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

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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.

Trends in SMB Collaboration, Communication, and Mobility: What’s Your Strategy?

Almost every employee in every company collaborates and communicates every day. In the past, most businesses relied primarily on email, phone systems and sticky notes to do this, but today’s technology provides us digital solutions that enable us to work anytime, anywhere.

Stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, cloud file sharing, conferencing, smartphones, tables and laptops can help employees and contractors collaborate to get work done more quickly and easily. Companies that use these solutions to automate and streamline collaboration can not only improve productivity, but also give employees more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where people they want to work. As baby boomers retire, these businesses will also be more in tune with and better able to attract and retain millennials as they enter their prime working years.

How are small and medium businesses (SMBs) thinking about and adapting to create a smarter, more agile workforce? At SMB Group, we recently surveyed 730 SMB decision-makers via our 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration & Mobility Study to find out. In our July 26 webinar, sponsored by Citrix, I’ll discuss survey findings that show that while SMBs are progressing well in some areas, there are some that they may not be paying enough attention to.

  • A majority of SMBs say they have a collaborative culture, and are getting productivity value from collaboration and communication solutions. 61% of SMBs agree/strongly agree that their company encourages and rewards collaboration; 70% agree/strongly agree that their communication and collaboration solutions help improve productivity. By incenting employees to work together, and providing them with solutions to empower them to do so more effectively, SMBs can boost productivity, job satisfaction, business outcomes and the bottom line.
  • SMBs are embracing cloud collaboration and communication solutions. A majority of SMBs already supplement staples such as email, on-premises file sharing servers and phone systems with newer, cloud-based tools for file sharing, instant messaging, and web and audio conferencing to aid collaboration. Furthermore, SMB plans to use more of these tools, and newer solutions, including video conferencing and stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, over the next 12 months. However, with so many solutions in the market, many SMBs have a hard time figuring out which ones will work best for the business. In addition, it’s easy for employees to use “unsanctioned” collaboration solutions, which can create support problems and security risks.
  • SMBs may not be making the connection between employee metrics and growth. SMBs are most likely to cite attracting new customers (51%), growing revenue (49%) and maximizing profitability (38%) as their top three business goals (Figure 1). In contrast, attracting and retaining quality employees (28%), improving productivity (19%), and creating a millennial friendly work environment (8%) are much lower down on the list. Yet empowered, productive and satisfied employees are generally a pre-requisite to creating happy customers and growing the business. SMBs can gain a competitive edge by realizing that strong employee metrics are intertwined with sustainable business growth and profitability.
  • SMBs are slow to embrace telecommuting. All SMBs surveyed have some employees that work from home on a regular basis, but telecommuting is not the norm among SMBs, with 59% indicating that 1%-10% of employees work from home regularly, and just 14% saying that more than half of their employees do so. On the bright side, 18% expect the percentage of telecommuters to rise over then next year, and 45% say that their company wants to make it easier for employees to work from home. Of course, not every job lends itself to telecommuting. But, to synch up with changing worker expectations—especially among millennials, who place a premium on flexibility—SMBs need to create a work at home strategy that aligns with both business and employee requirements.
  • More work is getting done on mobile devices, but SMBs face mobile management challenges. 67% of SMBs say that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. While the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices, especially when it comes to collaboration and social media. For instance, for collaboration apps, 37% say that they’ve decreased their use of traditional PCs and laptops—and 6% say they no longer use PCs at all for collaboration! This swing is due in part to the convenience and portability of mobile devices over traditional desktops and even many laptops, and to increasing preferences for mobile interfaces. However, SMBs face several challenges to taking full advantage of mobile, including effectively securing and managing mobile devices and apps, especially when it comes to supporting bring your own device (BYOD) programs. Since the growing preference for mobile shows no signs of abating, SMBs must update mobile strategy, devices (including laptops), services, apps and policies to create a productive yet secure and manageable mobile work environment.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals Slide1

These are just a few of the findings from the study. Please join our webinar, sponsored by Citrix, where I’ll examine these and other findings about the changing collaboration and communication landscape, and discuss the key pillars to create a strategy to improve communication, collaboration and productivity for your business.

Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part Two

canstockphoto24687951Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group, and today I’m continuing my conversation with Jason Shepherd, who is Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division. In this second post, we talk about top challenges IoT partners face, how Dell helps address these challenges, and get an update on Dell’s IoT contest. In the first post,  Jason provided an overview of Dell’s new Internet of Things division and how its partner programs are structured. In this one, I’m following up to hear about your meeting with Dell IoT partners recently to talk about their challenges. What did you learn?

Jason: Yes, we had our first IoT partner round table, with over 30 different ISV partners, to have an open discussion about their challenges and what they need to accelerate in the market. (see one attendee’s perspective here). We found that their number one challenge, after security–or in some cases, even before security–is data integration. They are looking for hardware solutions, such as Dell’s Edge Gateway 5000 Series to provide a foundation for normalizing all the different fragmented data standards in the field.

Another top challenge is making end users aware of the potential of IoT, helping them to understand potential ROI (return-on-investment) for a solution, and convincing them to take that first step to deploy. So in addition to helping partners on the technology side, partners also want Dell’s help with marketing use cases, case studies, solution blueprints and other assets that help demonstrate ROI and show customers IoT’s potential.

We’ve found that Dell’s perspective about starting small and building fast for IoT is really resonating. There’s a lot of big talk about IoT, and that can be overwhelming. Dell’s approach is practical, to help people first connect existing systems and solve an immediate problem, and then build from there. And then of course, being able to incorporate security and management tools that IT is familiar with helps our OT-focused partners gain credibility and overcome potential IT hurdles. Also, partners need help to connect with other partners. At the end of the day IoT is a partnership game.

Dell’s focus on edge gateways, combined with providing credibility and visibility are really critical, especially for smaller innovators in this space. The other thing that came out of it was having quality hardware. Something in the sweet spot between maker-grade and boutique product that’s purpose-built for these industrial use cases but affordable, that they can really trust and rely on. They’re looking to us to help with that.

Laurie: Can you talk more specifically about the kinds of support you give them?

Dell’s IoT lab in Singapore

Dell’s IoT lab in Singapore

Jason: Yes. We have certification and sales engineers that work with partners to go help them build on Dell technologies, and we have Dell IoT Labs around the globe (Santa Clara, Limerick and Singapore). Partners and customers can bring in their own technology to prove out their solutions on Dell technology.

As partners build solid use cases for their solutions, we can help them create blueprints, ROI proof points, and go to market plans to jointly pursue opportunities.

Laurie: Do you do that on an individual basis?

Jason: Yes, and as Dell and its partners mature together and IoT use cases become even more repeatable, we can develop focused solution bundles complete with sensors, infrastructure and software. We won’t be able to do this for highly complex scenarios but it’s certainly foreseeable that we can create bundles for things like a remote monitoring solution for a data center, a predictive maintenance solution for a machine, a quality control system for the end of a manufacturing line, or a building automation solution for a small retail space. Reducing complexity through solution bundles is where you really start to enable scale or deploying IoT solutions.

Laurie: Do you foresee Dell building sensors?

Jason: We’re do not plan to make sensors, but in time we will certify partner sensors to work with Dell Gateways, the rest of our infrastructure and enabling technologies, and offerings from our key software partners.

Laurie: Okay. So, what are some of your favorite partner stories?

arrow logoJason: One is Arrow Electronics, which we showcased at Dell World last fall. Arrow has a warehouse in Phoenix, with eight business units using the facility and power. They all just split the power bill at the end of the month, because they couldn’t determine who was using how much. Arrow, their system integration division, and OSIsoft, which is a well-recognized leader of data historian software with their PI platform, teamed up with Wireless Glue, a startup that provides gateway middleware for connecting to industrial sensor protocols. They all came together to build a solution to instrument the warehouse and create dashboards and analytics of the power consumption. which is a great example of how different partners with different capabilities can join forces to solve a problem. And now that Arrow has the IoT infrastructure in the warehouse they can look at other things they can do to add value. For example, it could be something like making their forklifts more effective, or doing indoor location tracking for pallets and other assets in the warehouse.

Laurie: So the light bulb goes on and they start to look at other use cases.

