to improve and transform their businesses, many struggle to when it comes to putting a strategy in place to achieve these goals.

Figure 1: SMB Technology Attitudes and ChallengesSlide1

So I was interested to hear how SAP is framing the digital transformation story for its SAP Business One partners at SAP’s Business One Americas Innovation Summit in April. Although the ERP giant is best know for its large enterprise solutions, Business One, with over 50,000 customers worldwide, is SAP’s flagship business management solution for SMBs.

SAP’s 50,000 Foot View of Digital Transformation

In his opening keynote, Jonathan Becher, Chief Digital Officer at SAP, addressed the growing reality that today, companies need to disrupt or be disrupted. Unlike the industrial revolution, which allowed for a more linear approach to change, the digital era requires exponential change. Becher described digital transformation as consisting of three fundamental shifts:

  1. New customer experiences, such as in the music industry, which has evolved from vinyl records, tapes and CDs to iTunes and then Spotify and other streaming services;
  2. New business models, again using the example of the music industry, and its evolution from analog to digital buying and streaming;
  3. New value creation, as in the case of Airbnb, which has used technology to create a new way for people to list, find, and rent lodging.

While human creativity provides the spark, technology is the fuel that enables businesses to change their business processes and make the vision a reality.

Figure 2: Digital Business Requires Different ProcessesScreen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.21.49 PM

HANA: SAP’s Innovation Foundation for Business One

In 2014, Business One became SAP’s first business management solution for SMBs running on SAP’s HANA computing platform. Positioning Business One SQL Server edition as the past, Luis Murguia, SAP’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for Business One, positioned SAP Business One HANA as the “foundation for innovation.” With Business One HANA, SMBs can analyze massive amounts of structured and unstructured information within seconds instead of days, and use predictive analytics to gain new insights into data and optimize business decision-making.

SAP has also modernized Business One with new cloud deployment services from within the SAP cloud. The cloud option is key to SAP Business One HANA growth in the Microsoft-centric SMB market, as it negates the need for the SMBs to understand deploy and manage a new database.

I asked partners at the event, including ECS, Vision 33, Boyum and AchieveIT Solutions, for their views on why customers choose Business One HANA. They noted the solution’s enterprise search capability, which allows users to quickly search for key information. Instead of stepping through tedious pull down menus to find information, such as how many units of an item are in stock, what’s sold and what’s been reordered, users can do a quick search. Another favorite is the ability to create interactive, Excel-like spreadsheets that are connected to the HANA database and refresh in seconds, enabling users to quickly slice and dice data, and make decisions based on real-time information. Partners also said customers see Business One HANA’s user-customizable dashboards and predictive analytics capabilities as top benefits.

Murguia described some real-world examples of how SMBs are using Business One HANA to transform their businesses. For instance, he discussed how a Medistance, an Omron medical equipment distributor in East Europe, changed the game against larger competitors by developing a remote managed care service. Medistance, which had been selling the devices, created a remote managed care service to monitor users’ blood pressure and glucose levels. It now gives away the devices to subscribers to its $15 per month service, which provides alarm notifications and services to evaluate risks and treatment recommendations.

SAP Business One Partners: Key to Moving from Steady to Exponential Growth

Overall, SAP has been steadily growing Business One’s footprint. Sales are up 17% year-over-year, and in 2016, Business One has been adding an average of twenty new customers a day. More important, Business One HANA revenues are also rising. According to SAP, 180 of the 1,000 new Business One customers last quarter chose HANA. However, while SAP is making good progress in wooing new Business One customers to HANA, key challenges remain when it comes to catalyzing exponential growth.

As Murguia noted, Business One partners are essential to accelerating this type of growth. But although some partners have seized on the opportunity Business One HANA provides to sell the digital transformation story, others are sticking with what they know—which is the Microsoft SQL Server version of Business One.

