Need CRM? GetApp Can Help You Select The Right CRM For Your Business

crmGetApp is a great site to check out when you are researching CRM software options and other applications to help you run your business. I first got acquainted with GetApp and Christophe Primault, CEO and cofounder when he founded GetApp in 2009, the same year as we started SMB Group.

Since we both share the mission to help SMBs better understand how technology can help their businesses, I’ve worked with GetApp on several occasions. Most recently, I chatted with Suzie Blaszkiewicz, market analyst and content editor at GetApp, to provide some perspectives on their new report which ranks the Top 25 Small Business CRM apps. I spoke with Suzie to get some more information about how they developed the report, and what they learned from it.

Laurie: Your new report ranked the 25 Top CRM apps on the market today… What were the ranking factors you used to determine this list, and why? Were they weighted in anyway, and if so, how?

Suzie: The five unique factors that we use to determine the ranking of each CRM software product are: reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, media presence, and security. Reviews and media presence are calculated using the number of reviews and their related ratings on GetApp.com, as well as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook likes that an app has online. These represent popularity among everyday SMB users, as well as relative popularity in the market. Integrations are calculated using the number of integrations a product has, which shows an app’s potential compatibility with other software that a business is already using. Mobile scores are based on the availability of an app for iOS and Android, an important metric for CRM especially because of the increasing need for mobile connectivity. Finally, security is calculated using a vendor completed, 15 question survey, based on the Cloud Security Alliance’s Self Assessment Form.

Together, these five data points provide a good first-look assessment of the leading cloud-based business apps in the industry. Each data point has an equal weighting, but if there is a tie, we prioritize security and reviews scores first, then mobile and integrations, and finally, media presence.

Laurie: It was good to see that GetApp includes ‘security’ as one of the ranking criteria, because sometimes, SMBs don’t consider this as a top factor when comparing CRM systems–even though customer and prospect information is business-critical. Why did you decide to include it, and what did you find in terms of variation in security provided by the vendors you ranked?

Suzie: There’s a lot of concern when it comes to cloud security, and we wanted to explore and factor it into our ranking. Right off the bat we noticed that vendors were (understandably) hesitant to open up about something as sensitive as security, but the questions themselves aren’t too invasive. In fact, most of, if not all the answers to the vendors’ surveys could already be found through publicly available information like Terms and Conditions, but the survey just does a nice job of sifting through all of that. Those that did choose to share their security details shows, if nothing else, that they are transparent about the security measure they take to protect users. We know that security will continue to be an important consideration for users using cloud-based CRM software, especially when contact data is involved.

Laurie: In your report, you discuss the importance for a CRM to be both scalable and mobile. In our research at SMB Group, we also see mobile capabilities as being extremely important to SMBs because smartphones and tablets are becoming the preferred device for many users, but some don’t necessarily think about scalability right out of the gate. What are you seeing in terms of how important scalability is to SMBs?

Suzie: Scalability is a really important factor for small and mid-sized businesses, especially those who are just starting out. If you’re planning to grow, you’re going to want to choose a solution that can grow with you. In the same vein, immediately starting with a mid-market or enterprise level option may prove cumbersome and unaffordable. The key is finding a solution that’s suitable for the current size of your business, but has the potential to handle more volume if the need arises. We think that the results of the CRM ranking turned out to showcase top products that SMBs could adopt and grow with.

Laurie: Agree, it’s a Goldilocks situation. SMBs need CRM that is the best fit for the business now, but can ramp up as needed. We also discussed the increasingly pivotal role that analytics will play in the evolution of CRM,  as well as other applications areas. How do SMBs that use GetApp view the role of analytics in making CRM decisions?

Suzie: We see data and analytics playing a more important role in all types of software, whether that be marketing, project management, but especially when it comes to how businesses are looking to utilize CRM systems. Most vendors now include analytical tools into their CRM feature sets to  help  forecast sales, track KPIs, and see sales performance over time.

Having access to, and being able to utilize the amount of data being gathered by a CRM will become essential in a company’s ability to making informed business decisions. It will make it much easier for SMBs to have a solid grasp on who their customers are, what they want and what the future could hold for their partnership moving forward.

Laurie: The term “social CRM” seems to have been popular for a while, but we don’t hear that term too often anymore. My thoughts are that social has become so pervasive in sales, marketing and service that SMBs expect that their CRM systems will include social capabilities. What role do you see social playing in helping SMBs decide what the right CRM system might be, and what capabilities do they need to have?

