Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

April 9, 2015

Infusionsoft ICON15: Inspiration and Automation for Small Business Marketing

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe and I’m here today for SMB’s Spotlight with Greg Head, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Infusionsoft. We’re at the ICON 2015 event, which is Infusionsoft’s annual user conference. It’s been a blast so far and I’d like to learn more about it, but Greg, could you start just by telling us a little bit about what Infusionsoft, and about the company in general?
Greg: Well, Infusionsoft is the leading sales and marketing software for small businesses and the company has been around for just over 12 years. It started as a small business that turned into a startup that turned into a growth company. And now it’s one of the largest software companies, with 30,000 small business customers. We serve exclusively small businesses and we have over 600 employees and thousands of partners.
Laurie: And located here in the Phoenix area?
Greg: Yes, located here in Phoenix where we started.
Laurie: Okay, and just to clarify when you say small business–because we know as analysts when people say small business they could mean a thousand different things–what’s small business for Infusionsoft?
Greg: Well, we serve small businesses that have up and running businesses. That are full time and have employees and are still owner operated, which means most of our customers have 25 employees and of that most have fewer than 10. That’s where most small businesses reside, but there’s the mid-market of hundreds employees and on up that we are not involved with at all.
Laurie: Okay, that’s good clarification. So tell us about ICON. This is the third year I’ve been here so I’m very familiar, that it’s a great event, but who is it for? What are the goals for the event?
Greg: ICON is our annual conference for users and partners, and now other small businesses that want to join in on all the learning and keynote speakers and so forth. So it’s here at the Phoenix Convention Center, we outgrew the conference room and then hotel rooms and the largest hotel in Phoenix. It’s kind of a movement that’s been happening and now there are over 3500 people here this week. Here exclusively to talk about small business growth, small business sales and marketing, some on how to use Infusionsoft better, that’s definitely part of it. You can be here for three days and attend very valuable sessions and keynotes on these topics.
Laurie: Yes, we will post a link to where people can get more information about the sessions.
Greg: Excellent.
Laurie: So, can you tell me a little bit more about the Infusionsoft solution, what does it do for small businesses? Why do they use it? What benefits do they get out of it?
Greg: Yeah, the main thing, is that our solution is the small business CRM, the contact management, the customer database, and the marketing capabilities from web forms, to emails, and all the automation needed make things go–because small business owners need to make things go.
Laurie: Right.
Greg: And ecommerce to transact online, it’s all in one system. So we help small businesses that are growing and have customers, leads in their funnel coming off the website and Facebook, the new digital funnel has exploded.
Laurie: Right. Exactly.
Greg: Most small businesses have a dozen different tools to capture leads over here and to sell something online over here. So Infusionsoft is the one system that can organize all of that.
Laurie: And to automate it.
Greg: Yeah, once you are organized you can actually automate. You can set it up to start doing things for you that we used to have to do manually.
Laurie: Right.
Greg: And that’s driving a lot of small businesses crazy.
Laurie: Yes, because you can’t keep up with the follow up and the other things that you need to do on that one off basis in a small company. Well, even in a large company it just doesn’t scale. So if you don’t automate it…
Greg: Yeah, but big companies, for instance, at Infusionsoft, we have IT resources, technology, and money to throw at it. Small businesses need one system that’s going to run and help to do that.
Laurie: Yes, absolutely, and I think that as a small business, that you got to have the inspiration, the perspiration, but then you need automation because if you don’t have that you know that perspiration factor just shoots right up.
Greg: Yeah, that’s right.
Laurie: And you’re killing yourself before long with that. And that gets on to my next question, which is for many small businesses, unless they are sales and marketing coaches, or something like that, sales and marketing is an intimidating thing. Putting yourself out there, fear of rejection and everything else. So when you counsel people about some of the basics, things they should look at when you’re thinking, “Okay how do I take sales and marketing in my company to the next level? Or I realize that my revenues are flat, or my revenues are declining, so I’ve got to do something. Where is the right place to start?” How should they think about tactics, strategy, that kind of thing?
Greg: Well, most small business owners don’t think about it separately, it’s part of what they do, and they’re in the firefight. So the first thing is when we help them, it’s a function of where they are in the stage of their business. Maybe they’ve just quit their job, and now they have the business up and running, and getting sales going for the first time. Or maybe they have some revenues and they’re trying to grow figure out tactics to make it work, and 10 or 20 employees, you’ve got different types of issues there. But primarily small businesses jump right into the tactics to go get people to talk to, to sell or convert online. So they run right into the tactical mode, and that’s where all the beginning is. They have a hard time taking a step back and looking how to optimize all that.
Laurie: Their real objectives are how they are going to measure the improvement?
Greg: Yeah, again they get a little stuck because they are peddling so fast, and they don’t look at the biggest thing underneath of all of that is distinguishing the right market for their products and services. At first everybody goes out and tries to sell to everybody but after a while, you have to start narrowing it down, to the ones who are your best customers and prospects.
Laurie: So I know you have a lot of tools to help people use the Infusionsoft solution, do you also have services to help them figure out those bigger picture things?
Greg: Yeah, well small businesses need help and between our partners and us we help them get Infusionsoft set up and get the system running and helping in their business, and we’re also advising them tactically where they should be spending time to plug the hole. Our partners do consulting as well to help small businesses figure out their marketing strategy. At ICON, over half of the speaking sessions are not about the tactical, day-to-day tactics. We are also trying to help them with ways to think about the business, and how to get through the next hurdle in the business. While businesses get to a once place, then it’s a struggle to get to the next level.
Laurie: Yeah, getting stuck and then unstuck.
Greg: So getting unstuck is a major part of what people get from coming to Infusionsoft, for a few days seeing some other possibilities and getting some tactical help to help bridge some of those gaps.
Laurie: Yeah, I like because we all get stuck in our own ruts. S one last question for you really. For you, what are the most exciting highlights here at ICON?
Greg: Well it’s a big deal for us when we get to be with all of the people that we serve. That’s why we’re here, and we get to hear all the small business stories about the stuck and unstuck. We appreciate that and all the challenges small businesses face. Some of our customers get on stage and tell their stories, and that’s a big part of what we do here. We’re continuing to grow, this is a major movement. And we’re announcing new capabilities in our product and the Infusionsoft payments to make getting paid easier and simpler, and more.
Laurie: Right, so once customers are ready to buy, you can easily process the payment.
Greg: Well, big companies, other departments handle the function of getting paid.
Laurie: We all want to get paid, right? I think that should be a good program, and you also introduced some new things to help them get started more quickly?
Greg: Yeah, there are new resources, we keep improving the resources we have for small business owners, starting with Infusionsoft get started and learn more about the concept that they may or may not know. So that’s part of our help center, and our kick-start services that we offer. And we are always making the software easier because we know small businesses have a passion, and they don’t want to spend all day reading manuals and learning to use something. You know most small business owners are focused on something else. So we try to make it easier to focus on the things that they do, and to get back the time and passion and growth in their lives. Families all that stuff that they thought they’re going to get more of, but didn’t really work out that way, so that’s why we’re here.
Laurie: This has been a great synopsis of Infusionsoft and ICON. Thanks Greg, so much.
Greg: Thank you very much.