Jason: Yes, once you have that infrastructure you can start to riff off of it and do new things. It’s a classic example of starting with a focused problem—not trying to do too much at once. Fix the core problem and then grow from there, which is right in line with our message of starting small and building fast

Inex logoAnother example is INEX IoT Impact Labs, in New Bedford, MA, is focused on accelerating and improving how small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in the community learn about and gain value from the Internet of Things (IoT). Dell,  IoT IMPACT LABS’ parent INEX Advisors, Analog Devices, BCC, Foley and Lardner LLP, and PTC Inc. have teamed up to create this IoT solutions hub with many of the end users being fisheries or farms–small businesses in small cities, which don’t have the IT expertise or resources to take advantage of IoT on their own. The Lab is working to field-test, document and commercialize the most efficient and effective approaches to IoT so that SMBs can deploy solutions to level the playing field and help them compete more effectively.

Laurie: Yes, INEX is very interesting, this video does a great job of telling their story. One last question for you: How is the Dell Internet of Things contest shaping up?

Jason: Really well. Solution designs had to be submitted by March 31 and we received more than 120 submissions worldwide from a mix of current Dell customers, ISVs, developers, systems integrators, entrepreneurs and channel partners. Across all different sizes and industries, in different verticals–from universities and schools to hospitals to financial services to food distributors. All are interested in building solutions on top of our new Edge Gateway and with other Dell technologies. We’re seeing use cases that we’ve never even thought of, which is what’s really exciting about bringing this community together in this way.

Laurie: How will you select winners?

Jason: We’ll be looking for solutions that are really innovative, and also have strong market viability, balancing technology, implementation, and go to market opportunities.

Laurie: When will the contest be judged and winners announced?

Jason: Judging is underway and it’s going to be tough to pick the winners. I anticipate in the May-June timeframe we’ll start to announce the winners. There will be 16 prizes, and the total prize value is $600,000.

Laurie: I’m sure you’ll get some really creative entries, please keep me posted! Maybe we can do a follow up about the winners. And thanks again for taking time to dive into Dell’s IoT program with me.

This is the second of a two-part blog series on Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division and partnership programs, sponsored by Dell.

 

Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part One

Laurie:  Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group, and today I’m talking to Jason Shepherd, who is Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division, as part one of a two-part blog series.

In this first post, we’ll discuss Dell’s IoT strategy, and how Dell has structured its IoT partner programs. In the second, we talk about the top challenges IoT partners face, how Dell helps address these challenges, and get an update on Dell’s IoT contest.

So to start, can you give me a high level overview of Dell’s IoT strategy?

Jason Shepherd, Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell's Internet of Things (IoT) division

Jason Shepherd, Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell’s Internet of Things (IoT) division

Jason: Sure. Our strategy is to be the leader in open, scalable IoT infrastructure that enables successful solution deployments. Dell is one of the few companies in the world that have a little bit of everything needed for an IoT stack. We have broad relationships and partnerships that we will continue to grow to accelerate IoT adoption.

First, we decided that while consumer IoT is interesting, our focus is on commercial and industrial use cases. Some high level vertical focus areas include building automation, manufacturing, and transportation.. Specific use cases include remote monitoring and control within these environments, asset management, process and quality controls, fleet management, logistics and many more.

 

Dell Edge Gateway

Dell Edge Gateway

The core purpose of IoT is performing analytics on the data that you capture to yield some benefit or ROI. But one of the biggest challenges developers face is getting to the data, especially from existing systems. So we designed Dell’s Edge Gateway 5000 Series to bridge these systems to the Internet first and allow you to connect to more new equipment as you go. Dell’s gateways can also perform analytics on data locally so only meaningful information is relayed to the data center or cloud, so you’re not flooded with noise. Our strategy is to drive intelligence and capabilities to the edge in industrial use cases so people can get the data and build value on top of it. Our edge gateways fill a critical gap in the market for purpose-built products that can reliably withstand harsh industrial environments, yet come at attractive price points and are backed by Dell’s brand and global presence and support.