To persuade partners to make this transition, Murguia exhorted them realign their resources and thinking from opportunistic to having a clear vertical and geographic focus. With industry expertise, partners can provide SMBs with guidance for industry-centric innovation, using HANA, cloud, analytics, and mobility as the fuel for change. He underscored the need for partners to make this shift by noting that:

  • SAP introduced a new mobile app for sales professionals, which will only run on Business One HANA.
  • Only Business One HANA supports multi-currency.
  • SAP is providing incentives to sell Business One HANA.
  • 95% of new customers use Business One with an industry add-on, and 200 top Business One ISV partners have migrated over 600 vertical apps to HANA.
  • Millennial decision-makers will demand the type of Internet-like experience that Business One HANA provides.

Upping Business One’s Go-To-Market Game

SAP is investing in industry-specific marketing programs for consumer packaged goods (CPG), industrial machinery and components, professional services, retail, wholesale and distribution. It is also recruiting non-traditional partners with industry expertise, and providing more support from SAP inside sales to help partners build their pipelines. In addition, SAP has extended its University Alliance program beyond four-year institutions to partner is with community colleges to use Business One HANA in the classroom to encourage more trained millenials into the partner fold.

The vendor is also doubling down on content by making it easier for partners to find and use relevant case studies and to personalize their own success stories. SAP will help partners create more mobile-friendly, bite-size content for its Business One Repository, which currently has over 2700 testimonials. SAP is also “humanizing communication” with local advertising with its “Business One around the world” theme which features local landmarks, and a push to expand social media engagement beyond current Business One customers to a broader swath of businesses in it’s targeted vertical markets.

Perspective

The digital transformation imperative is clear. Businesses can actively embrace new possibilities and set themselves apart in their markets, or ignore it and risk being stream rolled under.

SAP Business One has a good story and positive proof points in terms of helping SMBs navigate this transformation. In fact, partners told me that once they are in a deal, win rates are over fifty percent.

However, getting into consideration (outside of some European countries and Latin America, where SAP Business One is a recognized SMB brand) is still a struggle. In many geographies, SMBs often discount SAP as a big business brand that’s not for them.

Furthermore, SMBs have many choices when it comes to ERP. While SAP Business One HANA is much less complex than its large enterprise ERP solution, Business One is arguably more complex and takes longer to deploy than several other choices. Some businesses are willing to accept complexity in return for a high degree of customization capabilities, but many will balk at the upfront learning and implementation curve,

To meet its exponential growth goals, SAP needs not only to deliver on the marketing programs discussed above, but must also:

  • Develop more compelling “high air cover” brand awareness. SAP needs a much more compelling, omnichannel brand campaign to increase the odds that Business One gets invited to the SMB table.
  • Do a better job of “connecting the dots.” How exactly does SAP Business One HANA help SMBs transform and achieve success in the digital era? Why is It more effective than other solutions? SAP must paint a more detailed picture and provide more industry-specific metrics to drive the story home.
  • Clear up the cloud story. Business One cloud options are still difficult to sort through. My understanding is that services from the SAP cloud are available in North America, but not in other countries. Some of the European partners I spoke with have their own hosting centers, and say that because of customization requirements and data privacy laws in Europe, multi-tenant cloud isn’t a viable option. If SAP really wants to use the cloud to fuel HANA adoption, it needs to have a much more straightforward cloud story or risks having pure cloud competitors undermine it in deals where cloud is the customer’s preference.
  • Put the SAP SMB puzzle pieces together. SAP needs to pull together Business One, Business By Design, Concur, Ariba, SAP Anywhere and other SMB-related SAP solutions into a more holistic, understandable SMB strategy.

SAP has come a long way in transforming the Business One solution for the digital era. However, only time will tell if it can go the distance with additional steps necessary for solution transformation, partner development and marketing reinvention.

