Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

April 20, 2015

What types of mobile devices do medium businesses provide to different types of employees?

February 24, 2015

SMB Spotlight: IBM’s Midmarket GM On New Partner Strategy and Programs for SMB and Midmarket Companies (Part 2)

Sanjeev: Hi, this Sanjeev Aggarwal from the SMB Group, and in today’s SMB Spotlight I’m speaking with John Mason, who is IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. Hi John. Thanks for joining me in this two-part discussion about new IBM developments and solutions that are relevant for the midmarket and SMB space. Continuing our discussion in this second post, we focus on IBM’g go-to-market and channel strategy for SMBs and midmarket.

Sanjeev: How is IBM’s channel involved in marketing and selling some of these new solutions?

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John: A couple of different ways. So for Verse, for example, we make that available to and through our business partners and they have an opportunity to develop recurring revenue model, annuity model and can also add their own consultative services, things like messaging migration or post-implementation support.

We’ve also introduced something called Watson Explorer for business partners. So, that really gives a very powerful cognitive search and analytics. And through this Explorer program, the business partner can identify high revenue potential and resale opportunities on Watson Explorer and then we continue to expand that obviously into other areas. So there’s are really significant joint market investments that we make together with our business partners.

I believe it’s in the order of 100 million dollar investment in co-marketing that we spend with our business partners together. We invest and they invest and then we jointly market to identify new opportunities.

One example is in the UK where we used a very interesting customer reference from Australia. The rugby team in Australia was using, in this case, SPSS to do predictive analytics on player injuries. The customer was called the Waratahs rugby team from Australia. They were using multiple data sources, looking at the players’ training program, their previous injuries, history of injuries, number of minutes they played in matches, that kind of thing to predict future injury probabilities.

The UK team took that customer reference, turned it into a marketing campaign, which was essentially a mock newspaper. That the UK IBM team together with specific, I think, two or three business partners sent this out to 97 different sports clubs in the UK, rugby teams, soccer teams, cricket teams, with a headline that said, you know something about that particular club’s lead player getting injured in three weeks’ time.

So, they sent, for example, to Manchester United such-and-such a player gets injured in three weeks. And then explained within the text how they could have used the IBM analytics tools working with the business partner to predict and effectively reduce the likelihood of injuries and therefore seen significant benefits to the team, which counts on having a full roster of players, etc.

We sent that to 97 different clubs and within a week we had 47 calls back into either IBM or the business partner asking for a follow-on meeting to see how they could actually take advantage of this same capability. And right now, we’re in the process of qualifying a number of those different opportunities into actual closed deals together with the business partners.

So what’s being indicated there is having an actual customer reference in the industry. Having a partner with the skillset, in this case analytics, and having that partner engaged early on in the joint demand generation efforts that we co-fund. That’s where we’ve seen very high response rates and then a much higher yield on the marketing activity.

Sanjeev: That is a great example, more specifically because small and midmarket would like to know how companies similar to theirs are using these solutions and what benefits they’re getting out of them.

John: Yeah, I think the key is you’re not just talking to the customer about technology but actually listening for their business challenge and in their language that’s relevant to them and their particular industry and turning that technology into a solution to that particular challenge.

So that’s where we’re also working programmatically with a number of our business partners to try to have that intersection point between industry expertise and technical know-how around specific cloud, analytics, mobile and social solution plays that can build on an existing customer reference in the same industry to find new opportunities.

Sanjeev: And I’m sure examples like these will open up new opportunities for IBM not only in accounts that have been familiar with IBM but also net new accounts.

John: Yes.

Sanjeev: Ease of use and the value they’re providing to SMBs.

John: Exactly. Yeah.

Sanjeev: So with IBM having so many products and solutions, how do SMBs find out about some of these new solutions that are innovative, ease to use, cloud-based?

John: A couple of different ways. One is obviously through our business partners. A lot of small and mid-sized businesses treat the business partner almost as their IT department whether it’s a cloud service provider or a more traditional business partner. So, quite often that is an inroad for a customer to start using IBM. In some cases, they may not even know they’re using IBM. It could be an embedded part of a cloud service provider solution that the SMB is buying and it’s actually IBM technology that’s provided there embedded in the solution. So, that’s one way.

Also, through traditional business partners with different solutions that we provide through them. But that is in some ways kind of a second-level connection. It was important for us to also establish a direct connection point for small and mid-sized businesses. In particular, to see what is available in terms of cloud services from IBM and from our business partners.

So, that led us to develop the IBM Cloud Marketplace, which brings together this very broad portfolio of offerings that IBM has itself but also third-party cloud services. And it’s organized, it’s a very simple, you can filter in ways, you can choose by self-identifying, if you like, as a developer or as an IT operations person or as a line of business decision maker. And within the line of business decision making you can choose by horizontal sort of functional area, marketing, human resources, finance, etc. or you can also sort by industry.

So, we’re really trying to use that as an on ramp for a customer to explore some of these solutions that they may not even realize IBM provides. And it could be solutions from third parties. In some cases, they even compete with IBM’s own offerings. We won’t exclude people who have a competing cloud service either. It’s important for us to demonstrate to customers and partners that we want to participate in an eco-system, which is open and allow customers to choose the solutions that best meet their needs, not necessarily force them to buy in the ways that we dictate. So it’s really about being a participant in an active but open eco-system of partners.

