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    FEATURED INFOGRAPHIC

    2021 Top 10 SMB Business Issues, IT Priorities, IT Challenges
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    NEXT CHANNEL - THE FUTURE OF PARTNER ECOSYSTEM

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    2021 SMB & MIDMARKET PREDICTIONS

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    SIMPLIFY. EXPAND. GROW.

    #SMB #MIDMARKET #UPPER MID-MARKET #CHANNEL
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  • DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

    DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

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  • WHITE PAPER

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  • SECURITY RESEARCH

    SECURITY RESEARCH

    SMB & Midmarket Security Adoption Trends
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  • MANAGED SERVICES RESEARCH

    MANAGED SERVICES RESEARCH

    US SMB & Midmarket Managed Services Adoption
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    CLOUD RESEARCH

    SMB & Midmarket Cloud Adoption
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  • CHANNEL PARTNERS

    CHANNEL PARTNERS

    Transformation or Consolidation
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  • COVID-19 IMPACT

    COVID-19 IMPACT

    on SMB IT Spend Growth Rates
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  • WHITE PAPER

    WHITE PAPER

    Windows 10 PCs - Strategic SMB Investment for Modern World of Work
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  • NEW SMB CUSTOMER RESEARCH

    NEW SMB CUSTOMER RESEARCH

    PC and software purchasing trends
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  • 2020 CHANNEL PARTNER PREDICTIONS

    2020 CHANNEL PARTNER PREDICTIONS

    Channel Partner Predictions for 2020
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  • ANALYTICS & ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

    ANALYTICS & ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

    SMB & Midmarket Analytics & Artificial Intelligence Adoption
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  • BUYERS JOURNEY

    BUYERS JOURNEY

    Influence map & care-abouts
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  • SAAS RESEARCH

    SAAS RESEARCH

    US SMB & Midmarket SaaS Adoption
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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

We do not sell, customers purchase - Raju Vegesna reflects on 25 years of Zoho

Zoho was founded in 1996, twenty-five years ago, with a mission to deliver easy-to-use and deploy CRM solutions to the SOHO market segment (Small Office, Home Office). Even the Zoho name was a spin from SOHO. In the last 25 years, Zoho has transformed from a fledgling startup to an enterprise serving small, midsized, large, and public sector organizations. In contrast, Salesforce was founded 22 years ago. It is a similar timeframe as Zoho, but each is at different levels – revenue, awareness, customers, and employees. How does Zoho keep itself grounded with such a lopsided competition? Today's business world admires Unicorns, applauds valuations, overlooks SaaS suppliers' profitability. Not that there is anything detrimental about chasing unicorn status with little to show profitability, Zoho founders have been tracking employee empowerment and customer success. In the last 25 years, Zoho has become well-known for its easily deployable, easy to use, full-featured applications. Recently Zoho is being recognized for its top-down driven, empathetic culture.

What is more critical to Zoho, delivering customer success or empowering organizational culture? Each organization goes through several essential points of decision in its journey. What were some of those decision points? Would a different decision have changed the trajectory of Zoho and on a collision course with Salesforce? Did Zoho ever reach a crossroad, break-it, or make-it stage? Many questions had been swirling in my mind, which I decided to address to Raju Vegesna, Chief Strategy Officer, Zoho.

True to the initial mission of empowering employees, Raju has no regrets. Instead, he describes Zoho's achievements as fulfilling. He has great admiration for Salesforce but quips that Zoho does not sell, customers purchase, and he is thrilled to be on the path Zoho has chosen.

Read on, excerpts from my very detailed interview with Raju Vegesna.

Fulfillment is the name for Zoho's 25-year journey

Can you describe Zoho's 25-year journey in one word? What is that word?
It's tough to describe our journey in one word. There is an internal perspective which is fulfillment. If we do not have that, we cannot have confidence in what we are doing and satisfaction with what we are doing. The feeling of fulfillment started early on and has continued. Even on Zoho's website's homepage, we showcase it as a life's work which is only possible if we inner fulfillment.