Suzie: You’re absolutely right. Social has become a key way to reach out to customers and clients and a key component of the customer relationship process to help meet customers wherever they are. The social media sphere is clearly one of those primary places. No matter which industry an SMB is in, it’s an essential platform for engaging with target customers. But that doesn’t mean that all CRM systems are built equal when it comes to social functionalities.

We see that at a minimum, social media tools in a CRM should include integrations with Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as social media monitoring tools and feeds to keep track of, and interact with, conversations taking place around a selected set of products or services.

Similarly, being able to keep up with a contact’s social profiles, see related networks, and reach out via your CRM can be infinitely helpful. Being able to do this can give powerful insight into who a customer is and what their purchase decisions rely on. Whether they fit into a ‘persona’ that an SMB has determined, or remain as a personalized customer, a robust CRM allows for this kind of understanding.

Laurie: Yes, social really has evolved to become part of CRM fabric, and I think that mastering social engagement can really help SMBs to level the playing field against larger competitors.

Suzie, I really want to thank you for shedding more light on your new report, and providing these kinds of comparisons to help SMBs sort through the many CRM solutions available to determine what will work best for them.

Does Salesforce’s Refreshed SMB Strategy Add Up?

salesforce logoSalesforce hosted its second annual Analyst Summit last week. This year’s format was much more engaging and interactive format than last year, sparking lots of interesting questions and discussions among analysts and the Salesforce team.

At a high level, Salesforce’s executives laid out the company’s key themes for 2016, which included:

  • Continuing to invest in its core CRM space to maintain market dominance. To that end, Salesforce recently introduced its new Lightning user experience and development framework, along with Trailhead, its interactive learning platform to help users and developers transition more quickly and easily to Lightning.
  • Using IoT to strengthen customer engagement. Salesforce announced Thunder, its IoT Cloud, at Dreamforce 2015. Salesforce’s Adam Bosworth emphasized that while Thunder isn’t yet ready for prime time, it is in pilot with several customers. Salesforce is focusing on connecting IoT with business processes and customer experience to help its customers to help drive sales and revenues.
  • Reimaging Wave Analytics to provide better insights to users. Salesforce initially launched Wave Analytics as a platform in 2014, with plans to develop apps on top of the platform over time. After hearing from customers that it was too expensive and focused too much attention on the platform play and not enough on providing enough prebuilt apps for business users, Salesforce introduced its next iteration of Wave at Dreamforce 2015. In addition to a streamlined pricing model, the new version offers prebuilt sales templates and apps that make it easier for sales reps to get more value from their customer data.

Of most interest to me, however, was that Salesforce devoted more time to its strategy and solutions for SMBs than last year.

From SMB Startup To Enterprise Powerhouse

Salesforce.com website circa 1999, courtesy of Internet Archive Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/).

Salesforce.com website circa 1999, courtesy of Internet Archive Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/).

When Salesforce was founded in 1999, it was focused on the SMB market. As a cloud pioneer, Salesforce captured the market’s attention with its story of faster, easier, better and less expensive CRM. While SMBs were its target in the early going, the marketing genius of Benioff and a stellar sales team quickly moved Salesforce upstream, and capitalized on replacing enterprise dissatisfaction with Seibel to become the undisputed 800-pound CRM gorilla in the enterprise market.

To accommodate demands from large customers and a rapidly evolving market, Salesforce expanded its vision over the years to become what it now terms a “customer success platform.” Today, this platform encompasses many parts and solutions, including:

  • Multiple editions of its core CRM solution
  • A veritable storm of clouds (sales, marketing, service, community, etc.)
  • New Thunder and Lightning initiatives
  • More than 35 acquisitions, from ExactTarget to SteelBrick.

However, as I wrote in this post, Salesforce’s SMB Story: Great Vision, But a Complicated Plot Line, amid its enterprise success, the Salesforce story became harder for the average SMB to parse through. And, while the vendor offered relatively low entry-level pricing for it former Group Edition ($25/user/month), SMBs faced a steep jump to Professional ($65/user/month) if they needed more functionality that many wanted, such as pipeline forecasts, campaign management, contract storage and quote delivery, custom reporting and dashboards.

Either as a by-product or intentionally, Salesforce’s SMB story has evolved to focus on the “fast growth” SMBs and digital elite, where it has done an excellent job of capturing market share.