See ICON15 event highlights here

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June 10, 2012

NetSuite SuiteCommerce: Transforming Commerce Solutions and User Experience

 Last week I had the opportunity to attend NetSuite

SuiteWorld 2102 in San Francisco. One of the most notable announcements was the launch of NetSuite’s new SuiteCommerce Commerce-as-a-Service (CaaS) platform for B2B and B2C businesses.

The SuiteCommerce offering is designed for e-tailers, retailers and other companies that sell online and provides these businesses with multi-channel platform which is integrated with NetSuite’s core ERP system. This gives companies a unified front-end to manage their various digital sites and brick-and-mortar stores, connected to their ERP to provide a single system of record for history of customers across channels. According to NetSuite, SuiteCommerce will help businesses to:

  • More easily customize web page content and integrate information into back-end financial systems
  • Tailor eCommerce solutions to the requirements of mobile, machine-to-machine (M2M) and social networking platforms
  • Enhanced social networking solutions through integrations that augment the platform with social functionality such as social ratings, reviews, personalized product recommendations and conversations

NetSuite will offer two SuiteCommerce options:

  • The Mid-market version targets businesses with smaller product catalog of products and services. The Mid-market suite starts at $1,999 per month and is available now.
  • The Enterprise version is aimed at larger companies and is designed to handle a more extensive product catalog of products and services. The Enterprise version at $3,999 per month and will be available in August 2012.

The vendor also announced a roster of SuiteCommerce partners, including Square, Stripe, Acquia, Bazaarvoice, MyBuys, Velaro and Shotfarm that have developed apps that integrate with the platform. In addition, it announced partnerships with the creative agencies that can help companies design their sites to optimize SuiteCommerce capabilities. These partners, agencies and VARs can extend the SuiteCommerce platform using NetSuite’s SuiteCloud development platforms and SuiteApps.

Perspective

The timing of this announcement couldn’t be better.

Technology trends are converging to create a perfect storm in the world of commerce—one that empowers customers and raises the bar for companies to meet new, more demanding customer expectations. Social media empowers customers with information from friends and other unfiltered sources. Mobile devices are
facilitating this trend, making it possible to research and shop for products and services anytime and anywhere. Cloud computing and ecommerce are blurring the boundaries between brick-and-mortar and online commerce stores, creating an imperative for merchants to provide consistency and visibility across channels.

This has created an environment where customers expect more from businesses throughout the commerce cycle. They want anywhere, anytime, any-device access to multiple sources for information gathering, product and service evaluation, selection, purchasing and customer service. As a result, merchants need to anticipate what the customer wants, automate and personalize customer interactions, and enable the customer to do business where, when and how he or she wants.