Using Cloud Analytics to Make Big Data Actionable For SMBs

abstract data

“Big data” is a big buzzword in the IT industry—and for good reason. Basically, we’re doubling the amount of digital data that we create every two years, according to the EMC Digital Universe Study. Think about all of the different types of information that’s moved from physical to digital form just 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. And everyone is growing their digital footprint on myriad of social networks, and with the companies they do business with,

Organizations that can effectively harness and use this information can gain dramatic market advantages over those that don’t: SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that SMBs that have deployed analytics solutions are 14% more likely than peers to expect revenues to rise than peers that rely on spreadsheets for business analytics.

But let’s face it—most small and medium businesses (SMBs) don’t have dedicated data scientists on staff. Without this type of in-house expertise available, SMBs feel that moving from basic tools that analyze internal, transactional data to a more comprehensive analytics approach is out of reach.

However, a new generation of powerful, yet cost-effective cloud-based analytics solutions are emerging that can help level the analytics playing field for more SMBs.

Cloud Is the New Normal for SMBs

SMB adoption of cloud solutions has grown steadily over the last few years (Figure 1) to become part of the business fabric for most SMBs. In fact, SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that SMB cloud deployments are poised to overtake on-premises deployments in the next year in areas such as collaboration, file sharing and marketing automation.

Figure 1: Trends In SMB Cloud AdoptionSlide1
SMBs are moving to the cloud include because they view it as a more cost-effective, flexible and faster way to deploy IT solutions (Figure 2). Cloud computing take care of IT infrastructure, applications, and ongoing management and support, offering SMBs economies of both scale and skill.

Figure 2: Top Reasons Driving SMB Cloud AdoptionSlide2

Analytics Meets the Cloud

In the analytics space, in which technology is advancing at warp speed, cloud analytics providers are building powerful, yet easy to use analytics solutions that few SMBs would have the resources or expertise to build on their own.

For instance, cloud analytics solutions often utilize database technologies that can deal with both structured and unstructured data, so that you can analyze different types data from both internal and external sources. They also use technologies to speed data processing, number crunching and analytics to deliver analysis more quickly to decision-makers.

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.

In addition, cloud analytics providers build their infrastructures and services to support thousands of companies. This means they can offer customers on-demand scalability to adjust resources up or down as needed for peak decision-making times, such as during the holiday season for retailers.

Cloud analytics also gives everyone access to the same information in real-time. Instead of trying to reconcile data from different spreadsheets and applications, everyone is automatically on the same page in terms of data so they can reach consensus and make decisions more quickly.

As important, cloud analytics solutions 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.
  • Natural language capabilities so users can easily query the data.

With these capabilities baked in, SMBs can start thinking about moving beyond descriptive analysis, which provides insight into the past to answer, “What has happened?” to more sophisticated analysis, including:

  • Predictive analytics, which use statistical models and forecasts techniques to understand the future and to answer, “What could happen?” For instance, you could use predictive analytics to anticipate customer behavior and purchasing patterns, predict sales profitability trends, or forecast inventory demand.
  • Prescriptive analytics, which use optimization and simulation algorithms to provide advice on possible actions to answer, “What should we do?” For example, Google’s self-driving car uses prescriptive analytics to decide whether and when the car should change lanes on highway by anticipating what might be coming in terms of traffic and other drivers.

SMB Preference for Cloud Analytics Is Growing

As in other solution areas, more SMBs are opting to analytics solutions in the cloud (Figure 3). SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows among the SMBs that have purchased or upgraded an analytics solution in the past 24 months, 62% selected an on-premises solution, while 38% chose a cloud option. Looking ahead, however, just 40% of SMBs that are planning to purchase and/or upgrade analytics solutions are planning to buy an on-premises solution, while 42% are planning to use a cloud offering, and 18% have yet to decide.

Figure 3: SMBs’ Current and Planned Solution Deployment Methods for Business Intelligence/AnalyticsSlide3

Summary and Perspective

At a time when information is proliferating at an unprecedented rate, SMBs need to be able to easily access, understand, analyze, report and act on critical information. With the right tools, decision-makers can spot new opportunities, avoid mistakes and identify small problems before they mushroom into big ones.

