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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.

SMB Key Success Metrics for Collaboration solutions

Key success metrics for collaboration systems center on speed of response to customers/prospects and business decision timeliness and accuracy.

Techaisle’s global SMB survey results show that 42 percent of SMBs assess the success of collaboration solution initiatives in terms of improved speed of response to customers and prospects. In the SMB survey Techaisle asked respondents “which metrics does your organization use to measure the business benefits of collaboration technologies?”  Small and midmarket business responses to the question show that the success of collaboration systems is primarily gauged by improvements in response time to customers or prospects. However, this is where the similarity between small and midmarket businesses’ measurement of key success metrics for collaboration solutions stops.

b2ap3_thumbnail_success-metrics-300x150.jpg

Small business View

Apart of speed of response, 36 percent of small businesses report that conversation views, comments and topics are used to evaluate collaboration solution success; Techaisle believes that while this makes sense from a couple of perspectives (it provides an indication of system use/adoption, and metrics can be easily collected and compared), it does not make sense from an important standpoint of “does this metric measure an important business outcome?”

Techaisle believes that counting conversation views, comments and topics is a relatively weak success metric for collaboration systems, one that will gradually give way to measurements, like decision timeliness, that are tightly coupled with key business outcomes. Somewhat surprisingly, internal response times, that is, speed of response to employees, is also an important measurement criterion for small businesses with 20-99 employees.

Midmarket View

Decision accuracy, a key evaluation criterion, is rated as the second most important collaboration solution success metric by 43 percent of midmarket businesses and the third-most important by small business respondents. Midmarket businesses are also focused on decision timeliness, which strikes Techaisle as a reasonable measure of collaboration success.  

Further analysis of the midmarket data shows that speed of customer/prospect response is more firmly positioned than small businesses as the key determinant of solution success. Survey data also shows that midmarket businesses with 100-249 employees also view a reduction in the cost of collaboration as a key success metrics. This is interesting because it is the only employee size segment to include cost among the top three measures of collaboration solution success.

Techaisle Take

It is always difficult to measure the impact of technology, especially when that technology has a broad purpose, rather than a narrowly-defined technical objective. One can measure the impact of a faster processor, network or database in response time, even if one is uncertain of how to assess the business relevance of better response time. But what is the best way to evaluate the success of collaboration solutions that are deployed to create corporate information repositories, to connect geographically-dispersed staff, to improve innovation or teamwork, to overcome constraints on decision speed, and/or to address corporate mandates?

Techaisle believes that the survey findings, reported in 360 on SMB Collaboration Solutions Adoption Trends contain important messages for collaboration solution providers. Marketing material aimed at SMB business management should emphasize, in clear and measurable terms, how investment in a solution will improve the timeliness of responses to customers and prospects. The messaging should also include information (again, in clear and preferably measurable terms) on how a solution can enable better decision timeliness. And while cost is always important, survey data indicates that reduction in the cost of collaboration should not be a central facet of solution positioning. Instead, suppliers are urged to look for ways (via case studies, perhaps) to illustrate how better collaboration solutions leads to more accurate business decisions.

Related blogs:

34 percent SMBs want out-of-box Collaboration within SaaS/Cloud applications

SMB and Midmarket File Sharing & Collaboration Adoption to Grow by 52 percent

SMB Content Management & Collaboration Solutions Adoption: Seven Key Trends

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Dell Channels – All the right moves?

Channel Momentum

As some IT companies continue to consolidate and others split up, Dell is promising its channel partners consistency, stability and increased profitability. And it is showing:

  • Dell Channel revenue now represents more than 40 percent of overall Dell commercial revenue and its channel business is growing faster than the overall market

  • Channel revenue growth is up double digits in 10 of Dell’s top 11 countries year-over-year

  • Dell solutions are now available through three of top Distributors - Ingram, TechData and Synnex - and where Dell is experiencing growth in excess of 50 percent


To keep the channel momentum intact, Dell is pledging US$125 million in enhanced incentives to help channel partners bid and close new customer acquisitions and also deploy towards retention deals with existing customers.