NetSuite’s introduction of SuiteCommerce is designed to help businesses meet these elevated customer expectations. NetSuite has had an integrated eCommerce offering for years, an almost 2,800 of its customers run their web sites and storefronts on NetSuite. However, SuiteCommerce is intended to go beyond the commerce experience to integrate social, mobile and other customer touch points.

As NetSuite’s CEO Zach Nelson noted in his remarks at the event, “Over the past decade, NetSuite has transformed how our customers operate their businesses internally. Over the next decade, NetSuite will transform how businesses operate with other businesses and with their customers through NetSuite Commerce as a Service.”

In addition, SuiteCommerce strengthens NetSuite’s “one system of record” integrated suite story, which is a good one in the mid-market. SMB Group’s research finds that “integrating different applications” is a significant challenge (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top Technology Challenges in Medium Businesses


Source: SMB Group 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study

The SuiteCommerce offering also aligns with the direction NetSuite announced at last year’s SuiteWorld event, when it unveiled plans to move up from its SMB lineage (that harkens back to its NetLedger days) to pursue the upper end of midsize business, a two-tier strategy in the large enterprise space, and select industry markets.

SMBs increasingly see that customer-facing mobile applications can help them grow revenue, attract and retain customers, and keep up with the competition. SMBs are using both mobile-friendly web sites and mobile apps to offer functionality to foster this interaction, as shown on Figure 2. Regardless of whether SMBs are employing a mobile-friendly web site, mobile apps, or both, what are the top capabilities that they are providing to external audiences? And what do they plan to add in the next 12 months?

Figure 2 Business Functions Available/Planned Via a Mobile-Friendly Web Site/Mobile App.


Source: SMB Group,
2012 Small and Medium Mobile Business Solutions Study

Mid-market businesses are increasingly enabling mobile apps to access line-of-business functions to conduct business with customers, prospects, partners and suppliers. Mobile support in SuiteCommerce will enable significant new revenue opportunities for NetSuite SuiteCommerce VARs and service providers.

Quick Take

The large number of customers and partners in attendance at SuiteWorld 2012 seemed excited about SuiteCommerce and NetSuite’s direction to help transform from the core internally-focused business application into an integrated, commerce-aware business platform. I talked to several NetSuite VARs at the event, most of them were very excited about the comprehensive easy-to-use solution multi-channel commerce solution.

NetSuite’s ability to get both developer and creative partners for the SuiteCommerce launch bodes well, as these are the applications and services that will bridge the last mile for many customers.

SuiteCommerce currently offers good mobile capabilities to mid-market businesses. However, SMBs increasingly see that customer-facing mobile applications can help them grow revenue, attract and retain customers, and keep up with the competition. NetSuite should look at developing some core mobile apps that integrate with SuiteSommerce, these apps can me customized by the VARs and offered to mid-market business providing significant competitive advantage to the SuiteCommerce platform.

There has been a significant rise in demand for social networking capabilities in mid-market businesses. On the social side NetSuite has already enabled the platform for social networking. Several of the social solutions partners help complete the solution to provide a comprehensive social solution.

One question that remains unanswered, however (although asked by analyst Brian Sommer and explored in NetSuite SuiteWorld Part 1: The Big Points | ZDNet), is how NetSuite will help companies crunch through, manage and make sense the massive amounts of new, external and transactional data that they will be bringing in. While big data, HANA, Hadoop and in memory databases are still fuzzy concepts for many, major players (IBM, Oracle, SAP, etc.) will get better at articulating what it means–and their solutions. And as NetSuite turns further upmarket, the pressure will build for it to have a solid and well-crafted big data strategy.

April 2, 2012

IBM Smarter Commerce for Midsize Businesses – Future Trends

—by Laurie McCabe, SMB Group, in partnership with Brent Leary, CRM Essentials  

To help companies understand IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the final post in the series.

Empowered customers are reshaping business today. They want a consistent experience between all channels.

They compare notes and instantly share. And they can champion a brand or sully a reputation with the click of a mouse. In response to these trends, IBM Smarter Commerce helps companies manage and adapt their commerce processes, putting the customer at the center of their operations.

For this post, we had the opportunity to talk to Alisa Maclin, Vice President, IBM Smarter Commerce Marketing. We asked her about IBM’s views on some of the more nascent trends in this area that may not yet be on the radar for most midsize businesses–but have the potential to create significant shifts in how companies conduct commerce.

Q. While it may have been difficult to predict how radically social media or the rise of smartphones and tablets would affect commerce a few years ago, what are some of the technology trends likely to have a dramatic impact on commerce in the next 5 years or so?