Fortunately, more vendors are building powerful yet cost-effective cloud-based analytics solutions that are much easier to “layer” on top existing data than in the past. Designed for business users, these solutions offer user-friendly interfaces, guided discovery, visualization tools and natural language capabilities to help bring data to life.

While SMBs must still do their homework to determine which of the growing list of cloud analytics solutions will be the best fit for their businesses, the advantages of fact-based decision-making cannot be underestimated. The trend towards cloud analytics will likely strengthen in 2016, as more SMBs continue to opt for solutions that are easy to buy and use and can provide faster and better value to the business.

This post is sponsored by Dell.  

 

 

BizSlate: Weaving QuickBooks Into ERP for Small Businesses

Laurie:  Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m talking to Marc Kalman, who is the CEO and founder of BizSlate, which provides inventory management solutions for small businesses. So, welcome Marc!

Marc:  Thank you. Glad to be here today.

Laurie:  Thanks for coming. We’re here at the QuickBooks Connect conference, a very appropriate place to be talking about small business solutions. I’m wondering, before we get into the specifics of what BizSlate does, can you tell us about your role how the company got started?

Marc:  Sure Laurie. I’ve been in the supply chain technology field my entire career. I started off as a software engineer right out of college, did that for about nine years and had the opportunity then to move into more of the practitioner side of things where I was an EDI (electronic data interchange) analyst for a while, I was a supply chain specialist at companies like Coach Leatherware, and then I had the opportunity to direct a team for a nine division accessories business in New York City. From there, I started my last company, which was, and still is a successful EDI provider, Easy Come Software.

What we found was, because of our unique way of addressing the market for small businesses, we were upwards of 90% more efficient than any of our competitors as far as a supply chain capabilities around EDI were concerned. That led to our customers calling up after a while saying, “Hey Marc, this is great what you’re doing for us in the world of EDI. While in our case it might be 70% or 80% of our business, it’s two customers and we have a thousand customers and we’re using QuickBooks and we want to see our inventory and we can’t keep track of things correctly. And people are traveling and need access to real-time information quickly to make important decisions and keep up with the market.”

So it caused me to look at what was going on in the supply chain space for small businesses and I saw that it was a big problem. I’m very passionate about the space, I’ve been involved with it for a very long time and decided, you know what? I’m going to go do something about it and so here we are.

Laurie:  So, what specifically does BizSlate do?

BizSlate_Logo2Marc:  So, we obviously we do integrate with QuickBooks, predominantly focusing on QuickBooks Online right now. That seems to be the direction that QuickBooks is pushing everybody towards anyway, and we want to be the forefront of that.

Laurie:  Right. And new companies are starting more with cloud-based offerings.

Marc: Exactly. We are web-based, and we focus on helping small businesses improve how they manage everything–customers, orders, vendors, inventory, logistics of the supply chain–and give them the tools that they need to succeed this very intense, omnichannel market.

Laurie:  Does it plug right into QuickBooks, Marc?

Marc: It does, seamlessly. We connect right to QuickBooks through APIs, so as you process documents in our system, let’s say like you post invoices or you receive inventory, if you go into QuickBooks you would instantly see those transactions.

Laurie:  It sounds like it kind of fleshes out QuickBooks beyond accounting and basic financials into what other companies would call ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning, with functionality that manufacturers or distributors might need.

Marc:  Correct. And you know, QuickBooks is great from an accounting system perspective. But certain businesses, particularly product-related businesses that have to track inventory, as they evolve, the operations aspect of QuickBooks doesn’t always keep up with the rate of growth. This causes companies to start looking outside of QuickBooks, at companies like MAS 90 or Dynamics. And until now, QuickBooks really hasn’t had a lot of defense against that. In fact we just did a demo for someone earlier and they said, “You know, QuickBooks plus BizSlate equals NetSuite.”