As always, not willing to take any hype on face value Techaisle took to the streets to really talk with Dell SMB channel partners and especially those who have partnered with both Dell and HP. Over the course of last three weeks, Techaisle conducted over 25 depth interviews with SMB channel partners. The discussions clearly revealed that the partners have started to look at Dell rather seriously. As one of them said, “Dell has changed its approach and outlook towards channel partners after it went private. They monitor and coordinate with their partners just like any other OEM. They have changed their ways in how they strategize and have created their training plans to cater to our needs and are succeeding by actively collaborating.”

Another partner, based in Texas and focused on SMBs was more direct, “Dell hasn’t been looking at channel partners as a key to gain market share unlike OEMs like HP. A few months back only about a 30 percent of sales were driven by the channel partners and the rest was a result of Dell’s direct sales efforts. The reason is that Dell itself had a large sales team managing sales accounts. However, after Dell went private they have mended their ways in how they look at us. They have kept the key sales accounts with themselves and the rest have been distributed amongst the channel partners for further management and revenue generation which is a good step as it inculcates trust and sense of real partnership.”

Impressive Numerics

At one of my sit-down meetings, Cheryl Cook, VP, Global Channels and Alliances shared some impressive statistics:

  • Dell has 167,000 channel partners out of which 4,255 are Preferred and Premium partners.

  • Nearly 700 channel partners chose to become premier or preferred partners of Dell in 2014, a testament to channel commitment

  • Training uptake, (a top requirement of channel partners as per Techaisle SMB Channel study), was up by 54 percent in 1H’14. But more importantly, training on software solutions increased by 102 percent.

  • Over 82,000 deal registrations were processed, up 8 percent YoY and software (security, device management, data protection, systems management) deal registration was up by 32 percent

  • Rebates processed was also up by 23 percent during the same time frame

  • 4400 new customers were acquired through channels, transacted 10,000 new orders out of which 1200 were for storage and 1600 for software


Although she deftly skipped my question on how many named accounts have been formally handed over to channel partners she reiterated that Dell is continuing to maintain its compensation accelerator program which is yielding good results. Recently, a little over 200,000 greenfield accounts have been posted on the Partner Portal.

Investment in Training, Support, Lead generation, Consultative partnerships

Most channel partners that Techaisle spoke with agreed that Dell has been concentrating on technical training sessions and regularly assessing partners’ performance with a clear objective of empowering them with required product knowledge to be able to pitch to the right set of SMB customers in the best possible way. Unlike the immediate past, account managers from Dell have suddenly become approachable. Some partners went to the extent of telling Techaisle “we specifically like the pre-sales and sales trainings that Dell has designed for Channel Partners. At times I feel that their efforts in the field of training annoy us as there are multiple and repetitive requests for attending or undergoing the same set of trainings that we have already gone through. They do not yet have a system to remove these redundancies”.

Channels are also having good experiences working with Dell’s consultative approach. “Lately, we were dealing with a few SMB customers and they wanted the account managers and few other technical experts to be available on call. We worked together with Dell and closed 3 deals where the consultative partnership worked in our favor”, said an SMB channel partner based in California.

Dell is also investing in supporting the channels when they bid for complex engagements. Their pre-sales support has improved as compared to before as channels now have access to their technical resources who work along with partners’ technical teams in understanding customer requirements, existing customer infrastructure to suggest suitable solutions.

In addition to training and support Dell is making a series of investments to help channel partners by:

  • Making available 5X demo gear to facilitate proof-of-concept

  • Increasing number of Solution centers for partners to showcase Dell end-to-end solutions to their customers (granted not many SMB channel partners will take advantage)

  • Improving areas of financing such as extending credit and payment terms thereby assisting channel partners in better managing their cash flows. The terms announced are 75 days interest-free financing on all Dell purchases for an introductory period of 180 days


Are conflicts a thing of the past? Channels are cautiously optimistic

Dell seems to be diligently working towards building trust within its channel partners. Dell and its partners have had a love-hate relationship due to conflicts with Dell’s strong direct sales force across all divisions. In fact, with the progress made, channels are wishing that Dell limits its investment in its internal sales teams as it would in all probability bring back the channels to “square one”.

The channel partner community reminded us of unpleasant past experiences of “Dell snatching customers from their partners and dealing with them directly”. But they quickly added, “We haven’t come across such a scenario (lately) and would never want to face a situation like that”.

Another partner said, “Dell has always been known for their direct business and has ramped up their efforts in the indirect sales through channels around a year ago. Earlier, we never knew if a deal which is routed through us will be closed keeping us in loop (with our margins intact) or Dell may go ahead and deal with the customer directly. Now, this has completely changed and Dell itself directs the customers to go through us”.