A: We believe that the speed of technological innovation and consumer adoption will continue to accelerate for the next five years and beyond. This acceleration is driving entirely new business models that are changing the landscape between buyers and sellers. The traditional models of B2B and B2C will need to leverage technology to continue to improve efficiencies, while adapting to new models such as Social and Facebook Commerce. The empowered and connected consumer is driving the “consumerization” of business and the empowered citizen is increasingly digitally engaged and networked. For small and medium sized businesses, the opportunity to embrace technology and the connected consumer is now.

Q: Is there a difference in what B2B and B2C businesses need to think about and do?

A: Yes and no, the lines separating B2B and B2C models are blurring. The empowered consumer looks for the same benefits of mobile and social technologies whether they are at work or at home or on the go. The result is a connected ‘consumer’ that has access to information looking to engage in new ways and do business both locally and globally to meet their needs.

B2B companies need to optimize their digital operations and transform how products and services are created, marketed, sold, delivered and serviced. For example, the influence of ‘self service’ is universal in both B2C and B2B, with 56% of customers demanding increased self service when they do business with a company, according to Forrester Research in 2011. And, B2C companies need to really look at mobile and social as a ‘must have’ to compete and win their customers and keep them coming back.

Q: In addition to the impact of emerging technology, what other trends–economic, social, regulatory, etc.– do you see happening in the future that will impact how companies buy, market, sell and service?

A: Economic realities affect how companies operate, especially across the value chain. As the number of supply chain partners increases, the need for accurate, time-sensitive information becomes more acute. Many companies will turn to business intelligence and analytics on key control point indicators, such as orders versus forecasts and inventory in transit versus in stock, to move from “sense-and-respond” to “predict-and-act” organizations.

From a regulatory perspective, product lifecycle traceability in consumer products and other industries is a growing requirement. As product lifecycle traceability in many industries is becoming a major concern, the use of smart devices is likely to become more prevalent for tagging products wherever they are, as well as the containers and modes that are transporting them.

Q: How do you envision these changes affecting midsize businesses? What should they do to prepare and take advantage of them?

A: These changes will impact businesses of all sizes. No business is immune, and those that think they are will find themselves at a disadvantage. Midsize businesses can start to put the customer – the empowered customer – at the center of their commerce processes by taking these steps toward Smarter Commerce:

  • Listen to their clients to better understand and anticipate customer behavior and turn insight into action.
  • Adapt their sourcing of goods and services with a focus on customer demand, and orchestrate seamlessly among their trading partners and suppliers to serve that demand.
  • Personalize marketing and selling to your customers as much as possible and keep them coming back for more.
  • Evaluate service processes and learn from customers’ behavior to predict and take action.

Q. Do you think Smarter Commerce provides midsize companies a way to level the playing field–by helping them to establish a “virtual presence” in other countries without the physical infrastructure or physical presence?

A: Yes, in a flat world and global access at our fingertips – companies of any size can compete to win. But, just putting a virtual presence out there will not be enough. The key is customer satisfaction, which is tied directly to profitability. Data shows that for every customer who complains of poor service a company loses 10. And, it costs 6 to 7 times more to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one.

The way to stand out will be to incorporate customer-centricity into all your commerce processes. This is not a new concept… but in today’s marketplace it is the difference between thriving and going out of business.

Q: What are some of the things IBM is doing to help midsize companies stay ahead of the curve?

A: You’ll find that much of what we’re doing with our Smarter Commerce initiative is designed to help companies of all sizes to address these market changes. It focuses on three areas organizations need to address – customer insight, strategy and engagement. Companies need deep insight into customer behavior and needs – and the ability to anticipate and predict behavior to take immediate action. This insight, in turn, should drive the development and refinement of their customer value strategy – how to enhance, extend – and redefine value as viewed by the customer – and, the key here, is to do it profitably. And, finally, using that strategy to build customer engagement.

IBM works closely with its Business Partner network to drive this kind of change in the midmarket. For example, working with IBM Business Partner ExactTarget, Skymall was able to deliver more targeted e-mails using analytics-driven behavioral insights. This resulted in recapturing 3-5% of potentially lost revenue from abandoned carts, and helped Skymall to grow email-generated sales by 34%. Another example is RiverPoint, a systems integration consulting firm and IBM Business Partner. They helped The Society of Critical Care run more effective marketing campaigns. Combining IBM’s enterprise marketing management (EMM) software platform with RiverPoint’s best practices EMM consulting has enabled the client to experience a 2.4% positive change in membership attrition in the first year.

This is the final post in a series examining the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. For more information about how IBM Smarter Commerce is transforming midsize companies’ approach to commerce, visit http://www-01.ibm.com/finder/businesscenter/us/en/its_commerce_topic.wss%5D

February 1, 2012

What Can We Learn From This Year’s Holiday Season?

—by Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the fourth post in the series.