The other thing that drives our strategy is the notion of fostering IT and OT (operations technology) convergence. Many times IoT solutions are purchased by a non-IT entity, whether it’s OT, facilities, or even the marketing organization. These folks can find it difficult to get the IT support they need on the network to bridge their “things,” such as equipment and sensors, to the Internet. Meanwhile, IT departments are often wary of adding more technology from brands they don’t know to their network, due to security and management concerns. Dell has been deployed in IT environments for a long time, has built strong credibility with IT, and can help bridge these conversations and foster OT and IT cooperation and convergence.

Dell IoT GatewaySo we can help OT be more successful while also calming IT’s concerns, and enable IT to manage and support these systems.

In fact, even partners that are rebranding our systems are saying, “Hey, I still want it to say ‘Built on Dell’ because it means something to IT when I bring it in.”

Laurie: Good segue to dive into specifics on Dell’s IoT partnership initiative. How is it structured and why?

Jason: Well, IoT is still in the buzz cycle. It’s early in terms of what it represents, and the landscape is really fragmented. There are many different platforms and solutions, which is great, but can also make it difficult for customers and solution providers to navigate.

In addition, many partner programs out there are structured like traditional channel programs, in which partners that pay more are in higher tiers and get preferential treatment and visibility. We think the IoT market is too immature for the typical partner program approach where partners pay fees. Even just certifying products is tricky when these solutions are so complex.

Dell’s IoT partner program does have multiple tiers, Executive, Associate and Registered, but tiers are based on the partner’s ability to perform in the market. We want to help customers find the right partners, versus just throwing everybody into a big bucket and seeing what happens. With this structure, we can help reduce some of the fragmentation problem. We curate Dell’s IoT partnerships based on factors such as maturity, solution value and differentiation, and will add mechanisms to help partners move up in status.

For instance, our entry-level Registered partners are doing very interesting things that warrant us helping them drive awareness, but we haven’t had enough experience with their solution to broadly recommend them into Dell’s customer base. Moving up, partners at our Associate tier offer more differentiated and proven solutions, whether through great integration, scalability, established channels or other factors. Highly strategic companies that offer clear differentiation, best in class solutions, and a proven ability to execute are in our top Executive tier.

Laurie: So, there’s room for the new innovators.

Jason: Absolutely, the main point is that we don’t allow providers that haven’t yet proven themselves to pay their way into more prominent placement, because this wouldn’t help end-customers make a good decision about who to work with. Instead, partners are vetted on ability to execute and overall maturity. It’s definitely more of a lift for Dell, but it’s a better service to the end customers. It’s by merit and demonstrated ability to solve customer problems, including providing support after the sale.

Laurie: What other partner attributes are relevant to Dell in the IoT space?

Jason: Since much of our initial go to market strategy is based on our new purpose-built edge gateways, our initial focus has been on partners that build software platforms that leverage gateways in their solutions. Another partner type are makers of cloud platforms that don’t have a strategy for edge data integration and analytics today, but realize that they need one because you can’t send all of your IoT data to the cloud because it gets expensive. For these cloud platform partners, we can bridge to the edge and provide value there. We’re also building partnerships with pure-play visualizataion providers and analytics companies that complement other partners and our own Dell Statistica offering with capabilities such as stream processing, video analytics and artificial intelligence.

Laurie: So, these different types of providers could be laid out across the different tiers based on maturity and strategic importance?

Jason: Yes. The one exception is with security tools. Dell has a broad security portfolio that IT trusts, but we’re always on the lookout for new solutions that address some of the net-new challenges at the edge. But we are not adding entry-level security partners – companies are either offering strategic value or they’re not. We take security very seriously.

Laurie: Makes sense! So, why are partners choosing to work with Dell in the IoT area?

Jason: Many IoT providers will participate in multiple partner programs. But Dell is attractive for a few reasons. First, we have a very broad customer base, and we’re very in tune with our customer needs. Even at the entry partnership level, when we flat-out set expectations that we will not recommend or directly sell the partner’s solution, they want to work with us to gain visibility. Being tied to the Dell brand, and the IT credibility that we talked about, and our global presence and support, are key. Many IoT innovators are very small, so this credibility really helps them. In addition, partners like that we provide choice and we’re open in how we do things.

