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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.

Salesforce – a step closer to enabling connected business with connected insights

On Monday, 10th June, Salesforce announced a definitive agreement to acquire Tableau bringing Salesforce one step closer to empowering analytics-driven digital transformation for its customers, enabling enterprise performance management, driving connected businesses and hurtling itself on a collision course with Microsoft and SAP. Microsoft’s Power BI is rapidly dethroning many analytics platforms including Tableau and SAP is taking giant leaps towards customer experience management with Qualtrics.

Besides adding to topline revenue of Salesforce, the acquisition will likely not have any significant material effect on revenue growth rate as Tableau’s revenue is less than 10% of Salesforce’s revenue with Q/Q growth rate only slightly more than half of Salesforce.

Salesforce began as a SaaS company in 2000 with its famous “No Software” logo and attention-grabbing advertising of a fighter jet striking a biplane. In the last seven years it has transformed into a leading cloud SaaS company with creatively created and strategically segmented solution offerings – Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Services Cloud, Commerce Cloud and Analytics Cloud. But collectively these are only customer-focused applications that operate within the Salesforce platform. But the scope of SaaS impact mirrors the scope of activity in the enterprise itself. SaaS is being meaningfully applied to IT operations, to core business functions (finance, HR, business operations, ERP) in addition to customer-facing tasks (customer service, marketing and sales). There are dozens of discrete SaaS application categories and thousands of applications that address part or all of the requirements in a specific area, or which bridge across process requirements.

The true benefits arise when cloud applications are connected to each other. Connected applications provide businesses the benefits of agility, efficiency, collaboration, alignment, customer intimacy and innovation. This cross-functional visibility is important to diagnosing issues within the business and formulating enterprise strategy. Almost all businesses, from small to enterprise are on their digital transformation journeys. Frequently, a key step in the digital transformation process is to automate related tasks within and across business process. In the absence of adjacent SaaS applications such as ERP, HR, financial management - Salesforce was forced to acquire MuleSoft, the integration solution to help businesses of all sizes create connected applications.

But a key missing piece from Salesforce’s portfolio has been analytics. Regardless of the business issue, analytics provides an answer. Businesses are prioritizing a wide range of improved outcomes: improvement within existing operations and processes, expansion of customer base, profitability, creation and accelerated delivery of new offerings, reduced cost, and enhanced ability to manage the unknown. Remarkably, each of the issues can be addressed with analytics solutions – and indeed, businesses are using analytics to address each today. This provides analytics vendors with a powerful ability to link product/service capabilities with critical ‘care-abouts’. And exactly this capability was missing from Salesforce’s portfolio. Its AI-led analytics platform Einstein was not proving to be a true analytics solution but rather a collection of dashboards. And for that matter, neither is Tableau (which leans more towards data visualization than analytics). However, with some of its recent announcements such as Ask Data and updates of VizQL, when combined with Salesforce platform may prove to be very useful for new and common customers.

If connected cloud applications is a logical starting point for connect businesses then connected insights is the logical destination. A fact that I feel is being pursued by Salesforce. Most businesses are developing an understanding of the power of advanced analytics, and many are well along the path of installing a “data culture” in which facts are used to identify options, not simply to justify decisions based on instinct or anecdotal feedback. Many cherished but complex metrics, such as return on marketing investment or lifetime customer value, can be established by providing analysts and data scientists with rich data and sophisticated tools. Both MuleSoft and Tableau bring Salesforce closer to delivering an Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) system which will allow businesses to have a new attitude and culture that values and uses data analytics as the quickest way to gauge overall performance and specific areas of interest at a glance. And a key reason why SAP purchased Business Objects many years ago, Oracle acquired Hyperion and IBM absorbed Cognos and SPSS, but some fell by the wayside.

Most businesses including SMBs and midmarket firms that have used CRM and ERP systems within the past few years are familiar with the dashboards that are available with many of these applications, either embedded or purchased/developed separately. Dashboards will continue to evolve and be dynamic in several ways; the way they use data from subsystems like ecommerce and other real time feed sources, the way users can personalize the layout of their dashboards, and the ability to build KPIs “on-the-fly” by calculating variables on the screen and saving the result in a meta-repository for all to use. While several SaaS vendors allow this kind of metric building and start the user at a dashboard, we have yet to see anything targeted to the mid-market or SMBs that connects the performance across front office, production, fulfillment and customer service almost out of the box – so the future has been here for a while and we are waiting for the market to catch up. Microsoft fired the most recent salvo with Power BI and now Salesforce is responding. If only Salesforce bought an ERP firm or HR or collaboration or virtual workspace or customer experience/survey. It would certainly be a game-changer.

