Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

January 14, 2015

Slide Show Version! SMB Group's Top 10 SMB Tech Trends for 2015

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015 in slide show format!

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.

October 31, 2012

SAP TechEd 2012: Implications for SMEs and the Partner Ecosystem

Filed under: Blogs - Sanjeev Aggarwal, Cloud Computing, ISV, Mobility, SaaS, Sanjeev Aggarwal Blog, SAP — Tags: , , , , — sanjeevaggarwal @ 12:10 pm

Sanjeev Aggarwal, Partner, SMB Group

During the week of October 15, I attended SAP TechEd 2012 in Las Vegas, along with about 6,500 SAP technology specialists and partners, and a small group of influencers. Although SAP is more widely renowned for its success in the large enterprise market, the small and medium enterprise or SME market (which SMB Group labels the small and medium business or SMB market) is a core part of SAP’s installed base and essential to SAP’s growth strategy. Roughly 80% of SAP’s more than 128,000 current customers are SMEs with less than 1,000 employees. In addition, SAP has more than 12,000 partners worldwide who provide SAP solutions and services to SME customers.

During this year’s TechEd, SAP discussed three areas that underscore SAP’s commitment to the SME market and its fundamental belief that strong growth opportunities lie ahead in this segment.

Taking HANA to the Cloud and to SMEs

  • HANA Cloud was by far the lead theme overall at 2012 TechEd. As Bill McDermott, co-CEO remarked, “HANA lies at the heart of the intellectual renewal going on at SAP.” HANA began life as an in-memory analytics engine, and quickly evolved into a database. Now, as SAP announced at the event, SAP is building the HANA Cloud as a next-generation platform for developers.

    SAP HANA AppServices and SAP HANA DatabaseServices are services that allow developers to create next-generation applications using native SAP HANA, Java and other rapid-development services. The good news is that SAP will now offer for free, developer licenses for SAP NetWeaver Cloud to get more support from the developer community. These shared services will build on SAP’s cloud platform vision by providing building blocks for portals, integration, mobile, analytics, collaboration and commercial services required to expedite building and life-cycle management of applications.

    SAP HANA One, a deployment of SAP HANA on the Amazon Web Services Cloud. HANA One currently supports a relatively small 64GB HANA instance on Amazon’s AWS cloud for $0.99 per hour. This will make it faster and easier and cheaper for developers to build affordable, HANA-enabled apps for SMEs.Although HANA Cloud is still a work in progress, HANA Cloud services and SAP HANA One are first steps to SAP realizing the HANA Cloud development platform vision. Significant work is required to move this from a development/testing proof-of-concept to a production platform where commercial applications can be deployed. SAP needs to develop a strategy to help developers move rapidly to commercial deployment and promotion, as Salesforce.com has done successfully with its Force.com platform and ecosystem.

  • SAP also announced that SAP Business One, version for SAP HANA, has been in limited release mode as of September 18, 2012, with general availability slated for some time next year.

    SAP Business One is SAP’s flagship ERP solution for SMEs with fewer than 100 employees. This HANA-powered version uses the HANA database and allows both the transactional (ERP) and analytical application to be run on the same server, and promises significant performance advantages. Running both ERP transactions and analytics on a single platform speeds access to information for analytics, reporting and search, without slowing down transactional processing.

    While not every SME will need to turbo-charge these functions, some SMEs are challenged with exponential data growth, and managing and extracting the insights they need from it. For instance in the health care industry, companies can integrate patient transactions with insurance company patient utilization records and hospital electronic medical records, to providing a complete real-time view to better manage patient care and costs. By crunching through more data more quickly, these businesses can more readily gain the insights they need to succeed in an increasingly complex and competitive world.
    Meanwhile, SMEs that don’t require the increased speed and power and analytics capabilities that HANA supplies can continue to buy SAP Business One based on Microsoft SQL database, which SAP offers as both an on-premises and cloud based solution.

Enabling Mobility for SMEs

With the acquisition of Sybase and Syclo (which SAP acquired in April’12), SAP is moving to help SMEs develop a mobile application and mobile management strategies. Sybase’s robust, market-proven Sybase Unwired Platform, is now augmented by the Syclo mobile application development platform to enable partners to rapidly develop, configure and deploy mobile apps for SME customers. SAP partners can also help SMEs to add mobile capabilities to their existing business applications, and/or help them develop custom mobile applications to address business requirements. SMB Group research studies indicate that many SMEs are planning to deploy internal mobile solutions in areas such as field service and CRM. In addition, they are planning to provide external mobile apps in areas such as payments, marketing and appointment and reservation scheduling to boost customer engagement and create new revenue opportunities.