Customer success vs. organizational culture

What is more critical to Zoho, delivering customer success or empowering organizational culture?
We cannot separate customer success and organizational culture. They are two sides of the same coin. If we do not have organizational empathy and that culture right, then it will show up on the customer side. And if we do not have one side right then, the other side is not going to work. We often say, when you have a customer problem, it means you also have an employee problem. These are interlinked - one is external facing, and the other is internal facing. And if you have that inner empathy to humility, it will show up as a positive impact when servicing a customer. And this is ingrained and built into the organization. It is a simple mandate. If it is an employee's responsibility to keep the customer happy, the employee should have the freedom to think and act, and so it has to be built into the organization's DNA.

Chasing Unicorns

How do you keep yourself grounded?
We do not pay too much attention to valuations. We do not think about it. We have been through multiple bubbles, up and down cycles, so they do not bother as much. Then we also realize that the market, to some extent, is biased towards public companies. How often do you hear about private companies? For example, Tableau versus SAS, which is a private company. Or Walmart versus Aldi. There is an inherent bias in the market. Bias puts private companies at a disadvantage because they don't have the mindshare. Why didn't someone hear about Zoho earlier, partly because private companies do not get enough exposure? They are not talked about it because there's no inherent gain for other people. But then there are also a few things that are on our side that public companies don't. So, what, how do we play the advantages. For example, we don't have a timeline and a time horizon to operate. Now we can plan out a decade in advance. Some projects have been in the last 6-9 years in Zoho that haven't seen the light of the day. And when you have a public company running on a quarter-by-quarter basis, they don't have the advantage to plan it out. We try to focus on the process and what is in our control and do it the right way.

Critical decision points

What were critical decision points? Do you think those decisions changed the trajectory of Zoho? What would have happened if you did not make those decisions?
I'd say some early lessons helped a lot. Initially, our primary customers were optical companies. When the telecom bubble burst. We had about 305 customers, of which 300 or 301 of them died. Over a year or two, imagine that when 99% of your customers vanish, you might as well. We had zero debt, and we had some savings. And we had very hungry engineers. We took all the savings and invested in the engineers, and pivoted. Even from the beginning, we always believed in zero debt, which is a crucial reason for survival. Another lesson we learned was that diversification becomes vital for the product. Now we are fully diversified - product portfolio, regions, countries. We don't have a customer that is contributing to more than 1% of our revenue. The exciting thing is that not all the products we created back then exist today, but most of the employees who made the products still exist and are just creating new products. One hundred people have been with the company for at least 20 years, and they are just creating new things.

Deciding product roadmap

How did you decide to develop which apps and in which order?
It's one of the extremely simplest ways to decide. What are the apps that we do not use to run our business? What are the apps that we need to run our own business? And, and if there is a missing piece, we build it. So we believe that if we run our entire business on our own products and benefit from it, other companies will have the same benefits. We have 50 apps now, but I look at the road ahead and say we still have a long way to go. More importantly, can we make the boundaries between these applications disappear and appear as a single application? Why should users pick and choose the apps they want? Why can't everything contextually tie together? Why are there walls? A business may not have segregation between a front office or a back office. Why should there be a separation in software, support, sales system, marketing system, and several vendors that serve the needs? As simple as that. And that segregation has to, and separation has to go away. And that is one of the walls. So, it's a journey, but our tools and the missing pieces define our roadmap.

Surviving and thriving

Did you ever reach a crossroad, break-it, or make-it stage?
Survival instinct comes immediately after the break or make moment. I vividly remember when we pivoted, we created a product to address the IP market. And we demonstrated the product at a Vegas show. We were so tense because our future was dependent on that product. As we kept on demoing the product, more and more people started liking it. And that is when we said; now we have a future. Survival was a priority. And then, later, we started focusing on expansion and thriving.