Sanjeev: Can SMBs if they go to this marketplace find out solutions that they can try before they buy?

John: Yeah, absolutely. One of the key requirements that we heard was the ability to get a free trial and to have limited free trial period or limited functionality for free for the customer to get a sense for whether this is a good fit. So we have a number of try before you buy type offerings. SoftLayer is one of them. You get a free month of virtual server from SoftLayer. IBM Verse, the communication offering that we mentioned before, has a 90-day free trial. Watson Analytics there’s a free version available, and then depending on which additional sources you want to use, then it steps up into a fee-based offering.

Sanjeev: How transparent is the marketplace for the users or SMBs to see not only the trial solutions but how much is the cloud solution going to cost them on a monthly basis if they do decide to go ahead and acquire that solution?

John: It varies a little bit, depending on the offerings. Obviously, some of the offerings are relatively simple, can be purchased with a credit card, in which case the pricing is clear, up-front on a per-seat, per-month basis which is the case for SoftLayer and some of the other offerings like FiberLink.

Sanjeev: How about like Watson Analytics?

John: Watson Analytics is free right now. We’re moving to additional tiers of fee-based offerings. So the switch should be coming out any time now.

Sanjeev: OK. Thanks. And what resources does IBM have to educate, train SMBs on the adoption of these new solutions? I think some of them you mentioned before. Are there any online videos, information content, online tutorials that can help them with a faster on ramp and different usage scenarios?

John: Yeah. Across every one of these solutions we have a wide range of video tutorials as well as user communities where users can pose questions, comments, share their own experiences as well as more structured tutorial content. Much of this, by the way, is accessible also through the IBM Cloud Marketplace. And so, if you start to explore one particular solution and are looking for more information we usually provide links within that same space to help the user identify more training, white papers and access to the community.

Similarly, by the way, for our business partners we also have a dedicated portal that we’ve just completely revamped called PartnerWorld where we have literally thousands of partners who have access to partner training materials and communities as well.

Sanjeev: OK, great. One last question. Does IBM and its partners have a program to help SMBs migrate from, say, Gmail to a Verse type of a solution?

John: We have several IBM Cloud Certified Business Partners who offer this type of migration, many of who are accessible through the Cloud Marketplace.

Sanjeev: Yeah, because sometimes the issue for SMBs is not only having new and innovative solutions, easy to use solutions available, they need to see how to move to adopt these new solutions based on what they have because in some cases they have lots of existing data.

John: That’s also an opportunity for our business partners to provide their value in the transition and migration type services as well. That’s something that we may not do directly. We, I know, are looking at tools that we could provide to help with that, but it’s also an area that a lot of our business partners have years of expertise in helping migrate from one platform to another.

Sanjeev: Yeah, definitely. I think if you can provide some of these tools to help the business partners make the life of SMBs easier in this migration I think it will go a long way to help both IBM and the partners. Great. Thank you.

John: Sanjeev, one other thing I forgot to mention is also on a cloud infrastructure approach with software, particularly for startups, we’ve also recently introduced a free cloud access On Ramp to help startups get started on using SoftLayer by providing up to $120,000 worth of free usage of SoftLayer for startups. That’s maybe something that they can also consider.

Sanjeev: How can startups can find out about the availability of these resources.

John: That was announced in November and you can view the press release on ibm.com: IBM Global Entrepreneur Program.

Sanjeev: Thanks for this very informative session. I think IBM, at least today, does have a really good roster of products to help SMBs be more productive in their journey to compete with the larger companies. I look forward to seeing the progress some of these solutions make in the upcoming months. Again, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

John: Thanks, Sanjeev. Appreciate the time and I certainly look forward to continuing the discussion. Thank you.

This is the second of a two-part SMB Spotlight interview with John Mason, IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. In the first post, we discuss new IBM developments and solutions that are relevant for the midmarket and SMB space. (link to first post)

SMB Spotlight: IBM’s Midmarket GM Talks About New Strategy and Solutions for SMBs Midmarket Companies (Part 1)

Sanjeev: Hi, this Sanjeev Aggarwal from the SMB Group, and in today’s SMB Spotlight I’m speaking with John Mason, who is IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. Hi John. Thanks for joining me in this two-part discussion about new IBM developments and solutions that are relevant for the midmarket and SMB space. In our first discussion, I’d like to focus on the opportunities that IBM is pursuing in this area.

John: Thank you.

Sanjeev: Now that you’ve been in this role for more than a year, what opportunities do you see for IBM to be more successful in this segment, looking at it from not only the recent products that IBM has announced, but overall?

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John: First of all, Sanjeev, this a unique time in the market particularly for small and mid-sized companies to take advantage of what’s truly a revolutionary change. Not just in terms of the technologies but the economic models that are being disrupted, by not just one technology change but really four: cloud, analytics, mobile and social, which mutually reinforcing each other and changing not just the technology architecture but disrupting whole new business models.

We’ve seen companies like Uber disrupting the taxi industry, Airbnb in hotels, Fitbit, a software customer of IBM, in health and wellness. So, it’s really opening up opportunities for small and mid-sized companies to move very quickly and compete in areas where previously the capital expenditure required to get to scale may have prevented them or certainly been a significant obstacle to building a new business.