But when it comes the vast majority of SMBs the math is revealing. True, Salesforce is the #1 CRM vendor in SMB: SMB Group’s 2015 Routes to Market study shows that 25% of SMBs (1-999 employees) that currently use a CRM solution use Salesforce. However, 75% use other brands, from old-guard competitors such Microsoft and ACT!, to newer ones such as Insightly and Pipeliner. And then there are all of the SMBs still using Excel, email and/or basic contact management solutions.

Furthermore, according to Salesforce, about 150,000 businesses in total use its solutions, and about one-third of them (or 50,000) are SMBs. When you consider that there are roughly 6.5 million SMBs with employees (plus another 17 million or so solopreneurs) in the U.S. alone, Salesforce has barely scratched the surface in SMB market.

Salesforce’s New SMB Story

Recently, Salesforce has begun to refocus its SMB story, for a few reasons. In addition to the huge, untapped market potential, Salesforce sees SMBs as canaries in the coal mine in terms of requiring the simplicity and ease of use that all businesses—even large ones—increasingly demand from business application vendors. Salesforce also wants to tap into SMB diversity and innovation to help keep pits own focus fresh.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 12.57.27 PMTo that end, Salesforce has recently taken a couple of big steps to refocus its SMB story, including:

  • Launching SalesforceIQ for Small Business at Dreamforce in September 2015. Positioned as “the smart, simple CRM to grow your business,” SalesforceIQ, at $25/user/month, replaces Group Edition as the vendor’s CRM entry point for SMBs. Based on the acquisition of RelateIQ, SalesforceIQ automatically captures, analyzes and surfaces customer information across email, calendars and other channels, using pattern recognition to provide users with sales insights and proactive recommendations.
  • Announcing a free integration between Desk.com, Salesforce’s small business customer service app and SalesforceIQ. The integration gives give SMBs a unified view of their customers, enabling them to provide the more connected, personalized experience that their customers will increasingly demand.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 1.02.03 PMSalesforce also quietly rolled out Trailhead  in 2014, and then showcased it at Dreamforce 2015. Trailhead provides users, developers and administrators with a guided, learning path through the key features of Salesforce to help people get more value from Salesforce solutions more quickly. According to Salesforce, Trailhead earners have passed more than 1,000,000 challenges, earning more than 250,000 badges.

In addition, Salesforce’s AppExchange—one of the first and most successful app stores, which just celebrated its 10th birthday—offers more than 2800 applications that integrate with Salesforce). Many of these are SMB-oriented, and Salesforce continues to ramp up SMB partnerships and integrations, with vendors from MailChimp to Slack to Sage Live (link to blog) on board.

Perspective

There are many things I like about what Salesforce is doing in the SMB space. I think SalesforceIQ gives SMBs a much better bang for the buck than Salesforce Group Edition. Furthermore, the integration between Desk.com and SalesforceIQ gives SMBs a cost-effective way to improve their customers’ experience, and level the playing field against larger companies in today’s increasingly social, omnichannel world.

Salesforce’s ecosystem is also a huge plus for SMBs that are already Salesforce customers. The AppExchange makes it easier for SMBs to find apps that will work well with Salesforce, and reduce potential integration issues. Meanwhile, Trailhead is one of the most fun training programs I’ve seen in the business applications space.

But, Salesforce will need to do more if it really wants to become an SMB mainstay. First, of all, Salesforce needs to improve SMB segmentation and understanding. Sure, it gets those Silicon Valley startups, but it needs a deeper understanding of the broader SMB landscape and their diverse attitudes and requirements.

This leads to my next point, which is that the broader swath of SMBs still need a lot of business and conceptual education about how and why sales, marketing and customer service are changing, and what they need to do to succeed amidst these changes. Salesforce paved the way in educating SMBs about the big picture benefits of the cloud, it should have the same lofty goals in terms of educating them about the new customer journey.

In addition, Salesforce says that there is “a clear migration path” from SalesforceIQ to Sales Cloud. While it sounds like Salesforce can easily migrate data from SalesforceIQ to Sales Cloud, the applications are built on different code bases, and have different user interfaces. So its not intuitive as to how this works in real life in terms of user learning curves. As important, what is the strategy for all of the ISVs on the AppExchange that target SMBs? They’ve integrated with Sales Cloud offerings, not with SalesforceIQ. Since Salesforce is now pitching SalesforceIQ to SMBs, what do they need to do, and how will Salesforce help them? Another question is how does Lightning—and Thunder for that matter—fit into the SMB story?