Christmas 2011 is a great example of Smarter Commerce in action. It’s a lesson in why businesses need to transform the way they market and sell their products and services. According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for the 2011 holiday season increased 4.1 percent year-over-year to $471.5 billion, beating its expectation of 3.8 percent growth. And while the overall numbers probably made for a pleasant holiday for the industry as a whole, what was happening online was astounding:

  • US online holiday shopping season reaches a record $37.2 billion, up 15 Percent vs. 2010 – a rate of increase almost 4X higher than the overall rate for retail.
  • A post-holiday 2011 retail study from Kabbage, Inc. focusing on small-to-medium online merchants found 69% of respondents reporting increased sales. On average, study participants experienced a 32% hike in sales compared to the 2010 season.
  • As late as one week before Christmas 2011, one-quarter of consumers hadn’t even started holiday shopping. (Consumer Reports)
  • 93% of retailers have offered free shipping at some point during the season vs. 85% last year. (USA Today)
  • The 2011 US Holiday Season edition of the ForeSee Results E-Retail Satisfaction Index of the top forty Internet retailers increased by a point from 78 to 79 (on a scale of 1-100)
  • Almost one in four retail searches online on Christmas Day were made using mobile phones or tablet devices, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
  • The number of adults in the United States who own tablets and e-readers nearly doubled from mid-December to early January, according to a new Pew Research study. (New York Times)

Technology’s Impact on Behavior Is Accelerating

The world is changing. While still a fraction of the overall sales figures, ecommerce is growing at a much faster rate than traditional retail. And not just for the big retailers. As the Kabbage study illustrates, small and midsize online retailers enjoyed tremendous growth as well. This in part stems from the effect technology is having on the customer buying process, and the ability of companies to adapt their business processes to support online shopping.

When you think about twenty-five percent of shoppers not starting their Christmas shopping until after December 18th, it really hits home how the process of shopping has changed. Five to ten years ago most people still were going to multiple stores in search of ideas for things to buy, to find recommendations, compare items, and to look for deals, so they had to start their shopping efforts earlier. Now they can do most of that online – with a lot less time involved. And from the online retailer’s perspective, they leverage the latest technology not only to provide this information to online shoppers, but also to deliver the goods on time as well. Jewelry specialist Blue Nile offered free FedEx shipping guaranteed to arrive by Saturday, December 24, for all orders placed as late as 7 p.m. the day before (Friday, December 23). And other online retailers offered similar shipping capabilities.

This all adds up to shoppers more efficiently finding what they want, knowing the price they want to pay and having the confidence of getting it in time – with the added benefit of not having to wrestle with issues like parking, crowded malls, weather etc.. And as both companies and consumers accelerate their technology adoption, look for ecommerce to steadily increase its portion of the retail pie while customers leverage social and mobile to decrease the time and effort it takes to buy things.

Technology’s Impact on Behavior is Dramatically Affecting Expectations

One of the more interesting developments is how technology is impacting customer expectations as well as their behavior. Now that companies like Amazon can get items to us in two days for free, we expect this kind of service all the time. And while 93% of them did offer free shipping at some point during the holiday season, a study also showed 73% of consumers recently surveyed by MarketLive named “free returns” as a top promotion in determining their online purchasing behavior.

This is a great example of customers understanding what technology can do, and expecting vendors to find ways to leverage it to continuously improve their shopping experience. And improving the experience is crucial to keeping customers satisfied. According to the ForeSee study, satisfaction scores are important because a one-point change in website satisfaction can predict a 14% change in revenues generated on the web. And when they were highly satisfied with a purchase:

  • 64% of survey responders said they were more likely to buy from the same company the next time they needed a similar product;
  • 67% were more inclined to recommend the company to others; and
  • 65% felt a sense of ‘brand commitment’.

This illustrates that investing in improving customers’ web experience is a terrific way to build brand loyalty and capture the benefits of viral marketing (or something like this).

A Christmas Carol…

You really don’t have to look much further than Christmas Day 2011 to see how technology has changed customer behaviors and expectations. Digital content & subscriptions (digital downloads of music, TV, movies, e-books and apps) accounted for more than 20 percent of sales on Christmas Day. On any other day of the holiday season, that number was only 2.8%. And these numbers were driven by the rise of mobile devices, with the iPad leading the way on Christmas Day with a staggering 7% of all online sales coming through just that one device – accounting for 50% of sales that day, according to the IBM Coremetrics Benchmark.

While the numbers tell the story, it really hits home personally when I saw my parents (both octogenarians) sitting at the kitchen table Christmas Day – my father with his iPad, and my mother with her Kindle Fire. And my mother, having received the Fire as a gift, was reading an ebook she purchased Christmas morning… with an Amazon gift card.

This is a totally different story of Christmas than Charles Dickens told in the 19th century, but it’s a tale of what to expect in the 21st century when it comes to customer engagement. Because of technology and its empowering effect on customers, they are developing “great expectations” their vendors must live up to. Which means vendors must be smarter in their approach to smarter, more informed customers.

This is the fourth of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll look at key points to consider when planning a smarter commerce strategy. In our next post, we’ll look at IBM’s Smarter Commerce offerings to help illustrate how midsize companies can reshape the way they do business to meet the expectations and needs of smarter customers.

