SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Artificial Intelligence and Human Intelligence: The Essential Codependency

Falon Fatemi , Women@Forbe

AI

Imagine the following scenario. It’s Monday morning. You wake up to an alarm. It’s been set automatically and synchronized to your work schedule for the day. As you partake in your hygiene regimen, your key nutritional KPIs (such as hydration, body mass, and hemoglobin levels) are calibrated for you. You strap yourself into your car but there’s no need to steer. It “knows” where you need to go. And, on account of the technology embedded in the roads, real-time travel information, and the like, the roads are clear of congestion. Everything is connected and is programmed to operate at peak efficiency. Upon arriving at work, all the mundane prospecting and outreach activities have been performed for you. You are poised to focus on decision making and relationship building and can spend more time on your sales and marketing strategy.

The hurdle of turning the above scenario into a reality seemed unsurmountable a handful of years ago. But, thanks to the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, it’s an imminent reality. While we tend to associate AI with fictional movies - with Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Minority Report, and the like - the concepts and gadgets introduced are quickly becoming the ‘new normal’. We’ve already started to leverage AI to automate mundane tasks, including home delivery (e.g., Instacart), navigation (e.g., Google Maps), transportation (e.g, Uber), digital music selection (e.g., Spotify), and more.

Regardless of application, the real power of AI lies in its “contextual awareness,” namely its ability to sense and respond to current context. The potential of AI is especially exciting in the context of sales and marketing. AI is already helping sales and marketers automate mundane and tedious tasks and streamline day-to-day activities. AI technologies, such as Node, are so advanced that they can pinpoint the most lucrative entry points into potential customers and can even recommend conversation openers. The sky is the limit in terms of the breadth of questions that it can answer. How do I get access to the right buyers at target companies? What is my ideal customer persona? How do I optimize my sales and marketing team performance? Leveraging AI, machine learning, and natural language processing, Node empowers sales and marketers by allowing them to personalize marketing strategies to suit the tastes of individual clients.

Yet despite the enormous promise of AI, the reality is such that sales and marketing interactions are deeply personal. While many believe that AI has the potential to render human intelligence obsolete, this is far from the truth. Quite the opposite, AI advancements will only underscore the importance of human intelligence. By liberating sales and marketing teams from tedious work (such as manual CRM entry or scouring social media sites to find introductions into accounts), AI allows them to focus on what really matters - developing strong relations with customers. Applying AI to sales and marketing processes fosters more human interaction, not less.

It’s inevitable that the winners of tomorrow will need to use AI technology to improve sales and marketing efforts. But, at the end of the day, they will still need to know how to relate to and interact with other human beings. The most effective teams will learn how to leverage the best of both AI and human intelligence to build a revenue strategy that will improve client engagement, increase conversion, and drive positive ROI.

 

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Amazon Launches ‘Business Prime’ to Bring Quick Delivery to Work

amazon logo

 

By Spencer Soper
October 24, 2017, 9:54 AM PDT

Amazon.com Inc. launched a Prime membership service for businesses, looking to replicate in the workplace the quick delivery of online orders that made it a go-to shopping destination for households.

Business Prime Shipping, available in the U.S. and Germany, offers free two-day delivery to companies paying $499 to $10,999 a year depending on their size, Amazon said. The subscription program is looking to win business from office supply stores such as Staples Inc. and Office Depot Inc.

Business-to-business transactions have been slower to shift online than retail, but could be a bigger revenue opportunity in the long term, said Andy Hoar, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. He estimates the U.S. market will reach $1.2 trillion by 2021, up from $889 billion this year.

 

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Brutha – Can You Spare a Sport Jacket?

As many of you know, I attended the Continuum Navigate conference in Las Vegas the week of the shooting tragedy. Compliments to Michael George, Continuum CEO, for delivering a successful conference in the midst of madness. In fact he shared heartfelt words with the audience to acknowledge the tragedy.