Laurie:  What are you finding in terms of the sweet spot of customers that are interested in BizSlate? I would expect you have a lot of QuickBooks users that say, “I like QuickBooks but I need more.” Any other kinds of people coming by that are interested?

Marc: There are two key areas that customers are attracted to us. One is what you just described, where someone is using QuickBooks, loves it, or their accountant wants them to stay on QuickBooks. They don’t want to have that disruption of having to change the whole system, they just want to expand functionality. We give them a nice path to be able to do that with a system that will help them not just today, but sustain them for the future. Also, the power that we offer is at a very affordable price. So we also find companies that use solutions like NetSuite that maybe aren’t capitalizing on all of the capabilities that NetSuite offers, or it’s too complex, it’s too big, it’s too expensive. This is an opportunity for them to get the same efficiency but easier, and more affordably.

Laurie: Is there a sweet spot in terms of company size for BizSlate?

Marc:  We are primarily focusing on businesses that are fifty million in revenue or less. Industry-wise, we have a lot of traction in apparel, footwear, also housewares, consumer goods, and electronics

Laurie:  A lot of companies are targeting small businesses who are outgrowing QuickBooks. So why BizSlate? What makes you different?

Marc:  That’s one of my favorite questions. Because we get it. We understand small businesses. Small businesses today are understaffed and overworked. People are doing fifteen different jobs at the same time and that’s on a good day. They don’t have time to sit in front of a computer processing documents. Every single person at that company needs to focus on the growth and profitability of that organization. It’s actually detrimental to the business in a very aggressive market to have people who are wasting time on a lot of data entry.

When some vendors target small businesses, they just don’t understand what these small businesses need. They say that they do, but they don’t. These providers, what they say is, “Well, for a small business it has to be affordable,” right? It does. Has to be easy, and it has to be easy, right? But to get there, the typical provider does that by removing value. But this removes ROI. So where BizSlate is different is we bring enterprise value, the kind of tools, the intelligence that small businesses really need to be able to capitalize on the market. But we do it in a way that is affordable and easy and gives them tools that to really rev the business up and focus on things that are more important to the company.

Laurie:  I think you hit the nail on the head. Time is usually the most precious resource for many small businesses. So how long on average does it takes somebody to get up and running on BizSlate, and how do you help them get productive more quickly?

Marc:  Every customer’s a little different. There are different levels of complexity. We start our promise to our customers with ease of use by making sure that the software itself can be learned and trained and used without anybody ever having to teach somebody something. Now that said, that doesn’t mean we don’t support our customers. In fact, I believe we’re one of the few, if not only, providers of this type that offer free unlimited phone support.

Laurie:  That’s a big deal.

Marc: Because we want to make sure our clients succeed, it’s not just about selling software here.

Laurie:  Yes, in a subscription model you really want to keep them once you get them.

Marc:  Exactly. And we’re passionate about small business, I come from the space. Half the employees at BizSlate come from the space. We are really here to make a difference and we want our clients to be successful. As great as our software is, we want to be known for the service that we offer and really make a difference.

Laurie:  Last but not least, is there anything here at QuickBooks Connect that you’re highlighting that you’d like to just give a shout out for?

Marc:  We have two very exciting themes here at the show. Number one, we just found out that we were selected as one of the top twenty cloud providers of 2015 by CIO Review magazine.

Laurie:  Congratulations.

Marc:  Thank you, we’re very excited. Also we’re just finishing up QuickBooks partner certification. In about a week or two, we should be listed on apps.com so everybody will be able to find us.

Laurie:  That’s great. It looks like you’re having a good time at the show too.

Marc:  I’m having a great time. I’m meeting lots of great people, having great conversations, and excited to see that there’s a lot of interest for what we’re doing.

Laurie:  Well Marc, thank you so much for talking to me today and sharing this information so people can learn more about BizSlate and connect with you.

Marc:  Thank you.