That said, as evidenced at this event, Salesforce is listening, and is formulating plans to increase investments to educate and engage SMBs both locally and online. While engaging the broad SMB market is never easy, Salesforce has the right attitude, and the brand and budget to create a wider lens through which it can gain the pulse on SMBs it needs to capture SMB attention and market share.

Note: Salesforce hosted me at Dreamforce and paid for my travel expenses. 

SMB Group’s 2016 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends

Foggy Crystal Ball-128x128Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2016! A more detailed description of each follows below. (Note: SMB Group is the source for all research data quoted unless otherwise indicated.)

  1. SMBs That Make the Business-Technology Performance Connection Outpace Their Peers.
  2. The Battle for Self-Employed Workers Heats Up.
  3. SMBs Tune in to IoT Possibilities.
  4. Public Cloud Is a Done Deal, but Cloud Variants Remain Hazy for SMBs.
  5. Security Remains the Elephant in the SMB Room.
  6. Mobile Solutions Occupy a Bigger Part of SMB IT Real Estate.
  7. SMBs Rethink CRM.
  8. SMBs Move Up the Cloud Analytics Curve.
  9. SMBs Streamline Internal Processes to Focus on Business Growth.
  10. More Tech Vendors Use Big Data to Provide New Business Services to SMBs.

Detailed SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2016:

  1. SMBs That Make the Business-Technology Performance Connection Outpace Their Peers. SMB success is increasingly tied to technology. SMBs that view technology as critical to improving business outcomes are outpacing their peers in terms of business growth. According to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, 29% of SMBs view technology as helping them to significantly improve business outcomes. These “progressive” SMBs are 18% more likely to forecast revenue increases than their peers. Progressive SMBs spend 29% more on technology, are 55% more likely to have fully integrated primary business applications (financials, CRM, HR, etc.) and are 86% more likely to use analytics than their counterparts. By using technology to streamline workflows, slash time spent on repetitive data entry and inefficient processes, gain better insights into opportunities and threats, and create new business models, progressive SMBs are well positioned to tap into new customer requirements, improve customer engagement and experience, and enter new markets. As they move forward, they will continue to outpace their peers and reshape the SMB market.
  2. The Battle for Self-Employed Workers Heats Up. According to April 2015statistics from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), more than 40% of all U.S. workers are contingent, which includes the self-employed as well as temp workers, contractors, on-call workers and part-time employees. That number represents a 10% increase from the previous GAO survey in  The survey spans industries from construction to pet care, and from professional services to Uber and Lyft drivers. This trend shows no sign of abating, with the GAO predicting the percentage of self-employed workers to rise to 50% by 2020. Self-employed workers need tools to manage finances, build brands and grow their business—but they must do all this on a shoestring budget. SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that consequently, many of these workers rely on Excel spreadsheets: 40% of self-employed workers use Excel for accounting, and 85% use Excel or email (such as Outlook or Google) for sales and contact management. On average, median annual spending on technology for businesses with one employee is approximately $3,500, which includes client devices, productivity software, business software, Internet connectivity and mobile data service and device expenses. Vendors such as FreshBooks and Square have been pioneers in developing solutions specifically for self-employed workers. But more vendors, such as Intuit (with QuickBooks Self-Employed) and Sage (with Sage One), are following suit. Although the sheer market volume creates great potential, rapid scale will be required to attain and sustain profitability in this cash-constrained segment.
  3. SMBs Tune in to IoT Possibilities. The Internet has delivered its latest game changer: the Internet of things (IoT). As with the Internet innovations that preceded it, IoT presents tremendous potential for disruption—along with all of the opportunities and challenges that accompany this type of sea change. Yet IoT is still just a buzzword for most SMBs. When asked in SMB Group’s2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, “What are the top three technology areas that are most critical for your business to invest in over the next 12 months?,” IoT ranked at or near the bottom. Only 18% of small and 13% of medium business decision makers selected IoT as one of their top three priorities. But factors such as vendor education and early success stories will help SMBs better understand IoT use cases and opportunities, both to improve internal operational efficiencies and to create new product and services offerings. SMB Group research indicates that SMBs in retail, wholesale/distribution and discrete manufacturing (e.g., auto, electronic equipment) are likely to lead the SMB IoT charge. Regardless of industry, IoT solutions built to move critical, trigger-based data to the Internet (through smart gateway solutions and applications) and store less important data locally will be key to helping SMBs avoid information overload and achieve successful IoT outcomes.
  4. Public Cloud Is a Done Deal, but Cloud Variants Remain Hazy for SMBs. Cloud solutions are already part of the business fabric for most SMBs, with the adoption of cloud solutions surging across all solution areas, according to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study. In fact, the cloud is poised to overtake on-premises deployment in the next year in areas such as collaboration, file sharing and marketing automation. Cloud adoption is also growing in areas in which it has traditionally lagged: Almost one-third of SMBs planning to purchase accounting and ERP solutions say they plan to purchase a cloud offering. But for the most part, SMBs have been choosing public cloud options—despite several vendors’ vocal promotion of private and hybrid cloud alternatives. Although each variant has its pros and cons, most SMBs remain confused about what private and especially hybrid clouds are as well as when and why they should consider them. Most vendors define hybrid cloud as the integration of a public and private cloud; but because private clouds are still rarely utilized by SMBs, the hybrid cloud notion remains hazy for SMBs. Microsoft with Azure Stack for Windows Server, IBM with its Bluemix-powered “cloud everywhere” platform and Dell with Dell Cloud Manager are trying to make private and hybrid cloud options more accessible and manageable. But unless and until vendors offer more articulate, relevant and compelling alternatives, SMBs will continue to opt for the public cloud in the vast majority of cases.
  5. Security Remains the Elephant in the SMB Room. As SMBs rely more on technology to run their businesses, the requirements to secure and protect data and access become more critical and complex. SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that medium businesses rank security as their second most pressing technology challenge, while small businesses rank it as their number-one challenge. However, many SMBs feel overwhelmed, confused and completely inadequate to deal with the magnitude of the seemingly endless potential for digital security breaches that could wreck havoc on their businesses. All too often, they continue to take an outdated, ineffective, 1990s-era “whack-a-mole” approach to security, deploying point solutions to ward off the security threat du jour. However, vendors are delivering more holistic, end-to-end, risk- and rules-based solutions for SMBs. These solutions can enable them to close off the biggest vulnerabilities to their most critical corporate data, wherever it resides—whether endpoint devices, mobile apps, on-premises infrastructure and applications or the cloud. Although most SMBs will need help understanding this approach, once they do, they will be able to face and address the security elephant in a more effective way.