Today, particularly thanks to cloud that is no longer a barrier. It’s really not constrained by the availability of capital at this point, so the company that has a disruptive idea can really go after huge opportunities and industries that may not have seemed to lend themselves to disruption. But now, because of the scale and access that companies have thanks to the cloud and thanks to mobile and social creating this massive data that can then be analyzed and used to get insight, companies of all sizes can essentially disrupt industries and find ways to compete and add value to their customers in ways that maybe they could never have even imagined before.

Sanjeev: Surely I definitely agree with you there. But quickly looking at the opportunities cloud solutions create for SMBs, how do you see IBM, with some of the recently introduced products like IBM Verse and Watson Analytics, helping SMBs and midmarket companies?

John: I would start, first of all at the infrastructure layer, where about a year and a half ago we acquired a company called SoftLayer, which is our Infrastructure as a Service(IaaS) offering. So that really is the key enabler of providing access to cloud, whether it’s simple public cloud, bare metal server that can be dedicated or private cloud implementations.

On top of that infrastructure we introduced last year our Platform as a Service(PaaS) offering called BlueMix, which lets small and mid-sized businesses and developers in larger companies quickly develop new cloud services and applications, prototype, try something and then quickly deploy and adapt using agile methodologies, for example, to really respond quickly, and again, with minimal upfront capital expense.

But with very simple tools that provide templates to remove some of the tedious coding parts of developing any new cloud service with reusable modules, so it really speeds up development, prototyping and deployment.

And then, on top of the Infrastructure as a Service and then the Platform as a Service, with BlueMix we also have literally over 100 Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, some of which are really more targeted at larger enterprises. But increasingly, we’re also adding some very simple, easy-to-use, fast offerings that are designed, from the ground up really, for small and mid-sized companies to take advantage of.

So you mentioned Watson Analytics, which I think is one of the most exciting new areas for any line of business user. It’s I think as relevant for someone working in a marketing department of a large company or sales department of a small company. To take a set of data sitting in a spreadsheet or other sources that we’re adding over time and use Watson Analytics to cleanse the data and start to arrange it in ways and visualize it so that the user can quickly derive some meaningful insight from what may previously just have been a collection of numbers.

With very sort of natural language query, you don’t have to have a data scientist sitting next to you during the interpretation of what the business need into some complex algorithm. It will use natural language querying and cognition to provide answers to relatively simple business questions based on simple sources of data like an Excel spreadsheet. That’s one example.

You mentioned IBM Verse as well, which again, is very simple. In this case, a communications and collaboration tool delivered on top of the software cloud infrastructure and also guided by analytics at its core to learn from the user behavior and adapt to how that particular user works to really provide instant usable interaction and collaboration.

It’s optimized for mobile and web environments and provides the most relevant communication with the people that you interact with most. Rather than having to sort through long lists of emails or other forms of communication, it’s all there in one simple interface provided in a way that you can use and in the way that you like to work.

These are newer cloud services that we’ve introduced. We’re using agile methodologies to respond quickly as we get these out. In the case of both Watson Analytics and IBM Verse, they’re both available in a freemium model. So, our objective here is to get it in the hands of lots of people, get user feedback and then quickly respond based on the feedback in real life use situations to tune the product and continue to improve it. So, that’s something that we are looking forward to seeing rapid iterations to continue the improved user experience.

Sanjeev: So, what has been the feedback from some of the early adopters of these solutions, especially as it relates to ease of use and the value that they’re getting from using these solutions?

John: Well, I think ease of use was at the core of both the Verse and the Watson Analytics development. They actually came out of our new digital experience labs and were designed with, by and for millennials in a sense. Our belief going into the development of those products was that if we could satisfy millennial users then we would probably also satisfy other groups of users.

The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive but I think also continued requests for more ease of use, more sort of guided initial training and at least tutorials to help people get started. The teams have been taking a lot of feedback and working on easier on ramps to the products. Which I think, once users start using them, they start to get comfortable and see the value. The challenging phase is that very first usage experience. That’s why a lot of the current focus is to continue to improve that on ramp experience.

This is the first of a two-part SMB Spotlight interview with John Mason, IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. In the second post, we discuss how IBM is making its new solutions more accessible to SMB and midmarket companies and channel partners. (link to second post)

December 16, 2013

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends For 2014!

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2014! A more detailed description of each follows below.

  1. Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer
  2. Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds
  3. Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars
  4. Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices
  5. SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light
  6. SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy
  7. SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value
  8. The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight
  9. It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green
  10. Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up