An HP and Dell partner was eager to get his point across regarding lead generation saying that Dell is managing a nice balance while sharing potential customer details with only one partner. HP is not following this approach triggering conflicts.

End-to-End Solutions message is resonating

Dell is steadfastly focused on its end-to-end solutions strategy and channels are paying attention. “Dell offers support in implementing end-to-end solutions. They work with us in consultation to determine the best product and solutions based on SMB customer requirements. Account Manager from Dell works with us closely when we deal with such deployments. We get all the technical help required, if skills are not available with us. Dell offers us access to experts (both on calls and physically, when required) from functional areas when we deal with SMBs for deployment of end-to-end solutions”.

Channels are finding that not only end-to-end solution deals give them extra margins but also makes it easier to deal with Dell, namely, channels get a better attention from Dell. Techaisle feels that if selective attention becomes the norm then many Dell SMB channel partners may flounder.

A mid-west Dell SMB channel partner was very vocal when we spoke with him. “Dell is important while we engage in end-to-end deals with our customers. Dell’s role starts from pre-sales to the deployment of such engagements. They offer the required marketing set-up for the products and solutions. If we have to take care of these things on our own, I think our margins will squeeze and it will be difficult to sustain our business”.

Having a full portfolio of offerings also allows “non-end-to-end solution channel partners” to sell adjacent technologies. For example, “we have clubbed and sold Dell hardware with Cisco, NetApp and IBM storage management and security solutions”.

Then there are other channel partners who try and build solutions with a product from Dell as the center-point. “Based on customer requirements we will see if there is a Dell product suited to meet the needs. If yes, we pitch for it and if there isn’t a product suited, we may bundle it up with other solutions and design an end-to-end solution for our customer. If the customer wants to go with a specific product and Dell doesn’t have promising product in the area; in these cases we will bundle it up with other product and present it as an end-to-end solution to our customers”.

Lingering Channel Challenges

To my question on what should channel partners be expecting next from Dell, Cheryl Cook quickly points out her focus on strategic pillars of mobility, security and Big Data with big push on converged infrastructure and innovative storage solutions.  She counters me with a question on VMware EVO:RAIL and its “fantastic” suitability for the SMB market segment.

Channels are listening and echoing that the fastest selling Dell solutions are Rack and Blade servers. But they feel that Dell has not yet been able to position its Force10 and SonicWall offerings effectively and channels are losing to Cisco or HP.

As conflict is disappearing, trust is settling in, channels have a new gripe. When a customer floats an RFP to a number of partners, Dell seizes the responsibility to directly speak with the customer, decides which partner is in the best position to offer most favorable terms and informs other partners to step aside and not waste their time on a deal which may not land with them at all. This annoys the channel partners as they would like a fair opportunity to win the deal and gain a customer by cutting down on own their margins.

No Regrets – but could have been bolder

Looking at the last one year since taking the helm, Cheryl Cook has no visible regrets. After much coaxing and cogitating she says, “Perhaps we could have been bolder in our move” referring to speed of Dell’s organizational moves and intuitive proactive thinking. The future is bright and she and her team are committed to helping all partners – “narrow or broadline”.
Recent comment in this post
Guest — EdelmanAR
[&] Over the course of last three weeks, Techaisle conducted over 25 depth interviews with SMB channel partners. The discussions ... Read More
Thursday, 06 November 2014 14:25
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Why some SMBs still are not Using Cloud?

The arguments for cloud are clear, and well-aligned with the specific interests of small and mid-market businesses, and ITDMs and BDMs. However, despite what appears to be a 24x7 stream of cloud information available to everyone with an internet connection, cloud is not ubiquitous – meaning that there are objections that prevent cloud from being introduced in some SMB environments.

To better understand cloud objections, Techaisle’s SMB Cloud Computing Adoption survey asked respondents “What are the key inhibitors to embracing cloud – what factors might prevent you from adopting new cloud solutions, and/or accelerating the use of current cloud solutions?”