Intuit: Finding New Footing In the Small Business Cloud

For Intuit, small business is big business. The company has long dominated the very small business, or VSB (1-19 employees) accounting market in the U.S. (Figure 1), and in the last few years, has also been campaigning hard to win global business against incumbents in countries such as Canada, U.K., India and Australia.

Figure 1: U.S. VSB Accounting Solutions Purchased/Upgraded in Last 24 Months

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Yet Intuit has had a mixed track record in terms of evolving from a traditional package software model to a cloud-based services and platform company. Although Intuit initially launched QuickBooks online in 2004, the vendor seemed conflicted about how best to navigate its own transition to a cloud based business model for several years. However, it started getting serious about the cloud a few years ago, and today QuickBooks Online has grown to serve over 1,150,000 small businesses.

Meanwhile, the company has continued to wrestle with how to grow its business beyond its core QuickBooks franchise. This past summer, Intuit announced plans to divest several businesses, including its original Quicken consumer finance product; QuickBase, a collaborative workspace to build custom apps; and Demandforce, an automated marketing solution for small businesses. In addition, the vendor laid off about 5% of its workforce this past August.

Given the opportunity to attend this year’s QuickBooks Connect conference, I was curious to learn more about Intuit’s transformation strategy, and how it will grow its small business footprint. At the event, Intuit emphasized plans to:

  • Double down on small business financial management-related services that leverage the QuickBooks Connect platform. With plans to take Quicken, QuickBase and Demandforce off its plate in the works, Intuit can free up resources to concentrate on innovation in small business financial management. The vendor announced new solutions to help retailers and e-tailers automatically connect QuickBooks to inventory and sales data across multiple channels. This includes integrating data from e-commerce providers like BigCommerce and Shopify, as well as integration for QuickBooks Point-of-Sale. Intuit also showcased a new QuickBooks financing option, offered in partnership with OnDeck. The QuickBooks FinancingLine of Credit uses small businesses’ QuickBooks accounting data to qualify applicants for lower-rate loans than those available from traditional lenders. Intuit also highlighted its partnership with Fundbox, which provides advanced payments for outstanding invoices in QuickBooks to help improve cash flow.
  • Bet the future on the cloud and big data. While Intuit will not abandon desktop users, it has shifted its resources (and partner ecosystem, see the next bullet) to the cloud. According to Intuit, QuickBooks Online accounted for 60% of new sales in FY15, and the company expects that to jump to 70% in FY16. As it transitions more customers to the cloud and the QuickBooks platform, Intuit gains access to more customer data that will enable it to create–and monetize–a broader array of financial services for small businesses.
  • Ramp up its ecosystem and platform play. Over the past year, Intuit has grown the number of third-party apps that integrate with the QuickBooks platform from just over 300 apps to more than 1,500. At the event, Intuit announced that it has set up a $4 million co-marketing fund to help developers promote apps developed on the QuickBooks platform. Through the program, the vendor will double developer partners’ marketing investments of $10,000 to $20,000. For example, if a partner spends $10,000, Intuit will double the match to $20,000.
  • Boost its focus on the self-employed sector. Last fall, Intuit announced QuickBooks Self-Employed, its somewhat late counter to rival Freshbooks, which launched in 2003, and now claims to have over 5 million users (though Freshbooks doesn’t disclose the number of paid subscribers). Designed to provide the rapidly growing self-employed segment with tools to organize and manage their finances, QuickBooks Self-Employed enables users to connect bank and credit card accounts to import transactions, and categorize them as either business or personal. The solution also automatically assigns them to the proper IRS Schedule C deduction category. According to Intuit, QuickBooks Self-Employed currently has about 25,000 paid subscribers. At QuickBooks Connect, Intuit highlighted a new partnership with Stride Health, which integrates Stride Health’s personalized approach to managing health insurance, healthcare and compliance within QuickBooks Self-Employed.
  • Strengthen its accountant solutions and network. Intuit introduced Trial Balance within QuickBooks Online Accountant at the event. The solution helps accounting professionals save time by pre-mapping most of the accounts from QuickBooks Online Accountant to an Intuit Tax Online form, reducing or eliminating manual data import, export and entry work. It also gives accountants one, centralized location to store the work they perform for clients. Intuit also launched a New ProAdvisor Fathom Partnership, designed for accounting professionals who want to deliver more frequent, engaging advisory and management reporting services. The new partnership provides ProAdvisors with exclusive benefits, including a free Fathom single company license for life, discounts of up to 50% off licenses for their clients and dedicated support for ProAdvisors and their clients. Intuit also hosted a special VIP event for key accountant partners. Intuit used the VIP event to provide partners with deeper insights into Intuit’s plans, and to tap into partner ideas and recommendations to strengthen QuickBooks small business and accountant solutions and programs.
  • Grow globally. Intuit currently provides localized versions of QuickBooks in the UK, India, Canada, Australia and Singapore, with plans to launch in France and Brazil later this year. Intuit’s commitment to global expansion was underscored by a large accountant and developer representation from these countries, especially the UK, Canada, India and Australia.