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Artificial Intelligence – visibly absent in small businesses but notably present in midmarket firms

The IT industry is abuzz with discussion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain. Both AI and blockchain are currently aspirational within SMBs and Midmarket firms. It is not because these firms are not open to the technologies but they have limited understanding of deployment processes.

Regardless of the aspirational nature, both the technologies are showing a very promising adoption trends within midmarket firms. Techaisle’s survey research of 1100 US firms shows that 26% of midmarket firms are currently using AI and another 28% plan to deploy within the next one year. If they stick to the plan, by mid-2020, over 50% of firms will have at least either begun trials or accomplished full deployment of AI within their organizations.

Similarly, blockchain adoption shows an important trend. Although, less than 1/5th of midmarket firms are currently using the technology, a full 40% do plan to adopt blockchain within the year. In fact, when the two datasets are combined, data shows that 42% are currently experimenting and another 42% are developing protypes. Drilling down into the data we find that 26% of midmarket firms are seriously investigating the possibility of implementing blockchain.

In contrast to midmarket’s current and planned adoption of artificial intelligence, only 5% of small businesses are currently using artificial intelligence and 10% of small businesses which are planning to deploy AI are conducting trials.

Not only is the adoption trend different between small and midmarket businesses, the expected benefits and application usages also differ. For example, 38% of small businesses believe that use of AI in marketing / advertising and 32% in improving customer experiences will be integral to their business success whereas 43% of midmarket firms believe that use of AI in process automation and 42% in improving analytics will be integral to their business success. Nevertheless, one-third of both small and midmarket firms believe that use of AI in cybersecurity will be essential for improved security.

Identical percentage, 54% of US small and midmarket businesses agree that artificial intelligence refers to a system consisting of a series of algorithms that can learn from constant inputs. 45% of small businesses and 46% of midmarket firms aspire to use AI for automating IT and a similar percentage plan to initially use AI for non-core processes and applications.

Artificial intelligence adoption within SMBs is at a stage where cloud was a decade ago. Visibly absent within small businesses but notably present within midmarket firms. However, it is not a question of when AI adoption will take firm root but how. The responsibility lies with the vendors and other suppliers for guidance, deployment alacrity and outcomes.

 

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Buyer journey marketing framework – SMB and Midmarket

Today, there are several different frameworks that are being used. One of the most common is a six-step process from awareness to purchase. Techaisle’s view is that a buyer-centric marketing framework should consist of four stages which can be easily understood and actionable. Techaisle’s four-stage framework begins from the stage when a business need is generated within a firm and search begins for a technology solution. These four stages are:

  1. Identification of business requirements / needs,
  2. Determination of technology requirements to meet business needs,
  3. Identification of potential solutions and suppliers,
  4. Selection of solution and supplier

In each of the above stages it is important for the marketer to understand the decision-making unit, the decision makers and their care-abouts.

Consider these facts from Techaisle’s SMB and midmarket buyer’s journey research:

  • 275% increase in number of decision makers in the last decade
  • 87% of firms search for partners to help simplify technology
  • 74% of IT purchases are triggered by an acute business pain point
  • 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before first meaningful contact with a potential supplier
  • 56% of buyers are millennials and Gen-Zs are not far behind
  • 24% of firms use six or more information sources
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Midmarket digital transformation – Aspiration versus Implementation

In 2018, 41 percent of US midmarket firms had set their ambitions on a “Holistic” digital transformation strategy, meaning that these firms believed that Internet and digital technologies impacted every aspect of their business and should be a core part of their organizational strategy. In 2019, midmarket firms have tempered their ambitions and only 27 percent believe in holistic strategy. Nevertheless, the percent of midmarket firms with “Inclusive” digital transformation has remained unchanged at 43 percent. These firms believe that digital transformation while important is still a subset of strategic planning but not seen as critical business-wide. Both the 2018 and 2019 surveys were conducted with 876 midmarket firms.

Good news is that 17 percent of midmarket firms have either completed or have substantially completed their digital transformation journey. Another 46 percent are focusing on digitally transforming their businesses in the next 1-2 years. Highest planned adoption at 41 percent is coming from high-growth midmarket firms.

So what changed in the last 1-2 years?

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