Mentors and learnings

Who do you turn to for learning and mentoring?
We have a tightly-knit team. The management team has been sitting next to each other for a couple of decades. We go through the journey together. We also learn a lot from external companies. We study companies. How did all the private companies become one of the top leaders, for example, Aldi? Or the makers of M&Ms, which have been around for 100 years. Or how has Marvin Window been successful for the last 115 years? Or take a company like Bata. If you grew up in India, it is ingrained in you but is not an Indian company. It is a company out of the Czech Republic.

Salesforce admiration – purchasing vs. selling, small and enterprise customers

Salesforce started with a focus on small businesses but pivoted to enterprise customers. Now it is re-engaging with SMBs. Did you ever want to become a Salesforce?
There is one area that I admire in Salesforce. It educated the market about SaS. I have respect for the Salesforce platform on the technology front because they lead the way. But on the sales and distribution model, we decided to take a different approach. We are primarily an engineering-centric company, so and won't be a sales and marketing-centric company—money matters. We instead re-invest the money in our engineers than on sales and marketing. We like the bottom-up approach, where we started selling to small businesses. We named Zoho itself after Soho, small office, home office market. Slowly, we started serving larger companies. It is the customers pulling us into their organizations and not Zoho selling to those organizations. It's a subtle but essential difference. In other words, in a lot of cases, our products are chased, not sold. And that changes the dynamics. We see lately an increase in mid to large size customers adopting Zoho. If you look at our sister division ManageEngine the target market is mid-sized to large enterprises, and 60% of fortune 500 companies are our customers.

Respect for competition

Do we ever want to become a Salesforce or SAP? We are not sales-focused. We have a good number of salespeople, but it is a tiny percentage of the total workforce. We will continue to be an R&D company. We understand that there is competition, and we respect them. But then we respect our customers a lot more. We will build products, focus on R&D, and have these local, transnational teams, which will be on the ground, looking at customers developing solutions to meet their needs. Our business model is relatively simple, mainly because we are a private company. We only worry about two sets of people – customers and employees - because the third set, investors, are no longer at play.

Next 25 year changes – transnational localism

What will you change in your evolution for the next 25 years?
There are a few things that won't change - culture, values, people, and the investment in R&D. What will change is what we call transnational localism, which means we will have local teams available in multiple countries, geographically. We are strengthening our local presence in every country we are present in to serve the local customers. And that's an important strategy. We are present in about 20 countries, and we will see our team expanding in each of these countries, and that team will be solving the local customer's problems.

 raju vegesna headshot

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Zoho addressing the Rule of 5 for SMBs and Midmarket firms

The first entry point to cloud for 51% of SMBs has been SaaS (cloud business applications). However, most businesses often obtain only fragments of cloud’s potential benefits because applications deployed usually lack the integration needed to enable a seamless enterprise-wide business process that supports agility, efficiency and growth. Discrete cloud solutions offer immediate relief from problems in many areas but disconnected cloud applications introduce friction. SMBs and midmarket firms are increasingly taking an integrated approach for a zero-friction future. The “rule of 5” refers to sources of complexity in an SMB and midmarket firm’s business related to:

1. Information timeliness/accuracy problems
2. The problem of incomplete information
3. Business process problems
4. Customer service and experience problems
5. Cost and consistency problems

This is where Zoho steps in. Zoho One - Zoho’s flagship cloud-solution, marketed as the operating system for the business, runs on a unified database with a unified data model with data pillars that enable seamless integration to deliver single truth for the business empowering users with a unified experience. A collection of 45+ apps running on a single database architecture and purpose-built on Zoho technology stack - services, software, hardware and network infrastructure - deployed on Zoho’s own global datacenters ensures performance, availability, security and privacy. Clearly, a visionary design architecture, which is being replicated by other CRM and ERP-focused vendors. But Zoho is ahead.