2014 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends in Detail

  1. Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer. Technology continues to fuel changes in what, where, and how SMB (small and medium businesses, with 1 to 999 employees) work gets done. Back in 2011, SMB Group identified the “Progressive” SMB segment. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology-based solutions, view technology as a business enabler, and are much more likely to expect revenue growth than other SMBs. This gap continues to widen as we enter 2014, and is further fueled by generational shifts–including the rise of millennials in the workforce and older exiles from the corporate world. Progressive SMBs are blending technology and business savvy to reshape business models, carve out new market niches and invent entirely new businesses. Their adoption of cloud, mobile, social and analytics will soar as they strive for both growth and agility. They will also increasingly turn to technology-fueled services—from Elance and oDesk for staffing, to shared office space and IT infrastructure services—in pursuit of these goals. As they forge ahead, they will not only continue to outpace peers, but reshape what it means to be an SMB.
  2. Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds. SMBs have bought into the cloud promise: a faster, easier, cheaper and less risky route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. SMB Group research shows SMB use of cloud business and infrastructure applications poised to grow to from 33% to 44% over the coming year. However, some cloud vendors—threatened by Wall Street and high churn rates—have backtracked on their original faster, easier, cheaper cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on added fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing models that are almost as confusing as those of the traditional software behemoths they once berated. As SMBs push further into the cloud, they will favor vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise, and steer clear of dark clouds.
  3. Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars. SMBs have been adopting mobile solutions at a fast and furious pace. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. 83% have already deployed mobile apps to help improve employee productivity; 55% are using mobile apps for specific business functions, such as CRM or order entry. 49% of SMBs are building mobile-friendly websites, and/or deploying mobile apps to engage and transact with customers. However, mobile management has failed to keep pace with this explosion, and with SMBs’ increasing business reliance on mobile solutions. Concerns about security, manageability, provisioning and cost will make mobile management a top priority for more SMBs. They will be looking for easy-to-deploy, cost-effective mobile device and application management platforms and solutions to reduce management headaches and get more value from their mobile investments.
  4. Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices.  Many SMBs now “get” that they need a social media presence. SMB Group research reveals that more than half of small businesses and more than two-thirds of medium businesses use social media for marketing purposes. Some have invested tremendous amounts of energy to create content to feed the voracious social media beast. But the ever-increasing pressure to create fresh content, keep up with changes in users’ social network preferences, and uncertainty about the return on social investments is taking its toll. In 2014, SMBs will focus more on what networks and content really click for their target audiences, and put more time into figuring out how to convert social connections into customers. Some will integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications, and use analytics to develop more actionable social metrics. Marketing innovators will explore new opportunities, such as online mobile advertising powered by geolocation. Others will redirect some of their efforts back to marketing basics–including surveys, competitive analysis, email marketing and attending more conferences and events. 
  5. SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light. SMB Group research shows that although checks and credit cards are still the top forms of payment SMBs accept, there’s no question that new payment methods are growing in use and importance. 27% of small businesses and 43% of medium businesses already equip employees with mobile payment processing solutions, and about one-quarter of SMBs intend to add this capability over the coming year. Meanwhile, mobile wallets and gift cards, PayPal and even Dwolla—a payment network that allows any business or person to send, request and accept money for very low fees—will continue to provide additional payment options for consumers. More SMBs will recognize that having the capability to accept and process a broader range of payment methods can help them attract more customers, gain new business, and even enter new markets. SMBs will also seek ways to cut time and errors out of payment processing with payment solutions that integrate with accounting and ERP, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage. 
  6. SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy.  It’s been hard for many SMBs to relate to the “big data” story that most vendors have been pitching. SMB Group research reveals that only about 18% of small, and about 57% of medium businesses utilize business intelligence and analytics solutions. However, SMBs understand the value of getting the information they need, when they need it—especially as they try to compete with new, nimble born-on-the-Web startups that view data as the new business capital. In 2014, SMB-focused vendors will retool the big data story for the little guy, focusing less on zettabytes, speeds and feeds, and more on how their solutions enable and empower better insights and decision-making. Business solutions vendors will embed better and more accessible analytics and reporting tools within their solutions. Cloud-based, visualization and scenario-driven business intelligence and analytics solutions will also help SMBs take a more data-driven approach to running their businesses. 
  7. SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value. While the cloud has made it easy for businesses to add a lot of new applications, integration has often been an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs are struggling to make sense of disconnected information silos, and IT is under pressure to integrate cloud-to-on-premises solutions, as well as cloud-to-cloud solutions. In 2013, integration moved up from the #4 to the #1 technology challenge for medium businesses. In 2014, we expect that integration will be a higher priority even among small businesses. After all, it doesn’t take too many disconnected applications to feel the pain of productivity drains, errors, and a lack of solid data to support decision-making. Fortunately, technology vendors of all stripes are emphasizing the importance of a unified, reliable data store as the foundation for solid analytics and reporting. Business solution vendors are increasingly offering SMBs pre-integrated suites, opening up their application programming interfaces (APIs), and creating marketplaces to make it easy to find integrated partner apps. This makes it easier for SMBs to start small, with just one or two applications, and then snap in added functionality as needed. Finally, vendors that specialize in integration solutions, such as Informatica, Scribe and Dell Boomi (just to name a few), are making their solutions more accessible to SMBs. Integration still isn’t sexy, but the improved productivity, time savings, error reduction and decision-making benefits that it enables are. 
  8. The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight. Revenue growth, attracting new customers and increasing profitability are perennial goals for SMBs.  To help achieve these goals, they have been steadily moving ahead to automate and integrate sales, marketing and other customer-facing solutions. Although improving employee productivity has also been a top goal, SMB adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions has lagged behind other areas. Many SMBs continue to limp along with a patchwork of disconnected solutions and manual tracking to manage components such as time and attendance, payroll, scheduling, HR and benefits.  But with the Affordable Care Act set to take effect on January 1, 2015 for organizations with more than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, that situation is about to change. Worried about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks, SMBs will look for better solutions to calculate employee eligibility and benefits, and to develop proactive strategies to manage ACA compliance and costs. This will drive a significant uptick of interest in, and adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions. 
  9. It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green. The push for greener IT solutions isn’t new, but in 2014, we’re moving into a perfect green storm. Due to a rash of hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme weather, the sustainability of Mother Earth is taking center stage. According to a recent Harris Poll, over 74% of American adults believe in the global warming theory, and over 73% of U.S. citizens approve of the Kyoto agreement requiring countries to limit carbon monoxide and greenhouse gas emissions. IT vendors are prepared to capitalize on this opportunity with new, energy saving products. From Dell’s Dell PowerEdge VRTX applications and storage server, which runs on standard 100V-240V AC power and doesn’t require any specialized cooling, to IBM’s patent for a “green” button that helps cloud providers “greenify” their businesses and lets customers choose whether or not to tap clean energy to run offsite servers, it’s easier than ever for SMBs to be green and save green. 
  10. Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up. SMB Group research shows that in-house IT still plays a key role in all phases of the technology solution decision-making process. But now, enabled by the cloud and the swipe of a credit card, business decision-makers are much more involved: in small businesses, 69% of owners/presidents help evaluate potential solutions, and 81% help make the final decision. In medium businesses, departmental and line-of-business executives are the most likely personnel to identify the need for new solutions. This is changing the influencer landscape. Business decision-makers aren’t as likely to turn to traditional technology guidance sources as IT decision-makers. And many of us—especially millennials—are growing skeptical of traditional media sources that increasingly push paid “native content” in the guise of news. So who will the new influencers be? Accountants and other professional advisors (for line-of-business or industry) that the SMBs have an established relationship with will become more powerful influencers. Digital word-of-mouth, references, trade associations and non-technical groups and organizations will play an increasingly important role in shaping technology purchase decisions among both business and IT professionals. Finally, technology vendors that provide unbiased education—and can clearly demonstrate how business benefits from their solutions—will have a decided advantage over those that don’t.