On the backside of the gathering I caught up with George for a long-overdue 1:1 conversation. We michael george loans harry sprort jacketfocused on three areas: Partner Composition, Security and a roadmap component (lead generation) moving forward. We also talked about other conferences in the industry, where Continuum fits in and as a bonus, George shared that he believes there are 25,000 IT service provider firms in the US right now (people are always asking how big the segment is).

Figure 1: There is a reason George loaned me his sport jacket at the Continuum Navigate conference. He validated my observation that his well-heeled attendees have elevated up to the sport jacket level.

George in many ways mimics that Covey “Seven Habits” paradigm (his keynote speech was the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective IT Providers”) so in that spirit, I’ll begin with the end in mind and work backwards.

Partner Composition
“The bottom line is that our partners are the most successfully in the business.” George stated. “It’s advantageous to get to scale.” Okay but what does that mean?

“Our approach is about taking our existing partners and making them more like commercial enterprises. For example, taking the two man shops and help them grow into large businesses. This occurs by leveraging the concept of a global economy and "outsource" some of the back office functions to the likes of Continuum.” George said. “That is, pivot from being the tinker/one that wants to touch every knob/turn every dial into becoming a more commercial enterprise…we've got guys that have really learned to build and scale real companies.”

Fair enough.

“We’re different in that we view partner composition by revenue, not size. With respect to size, we have a super large partner at Continuum Navigate (Sharp) down to the one- and two-man shops. The difference is, if you go to any other conferences…a four person firm will be lucky to have $1M revenue. But when you ask what are your revenues are, as a measure of scale, it gets real interesting at Continuum Navigate. We have a partner in Cambridge with four FTEs, they bill $4.5M per year. We feel it’s not the number of partners we have but the composition of the partners…we pride ourselves on having the most successful partners…most profitable, growing the fastest, and figuring out that they need to invest in salespeople…when our Continuum partners get acquired…they get a premium…say 3x (higher revenue and two or three would be salespeople)...investors don't pay a premium for technical people…a five person firm today would have 3+ salespeople, etc.” George shared openly with his East Coast accent.

When I offered that SMB Nation has people who like what they do coming from the SBS era, George asserted that lifestyle businesses are great when it’s your lifestyle. “But we have people that are really trying to scale and unless they get big, it’s going to become harder and hard to compete…but when you do everything yourself, you are not benefiting from a global economy and Continuum’s back office solutions.”

Security and ‘da Roadmap
Not surpassingly my time with George was running short when we got to the other topics. So the net-net is this.

  • George believes security is the new-new. I concur. Never ending and only getting worse. “This new frontier only means more opportunities for Continuum MSPs.
  • The 2018 roadmap will include lead generation for Continuum partners.

So I end on this. Next year in late September the Continuum Navigate conference will be back in Boston, a city I’m overdue to visit. I’ll bring a sports jacket to both elevate my game and fit in with the top dogs.

 

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JEALOUS – Spiceworks IT Report for 2018 Forecasts

First of all, just to be clear, I’m very jealous of Spiceworks. Always have been; always will be. They have successfully scaled an enthusiastic and engaged community of IT Pros over the past 10+ years to dwarf anything in the SMB MSP channel. It’s an interesting company history here.

Full disclosure. I recently attended
the well-regarded SpiceWorld conference in Austin Texas (Spiceworks HQ town) and beyond enjoyed myself. This conference has a couple dimensions and at its core is focused on its technology tools used by IT Pros (SpiceHeads) followed by an unusually strong party culture. Folks were wearing costumes making this the “ComicCon of IT” (a term coined by the The Register – a UK-based publication). In the spirit of Yelping – I will repeat and you should do this at least once. Mark your calendars for October 2018.

Now the good stuff. The 2018 State of IT report was released at SpiceWorld 2017. The logical question is this: what’s in it for me, the SMB Nation MSP? The interactive chart below shows one view for small business (customers) in North America in the context of Managed services budget breakout for 2018.

spiceworks msp chart

Figure 1: Look closely and join me in being surprised that Managed Hosting is a category leader. Seriously?

