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.

MSFT SMB Partners – Shelter in Place!

IT’s the mean season at Microsoft with targeted SMB-related layoffs in the reorg wave and then the “how does it play out” conversations at the annual partner conference underway in Washington DC (now called Inspire; formerly Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC)). Here’s my take on it: shelter in place until the next quarter starting October 1, 2017. 
During the 4th of July week, and the start of FY18, Microsoft made long-anticipated announcements concerning layoffs and reorganizations.image1 Proper PR communications suggested it was in the sales and marketing roles primarily overseas. The reality is different. 
Cindy Bates. I can now confirm that Cindy Bates, VP of SMB (US) has left the company. In her role she oversaw Partners, Customers and Distributors. She did not oversee the Microsoft Stores. On an individual basis, Bates is a friend and I’ll know she’ll do fine and land right-side up. Sources indicate she has already been invited to join two Boards of Directors. Say what you must but the departure is significant as she was a legendary force in the SMB practice area at Microsoft. 
Cindy Bates Team. Sadly, there are other critical exits underway. Steven Fielding and his team are out. He reported to Cindy and was a key SMB Cabinet member in the PR, communications and messaging area. Other departures are expected and I’ll keep you posted. 
SMB State Department. With the Microsoft Inspire conference being held in Washington DC, I cannot resist a political analogy. It seems like Microsoft is dismantling the US SMB business organization. Much like the current president and administration are starving the State Department. So, what does this look like? It means we’ll have SMB embassies without Ambassadors. SMB diplomacy will screech to a halt. One long-time SMB Nation partner from SoCal whom I spent time with here at Inspire is bamboozled about Microsoft’s commitment to the beloved old timy SBS crowd (yes – he wants his on-premises server back). Microsoft’s action were not a vote of confidence.  
What’s My Job? Internally my Microsoft blue badge sources indicate that things aren’t clear yet. There are likely two more layoff waves in the next six months. People have new roles as of last week without guidance. It’s akin to the White House being paralyzed over the Russia thing. This will take the summer to sort it all out. 
SMB Acronym Missing. I listened intently to all of the keynotes. I personally didn’t hear the acronym “SMB” once. I heard the term “Small Business” and there was even a keynote reference on Day Three to “Small Business Server” but the term SMB has become persona non grata. I stopped counting how many times I heard the term “Inspire” after 100 instances. 
Lead Generation. The One Commercial Partner initiative is a highlight. And within this simplification and consolidation strategy, the lead generation service is the crown jewel. Readers might recall I spent two years in a Seattle-based Big Data startup called LeadScorz so I’ll dig deeper into this area and report back. I can tell you an SMB Nation member never met a warm lead she/he didn’t like! 
This is my first report from Microsoft Inspire in Washington DC. Keep it right here for more analysis. 
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How to NOT be “THAT” Co-Worker 5 Tips to Building NOT Repelling Office Relationships

Shorr Success

By:  Lisa Shorr, Certified Image Consultant & Brand Building Specialist

You all know them, THAT employee in the office or colleague that just doesn’t get it.  That person who rolls their eyes or always responds to your questions in an exasperated, angry tone.  Are you picturing “that” co-worker in your mind?  I knew you were!  Every office has one or maybe two.  I call them the “Culture Crusher.”   

In the IT SMB world, the Culture Crusher is often ignored or tolerated because there is always a client or some other pressing emergency to deal with.  Taking the “I-will-deal-with-it-later” approach often leads to much greater issues.

I employed a Culture Crusher. Full disclosure, I’ve had a few of these challenging employees over the past 25 years.  As tech-savvy as this Engineer was, his people-skills, or lack-thereof, ultimately cost us a managed services client. We kept justifying his behavior because he had the tech skills our organization needed.  Had we known then, what we know now!

Our client called our office one day requesting a different Engineer because the one we assigned to their account, made them feel “stupid.”  Probing the upset client further revealed that this Engineer had a condescending tone. This tone carried over into our office and included eye-rolling, when a co-worker did not understand a tech issue.  Our Culture Crusher put a kink in my otherwise well-oiled chain.  He not only cost us a valuable client, we also lost productivity because his co-workers did not want to approach him when they had a tech issue, that only he could answer.  Are you the business owner nodding your head feeling sick to your stomach?  Or maybe the co-worker, who fell behind on completing a ticket and got into trouble because you did not want to approach your Culture Crusher, for fear of being berated?