Empowering the SME Partner Ecosystem

The partner ecosystem heavily influences SMEs’ business solution purchase decisions. Many of the partners I spoke with at the event provide consulting, implementation services and development for SAP’s SME-focused applications, including Business One, Business by Design, Business All-in-One, Business Objects Edge. Now SAP is helping these partners build skills in HANA and mobility to support new SME requirements.

Partners will play a vital role in helping SMEs customize application, analytics and reporting on the HANA platform or help startups develop new next generation application on SAP HANA Cloud. Likewise, on the mobility front, partners are essential to help SMEs develop a comprehensive mobility strategy that includes mobile access to business application and address the mobile management issues–including devices, access, security and mobile applications –in a unified way.

SAP is sparking renewed interest from and incremental opportunities for the SAP partner ecosystem. HANA Cloud, SAP Business One with analytics powered by HANA, and new mobility solutions will help SAP attract new partners and grow its partner ecosystem. Meanwhile, SAP’s laser focus on the mobility front will help it forge new partnerships with mobile solution developers that want to capitalize on the opportunity to provide mobile solutions via SAP’s Sybase Afaria platform. SAP is also opening up the SAP PartnerEdge program to help attract these new partners with educational tools, resources and training–as well as credentials to validate and certify partner skills for mobility and HANA.

In addition, the current SAP Mentors and partners that I met at TechEd were excited about the new opportunities that this will open up for them. For existing SAP partners, SAP’s new HANA and mobile solutions provides a pathway to incremental opportunities in their existing account, and an entrée to develop business in new ones.

Perspective

SAP is betting that these new technologies and solutions will give it an edge in the SME market. But for many SMEs, this is uncharted territory. SAP will need to make a hefty investment—particularly around HANA—to build awareness and understanding of the value that it brings to the table. Likewise, it must build on TechEd to ensure that it rolls out a steady, effective training program to help partners position, design, build, implement and support SAP solutions in these areas.

That said, as discussed in The Progressive SMB: Customer Stories are Worth 1,000 Analyst Words, SMB Group research indicates a distinct and growing segment of SMEs that we call “Progressive SMBs.” Despite economic uncertainties, Progressive SMBs plan to increase IT investments. They see IT as a tool for business transformation, and a way to create market advantage and level the playing field against bigger companies. Furthermore, Progressive SMBs have higher revenues expectations than their peers.

For instance, 50% of the small and 73% of the medium Progressive businesses (who are increasing technology spending) anticipate revenue gains in 2012, compared to just 15% of the small and 8% of medium businesses that plan to decrease IT spending.

The opportunity for SAP lies in growing the Progressive SME segment. After all, its unlikely that SME technology stragglers are going to become SAP customers. To accomplish this, SAP will need to make a significant investment outside of its installed base (as well as within) to educate SMEs about the increasingly dire consequences that technology laggards are likely to face, and the tremendous upside that they can gain by using IT solutions more strategically. Then, SAP must clearly connect the dots to demonstrate how SMEs can apply its new solutions to leapfrog competitors and grow their businesses.

If SAP can alert and educate a broader SME audience, then it can not only help narrow this gap, but also increase the market opportunity for its new 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 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.


July 29, 2010

Technology Solution and Services Purchasing Cycle Decision Markers in Small Businesses

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

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

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

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

Source: SMB Group, 2010

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

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

 

 

 

 

 


March 2, 2010

Relevance of Marketing Tools/Media in Customer Acquisition

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

July 31, 2009

Prognosis on SAP’s Business ByDesign – SaaS based ERP solution for the core mid-market

I came across a good analysis on some aspects of SaaS vs. on-premise vendors and solutions in the smoothspan post Why Do SaaS Companies Lose Money Hand Over Fist?

After reading through the post and various responses, I have some comments that could shed more light on the SaaS vs. on-premise topic and how this relates to SAP’s continued focus on Business ByDesign.

  • The global ERP market opportunity driven by the large number of SMB/mid-market companies. In the U.S. there are 11 times more mid-market companies and on a worldwide basis the number is 13.5X.

     

    # of U.S. Companies

    # of Worldwide companies

    Enterprises (1000+ empl.)

    9,000

    52,000

    Mid-Market (100-1000 empl.)