  6. Mobile Solutions Occupy a Bigger Part of SMB IT Real Estate. SMBs continue to turn to mobile solutions to help redefine business processes and pursue new opportunities. SMB Group’s2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study indicates 59% of SMBs view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their business. The effects of mobile adoption impact traditional IT in endless ways. For instance, 85% of SMBs see mobile apps as complementing traditional business apps; 70% believe that mobile apps will replace some of their current business applications; and 48% say their employees are doing significantly more work on mobile devices. As important, mobile solutions account for a growing share of SMB technology budgets, with median spending on mobile solutions as a percentage of total technology spending rising year-over-year. However, while they’ve been swept up in the mobile tsunami, many SMBs have yet to put mobile strategies and solutions in place to optimize their mobile investments. SMBs will need better guidance from vendors both to effectively manage and protect mobile assets and to better integrate them with traditional business applications and infrastructure.
  7. SMBs Rethink CRM. SMBs need an integrated, holistic view of their customers, but “enterprise” CRM has proved too complicated and costly for most. The good news is that vendors are crafting CRM solutions specifically designed and priced for SMBs. These solutions go beyond contact management to help SMBs improve the customer experience; compete in a social, omnichannel world; and access analytics to stay ahead of their customers’ expectations. Examples include Salesforce, which introduced Salesforce IQ as its new sales management entry point for SMBs and followed up with a free integration for SalesforceIQ withcom customer service. This combination provides sales and customer service reps with a complete view of customer interactions across sales and services. HubSpot launched Connect to integrate customer data from different applications, such as billing and payment data from FreshBooks and customer service records from Zendesk, into HubSpot, for a more complete customer view. Meanwhile, SAP rolled out SAP Anywhere & Everywhere to help SMB retailers and etailers manage sales, marketing, ecommerce and inventory activities in a more cohesive way. And Infusionsoft, which has focused on very small businesses from the start, is adding new capabilities to enable buyers to better personalize the Infusionsoft experience to their style and preferences. These vendors—and others—will help more SMBs realize that the time has come to modernize and integrate their CRM approach.
  8. SMBs Move Up the Cloud Analytics Curve. Vendors have been making big investments to build powerful yet cost-effective cloud-based analytics solutions. Designed for business users instead of data scientists, these solutions offer user-friendly interfaces, guided discovery, visualization tools and natural language capabilities to help users quickly get actionable insights from their data. For instance, IBM’s Watson Analytics minimizes the effort required to turn raw data into insight via visualizations. Users connect their data source to Watson and then query Watson about the data in plain English (or their native language). Watson then builds a dashboard or graphics so users can easily visualize the findings. It also offers a built-in predictive engine, which can, for instance, generate personalized offers based on customer preferences and purchasing histories. Another example is Tableau, which recently introduced Vizable, designed for a touch-based, mobile world. Vizable reads a spreadsheet or .csv file, determines the key categories and then displays an initial graphical view of the data that users can explore by pinching, swiping and dragging on the iPad. Vizable also offers a built-in animation engine to help users understand why results change as they manipulate the data. With clear benefits and easy access, SMBs are shifting from on-premises analytics to the cloud. This is particularly true in medium businesses, which cite analytics as the second most critical area to invest in over the next 12 months. Although most of these businesses currently use on-premises analytics solutions, among those planning to purchase or upgrade in this area, 48% plan to use cloud-based analytics solutions. This trend will strengthen in 2016, as more SMBs seek out analytics solutions that are easy to buy and use in order to stay ahead of the market and their competitors.
  9. SMBs Streamline Internal Processes to Focus on Business Growth. SMBs say that attracting new customers and growing the business are their top business goals, according to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study. Unfortunately, many SMBs waste so much time managing the daily internal grind of financial, human resources, procurement and other back-office processes that they don’t have time to focus on growth, opportunity and innovation. But SMBs in fast-growth industries such as software and biotech are role models for a more modern, automated and often cloud-based approach—one that enables them to spend less time on back-office processes and more time on decision making. In turn, early SMB adopters across the spectrum are taking note. They are replacing or foregoing outdated, disjointed back-office systems with next-generation solutions. These solutions enable them to automate drudgery and gain time-saving, visibility, collaboration and decision-making benefits that give them the flexibility to adapt to changing market requirements. As early adopters reap these advantages, pressure is mounting for SMBs that have resisted change. They will need to bite the bullet and update the way they run the business, or they will fall behind their more nimble peers.
  10. More Tech Vendors Use Big Data to Provide New Business Services to SMBs. Tech vendors are increasingly applying analytics to challenge traditional service providers in “non-IT” areas. For instance, Intuit recently launched a new financing alternative in partnership with OnDeck. The service uses small businesses’ QuickBooks accounting data to qualify applicants for lower-rate loans than those available from traditional lenders. Intuit also formed a partnership with Stride Health, which integrates Stride Health’s personalized health insurance, healthcare and compliance management within QuickBooks Self-Employed. Meanwhile, Intacct, which provides cloud ERP software, has partnered with Pacific Crest to provide SaaS businesses with real-time comparisons of their performance relative to their peers and pinpoint specific levers for improving their execution. And IBM continues to push Watson deeper into healthcare, with a planned $1 billionacquisition of medical imaging company Merge Healthcare. IBM’s intent is to apply image analytics to medical images taken by Merge, which are used in medical specialties such as radiology, cardiology and orthopedics. Big Blue also purchased the Weather Company’s digital assets (everything but the TV network). IBM will use the Weather Company’s forecasting data and technology to create services to help weather-reliant businesses to maximize profits. Because so many industries rely on weather data, the opportunities are endless. For instance, retailers need to know if they should stock up on groceries before a winter storm; farmers use weather data to maximize crop yields; and construction workers monitor the weather to determine the best times to pour concrete or operate a crane. As these types of services proliferate and become more powerful and convenient, they offer new ways for SMBs to grow and innovate.