About SMB GROUP

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is comprised of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services and Green IT.

November 27, 2012

Report Card: 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

–by Laurie McCabe and Sanjeev Aggarwal, SMB Group

Before developing our 2013 predictions, we wanted to assess how we did on our 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions. Here’s our take–please let us know what grades you would have given us!

And stay tuned for our Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2013, which we will post in a couple of weeks!

Note: On this grading scale, 5 means that we came closest to hitting the mark, and 1 means we missed it entirely.

Prediction Score

Comments

  1. Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets
4 Year-over-year data from our annual SMB Routes to Market Studies
indicated that more small and medium businesses (SMBs)* were forecasting flat or decreased IT spending heading into 2012 compared to 2011. Given SMB budget constraints and the plethora of solutions aimed at SMBs, vendors had to work harder to convince budget-constrained SMBs that their solutions would really help address top SMB business challenges to attract new customers, grow revenues and maintain profitability. More SMBs turned to lower-risk, pay-as-you-go cloud options, and several vendors (IBM, Dell and HP, to name a few) introduced new and/or enhanced financing options to help SMBs overcome financial hurdles.
  1. The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground
5 We identified a distinct category of SMBs that we termed “Progressive SMBs,” who see technology as integral to achieving business goals and to gaining a competitive edge. Progressive SMBs invest more and purchase more sophisticated solutions than their counterparts. Trending analysis from our 2011 to 2012 Routes to Market Studies show that the percentage of SMBs in the Progressive category is growing. Furthermore, Progressive SMBs continue to gain ground over SMBs that skimp on technology in terms of expected business performance.
  1. The SMB Social Media Divide Grows
5 SMB adoption of social media did indeed jump, from 44% to 53% among small businesses (and from 52% to 63% among medium businesses from 2011 to 2012, based on trending analysis in our SMB Social Business Studies. The divide between social media haves and have-nots is also growing: our research reveals that 65% of SMBs that use social business tools anticipate revenue gains, while only 17% of “non-social” SMBs expect revenues to increase.
  1. Cloud Becomes the New Normal
4 SMBs haven’t swapped out all of their on-premises solutions in favor of the cloud–but the puck is clearly moving to the cloud in all application areas. The evolution is continuing at a steady pace, as evidenced by trending analysis in our annual SMB Routes to Market Studies. In some areas, cloud is poised to overtake on-premises solutions. For instance, over 30% of SMBs that purchased or upgraded collaboration, marketing automation, BI and data backup in the past 24 months chose cloud, and over 40% of SMBs planning to purchase solutions in those areas in the next month plan cloud deployments.
  1. Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications
5 SMBs significantly ramped up mobile business application use and plans in 2012, as evidenced by trending analysis from our annual SMB Mobile Solutions Studies. More SMBs are providing mobile business apps to employees in categories ranging from CRM to time management to expense reporting. In addition, adoption of external-facing (for customers, partners and suppliers) mobile apps and websites also rose considerably. For instance, SMB use of a mobile-friendly website is up 10% among small businesses and 23% among medium businesses.
  1. Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate
3 The avalanche of data generated by cloud, social and mobile has certainly created the need for better analytics. However, year-over year trending data from our SMB Routes to Market Studies reveals a mixed bag in terms of adoption. Use of BI solutions among medium businesses spiked 24% in the past year, but adoption rose just 2% among small businesses. While vendors appear to be doing a good job of developing and marketing BI solutions tailored to the needs of medium businesses, they have not yet figured out the right formula for smaller ones.
  1. Managed Services Meet Mobile
5 We forecast that the explosion of mobile devices and apps, “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon and the increasing concerns about security would spark increased demand for and more solutions to manage mobile on the back-end. Our annual SMB Mobile Solutions Studies show that SMB adoption of mobile management services—from simple device management to comprehensive mobile management platforms—has accelerated rapidly. For instance, 16% of SMBs have already deployed an outsourced mobile management platform, and 30% plan to do so within a year.
  1. The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions
5 Small businesses without a payroll make up more than 70% of America’s 27 million companies. We hypothesized that the 2008 recession and subsequent layoffs generated a new and often “accidental” breed of entrepreneurs that would spike demand for—and growth of—applications targeted to meet the needs of these businesses. And they have. New and improved cloud-based and mobile apps from traditional small business powerhouses (Sage, Intuit, Microsoft, Google, etc.), SOHO pioneers (Freshbooks, Nimble, Dropbox, Zoho, etc.), and freelance talent sourcing solutions from companies such as Elance and oDesk are making it easier than ever for SOHOs to get their work done.
  1. Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites
4 Trending from our Routes to Market Study Medium businesses shows that overall, use and plans to deploy collaboration solutions is up year-over-year. Low-cost, low-risk, cloud-based collaboration and communications services have made it easier for SMBs to use integrated collaboration tools, while eliminating the inconvenience of using multiple sign-ons and interfaces.
The fact that vendors are integrating more into their offerings—such as Google integrating Google+ hangouts, IBM SmartCloud Engage adding social communities and Citrix adding video capabilities to GoToMeeting—doesn’t hurt either.
  1. The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift.
5 Cloud, social and mobile trends continue to reshape how channel partners must deliver value across the board. SMBs are increasingly choosing to purchase directly from software and cloud vendors in most areas. And Managed Service Providers (MSPs) have gained ground as a purchase channel over VARs in several solution areas, including security, BI and collaboration. The need for more specialized business and/or technology expertise has also made some types of channel players more relevant in each specific solution category than others.