Responses show that the traditional cloud bugbears of security and control continue to furnish obstacles to increased cloud penetration/acceleration. As the figure illustrates, SMBs are most worried about security of applications and corporate data, and about control over data, users and applications. 

techaisle-smb-cloud-adoption-inhibitors


Mid-market businesses also register a high rate of concern regarding the difficulty of integrating operational systems across hybrid traditional/cloud-based systems – and objection which, in Techaisle’s opinion, has real merit and will require attention (and solutions) from the cloud supplier community. This issue is of particular concern to firms with 100-249 employees – large enough to have diverse systems requiring integration, but not large enough to have deep IT resources capable of addressing the problem. We expect that this concern will spread both to larger firms as they move more workloads from on-premise to cloud or hybrid platforms, and to smaller firms as they adopt more SaaS systems (requiring cloud-to-cloud integration).

A drill down into inhibitors by employee size segment shows that the smallest organizations in both the small and mid-markets – the 1-9 employee micro-businesses, and the 100-249 medium businesses – have some unique issues. Micro-businesses worry about vendor lock-in – a reasonable concern, as these firms have neither the technical expertise nor the purchasing power to extricate themselves from supplier relationships if they experience difficulties. The 100-249 employee size groups, as detailed above, are worried about integration. Consistently, though, SMBs are concerned with questions of security and data/user/application control. Suppliers able to address these issues will benefit from expanded market opportunity.

Looking at this issue through the ITDM/BDM lens, we see that the principal objections – with one important exception – are defined by the roles that each group plays within their organizations. BDMs, as might be expected, are very concerned with control over business data (can we access and manage data in the cloud as well as we can on premise?), with connectivity (can we get to information and applications when we are on the road?), and with vendor lock-in (which can be seen as an extension of the data control issue). ITDMs, on the other hand, are more concerned with technical issues than their BDM peers: they are more likely to cite limitations in service access and integration issues as cloud impediments.

The one area where the pattern does not correspond to expectations is in security, where BDMs express higher levels of concern than ITDMs. Given that ITDMs are responsible for most aspects of cloud security, we would have anticipated more security-related concern from ITDMs, if not necessarily lower rates of security-related worry on the part of the BDM respondents.

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SMBs: Top 10 Sources for Technology Information

In our recent SMB survey in North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific we explored 14 potential sources of information on technology solutions. Some of these, such as TV or newspaper/magazine advertising, are clearly ‘top of the funnel’ options, intended to build awareness. Some options, including brochures and fact sheets, help to build consideration for specific solutions amongst prospective customers who are considering a specific type of solution. A third set of information sources, including product reviews on websites, case studies and whitepapers are primarily intended to build preference. And a fourth set, including seminars and face-to-face sales calls are used to convert prospects into closed business. Complicating these categorizations is the presence of options, such as the manufacturer’s website, that address multiple points in this process spectrum.

Which of these sources is most important to reaching a potential SMB buyer? Unsurprisingly (given the increasing complexity of the DMU [Decision Making Unit]), the answer is “it depends”.  Our research, as shown in the figure below, demonstrates that manufacturer website is an important source of information for small and medium businesses, and for ITDMs and BDMs [ITDM and BDM data not shown in the figure]. We also see that recommendations, IT news and analysis sites and personal sales calls help drive behavior.

smb-top-10-technology-information-sources-techaisle-infographics

What is really interesting, though, is the extent to which the data indicates use of multiple sources. Except in the mid-market, each of the top five information sources is used by more than one-third of the target audience; except in small business, each of the top 10 sources is used by at least 19% of the target. As the statistics regarding pre-contact information gathering above suggests, buyers are doing extensive research before connecting with potential suppliers – and potential suppliers need to be present in the media that the buyers are using, to make it past awareness to the consideration and preference stages that often occur beyond the purview of the IT vendor.

If we look again at the information sources listed in the figure above, we can appreciate the ways in which the channel can support the overall sales process. For example, small businesses like to get personal calls from suppliers – but calls like these to small businesses are far more likely to originate from a local channel representative than from a manufacturer. Similarly, BDMs are looking for personalized service and recommendations – but many IT suppliers, OEMs and channel partners alike, lack the understanding needed to communicate meaningfully with this audience. Who needs to be involved to help direct these discussions?

Vendors need to engage with SMB customers while the solution is being defined – not when the only decisions remaining are “whose components, and at what cost”? SMB buyers are using high-value content to define their IT buying approaches. Vendors need to build messages around/within high-value content to ensure that they can influence solution design and preferences.

Asia/Pacific version of above Infographic is here.

 

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