March 30, 2011

Is there a Method to Social Media Madness?



Co-authored by: Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe, SMB Group, and Brent Leary, CRM Essentials  SMB adoption of social media for sales, marketing, product development and customer service is on the rise – but how are SMBs tracking, analyzing and measuring the success of their social media endeavors?

In our joint SMB Group-CRM Essentials “2011 Small and Medium Business Social Business Study,” we surveyed 750 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers about their use and plans for social media for sales, marketing, customer service and support, product development, HR and other business functions.

Featured Study Highlights

To put social media adoption in context, we asked several questions to better understand how SMBs accomplish their business objectives though different channels and mechanisms, including, “How does your currently track, analyze and measure the success of the company’s social media efforts?”

In the medium business segment, 52% of respondents indicate that they currently use social media. Among these respondents, about 19% say they use it in and “ad hoc, informal” way, while 33% indicate they use it in a “structured, strategic” manner. When we take a deeper look at how medium businesses using social media track, analyze and measure success of social media efforts, we see that companies that take a strategic approach are more likely to incorporate a greater number and more actionable metrics to measure social media effectiveness than their informal, ad hoc counterparts (Figure 1).

  • For strategic users, actionable, customer-centric metrics such as referrals (14%), click-through rates (12%), and inbound links (11%) top the list. These are followed by social media measurements such as number of followers and friends (9%), and sentiment analysis (9%), along with anecdotal feedback (9%).

  •  Companies that use social media in an ad hoc manner are more likely to rate “softer” measurements, such as anecdotal favorable feedback (6%) and buzz from social media (4%) as top tracking criteria and yardsticks for success.

Not surprisingly, SMBs that take a structured, strategic approach–and use more actionable metrics–are also more satisfied with the results of their social media efforts than those engaging in an ad hoc manner.

This underscores the need for better integration of social media with traditional sales, marketing, and service/support solutions–along with better tools to track and measure results.
Figure 1: Medium Business: Comparison of Strategic and Ad Hoc Users Criteria to Track and Measure Social Media Implementation
 
 
 
 

 


Quick Take

For SMBs to truly evolve into “social businesses,” they need to be able to easily track, measure and tweak the results of their social media investments across a wide range of business activities, from marketing through customer service and product development.

Although the social media drumbeat is loud, SMBs’ enthusiasm will be curbed if they can’t figure out what impact their social media initiatives are having. Whether on their own or via partner solutions, vendors will need to give SMBs the tools they need to integrate and evaluate social media efforts into their larger business strategy and framework.

Because social media engagement does not occur in a vacuum, businesses will want to measure social media efforts in context of broader sales, marketing and customer service or other initiatives. Although collaboration, CRM, marketing automation and other vendors are integrating social media into their existing solutions, few provide the analytics required to track and measure the effectiveness of social media and its different channels in an actionable and streamlined manner.

July 29, 2010

Technology Solution and Services Purchasing Cycle Decision Markers in Small Businesses

Small companies will tend to have a less formal purchasing process than their larger counterparts Typically only one or two people will have purchasing authority—usually the company officers in small businesses with the guidance of the IT person, if there is one.

How a company purchases or acquires technology products and services is affected by company size. The size of an SMB and the type of IT organization that they have influences and reflects the technology choices the SMB make. Typically, a small business (defined as a company with 1-99 employees) will have either no IT resources at all or one full-time IT resource.

The technology solutions and services purchase cycle typically involves 4 stages: Identify Need, Evaluate Solution, Select Solution, and Final Purchase Decision. The persons involved in each of these four stages of the process are different as is their level of involvement at each stage, which is usually dictated by the size of the small business, technology sophistication and sometimes the age of the primary decision maker (usually the owner or CEO) in these companies. Figure 1 provides details of all those involved in these technology solution and services purchase decisions at small business in North America.

Figure 1: Personnel Involved in Technology Solution Purchase Process at Small
Businesses (1-99 employees)

Source: SMB Group, 2010

  • Identify Need. In more than 75 percent of the cases, the owner of the business is the person involved in identifying need for technology solutions and services support from a end-user employee or senior business manager (non IT). This is usually based on the business pain points the small business is experiencing and how the use of these technology solutions will help address them. Only 21 percent of the cases involve in-house IT personnel in identifying need for technology solutions and services.
  • Evaluate Solutions. The role of line-of-business managers and end-users becomes more important in evaluating different solution alternatives, often they are involved with doing a free trial of these solution more frequently online but also sometime by downloading applications. The in-house IT person assists with the technical requirements for the evaluation and the owner is also usually involved in about 60 percent of the evaluations. Small business technology environments are straightforward but in some cases may require some advanced features; small businesses are rarely leading-edge technology adopters. In a small percentage of cases small businesses solicit the help of industry colleagues and/or external VARs and consultants in these more advanced and complex evaluations. The results of these evaluations helps small businesses reduce the number of evaluated solutions to a “short list” driven by predefined criteria.
  • Select Solutions. This step is completed by the owner/CEO and the In-house IT person based on the evaluation of various solutions. The factors involved in the selection process are price, ease-of-use, higher quality and stronger brand. As companies grow, the focus shifts from price and ease-of-use to quality and stronger brand as reviews from analysts and social media become more important.
  • Final Purchase Decision. In almost all small businesses, the owner or CEO of the business makes the final purchase decision, with the line of business executive or the in-house IT executive contributing in a limited role.