If you are interested in learning more about licensing options for SMB Group’s 2016 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends, please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director of Client Services at lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com or 508-734-5658.

 

Are You Keeping Pace With Your SMB Customers?

The good news for tech vendors: SMBs are bullish on their own growth, and on using technology to help achieve that growth. The bad news: tech vendors may not be doing a good enough job helping SMBs understand, evaluate and buy the tech solutions that will best help their businesses.

SMB Group recently completed our 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, which provides an in-depth look at U.S. SMB (small businesses: 1-99 employees, medium business: 100-999 employees) technology adoption, the decision-making process, and the buying cycle. Among the findings, we learned that “figuring out how different technology solutions can help my business” is the number one technology challenge for small businesses, and the number three challenge for medium businesses.

Figure 1: Top Three Technology Challenges for SMBs

Slide2

SMBs need tech vendors to provide them with a more informative, consistent purchasing experience to help them punch through the confusions knothole. Though the priority rankings differ a bit between small and medium businesses, the top two asks for both small and medium businesses are for vendors to provide a consistent experience across online, mobile, offline and other channels and to more clearly articulate how the solution helps improve specific business goals. Number three for small businesses is the desire fro better real-time online chat/phone support to answer questions, while for medium businesses, its help in connecting with reference customers with similar needs.

Figure 2: Top Ways Tech Vendors Can Improve the SMB Purchasing Experience

Slide3

The “SMB market” has always been a tough nut to crack as it actually comprises many different diverse markets. In addition to standard employee size and industry segmentation, SMBs vary widely in terms of business maturity, attitudes about technology, and a host of other variables. Furthermore, it’s a very volatile market: about 50% of new businesses fail within the first five years.

Today, these age-old challenges are compounded by the fact that the digital, social and mobile revolution raising SMB buyers’ expectations of tech vendors’ across solutions, marketing, sales add service.

As competition for SMB mindshare and market share continues to rise, tech vendors will need to work smarter to earn SMB dollars. Vendors need to do a better job of understanding the intricacies of the SMB market so that they can personalize content to nurture buyers along the their journey, providing them with an informative, helpful and consistent purchasing and service experience across channels.

Please contact Lisa Lincoln at (508) 734-5658 or lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com for more information about the 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study (including a Table of Contents), or to order.

 

What Are Integrated Payment Solutions and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published January 30, 2011 in Small Business Computing)

What are Integrated Payments Solutions?

Integrated payment solutions are tools that your business can use to integrate accounting, customer relationship management (CRM) and other business applications with payments processing. By integrating payments processing with business applications, you can save time and money, reduce errors and get a better view of your business.

Why Should You Care?

Every business wants to get paid — and get paid faster. But if you are manually entering and reconciling payments with accounting, CRM or other solutions, you are wasting time with redundant data entry, and increasing the likelihood of human error. At the end of the day, you’ll probably need to spend even more time reconciling these errors so that the information is correct in both systems.

When you integrate payment processing with your business solutions, you can achieve the following:

  • Save time and reduce errors, by reducing time spent on redundant data entry and credit card verification, reconciliation and so on.
  • Save money. Time is money! In smaller companies, where one employee often wears several hats, you can re-allocate time spent on re-entering data or re-verifying credit card information to more important tasks that can help your business get ahead.
  • Gain more financial visibility and control. When you integrate payment processing information with accounting or another business solution, it’s automatically recorded in that solution, providing you with better visibility and the capability to create more up-to-date and accurate reports.
  • Improve cash flow. By closely monitoring payments, you can reduce days’ sales outstanding (DSO), and speed up the process to post receivables and improve cash flow.

When you process credit and debit card processing, there are also important security benefits. Using an integrated payments solution from a PA-DSS (Payment Application Data Security Standard) certified vendor ensures that all exchanges of payment data are secure and PCI compliant with PCI security standards, which mandate that businesses safely encrypt and store PIN numbers, CVV2 numbers and magnetic stripe data.

What to Consider

While the benefits of integrated payments solutions are clear, payments processing is often a confusing topic, for several reasons. Vendors offer solutions that tackle different pieces of the payments pie, and integrate with different software solutions and brands. Some require that you use their merchant service provider (which allows businesses to accept debit or credit card payments), while others let you choose.

Ideally, you’d might want a payments processing service that integrates everything — your accounting and CRM software, every form and method of payment you process today, and any you might conceivably want to process in the future—such as accepting payments on a mobile device. Oh, and you’d also want it be affordable on a small business budget.

A few vendors are working to develop comprehensive payment platforms for small business, but most integrated payment solutions available today tend to be point solutions. These solutions integrate a particular form or forms of payment — such as a check or credit card—using a specific device, such as a virtual terminal or a check scanner.