Why Zoho has the right solution to address the “Rule of 5”

Zoho’s secret sauce lies in its interconnected set of data pillars that feed all relevant apps. Each data pillar contains very specific metadata of employees, communications, customer information and opportunities, finance, assets, and inventory. Consistency has a lot to do with vertically integrated systems, a design paradigm that Zoho follows religiously. Although Zoho One is the holy grail for digitalizing business processes, most Zoho customers use a set of nine apps: CRM, Analytics, Books, SalesIQ, Expense, Invoice, People, Social, Inventory.

Zoho has the right solution to address the “rule of 5”.

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2020 Top 10 SMB and Midmarket business issues-challenges-priorities

Techaisle has released its annual research infographics on top 10 IT priorities, business issues and IT challenges of SMBs (1-999 employees), midmarket firms (100-999 employees) and small businesses (1-99 employees) for 2020. In its detailed SMB survey Techaisle investigated 27 different technology areas and several technology sub-categories, 25 different IT challenges and 24 different business issues. This is the 10th year of Techaisle’s annual survey research initiative that probes for top business issues, IT priorities and IT challenges. Tracking history provides a fascinating evolution in which new business goals drive new IT priorities and uncover challenges that must be addressed to enable progress on business objectives. Primary research was conducted among senior IT and business decision makers from Techaisle network of 1.8M B2B IT professionals spread across 30+ countries.

WW SMBs are expected to spend US$1 trillion on IT in 2028, growing at a faster rate than the enterprise segment. Innovation is increasingly becoming a line-item of IT budgets. 40% of midmarket firms and 15% of small businesses are carving out budgets specifically for technology-driven innovation. But there is a flip-side as well. Within 47% of small businesses and 22% of midmarket firms, IT is not expected to actively drive innovation. As data suggest, nearly half of the SMBs assert that either they do not have the right IT skills or not enough IT staff. However, data does show that move to pay-as-you-use/consumption-based financing is likely to reach an irreversible trend with 14% of SMBs either currently using or planning for it. But a mass-move to only OPEX-based technology acquisitions is still in distant future with 30% of SMBs still preferring a mix of CAPEX and OPEX.

2020 top10 smb it priorities business issues techaisle infographics blog

Download 2020 SMB infographic here

For 2020, data shows that for the first-time customer experience has appeared within the top 5 challenges being faced by IT within SMBs which has a direct correlation to the top business issue of attracting and retaining customers. A direct result of the new challenge and focus is in the increase in plans for adopting integrated CRM and customer service solutions (in some cases replacing one brand of CRM with another), acceleration in use of artificial intelligence and analytics. A small business CEO of a manufacturing firm told Techaisle, “we are planning to purchase more cloud-based applications to save time and effort. See being a start-up, currently we do not use many cloud applications and we know that there are requests from our sales and HR department to purchase additional cloud applications. Right now, we are not using any cloud application for customer service and for evaluating our progress, growth and tackle pain point of our business, we need to be more connected to our consumers. So, we are trying to purchase a cloud application like Salesforce or Zoho that can enable us connect with our consumers for feedback and registering customer support / complaints”.

For small businesses, upgrading to digital marketing and utilizing social media is among the top 10 IT challenges. These small businesses are not only experimenting themselves but seeking external assistance in how best to use major digital platforms like Google and LinkedIn to make their customers aware of the services and products that they have to offer. They are also hoping that such initiatives may help them get valuable feedback from their customers.