The insights included in the blog are from a comprehensive SMB study on SMB Routes to Market for Technology Solutions“. The SMB Group’s 2010 Routes to SMB Market Study helps Technology software solutions vendors and services providers identify routes (channels) to the SMB market for their products and services based on how they go about making purchase decisions. Study results and analysis will help them make well-informed marketing, product development, media and channel decisions to successfully reach, influence and market to North American SMBs with one to 1000 employees.

 

 

 

 

 


March 2, 2010

Relevance of Marketing Tools/Media in Customer Acquisition

The topic of lead generation and the role of various media solutions in the lead generation process draw significant conversation. From a survey of small businesses done in the summer of 2009 and detailed in my blog, GoToMeeting‘ from CitrixOnline or ‘Intuit Website’ from Intuit. This form of media effectively cultivates and nurtures demand. ‘Small Businesses interest in Social Media Increasing ‘ and with regards to tools used by small businesses to promote their business (not generate sales leads), 77% of small businesses are using or plan to use social media tools. Why has the use of social media seen such a dramatic increase? This is primarily driven by several factors:   

  • Change in the personal communication environment and habits of consumers and business workers  
  • Low barriers to entry: the cost of participating in the social media communications are very low and some—tools like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and LinkedIn—are even free 
  • Social media solutions are a one-to-many form of real-time communications
  • Social media is much more than a digital form of viral marketing – it is an effective and inexpensive way to convert contacts into a referral network  

   

Traditional Media tools. On one end of the spectrum, marketing is responsible for Demand Generation by driving awareness. Traditional media tools such as radio, television, newspapers and business journals (in their print form), provide broadcast opportunities and are good for creating broad awareness to develop interest among consumers and businesses – otherwise known as Outbound Marketing. Successful examples include the TV commercials like ‘GoToMeeting’ from CitrixOnline or ‘Intuit Website’ from Intuit. This form of media effectively cultivates and nurtures demand.

New Media/Digital Media include Social Networking tools (Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), Webinars and Podcasts, and Search Engines. Such ‘inbound marketing’ tools enable businesses with product/service increase awareness already developed to a certain level through traditional tools to further draw in consumers and encourage their further investigation of the company’s product or service.  

An SMB survey from Citibank found that some small businesses saw little reason to hop onto the social-network bandwagon. The majority of them found sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to be of little help in finding new business leads. While social media can certainly provide channels to network and help a growing business flourish, many SMBs do not have the manpower or the time required to take advantage of them—that is, use them to look for business advice or information. It is up to the business to bring in the relevant social media conversations related to crowd-sourced recommendations for their company and solutions into their company website or other discussion forums. Techniques that do this are illustrated very well in the “Inbound Marketing” book by founders of HubSpot

Personal-touch Media tools like company website, e-mail marketing, live webinars, and professional advisors provide the information to convert exploring consumers and business buyers into potential leads. The new media-based inbound marketing solutions drive the explorers to the company website and/or additional personal touch based media and channels. However, SMBs must work to channel their company relevant social media discussions into their website. These social media conversations are similar to word-of-mouth and personal communication methods. Ultimately, these personal-touch media solutions are directly involved with actual lead generation, ongoing lead nurturing and finally conversion to customers as well as cross-selling and up-selling to existing customers continually deepening prospect relationships    

Some of the new marketing automation and lead nurturing solution companies like Marketo, HubSpot and Demandbase are combining some of the key aspects of New Media/communications and Personal-touch Media/communications solutions that provide great value to the SMB and mid-market companies for both outbound and inbound marketing – and most of these solutions can be implemented for a fraction of the cost of a marketing person.    

January 20, 2010

Intuit and Microsoft – two SMB market leaders partnering on cloud platform strategies to deliver web applications

This agreement provides an end-to-end applications development environment and marketing/sales channels for application developers to develop and market application solutions to small businesses. Key elements of the agreement include:

  • Broadening the applications developer community to develop SMB focused applicationsIntuit to provide a SDK to help developers build applications on Microsoft Windows Azure Platform (and Visual Studio) and federate these web applications into Intuit Partner Platform (IPP) and launch these applications through the Intuit App Center (IAC).
  • Expand channel for application developers to promote and market their applications – Business Productivity Online Suite into Intuit Partner Platform (IPP) by year-end – Salesforce.com’s Force.com PaaS platform. Microsoft and Intuit will join forces to expand channels for application developers by introducing them to IAC. With capabilities to buy and access these cloud-based applications from the IAC and support for single sign-on will make it easier for SMBs to use these applications.
  • Microsoft to integrate Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) is a set of messaging and collaboration solutions hosted by Microsoft, and consists of Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online. SMBs that use BPOS will have access to Intuit’s SMB focused business applications like QuickBooks and additional applications available through the IAC.