Perspective

Intuit has traveled a somewhat rocky road to the cloud, but now seems to be finding its footing. It has elevated QuickBooks Online to flagship status; significantly ramped up developer activity on the QuickBooks platform; is gaining awareness and customers in new geographies; and continues to have a large, loyal accountant network.

This doesn’t mean all will be easy climbing from here on in. Intuit needs to play an aggressive catch-up game in the race to win self-employed customers. Furthermore, while Intuit is focusing on helping small businesses better manage their financials, VSBs (businesses with 1-19 employees) seem more concerned with business growth. According to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, VSBs rank growing revenue and attracting new customers as their top two business challenges–ahead of improving cash flow, maintaining profitability and obtaining financing (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top U.S. VSB Business Challenges

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Meanwhile, competition for customers in new geographies will be fierce and nuanced with global complexities. And, in all cases, Intuit is competing for limited IT dollars: 62% of VSBs spend just $1,000-$9,999 on IT annually (SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study).

Figure 3: U.S. VSB Annual Technology Spending

Slide3However, Intuit’s tack to build new, data-driven services for small businesses–such as its new lending service–provides the company with an exciting opportunities to disrupt the status quo and create new revenue streams, such as Intuit is doing with QuickBooks Financing. While other companies may launch similar services, Intuit’s dominant market share in the U.S. provides it with a unique advantage. While its too soon to know how this will actually play out, Intuit’s ability to capitalize on this potential will likely prove to be the biggest factor in spurring the company to the next level of growth.

Note: Intuit hosted me at QuickBooks Connect and paid for my travel expenses. 

Cloud Cover: Cloud Management and Security for SMBs

Cloud solutions already play a big role in most small and medium business (SMBs), with SMB adoption of cloud solutions gaining momentum across many solution areas (Figure 1). For many SMBs, the cloud offers a way to use new solutions to help grow the business despite limited IT resources and budgets.

Figure 1: SMB Current and Planned Solution Deployment Methods

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Benefits such as cost effectiveness, flexibility, and easier and faster deployment are driving SMB adoption of cloud applications and storage solutions (Figure 2). The cloud gives SMBs the opportunity to harness more of the solutions that they need to get ahead–solutions that many would never have been able to deploy and manage on their own.

Figure 2: SMB Drivers For Cloud Adoption

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But as cloud adoption grows, so does the complexity of managing and securing data in the cloud. As SMBs start to utilize a mix of public, private and hybrid clouds to meet different requirements, managing multiple solutions across multiple types of clouds can strain SMB resources. Many struggle to gain a holistic view of cloud performance. Compounding the situation, as SMBs spread data across multiple cloud environments, challenges to locate and safeguard data increase. In fact, SMB Group’s SMB Group 2015 Routes to Market Study shows that medium businesses rank security as their second most pressing technology challenge, and for small businesses, security is #1.