With that in mind, here are some recommendations as to what you’ll want to consider when considering integrated payment options:

  • Where are your highest transaction volumes coming from — credit card, paper checks, PayPal? For many small businesses, checks and/or credit cards make up the bulk of transactions. Wherever this is in your business, this is also where you probably are spending the most time verifying, re-entering and reconciling data back and forth with accounting and/or CRM. Automating and integrating the process here will provide the biggest payback.
  • What business application(s) do you most need to integrate with payments? Most companies start with accounting, because the controller or treasurer wants to not only take time out of the process, but also reduce errors and time spent reconciling payments received with invoices. But many companies also want to provide sales with a secure way to take orders, generate invoices, and accept, verify and track payments within CRM. In both cases, it makes sense to start solution evaluation with the business solutions vendors you already work with. Almost all of the major accounting and CRM vendors in the SMB market, such as Intuit, Microsoft, Salesforce, Sage, etc. have their own and/or partner to provide integrated payments solutions for their business software.
  • What level of integration and automation does the solution provide? This varies among integrated payments solutions offerings. For instance, does the solution pre-authorize, automatically accept or decline payments? Does it securely encrypt and store credit card info so that you don’t need to spend time re-entering for repeat customers? Does it print receipts, send email notifications to customers, and post back to accounting, CRM or an order fulfillment system? You may need some, all or even additional functionality.
  • Is the solution PA-DSS certified? PA-DSS (Payment Application Data Security Standard) certification means that all exchanges of payment data are secure and PCI compliant–particularly important for processing credit or debit card transactions.
  • Can you choose your merchant service provider, or do you have to use theirs? Since credit card processing rates differ, and really add up if you process a lot of transactions, it’s important to find out if the integrated payments solution vendor requires that you use their merchant services, or if you can choose your own. Either way, you’ll want to make sure that you get a fair rate.

You should also think about our future business needs, and if you will need to process payment types that you currently aren’t dealing with — such as mobile payments. Look for solutions that already have these capabilities, or have them on their roadmaps so that they’re ready when you are. Integrated payments processing can help you reduce costs and improve efficiency. It’s worth it to research the options and select a solution that will help you reach these goals.

NetSuite’s SP 100 Program: An Offer VARs Can’t Refuse?

In a bold move to get traditional value-added resellers(VARs) off the SaaS fence, NetSuite announced its new Solution Provider (SP) 100 Program, which gives business application VARs 100% margin on the first year of license subscriptions they sell. The program requires a 2-year minimum license commitment from the customer, and after the first year, NetSuite pays VARs 10% margin on recurring annual license fees. Prior to this program, NetSuite had offered VARs 30% of annual license sales.

NetSuite’s SP 100 Program targets established mid-market and enterprise ERP and CRM VAR’s and consultants, including VARs selling Microsoft Dynamics, SAP, Sage, Epicor, Deltek, and others. The program is not exclusive—VARs can continue to sell their packaged business software offerings as well. NetSuite is also extending the program to it’s current solution provider partners, and it includes all other SP program perks, including sales and technical training, sales cycle assistance, and marketing support.

Background:

Since the model got off the ground over 10 years ago, SaaS vendors have argued that SaaS can open the door for VARs to create a recurring revenue stream, and free them up from low margin IT service chores to focus on generating higher value business.

But the case has evidently not been strong enough to entice the masses, for a few key reasons. First, the recurring revenue model is radically different to the conventional business applications model, where VARs earn a large upfront commission for selling a business solution, hardware and infrastructure software. Second, VARs have balked at not being able to generate income from services necessary to deploy and maintain business applications on customer premises. Third, whether real or perceived, many VARs don’t trust SaaS vendors. Deep down, they think that after they make the sale, SaaS vendors will take control of the account and soon disintermediate them entirely.

Quick Take:

NetSuite’s SP 100 Program supplies VARs with the big upfront payment that they are accustomed to. NetSuite’s own side-by-side VAR revenue comparison to Microsoft Dynamics favors NetSuite of course, but VARs can try it and do their own math to see how it proves out without having to give up selling competitive packaged software. It’s an opportunity to get up to speed on SaaS, the cloud and recurring revenue models and develop their business consulting skills.

As important, it comes at a time when the SaaS model has proved its maturity and staying power, many VARs have lost deals to a SaaS vendor, and many customers are trying to avoid big upfront capital outlays. While some VARs will remain skittish, distrustful, or even just lethargic about adding a SaaS solution to their business management portfolio, I think NetSuite’s SP 100 will be big wake-up call for many VARs.