This relationship is focused on the U.S., the region where Intuit has majority of its presence. Microsoft and Intuit will support joint marketing programs targeted at the applications developers, channels and SMB companies.

In today’s fast-paced and volatile business climate, SMB need cloud-based application as they provide much better total cost of ownership (TCO) compared to on-premise installed applications. This relationship will provide significant benefits to SMBs that have shown increasing appetite to adopt cloud based solutions. The key benefits to the SMB community from this relationship are:

  • For Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform service (PaaS), the Intuit relationship is a key endorsement of Microsoft as a key player in the SMB segment and of a company that has a good understanding of how to work with application developers. This combination will provide good competition to the
  • With Microsoft withdrawing from the small business accounting application area, creates a much more favorable partnership environment between the two companies to collaborate on the applications and channels front. A cooperative relationship between these two SMB focused companies will yield tremendous benefits to the SMB community.
  • With more than four million Intuit’s QuickBooks customers, the Inuit App Center will present a very attractive opportunity for applications developers to showcase their applications to the QuickBooks user community.

September 27, 2009

Small Businesses interest in Social Media increasing rapidly

In a recent very small business (businesses with 10 employees or less), Social Media ranked at the top of the list among the tools used by small businesses to market/promote their business (see Figure 1). The use of all ‘Digital Media’ tools by SMB has seen a dramatic increase in the past 2 years at the at the expense of ‘traditional media’ tools. Many businesses are finding that marketing campaigns using traditional media tools are seeing reduced effectiveness in reaching their target audience. Consumers and businesses are placing less trust on information provided through traditional marketing vehicles, as those are mainly static tools supporting one-way conversations – other than word-of-mouth. The new digital media is changing the rules of marketing and even small businesses need to proactively participate in this change.

Figure 1photoshop-1

Why has social media seen this dramatic increase? This is primarily driven by 3 factors:

  • Change in the consumer and business workers personal communication environment and habits
  • Low barrier to start participating in the social media communications – tools like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress are free. Social media is much more than traditional forms of viral marketing – it is an effective and inexpensive way to convert contacts into a referral network
  • Much more real-time communication support to start conversations with existing customers and prospects

As the data shows, most small businesses are already participating in social media to varying degrees. Most of the social media adoption by small businesses is happening in an adhoc and sporadic manner. Majority of it is being driven by their use of of these social networking sites for personal communications. This use of social media in business today is more experimental, some to get a feel of the type of small businesses that are starting to participate in such communications and others to experiment with the type of conversations that are taking place and the type of communications they could have using this medium. As small businesses get more comfortable with these communications media over time, their importance in the marketing communications mix will increase. However, there are several issues that need to be resolved before they become mainstream communication tools for the small businesses. Some of them are:

  • Efficient and productive ways to monitor and participate in social media – small business do not have the time to individually monitor the various social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, etc. They need tools that can integrate with their existing business solutions to pull-in conversations that could have relevance to them. Some new solutions from vendors like Salesforce.com will help small businesses harness the power of social media through solutions like Service Cloud, Salesforce Answers and Salesforce for Twitter and Ideas. New vendors that provide some solutions in this area include Lithium, Helpstream and Elgg.
  • Finding areas where social media can add value and provide business benefit – potential areas include product marketing and customer service
  • Integrating Social Media solutions with current marketing tools – Now that we know small businesses are interested in social media, it would be a good (for ISVs) to integrate social media interaction with your current marketing solutions like CRM, e-mail marketing, marketing automation, etc.
  • Customer sentiment monitoring – This is area small businesses can monitor conversations that are taking place about their products, brands and competition. Although this area today is primarily leveraged by larger consumer focused companies, over time this information can be leveraged by small businesses also.

To make this communication and collaboration effective and supportive of key business objectives, small businesses need to craft a social media strategy as part of a marketing plan to positively reinforce brand awareness and improve customer relationships.

Key elements to this plan should include:

  • Integrate social media into your current marketing plan, don’t abandon what is working to get on the social media band wagon
  • Find out where your target audience (existing customers and prospects) gathers online and learn how they are engaged. Start by asking your current customers where they are and then join in.
  • Match your audience to the social media tools they use – some people like Twitter other prefer Facebook or LinkedIn. Focus on relationship building.
  • Don’t limit yourself to most immediate “universe” of your target. Find people who touch your universe and engage them too.
  • Listen to what people are saying about you in the social media world
  • Use social media to drive traffic to your website
  • Develop plan to measure the success of your social media efforts (topic for another blog)
     

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