    100,000

    700,000

    Ratio – Mid-market/Enterprise

    11X

    13.5X

     

     

  • The enterprise market is heavily penetrated by ERP type solutions, mostly on-premise solutions. The U.S. mid-market has less than 42% ERP penetration. This penetration of ERP solutions is much lower outside the U.S. Existing SaaS solution vendors until now have primarily focused on the U.S. market, with less than 15-20% international sales (other than Salesforce.com). SAP being a global company, has the potential of ramping up fast in the international markets which is very under penetrated, where SAP already has established relationships and market presence (significantly more than any of the SaaS vendors). This presents a significant upside revenue opportunity for SAP in the mid-market (especially in the 100-500 employee segment which is outside of the sweet spot of other SAP midmarket solutions – BusinessOne and Business All-in-One).
  • One also needs to look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of SaaS vs. on-premise solutions. A recent paper investigated details on this, The TCO of Cloud Computing in the SMB and Mid–Market Enterprises; A total cost of ownership comparison of cloud and on–premise business applications. Thee general conclusions are:
    • Considering a 4 year TCO, works in favor of the SaaS ERP solutions when the number of users is less than 400 users. Beyond these numbers of users, the on-premise TCO starts to become better (lower). These would be mostly enterprise companies, who favor on-premise solutions.
    • When considers a TCO beyond 4 years, on-premise solutions are better (lower). Again, these tend to be larger companies.
  • Most of the SaaS vendors like Salesforce.com and NetSuite have a much higher sales and marketing expenses ratio (~ 54% of revenue as shown in the smoothspan post Why Do SaaS Companies Lose Money Hand Over Fist?) primarily driven by their direct sales model. For Business ByDesign, for which SAP is promoting a channel driven model, this percentage should be lower.
  • R&D spending of 16% by SaaS companies – the strategy that needs to be explored by vendors looking to develop SaaS products, they need to seriously consider SaaS platforms like force.com (from Salesforce.com) and QuickBase (from Intuit). The developers that have used these platforms, have significantly reduced both their initial R&D spending and also their product development timeframe, brining SaaS solutions to market in some cases 1-2 years sooner. These SaaS/cloud platforms-as-a-service were not available when SAP embarked on development of ByD (or would they have used one, even if it was available…I am sure they have developed a significant internal expertise with this development experience). It is prudent for SAP to control the roll-out of Business-ByDesign until the product, delivery and channel kinks have been worked out. Prediction – Past experience with German engineering should alert the ERP market that in 2010, SAP will probably deliver a successful mid-market SaaS ERP solution for the core mid-market.

Reviewing the above, including good reviews from the current customers of Business ByDesign, it would be prudent for SAP not to scale back efforts on the roll-out of Business ByDesign – as strategy they have consistently communicating to the market.

July 22, 2009

Avaya-Nortel will prove to be a formidable competitor for Cisco in the SMB Voice & Unified Communications Market

Avaya will be runaway market share leader in the SMB and Mid-Market Voice Communications Segment with the purchase of Nortel Enterpriser Solution business

Avaya has been in heavy competition with Cisco for the SMB and Mid-Market Unified Communications market, with Cisco steadily gaining market share in the SMB IP-communication segment. However, the combined Avaya-Nortel will position them with roughly twice the market share in the worldwide SMB market – close to 30%, almost 2X of Cisco.

Sure there is product overlap between Avaya and Nortel SMB and mid-market products on the TDM and IP telephony side. However, the Nortel BCM product line is very strong and appealing to the SMB sector. Avaya has no products on the data networking side.

Avaya has been facing problems competing with Cisco on the IP-Telephony side, as Cisco can address both the IP-telephony side and the data networking product requirements of this market segment. Now that Nortel enterprise solutions include a strong data network portfolio – WLAN, secure routers, wireless access points, firewalls, etc.; Avaya will be able to offer a much more complete and competitive solution to the SMB market.

In addition to the products, Nortel will bring Avaya:

  • Large and loyal customer base
  • Leading partnerships with a large number of country leading telecom service providers like BT, Bell Canada
  • Significantly expanded routes to market with stronger portfolio of data-centric distributors and VARs (in most cases there is not much overlap in the channel)
  • Expanded geographic coverage

The current tough economic conditions have prompted SMB to somewhat slow-down the rate of migration from TDM to IP based voice communications and unified communication solutions. As the economy improves in 2010 and SMB’s again start to review their migration to IP-based solutions – the Avaya-Nortel combination will present a much stronger competitive front to Cisco.

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