People also like that Dell has such a strong hardware base, providing something tangible to attach their software to. Many partners are looking at appliance-type IoT models. Dell has been doing that with PCs and servers for a long time, and we can also do it for IoT with the Edge Gateway Series. Through our configuration services, partners can have software pre-installed, so their customers can simply purchase gateways directly from Dell, load them on trucks, and install them in the field. We also have ISV partners that are OEMs. They use our hardware and sell their own branded solution. Of course, there’s also attraction to the potential for co-marketing and joint selling. But, like I said, we can’t do that for everybody. We would only do that for people further up in the tiers.

This is the first of a two-part blog series on Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division and partnership programs, sponsored by Dell.

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.  

 

 

The Top Five Warning Signs That You’ve Outgrown Your Accounting Solution

Does your business have the tools it needs to support business growth? Or are the systems you’re using holding your business back?

I recently participated in a webinar, Keeping Ahead of Change, with Sage’s VP of Product Marketing, Diane Haines. We discussed a common dilemma that many SMBs face. While today’s business environment offers SMBs plenty of opportunities to innovate and grow, many find themselves unprepared because they’re still relying on software solutions that worked when they were very small, but can no support business growth.

Accounting software is often the first business software small businesses buy. Many times, small business owners opt for the least expensive or easiest accounting solution they can find, and add new software to help with other functions as needed.

Tacking on point solutions, spreadsheets and manual workarounds can get the job done for a while. But, as businesses grow, they become more complicated (Figure 1). You hire more employees, and create more offerings. Different regulatory requirements start kicking in, and maybe you are in more markets. Business growth and profitability are still extremely important priorities, but other issues start coming to the forefront.

Figure 1: As Businesses Grow, Challenges Change

Slide1

At a certain point, solutions that used to work no longer fit your needs. Trying to manage a growing business with a jumble of different solutions, spreadsheets and pencil and paper creates a drag on the business, and you wind up spending too much time just keeping up with the day-to-day. As a result, it’s tough to be proactive, and to take advantage of new opportunities to grow in a scalable way.

The top five warning signs that the software you’re using today may be holding your business back include:

  1. Too Much Time, Too Many Errors. Accounting software is supposed to make running the business easier. But if you’ve outgrown the solution, you’re probably spending too much time creating “customized” reports outside the accounting software for things like billing, payments, and sales forecasts. Users may have to re-enter info into different programs and documents, and have to update and reconcile multiple spreadsheets–which is not only time-consuming, but greatly increases the risk of errors.
  1. Poor Visibility Into Data for Decision-Making. All businesses need to track and measure metrics and key performance indicators, but many struggle to do this efficiently. Many SMBs feel like they’re in information overload. You have plenty of data, but can’t find the right data when you need it, or it’s difficult to pull the data into a unified view to see how different aspects of the business work together. For instance, it may take days or weeks to generate reports required by different stakeholders, or take too long to close the books. Without a more comprehensive business management system that automates and integrates information across the business, it becomes more difficult to manage, measure and make the right decisions as a business grows.
  1. Everyone Has Their Own Version of the Truth. When people rely on different spreadsheets and reports, generated with different data from different systems, they can end up with very different views of what’s going on and what actions they need to take. When this happens, decision-makers can waste precious time reconciling these different views and finding common ground to base decisions on.
  1. Insufficient Time/Resources To Grow the Business. When you spend too much time on day-to-day business processes, its tough to carve out the time and resources to do things that will really move the business ahead, such like upgrading front end sales and marketing to attract new customers, or improving customer service so existing customers become repeat customers advocates for your business.
  1. Poorly Equipped for Business Expansion. If you are looking to expand your business to new countries, you need to be able to track exchange rates, convert currencies and consolidate financials across the business, and the entry-level accounting software you have can’t easily accommodate this. Similarly, if you want to add new product or services, or add a direct B2C channel to supplement your B2B business, things can get cumbersome and clunky if you have to use a lot of workarounds.

If any of these top five warning signs sound familiar, its time to think about how you can manage your business in a more automated, integrated and sustainable way. But change can be hard, even when the need to change is clear. Tune into the Keeping Ahead of Change webinar to learn more about these challenges, how a more complete business management solution can benefit your business, and advice for how to how to start managing your business in a more automated, integrated manner so you’ll be ready for opportunity when it knocks.

 

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

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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

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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.

 

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