Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

February 23, 2015

SMB Use of Company Managed Websites and Social Sites

November 25, 2014

How Social Media Factors Into the SMB Equation

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.

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 6, 2012

Swimming with the Smarter Customer: The Speedo International Story

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

Recently, Brent Leary and I had the opportunity to talk with Gareth Beer, Ecommerce Manager for Speedo International and learn about how Speedo International is applying smarter commerce philosophies and solutions to better serve its customers. We think Beer’s insights about Speedo’s experience in this area illustrate how important it is for a company to start with a strong vision for delivering a great customer experience–and how to execute to make that vision a reality.

Start with the Customer

Anyone that’s ever been near a pool let alone belonged to a swim team knows the iconic Speedo swimwear brand. But, we do need to supply a bit more background to put this post in context for our discussion.

Speedo International is a subsidiary of Pentland Brands with headquarters and about 200 employees based in Nottingham, UK, and operations around the globe and sales in 180 countries. Up until 2008, Speedo International had been a traditional wholesale business, with retailers serving as its sole sales outlet to customers. The company had no desire to compete with its retail partners, but consumers were clamoring for better access to the full range of Speedo products, in all sizes and colors–which they couldn’t always find in their local stores.

Bringing Speedo International online was an obvious solution to providing customers with better access, but Speedo faced a dilemma common to many companies in this position–the threat of potential channel conflict. But as Beer told us, “Speedo understands that many customers will use the site to search, browse and add to the cart and ultimately buy at a local store.” Speedo’s goal is to give customers a place to search, browse and find information–and then purchase the product wherever they choose.

Zero in on Objectives

In line with these goals, Speedo International needed to create a site with detailed photos, images, descriptions, fitting guides, FAQs and videos of all Speedo products; the ability to purchase; and customer feedback mechanisms. Speedo had a jump-start because Pentland, its parent company, was already running IBM WebSphere Commerce for all of its companies, making this platform the natural choice for Speedo.

So Speedo’s ecommerce team got busy figuring out what analytics capabilities they wanted. They were looking for a solution that “would let us go to another level of thinking, beyond looking at visitors and traffic. We wanted to really understand the customer, how they behave, how they think and how they liked to be interacted with, so that we could optimize marketing, retention and recruitment,” according to Beer. The company also wanted the flexibility to gather and analyze new sources of information as requirements evolved.

After investigating different solutions, Speedo International selected IBM’s Coremetrics for several reasons. First, Coremetrics was available as subscription-based cloud service, and pre-integrated with WebSphere Commerce, which meant that Speedo didn’t need to spend time on technical implementation and integration.

More important, Beer advised us, was that “all the data is in one place and we have a common interface across the 12 Coremetrics modules we use. Other vendors have similar tools, but with Coremetrics, we get the different capabilities we need, from measuring the effectiveness of pay-per-click campaigns to creating personalized interactions with top customers.

Create a Virtuous Cycle

Some of the many ways Speedo uses Coremetrics are to:

  • Track KPIs for sales, orders, visitors, stock and margins, and its consumer index score, which rates customer experience with Speedo.
  • Gauge the effectiveness of pay per click campaigns and retargeting efforts.
  • Get a clear view of who the customer is, how they behave, and how they like to be spoken to.
  • Set and meet service level agreements to pick, pack and dispatch orders.

As a result, Beer’s team can deliver feedback to business decision makers more rapidly. “We can quickly pick up on trends, what’s working, what’s not, what colors and styles people like or don’t like. Then the business can make better commercial decisions faster,” Beer told us.

Using the Coremetrics Lifecycle module, Speedo also gains a complete view of its top customers, which enables it to do things such as offer more personal attention and rewards, and encourage them to post more ratings and reviews. In turn, this gives Speedo more data to feed back to the business, turn top customers into advocates, and generate more business.

Speedo International has held fast to its pledge not to compete with its retailers on price. However, about 15% of Speedo’s customers pay a premium to buy on the Speedo site. Speedo’s research indicates that these customers buy on direct because of the exceptional customer service experience that Speedo delivers–facilitated to a large extent by WebSphere Commerce and Coremetrics.

A Work in Progress

Speedo International launched a Facebook page about 18 months ago. It uses Coremetrics to make sure that Facebook information jives with information on its estore, and to track how many people go to the estore from Facebook. Speedo can append Facebook images, URLs, etc. with tags which feed into Coremetrics. Using these tags, Speedo can also create special product offers, or have people vote on colors on Facebook, and see how many people come to the estore as a result of these campaigns.

One of the most compelling parts of Speedo’s strategy that Beer discussed with us is to “put any Speedo store on top of WebSphere Commerce, and have one place underneath as a common foundation for all stock and inventory management.” In 2012, Speedo plans to launch a new Facebook store, a new mobile store and create stores in key European countries with localized content, currency and language. The unified WebSphere Commerce foundation will ensure consistency and continuity of the customer shopping experience across these different sites.

Summing Up

Beer summed up his perspective by saying “the business is all about the customer. We need to be in as many channels as customers are in and align them as closely as we can–whether the customer is on smart phone, iPad or in a brick and mortar store. The goal is to have consistency and visibility across these channels and heighten our understanding of the customer.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

This is the fourth of a six-part series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions.

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.

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.

March 22, 2011

Social Business: Why Having a Plan Matters


Co-authored by: Laurie McCabe and Sanjeev Aggarwal, SMB Group, and Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

 

Good plans shape good decisions. That’s why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true.
Lester R. Bittel, The Nine Master Keys of Management

This seems to be especially true when it comes to getting business value out of social media. We recently wrapped up fielding for our joint SMB Group-CRM Essentials “2011 Small and Medium Business Social Business Study,” in which we surveyed 750 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers regarding their use, plans and perceptions about social media.

Although SMB interest and adoption of social media to assist with a variety of business functions—from generating leads to product development—is sky-rocketing, the question remains of how and where SMBs are actually deriving business value remains. Our study took an in-depth look at the specific activities and functions that SMBs are using social media for.

While Sanjeev Aggarwal, partner Brent Leary of CRM Essentials and I are just beginning to immerse ourselves in this very rich gold mine of data, one thing is clear:  SMBs that use social media in a “strategic and structured way” to interact with customers and prospects are much more likely to be deriving benefit from their social media investments than those who are using social media in an “ad hoc, informal” way.

Today, SMBs are most likely to be actively using social media to help with marketing and sales functions–including generating more web site traffic, generating more leads, connecting with people who aren’t yet customers, improving market awareness for their brand, reputation enhancement and creating more/better interaction with customers.

As shown on Figure 1, survey results show that those that have a more formal and structured strategy are more likely to be satisfied or very satisfied with the outcomes than those that are using social media in an informal, ad hoc way. For instance, among small businesses:

  • 39% of respondents using social media are very satisfied/satisfied with the results of using social media to “create more/better interaction with customers/prospects,” as opposed 24% of those using it an ad hoc manner.
  • 37% of structured users are very satisfied/satisfied with using social media to generate more web site traffic, compared to just 14% of ad hoc users.
  • 37% of structured users are very satisfied/satisfied with using social media to improve market awareness for the company, in contrast to 16% of ad hoc users.

Figure 1: Comparison of Small Business Satisfaction with Social Media for Business Activities: Structured vs. Ad Hoc Users

 

While we have about 30 other questions and a seemingly endless array of cross-tabs to mull over in terms of the study, one thing is already crystal clear: To get the most business value from your social media investment, you need to pause and plan—in addition to playing with—social media activities.

For more information about this study, click here.


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