*In SMB Group Syndicated Survey studies, we define small businesses as those with 1-99 employees, and medium businesses as having 100-999 employees.

For more information on our most recent SMB Mobile, Social Business and Routes to Market Studies, please visit our website, www.smb-gr.com, or contact Sanjeev Aggarwal, Sanjeev.aggarwal@smb-gr.com, 508-410-3562.


August 6, 2012

Today’s SMB Social Media Market Creates Opportunities for Tomorrow

SMB businesses are increasing their adoption of social media solutions year over year–rising from 44% to 53% in small business (1-99 employees) and 52% to 63% in medium business (100-999 employees). But what business functions are SMBs using social media for, and what social media tools are they using in different areas?

Just released results from the SMB Group’s 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study paints a comprehensive picture of the functions that SMBs are using and planning to use social media for in their businesses. The study, which is the second annual survey we’ve completed on this topic, queried 665 U.S. executives in detail on this topic. As we look at trends from 2011 to 2012, we see several data points that reveal interesting opportunities for vendors to better serve this market.

Data Highlights

We found that similarly to our 2011 study results, SMBs in 2012 are adopting social media mainly to help them achieve their sales and marketing goals. Only a small percentage are using social media for non-sales and marketing functions, such as human resources, customer service and product development. However, use of social media in several of these areas is rising. For instance, social media use is up year-over-year:

  • From 47.5% in 2011 to 60% in 2012 for “Generate more web site traffic”
  • From 45% in 2011 to 59% in 2012 for “Connect with people who aren’t customers”
  • From 45% in 2011 to 47.5% in 2012 for “Service/support and customer retention”
  • From 23.5% in 2011 to 28% in 2012 for “Input for product development”

SMBs are using different social media tools for particular types of business functions, as indicated in the heat map below (Figure 1), which shows which social media tools SMBs are using to accomplish different business functions. For instance, LinkedIn is a the most widely used social media tool for  “new employee recruitment” while “geo location tools” are least used in this areas. Note that the tools above the blue line on the heat map are most frequently used for each business function, while the tools below the blue line show only marginal use. LinkedIn forums, Facebook, YouTube and Blogs are most frequently used social media tools to accomplish various business functions.

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study, SMB Group

LinkedIn has been breaking out of the employee recruitment mold as SMBs extend its use into different areas. Although everyone knows about Facebook (and may have used Facebook for personal collaboration) and some small and medium size businesses have created a business page, many are still challenged by how to utilize Facebook’s potential to increase awareness of company brand, increase leads/traffic of website and drive revenues higher–and are testing out other social media tools.

As shown in Figure 2, although Facebook continues to remain ahead of the pack, adoption is tapering off. Meanwhile, other tools, including Twitter, YouTube, company blogs and Pinterest, have seen the strongest growth over the past year.

Figure 2: Social Media Tool adoption timeline
Q. How long have you been using social media for these functions?

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study, SMB Group

To a large extent, SMBs are still experimenting to see how social media can help them, and which tools are best suited to helping them accomplish different business goals. Relative newcomers–such as Pinterest–can have a big effect in a short time if they hit the mark for specific business needs.