Whether your office is a one-man band or 50 plus employees, behavioral awareness always makes the difference between building trust or burning a bridge.  A true leader is not necessarily the C-Level Executive, it is often someone who focuses on these skills:  

  1. Friendly Phone Skills – How many client IT issues can your company resolve remotely?  Cloud solutions have changed the dynamic from needing to go onsite to needing to pick up the phone to work with your clients.  It is more important now to pay attention to your tone of voice, volume and how fast you talk.  Do you or a team member have an engaging tone, sound happy and confident and speak at a slow enough pace to enunciate each word?  A phone call is often the only experience a client has with your company.  How you handle the phones sets the tone for building a relationship. 
  2. Choose Your Attitude – Don’t be the angry guy!  IT is a very emotional industry.  One-minute a client is singing our praises, the next they are screaming at us because “you (our IT provider) lost our files!”  Yes, we get blamed for all tech issues, even if they were out of our control!  This emotional rollercoaster takes a toll on our nerves.  An inspirational leader, takes this ride in stride and tries hard to consciously maintain a can-do, let’s deal with this attitude.  It’s easy to let this pressure seep under your skin and ooze out of you in the form of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  This hairy green monster, often hits a plateau in their career growth due to lack of maturity and a perceived inability to handle challenging problems. 
  3. Notice YOUR Nonverbal Behavior – Did you know, “We listen with our Eyes?”  Before a person utters a first word, their on-looker has surmised their wealth, health, hobbies, and whether they are management material or not.  We make “value judgements” based on what we were taught during our childhood.  Those ideas of what you “should” wear and how you “should” act, shape the way we view the world today.  In other words, people’s perceptions create their reality.  Take ownership of your actions.  Appear groomed and professionally dressed.  Stand tall versus slouch. Smile and make eye-contact.  Send the message to your client, prospect, employee that you genuinely care about what they have to say. 
  4. Adapt to Team Culture – Here is a secret:  A key component to a thriving, fast-growing business, is a cohesive team culture, an environment that fosters collaboration. Each team member appreciates the positive contributions of the extroverts and introverts alike. Listens to the hard-chargers and is thankful for the great peace-makers.  Makes a concerted effort to share corporate values and resolve issues based on the needs of the team and company versus having their own personal agenda.  There is no “I” in team!
    5.    No Geek Speak – Know your audience!  If you are speaking to a fellow techy, then go ahead and use technical jargon.  Talking to your client who doesn’t know the difference between a hard drive and a thumb drive, requires an entirely different approach.  An empathetic leader has the ability to describe a technical issue or resolution and be understood by all.  Your mission is to make others “feel” calm, comfortable and validated, not inadequate in any way.  

The next time you communicate with a client or co-worker, think, how do I want to be perceived by others?  Cultivator or Crusher, the choice is up to you.

To learn more about Perception and Image in the Workplace visit Lisa’s website:

About Lisa Shorr:
Lisa has spent over two decades in the sales and marketing arena. She is certified in Advanced Image Consulting from London Image Institute and owns two businesses, Shorr Success and Secure Future Tech Solutions. She has delivered Professional Development and Corporate Branding workshops and seminars across New England. She has styled many professional women and men on photoshoots, T.V. shows and in the privacy of their own closets! Her articles on style, career development and IT, have been published in notable magazines and newspapers including PC World, Providence Business News, GoLocalProv, Rhode Island Small Business Journal, So Rhode Island Magazine and Trade Secrets Magazine. Lisa is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Association of Image Consultants, NY-Tristate Chapter.

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Sage Bots

Recently many MSPs and partners attended a lecture on “How to Throw an Election” discussing bots with the notorious Tcat. The well-attended event was to further our technology conversations beyond the LAN and even MSP land. The context was actually SECURITY and that is always a crowd pleaser. Funny thing is, an election bot rehash article emerged here just as I was writing the blog. If anything, this report from the NY Daily News is interesting.

