At #TAS: The SMB SaaS Playbook

At #TAS: The SMB SaaS Playbook

In contrast to the morning sessions at this week’s Tech Adoption Summit in San Francisco, the afternoon sessions had a more “playbook” tone to them.

The afternoon was kicked off with Neal Polachek interviewing Trina Ward (of the eponymous consulting firm) in a session called “Channels, Channels, Channels”. Trina spoke to the importance of channels in reaching customers (enterprise as wells as SMB customers). She underscored that vendors need to form true partnerships with their channels and look at the relationship from the perspective of the channel partner. This more familial relationship between vendor and channel has many implications, including deep product training for the channel.

The next couple of sessions were MC’d by Sunir Shah, head of the Cloud Software Association (also a sponsor of the Summit conference).

Josh Melick, CEO & co-founder of Broadly, deconstructed the ubiquitous term “CRM”. He revisited the whole concept behind a CRM. In their zeal to organize and manage the vast information contained in a CRM, he opined that businesses often miss the central purpose of the CRM.

Josh believes the “C” in CRM should really stand for “conversations” – the ongoing dialog between a business and its customers. As he put it, “chat rules everything around me”. CRM users need to re-up their understanding of the whole point of CRMs, in order to truly move their businesses forward.

Next at bat was Josh Scherman, VP Surepath Capital Partners. (Habitues of SMB conferences have probably already met the co-founder of Surepath, Mark MacLeod). Josh previewed the Q3 findings in the new Surepath report on investment activity in the SMB space. In total, Josh reported that a total of $18 Billion of capital was “deployed” in the U.S. SMB space in Q3, including financings by 146 companies. These staggering numbers underscore just how frenetic the SMB space is.

More numbers and analysis followed, from Vendasta CSO Jackie Cook, who described the insights obtained from their recent churn analysis project. This data-driven project delivered several unexpected findings regarding churn and how to prevent it. For example, Vendasta found that upselling actually increased customer retention, when the original product, as well as the upsold product, fit a demonstrated customer need.

Finally, the redoubtable Mark Cannon, in his current incarnation as Chairman of Boomtime, was interviewed by Charles Laughlin. While graciously letting Charles think he was running the interview, Mark voiced strong and thoughtful judgments on a long list of subjects. The interview resembled a TED talk as much as anything, and in fact Mark did just recently give a TED talk on B2B marketing.

One might have called this session “B2B Marketing & Sales Playbook for the Thinking Person”. Rather than try to capture the many nuggets in Mark’s comments (see the TED talk for that), just one will be mentioned here: the importance of moving a prospect incrementally through the dark middle part of the purchase “funnel”. Mark described how the classic B2B purchase funnel has grown in length and complexity (for a variety of reasons, including similarity between competitive products). It’s now necessary for a vendor to know how to move a prospect in small, confidence-building steps through the long, gnarly purchase process to the end goal.

At #TAS: The Art and Science of SMB Tech Adoption

At #TAS: The Art and Science of SMB Tech Adoption

The morning session at the Tech Adoption Summit was a mix of content demonstrating an energetic balance of both art and science in moving SMBs into a more robust implementation of technology.

The morning started with a presentation by Tolithia Kornweibel, Marketing Head (with the DNA of an evangelist) of Gusto, a “challenger brand” in the payroll, benefits and HR space. She emphasized the importance for SMB tech vendors bringing passion and authenticity to their involvement with SMBs.

Gusto’s approach to dealing with SMBs is driven by the view that HR is the key to the success of an SMB. Gusto sees its mission as helping the SMB attract the best employees and create the best possible environment in which they can succeed.
By contrast, the next two presenters brought more analytical and empirically-driven lenses to the same objective of boosting SMB participation in technology in general, and cloud technologies in particular.

Wasim Khan of Xerox Digital Solutions (General Manager of Xerox’s Docushare), dissected the movement of SMBs away from paper-based systems to digital systems. He highlighted the role of AI in facilitating this migration, as well as the move to platform interoperability via API connectivity. (To keep this presentation in context, Wasim acknowledged that Xerox defines SMBs as businesses with up to 1,000 employees, 10 times the size of the SMBs Gusto focuses on).

Next, Adam Blake, CMO and GM of SaaS, ThriveHive (a Gatehouse Media subsidiary) presented a data-supported thesis about the inexorable rise in CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) for both B2B and B2C providers – up 50% in the last five years. He maintained that the best way to combat this dismal dynamic is to implement a PQL (Produce Qualified Lead) approach to marketing and sales, as distinct from a more traditional MQL (Market Qualified Lead) approach. Adam identified the key aspects of a PQL approach, one of them being a thoughtfully-implemented freemium model that includes an unusually robust free version.