It would be unusual to find a “Chief Strategy Officer” or an equivalent group dedicated solely to long-term planning within a small business, or even inside most midmarket enterprises. For the most part, a small team of executives shares responsibility for both charting the company’s direction and managing its daily operational activities. This can make it difficult for SMBs to separate the strategic from the tactical – but it has the advantage of ensuring that ‘big picture’ priorities are reflected in the day-to-day actions taken by the management team.
This direct, visceral link between business imperatives and daily activities has some interesting implications for IT suppliers. Because the business decision maker (BDM) is often responsible for IT-related decisions, the IT supplier needs to ensure that its messaging is relevant to BDM ‘care-abouts’ – and because the BDM is often the source of both strategic and tactical direction, it is important for the IT supplier to root marketing messages and activity in an understanding of how their offerings, and/or the solutions in which their offerings are positioned, address the high-level objectives of the SMB customer.
Figure presents a detailed perspective on the issues that are most important to SMB businesses. The list covers many different types off objectives: improvement within existing operations and processes, expansion of the customer base, profitability and the business as a whole, creation and accelerated delivery of new offerings, reduced cost, and enhanced ability to manage the unknown.
It is a diverse list. But what is remarkable is that each of the 10 issues can be addressed with analytics solutions – and that indeed, SMBs are using analytics to address each today. This gives marketers who sell analytics solutions an enormous advantage; they can position their products as addressing strategic business priorities. A prospective buyer who can associate a solution investment with improved product/process quality, increased productivity, new customer acquisition, and/or reduced cost will have a much better sense as to payback than one who is being asked to upgrade aging infrastructure or increase capacity.
While recognition of the importance of key analytics-addressable business objectives and technology’s ability to contribute to SMB success in these areas is near-universal, readiness to commit to analytics solutions is not nearly as widespread within the SMB market. SMBs are pursuing multiple IT priorities with limited budget and staff resources, and this, presents a challenge to analytics suppliers.
SMB Analytics investment drivers
The Techaisle 2016 SMB & Midmarket Analytics Adoption survey finds that while small & midmarket business segments have different investment levels and technology approaches, they have very similar business reasons for pursuing analytics strategies.
There are also parallels in drivers across current analytics users and firms that are planning to adopt analytics in the near term. The desire to increase revenue is more acute within the ‘planning to adopt’ group, and several of the other list items change order somewhat – but on the whole, the objectives of the next wave of analytics users are very consistent with those enumerated by current users.
The confluence of investment drivers across these user/prospective user communities is, we believe, good news for analytics marketers. Analytics suppliers will need to tailor marketing approaches to reflect different penetration and investment levels and different levels of usage sophistication within small and midmarket firms, and to address new adopters vs. existing customers. Being able to focus on a single set of investment drivers will help to connect messages across these different groups.
SMB Analytics objectives
If there is general concurrence on why to invest in an analytics strategy, there is somewhat less agreement about what the solutions should do once they are deployed. Current users within small and midmarket firms share some perspective on uses of analytics, but new adopters have some different objectives in mind. In both the small and midmarket segments, there is more focus on supporting operational objectives and continuous compliance within the “planning” group than the current user population. This reinforces the general observation that SMB analytics is evolving towards tighter focus on workflow support. Tracking website hits and performance is important to all four groups. This reinforces the observations made in the omni-channel direction.
At the current time, analytics can be seen as an early mass market solution. In early mass market, the answer to the question (does it work?) is assumed to be “yes,” and the key customer question becomes “can you solve my business problem?” This can be a difficult question for vendors to address, because vendors are used to leading with a discussion of their technologies – and the answer to the customer question starts instead with an understanding of the customer’s business needs, investment drivers and performance objectives.