But the real reason we’re here is to talk business bots. A tip of the hat to Sage (the accounting software firm) for hosting a one-day bot “BOTlanta” workshop in Atlanta as part of the Sage Summit 2017 conference (in part this made me think about the above Tcat lecture). “At BOTlanta, Sage’s chief of AI and bots, Kriti Sharma, will outline the importance of establishing a bot code of ethics and provide an interactive step-by-step guide on how to create a bot of your own.” This free day-long workshop was open to the Atlanta community. Bravo!

Kriti Sharma BOT CHICK























The Bot Chick: Kriti Sharma

At the Sage Summit keynote, Sharma introduced PEGG, a voice chat bot that resides on the Amazon Echo device. Beyond cool, you can use the most natural interface of all (voice) to manage the Sage One cloud-based accounting system. For example, you can as management reporting questions such as “How much does Microsoft owe me?” You can watch the keynote speech here as I shot a point of view (POV) vid (see below).

  pegg keynote







Now the good stuff. I had 1:1 interview with Sharma (“the bot chick”) after her bot presentation. First Sharma clarified that Pegg was launched as a chat bot for Facebook messenger and Skype. You could essentially type commands. At Sage Summit 2017, the voice portion of the Pegg chat bot was introduced. Point well taken.

“We use analytics to help design and improve Pegg. It’s the only way.” Shared Sharma. “Over 20,000 people are using Pegg and we can discover new features that people want. Our development time using a chat bot is much faster than traditional application development.” She emphasized voice integration as a way to get more tasks done and “open up the industry to a new wave of users who don’t have accounting expertise.”
Interestingly, Pegg is best thought of as having strengths in management reporting and revenue side transactions such as issuing an invoice. “You can’t trigger a payment from Pegg as we haven’t built a global payment solution yet.” Sharma added. “So security isn’t that different from a keyboard or mobile interface. We don’t want to give an account balance without some type of voice signature.”

Finally, I asked her if the industry is “early” with artificial intelligence with the likes of IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa and now Pegg. “Yes and no. The way I see it is that Watson and Alexa are very general. Pegg is solving a use case defined for a particular industry. And I want to speak of ethics. Bots should not pretend to be humans.” Sharma concluded. With that, refer back to paragraph one concerning Twitter bots and elections.

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Get Ready for IoT by Taking 3 Essential Steps

by Oliver Schabenberger

To prepare for IoT, companies need to take advantage of big data and advanced analytics, and adapt their culture, so they are ready for the transformation.

In the early 1990s, the general public made its earliest forays into using the Internet. At the time, no one could have imagined where the IOT one photo shutterstock 468787469 A2technology would lead. Social media, e-commerce, mobile apps, cloud computing, software as a service -- the list is endless. Entire classes of applications -- even industries -- were not even a gleam in their creators' eyes. Today these internet-based technologies have transformed the way we live and work.

Fast-forward more than 25 years. We are at a similar stage in the latest iteration of the internet -- the Internet of Things (IoT). Pundits of all stripes predict that the IoT will change everything. Connected cars. Better patient monitoring devices. Industrial machines that track their own maintenance requirements. Intelligent street lights. Everything will be connected.

As with the original internet, we have no idea where the IoT will take us. And before we see the full impact of the predicted and unforeseen advances, we will need to remove significant technical obstacles, notably security and lack of standards.

Still, despite the roadblocks, companies that get ahead of the IoT curve will undoubtedly benefit from a lasting competitive advantage as they forge new markets. So what can your company do today to prepare for the future of IoT? The following are the top three best practices:

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Now Sales Is Buying Bright Shiny Objects, Too



Maas Companies ImagePublished on May 18, 2017

Jill Rowley

I’ve seen this movie before, over in MarTech. I spent a decade at Eloqua building the marketing automation space from 2002-2012. Scott Brinker coined the term Chief Marketing Technologist in 2010 and has documented the “category” growth from ~ 150 applications to over 5,000 in 2017. Anything that could be automated was automated - at least at some companies - often without much thought as to the strategic plan underlying these sparkly new toys.

Marketing Technology Landscape 1



Now, the same thing is happening in SalesTech. Here’s one glimpse at this expanding universe from Nancy Nardin at Smart Selling Tools:

Smart Technology landscape 1

And here’s a more analytical look at the landscape, minus all the players:


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