Other MSP insights (we’ll get to the other stuff later) include:

“The smallest of the small are the biggest procrastinators.” Shared Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks and someone I consider to be a friend over the years. This was in reference to small business customers that an SMB Nation MSP would serve. I concur.

Peter Tsai at SpiceWorld 2017

Figure 2: Hanging with Peter Tsai at SpiceWorld 2017 in Austin, TX (October 2017)

Tsai found that there are three drivers for an MSP to be engaged by a small business. It’s something we already inherently know at SMB Nation but the validation from Spiceworks was worth the price of admission alone (these are listed in order of study findings):

  1. Price. Extreme price sensitivity in SMB.
  2. Existing relationships\
  3. Trust

I expressed my exasperation to Tsai that I wish these findings were exactly reversed with TRUST being number one and he understood but this is what his research found.

Tsai concluded the MSP conversation with the insights that “MSP constraints for the small service provider are lack of budget, lack of time and lack of knowledge. The smaller MSP can’t be expected to know everything about every single technology.”

Other Stuff
In all fairness, the report covered many more topics. Highlights include:

  • IT budgets are expected to stabilize in 2018, and in many cases grow, as many businesses are feeling optimistic about the state of the economy. As a result, many organizations plan to increase their IT staff in 2018 to help manage new hardware, software, and services.
  • 44% of companies expect their IT budgets to increase in 2018, and they expect a 19% increase, on average; 43% expect budgets to remain flat and only 11% of companies expect IT budgets to decrease.
  • 45% of companies plan to hire more IT staff in 2018.
    • Adoption of emerging technology in the workplace is on the rise. As budgets stabilize, many organizations are also planning to increase their adoption of emerging tech like IoT, VR, and AI.
  • Currently, 29% of organizations have adopted IoT while 18% have adopted VR and 13% have adopted AI technology. In the next 12 months, adoption of emerging technologies is expected to increase significantly to 48%, 32%, and 30% for IoT, VR, and AI, respectively.
  • Budgets for cloud-based services are on the rise, and nearly tied with software spend. In fact, among hardware, software, cloud services, and managed services, the highest percentage of businesses (55%) reported an increase in cloud budgets.
  • In 2018, 31% of IT budgets have been allocated for hardware, 26% for software, 21% for hosted/cloud-based services, and 15% for managed IT services.
  • In terms of what’s driving more companies to the cloud, the results show 42% are moving to the cloud to provide access to data anywhere, while 38% are looking to enhance their disaster recovery capabilities and 37% want to enable better flexibility and scalability.
  • Despite the rebound in IT budgets, few companies are budgeting for GDPR. 57% of IT departments still haven’t allocated budget for GDPR, or are unclear if GDPR budget exists.
  • Companies in North America are even less prepared. 69% of NA companies haven’t allocated budget for GDPR, or are unclear if it exists, compared to 44% in Europe.
  • Many companies say they’re not preparing for GDPR because it’s not a priority at their organization or because the steps to comply with GDPR are not clear. Additionally, many US companies assume GDPR doesn’t apply to them, but many still aren’t informed on GDPR’s larger impact on businesses worldwide.

 

 

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New Podcast Series: Tell It Like It Is!

Exciting news to slip into Q4! We have launched a new conversational and business casual podcast series to use yet another vehicle to deliver community content payloads! So these are the first two and you can download/listen from the links below. It’s that simple. Let us know what you think (feedback, concerns, etc.) and you can anticipate more podcasts in 2018!

 

podcast cover

These first two podcasts capture of spirit of MSPs making it in a cloud world. We discover the secret sauce to add to your MSP recipe. Toss in a bit of sage startup and start over advice and you go some valuable quick hitters. Hint: listen while doing your gym rat workouts and get a double-dip: good fitness for the body and brain.

Podcast: Derek Sardo
Podcast: Pat Beemer

 

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