Because its relatively easy and low cost to test out different tools, SMBs will remain loyal only as long as they believe that they are getting beneficial business results. Since only 7% of small and 17% of medium businesses currently measure return-on-investment from social media, this is still a decision made by and large on anecdotal evidence and gut instinct.

This means that social media vendors must not only provide tools, but also training, services and metrics to help SMBs maximize and measure the value the get from these tools. For instance, a vendor could provide tools to help SMBs perform A/B testing–similar to what’s available for landing pages today– to hone their social media efforts.

As the market matures, pressure will also increase for SMBs to more accurately measure the results they’re getting across social media platforms. They will need better, easier to use analytics than are available today–ala Google Analytics for social. Vendors that provide these next-generation social media analytics solutions can capitalize on a big and growing market opportunity to bring today’s fuzzy picture into sharper focus. In addition, if they can harness these metrics across a broad base, they have the potential to build some very interesting data aggregation services akin to Nielson ratings for television and radio.

The bottom line is that there is still a lot of play in the nascent social media market–and unbounded opportunities for vendor innovation.

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.

December 28, 2011

2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

Here are the SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2012! A more detailed description of each follows below.

  1. Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets
  2. The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground
  3. The SMB Social Media Divide Grows
  4. Cloud Becomes the New Normal
  5. Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications
  6. Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate
  7. Managed Services Meet Mobile
  8. The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions
  9. Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites
  10. The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift

2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions in Detail

  1. Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets. After the Great Recession officially      ended in 2009, the U.S. economy resumed moderate economic growth in 2010—and the SMB outlook for 2011 became fairly bullish. But new economic worries and uncertainties are dampening some SMB outlook. Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study indicated that SMBs are less confident about their revenue prospects for 2012: 56%  of small and 63% of medium businesses are forecasting revenue growth for  2012, compared to the 77% of both small and medium businesses that forecasted growth for 2011. And many SMBs are tightening their tech wallets: More are forecasting flat or decreased IT spending for 2012 compared to 2011. To loosen the purse strings, tech vendors must deliver a rock-solid case for how their solutions help address top SMB challenges—which are to attract new customers, grow revenues and maintain profitability. In addition to broadening subscription-based cloud solution options (which offload big upfront investments), more vendors will offer flexible, alternative financing to help ease the financial burden—and gain a leg up on competitors.
  1. The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground. That said, we also see a distinct category of SMBs that we are terming      “Progressive SMBs.” Despite economic uncertainties, Progressive SMBs plan to increase IT spending. These SMBs see technology as a vital tool for business transformation, a mechanism to create market advantage and a way to level the playing field against bigger companies. Although price is still a key factor for Progressive SMBs, they are more likely to rate other factors—such as easier to customize for my business, strong reputation and brand, and ability to provide local service and support—higher than other SMBs when making technology decisions, according to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology and see the results in terms of higher revenue expectations. For instance, 73% of medium businesses that are investing more in technology anticipate revenue increases in 2012, compared to just 17% among those decreasing IT spending. Technology      vendors need to develop different marketing campaigns and more sophisticated solutions for Progressive SMBs than for their counterparts to win in this very important segment.
  1. The SMB Social Media Divide Grows. SMB use      of social media is rising. According to our 2011 Impact of Social Business in Small and Medium Business Study, about 50% of SMBs already use social media, and another 25% plan to do so within the next 12 months. The study revealed that about half of SMBs take a strategic and structured approach with social media. These      “strategically social” companies use social media for more activities, use more channels and are more satisfied with the business results than the other half of SMBs that are still throwing spaghetti on the Facebook wall.  These more informal, ad hoc users say that they don’t have enough time to use social media effectively; they can’t decide what social media strategies and tools will work best; it’s too difficult to integrate      social media with sales, marketing, service and other business processes; and they are unable to measure value from social media. As new social media tools—from crowd-sourced pricing to video commerce—take shape, SMB      social media “haves” will gain business ground on the “have-nots” in an exponential manner. As the have-nots lose ground, they will clamor for better social media guidance and easier-to-use, better integrated and more affordable social media management solutions.
  1. Cloud Becomes the New Normal. Is the      cloud perfect? No. Is it right for every solution and every business? No.  But that said, the rate and pace of technological change are in overdrive, and the need for businesses to harness new technology-based      solutions—social, mobile, analytics, etc.—to maintain a business edge is rising. Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study results      reveal that demand for cloud-based solutions is accelerating in almost all solution areas. For instance, in the past 24 months, only 7% of small businesses purchased or upgraded cloud accounting/ERP solutions, compared with 13% that plan to purchase them in the next 12 months. Areas that show the biggest potential for cloud gains in 2012 are marketing automation, business intelligence/analytics, and desktop virtualization solutions and services. Most SMBs simply don’t have the staff, expertise or capital budgets needed for do-it-yourself IT—and they can’t afford the time it takes to get business payback from a solution that they need to vet, buy,  install and deploy in-house. This makes the arguments for cloud computing—reduced capital costs, speed to deploy, and real-time collaboration and visibility—compelling. Demand for anytime, anywhere, any-device mobile access to applications will also accelerate cloud adoption, as many SMBs will want to offload management of mobile applications to a cloud solutions provider too. Enterprise players such as Oracle (with RightNow) and SAP (with SuccessFactors) have already begun their cloud shopping sprees. Look for traditional SMB vendors (Intuit, Microsoft, Sage, etc.) to join in the fun.
  1. Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications. In a custom study we completed this summer,  SMBs indicated that they plan to significantly increase spending on mobile devices and services in the next 12 months, with the highest jump in the 5-to-49–employee size band. The study revealed that with mobile use of collaboration apps (email, calendar, etc.) now mainstream, SMBs are  mobilizing business applications. Some of the strongest categories for SMB  current and planned mobile app use are mobile payments (52%), time management (59%), field service (59%), and customer information management (69%). This rapid uptake will also include more vertical apps that are a perfect fit for industry-specific needs, especially given the choice of both smart phone and tablet (read: iPad) form factors. Unfortunately, our crystal ball is cloudy when it comes to predicting if another vendor will be able to give Apple a run for its money in the business-use tablet market.
  1. Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate. According to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study, 16% of small and 29% of medium businesses purchased/upgraded a BI solution within the past 24 months, and 16% and 28%, respectively, plan to do so in the next 12 months. The social-mobile-cloud triumvirate will fuel new and increased SMB investments in this area as businesses try to plow through the growing data avalanche to get to the insights they need to grow their businesses. As SMBs try to get a better handle on customers’      and prospects’ opinions and influence networks, interest in sentiment analysis and social graphing solutions will grow. New mobile access capabilities and applications from BI vendors designed to provide SMBs with just the information they need, when and where they need it, will spur interest as well. Finally, our study indicated that roughly a third of SMBs use or plan to use cloud-based BI and analytics solutions. An expanding array of cloud options in this area will make it easier and more affordable for more SMBs to deploy these solutions.
  1. Managed Services Meet Mobile. Despite momentum toward the cloud, it will continue to be a hybrid world for a very long time. Many SMBs will continue to use existing on-premises apps  and choose on-premises deployment as security, regulatory or other needs dictate. So most SMBs will continue to grapple with IT infrastructure management—even as new mobile device management and governance challenges  grow. SMB adoption of mobile phones and tablets is now on par with that of traditional landline phones, according to our 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communication Study. With employees more likely to lose a smart phone than a laptop, security issues abound and will only increase. The “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon creates additional concerns, not least of which is to create a firewall between personal and business data. These SMB challenges provide ample opportunity for wireless carriers, networking vendors, MSPs and others that can provide integrated and automated managed services. These are likely to include services that encompass management of cloud-based infrastructure and all end-point devices, from desktop PCs, tablets and smart phones to purpose-built mobile devices; network services to reduce downtime and help optimize the network that mobile access relies on; and support for cloud-based dual-persona solutions on personal mobile      devices.
  1. The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions. As unemployment has increased, so has the number of freelancers, contractors, independent consultants and others choosing to go it alone. According to      the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses without a payroll make up more than 70% of America’s 27 million companies, with annual sales of $887 billion. Many entrepreneurs never intended to take this path, but stay solo because they prefer it to going back to the corporate payroll. Others      stick it out due to limited employment options. Either way, more accidental entrepreneurs view what they’re doing as a long-term business venture instead of a short-term stopgap. As a result, they see themselves more as business owners than as freelancers or contractors. But many have no intention or desire to hire employees. This will spike demand for—and growth of—applications and services that help them to achieve their business goals without adding employees. Traditional small business powerhouses (Intuit, Sage, etc.), pioneers in the SOHO space (FreshBooks,      Shoebox, Zoho, etc.), new start-ups and others will increasingly cater to their needs with solutions that make it easier for them to fly solo—whether from a home office or on the go.
  1. Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites. As evidenced in our 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communication Study, the SMB pendulum is swinging from point solutions for voice, communications, social media and collaboration solutions to integrated suites. Medium      businesses are leading the charge, with 28% currently using an integrated collaboration suite, and 35% planning to do so in the next 12 months. Small businesses are slower to make this leap, but a transition is under way here too. By moving from disparate point solutions to an integrated offering, SMBs can avoid the hassles of learning to use multiple user interfaces, going to different sites to login and remembering different passwords—in short, things that waste time and frustrate users. They also can lower costs and improve their ability to collaborate effectively. A  growing roster of low-cost (or free), easy-to-use integrated collaboration suites (Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, IBM LotusLive and HyperOffice, to name a few) are adding fuel to the convergence fire—although vendors will still need to address the obstacle of user resistance to learning  something new.
  2. The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift. The trend triumvirate—cloud, social and mobile—is also reshaping the IT channel. These trends are moving the goal posts and changing the ways in which channel partners add value. Cloud computing reduces the need for hardware, software and infrastructure deployment skills, and ups the ante for educational guidance, business process transformation and integration skills. Re-imagined channel partner programs from vendors such as Intacct and IBM’s Software Group have blossomed as they shift partner rewards to focus more on value-add and renewals. Meanwhile, non-traditional IT partners, such as creative and marketing agencies, have stepped in to fill a gap by providing social media and digital marketing services for solutions such as Radian6 and HubSpot. In the mobile domain, partners will need to bring more value to help SMBs develop and implement mobile strategies, and offer solutions to manage mobile devices and applications and provide better network performance, reliability and redundancy. As with any significant inflection point, the cloud-social-mobile trend necessitates that older partner models continue to move aside as new, more relevant ones take shape.
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