Security is not only the biggest IT challenge but it is also a key top priority in every region and across all employee size segments. As one SMB CIO told Techaisle, “security has been our biggest concern. The more we try to deploy latest technologies and software hackers always find new ways to breach. So, we are hiring more experts in our cyber security team and we are evaluating more vendors to have the best software and tools for security”. In fact, US survey data shows that 3% of small businesses and 94% of midmarket firms have employed IT security specialists within their organizations. If data from 1-19 employee size segment is excluded, then the percent of small businesses with full-time cybersecurity staff increases to 25% within 20-49 segment and 57% with 50-99 employee segment. The data is no different in Europe and Asia/Pacific, in fact, the percentages are higher in Europe. A small business IT director in Germany told Techaisle “as our company grows and evolves, security concerns are increasing. There are increasing number of cyber risks and we have plans to implement new security solutions, amending policies and hiring additional security professionals for protecting our organization from any cyber breaches or threats”.

Controlling IT costs, although number nine on the top 10 list is a challenge for SMBs. IT is known to be kinetic, complex and risky and costs can spiral out of control rapidly or SMBs are unable to realize the ROI of the investment in the shortest time. Most SMBs find controlling cost to be a major challenged because there have been situations where their spend was higher than budget allocation resulted in losses. Therefore, SMBs are becoming better on their budget forecasts and moving towards cloud eliminating Capex.

Accelerating cloud adoption is a given but there is a new initiative to consolidate IT workloads. A Vice President of IT in Asia/Pacific elaborated on this topic, “we have a lot of IT workloads that is spread over public and private cloud. It is very important for us to have our data consolidated at a single place that would be a private cloud so that only our internal team has access to it and no one else could access the data without our permission. We have plans to work on private cloud provided by Microsoft Azure and AWS”. There are many other SMBs and midmarket firms who have tasked their IT departments to research and add new cloud technologies based on business requirements.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) has moved up in its list of IT priorities driven by the promise of agility, reduced costs, scalability and centralized management. SMBs and midmarket firms are showing their preference for VMware, Cisco and Nutanix HCI offerings.

Cloud-managed SD-WAN service is a new top 10 IT priority for midmarket firms because of faster deployment, optimization of WAN bandwidth and improved operational efficiency due to automation and self-provisioning.

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Prologue and Epilogue of Digitalization in SMB Market

Every year or two (or three), a new trend sweeps the IT industry, and breathless coverage asserts that the new phenomenon has arrived fully-shaped to transform technology and/or IT’s role in business strategy. This is, of course, very rarely true. Most trends play out over a long time, and change in technology tends to be incremental rather than revolutionary. For example – it is certainly true that digitalization (and digital transformation) are important issues today, and that they will have a transformative effect on IT and business strategy. But Techaisle research demonstrates, they are a recent highlight in a series of business issues and technology themes that stretch back at least 15 years, from 2003 to 2019.

Key SMB and Midmarket digitalization themes, 2003-2020

techaisle smb digitalization themes

techaisle wp prologue epilogue resized

As we enter the next decade, it seems that online capabilities and activities are entering a new era. There are still advances to be made in the ‘net’ realm: there is constant pressure to expand the speed of the Internet, enabling it to handle the voracious demands of unstructured content like video, and the rise of IoT and 5G portends a coming tsunami of data from billions of connected devices. However, the key focus of web-based business investment is now less about the ‘net’ and more about the ‘work’: the ways that an increasingly-connected world supports pursuit of previously-unattainable objectives. The most important IT-related development in 2020 will be this focus on connectedness – connected cloud, edge, applications, security, collaboration, workspaces and insights. Internet and the web are the navigation routes that we have been developing since the 1970s; the always-on, everywhere-connected Interwork© platform is the destination that we will be creating in 2020 and for years to come.

This eBook has been written to provide guidance to supply-side management responsible for digitalization strategies that affect sales and marketing of advanced IT solutions to SMBs and midmarket firms. The document is structured into six sections:

  1. What’s past is prologue – The Path to Digitalization
  2. Closing the gap between business priorities and IT challenges and the rise of digital
  3. Business Issues over the years – paving the route to digital transformation
  4. The rise of innovation – and digital – as a business focus
  5. IT challenges over the years – paving the route to digital transformation
  6. What’s future is epilogue: Connected Business

Download the free eBook here

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