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12/8/2010
11:58 AM
Michele Warren
Michele Warren
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2011: What's In Store For SMBs?

It's that time of year again. Holiday songs on the radio, New Year's resolutions, and prognostications for the coming 12 months. The SMB Group, a market research firm based in Northborough, Mass., has taken out its crystal ball, and here's what the firm anticipates for small and midsize businesses in 2011.

It's that time of year again. Holiday songs on the radio, New Year's resolutions, and prognostications for the coming 12 months. The SMB Group, a market research firm based in Northborough, Mass., has taken out its crystal ball, and here's what the firm anticipates for small and midsize businesses in 2011.Here's part 1 of a two-parter--the first five market predictions for the SMB space. Stay tuned later this week for five more:

1. Mobile Commerce: Ready for Lift-Off. Here's a market that the SMB Group says is only in its infancy. But just wait till this little 'un grows up! "As big retailers and companies invest to make mobile commerce easier, more convenient and more secure, the pressure mounts for SMBs to develop mobile commerce capabilities to stay competitive," say SMB Group analysts in their latest newsletter. "As SMBs become more dependent on mobile commerce, they'll also look for ways to integrate [it] with ERP/accounting and CRM systems to save time and increase efficiency." For more info, take a look at the SMB Group's 2010 Mobile Solutions Study [PDF].

2. Social Media Everywhere…Bringing Order to the Chaos. Clearly, SMBs want in when it comes to social networking, but they need vendors to help them manage what's become a veritable tangle of sites and services aimed at making connections. A number of companies are stepping up to the plate (the SMB Group cites BatchBlue and HubSpot among them), but as this space continues to explode, SMBs will need even more guidance. "[These companies] will demand converged solutions that streamline inbound and outbound interactions across different channels, and help measure their effectiveness," says the analyst firm.

3. App Stores: A One-Stop Shop for SMBs. Small businesses are wringing every drop of usefulness from search engines and websites. App stores will bring their research efforts to the next level by providing user-generated ratings and feedback for helping SMBs assess which solutions are a "best fit" for their businesses. A survey by the SMB Group revealed that more than 50% of SMBs use app stores or plan to use them in the near future. "Vendors that run their own app stores will need to stay ahead of competitors not only by offering the best selection of applications, but by providing superior information, community, guidance, integration, and e-commerce experience."

4. Ascension to the Cloud: Point of No Return. SMBs are finally cashing in on the long-promised benefits and rewards of cloud computing and SaaS. As the SMB Group so eloquently puts it, "the great recession has accomplished what marketing alone could not." According to the firm's 2010 Routes-to-Market Study [PDF] more than 25% of small businesses and 12% of midsize businesses now use collaboration, customer management, online marketing, and business analytics as cloud-based services. "Economic necessity has driven more SMBs to the cloud, and once in, they're seeing mostly positive results--not only in terms of cost savings and time to [deployment], but in being able to re-deploy scarce IT resources [such as] application support and management."

5. The Cloud Channel Takes on New Shapes. There are two things converging here to remold the channel when it comes to cloud-based solutions. For one thing, cloud vendors are acknowledging that channel players can be valuable partners in advancing the cloud. Second, solution providers are recognizing that playing in the clouds, while a little scary, can be very rewarding indeed once they overcome their fear of heights, so to speak. That's all just a metaphor, of course, for the channel having to adjust its business model; instead of providing sourcing, installation, and management services to customers, it'll be playing a more advisory role.

Here's how the SMB Group puts it: "In 2011, a new channel model will begin to take shape, incorporating greater collaboration and joint goal setting between cloud vendors and partners; a selective partnering framework that gives fewer partners more opportunity to make money; more transparent and simplified partner programs; and increased incentives for customer satisfaction, cross-selling, and renewals."

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