So how can SMBs continue to take advantage of new cloud solutions that help move the business forward, and at the same time, more easily manage and protect their data in this increasingly dispersed cloud environment?

Take Ownership of Your Cloud Strategy 

Because cloud solutions are typically easier to acquire and start using than traditional on-premises applications, many SMBs have taken a tactical approach to cloud adoption. It’s likely that corporate, line of business, small groups and individuals have all “turned on” cloud solutions for different purposes.

Think about it: the odds are good that you’re using public cloud services, such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps for Work, or Dropbox, and maybe using a platform-as-a-service like Salesforce.com, and an , or Infrastructure-as-a-service like Amazon Web Services to run a traditional financial application, or for testing and development.

There’s nothing wrong with using a mix of cloud services and deployment options. But an ad hoc, siloed cloud approach can quickly spiral out of control–leaving you with poor visibility, a lack of control and management, and potential security risks.

Take a step back and inventory who is using what and why. Then look ahead to develop a more proactive and strategic cloud strategy that aligns with business goals, applications and workloads, IT resources and budgets, as well as your requirements in areas such as compliance, security and performance.

Consider the differences (Figure 3) between public, private and hybrid clouds. Clouds come in different shapes and sizes. Understanding the differences can help you determine which type of cloud deployment is best suited to your business goals, workloads, resources and security requirements. There’s no one size fits all answer; even for the same application and workload, a private cloud may be the right option for one organization, while a public software-as-a-service (SaaS) might be best fit for another.

Figure 3: Different Types of Cloud Application Deployments

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Increasingly, SMBs are exploring a hybrid cloud model, in which some resources run in the public cloud, while others run in a private cloud. This approach is gaining momentum in situations where organizations want to use a public cloud/SaaS app, but security requirements dictate keeping some resources/data behind the corporate firewall; or companies need “burst” capacity for peak times, or have different needs for different data types/users.

Take Control of Cloud Security and Management

securityAs SMB reliance on cloud solutions rises, so does the need for better management and security. Solutions such as Dell Cloud Manager, featured at Dell World 2015, can help SMBs simplify and streamline cloud management of their cloud across multiple applications running in different private and public cloud platforms. Instead of having to juggle management dashboards from multiple cloud providers, Dell Cloud Manager gives IT a way to manage heterogeneous clouds from a single pane of glass. With this type of cloud management solution, SMBs can monitor, manage and govern existing cloud solutions, and bring new solutions into a centralized environment more easily.

Protecting your data–regardless of which cloud, on-premise system or network, or user device–also creates new security challenges. To address these concerns and protect data wherever it goes, Dell showcased new, more comprehensive security solutions. Some are designed specifically to address cloud challenges, such as:

  • Dell One Identity Cloud Access Manager 8.1, which enables secure access to all internal and cloud-based web applications, enforces security policies and controls. This new version also incorporates SaaS-based, multi-factor authentication.
  • Dell Data Protection, Cloud Edition 2.0, which allows businesses to encrypt their data and apply policy controls to data as it moves from endpoints to leading public cloud platforms, such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive for Business, Box and Dropbox.
  • Dell SecureWorks, which now includes a new, on-demand Emergency Cyber Incident Response (ECIR) capability for clients using AWS. The solution helps organizations investigate cyber incidents affecting assets deployed on the AWS Cloud, and more easily and efficiently and contain, mitigate cyber incident response investigations.

Be Prepared for the Future

As SMBs rely more on cloud solutions to run their businesses, the requirements to manage, secure and protect data across different cloud environments will continue to rise. While an ad hoc approach to the cloud may provide a quick fix, it won’t provide the visibility and control needed for sustained, long-term success. By taking a proactive approach, SMBs can build a cloud strategy that not only provides a tactical fix to immediate challenges, but also helps ensure that you can securely scale and adapt it to meet future needs as well.

This post is sponsored by Dell.