In the digital mashup, game-changing technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain have stolen much of the attention. The mere mention of the cloud seems so 2016. Yet a new class of cloud technologies is emerging, which may be the key to unleashing the value of small companies attempting to scale.
Consider the facts already in evidence. A couple weeks ago Microsoft announced its acquisition of GitHub for $7.5 billion, a price four times its previous published valuation. Microsoft clearly has aspirations to own the cloud, bundling Skype and SharePoint with Office 365 in an attempt to offer an "end-to-end" solution. The deal feels like an admission that Microsoft needs more cloud development heft and prowess.
My firm recently implemented an end-to-end web platform that is one of a new class of office suites threatening to replace SurveyMonkey, MailChimp (basically all the monkey products), Salesforce, QuickBooks, GoToMeeting, Slack, Crystal Reports, Microsoft Project, and yes, Microsoft Office.
It is game on for cloud-based technology, and everything from startups to mid-market businesses will be benefactors. Here are nine ways cloud-based technologies are enabling scale:
1. Total integration
While many of these suites are app-based, they offer an enterprise level of integration. Say you convert a sales lead in your CRM. In a couple clicks, you can populate documents and deliverables in a project management solution. Integration will allow for data manipulation and analytics that were unfathomable just a couple years ago.
2. Seamless configuration
Today's web technologies allow administrators and users to easily configure products to their liking, mirroring their sales processes and language without the need for a developer. Every user can choose their preferred screen views, and admins can customize fields to suit.
3. Seamless marketing automation
Marketing automation offers companies the ability to provide far better targeting of customers based on their demographics, psychographics and other attributes. Circa 2018, it may be the holy grail of marketing.
Made popular by companies such as Pardot and HubSpot, marketing automation has been costly and hard to implement. Such tools are coming down in price and tying nicely to CRM (marketing automation is a bolt-on at extra cost in Salesforce).
For example, the use of templates allows a sales team to mass-customize offers to prospects, or a marketing team to deliver campaigns in mass. Marketing automation not only enables better sales productivity in acquiring new customers; it can also improve stickiness with existing clients by providing useful communication about the products and services they already procured.
4. Project management and help desk
Zendesk and Basecamp are popular with developers and those who use them for internal ticketing systems and project management. While low cost or free, some standalone tools lack integration with other systems. Today's project management systems are powerful, allowing users to automate various activities such as repeatable task lists.
5. Collaboration threads
Web tools utilizing "threads", made popular by Slack and Wrike, allow teams to replace email with conversations. Less email? Sign me up.
In effect, threads allow users to sort information by client, channel or conversation, in searchable fields that are easy to find. However, doing so does require a sharp pivot in the way a team works and communicates. But beware, weaning yourself off email is like giving up carbohydrates or Netflix.
6. Digital signatures
Made popular by DocuSign, such tools allow providers to capture electronic signatures and manage contracts more seamlessly. These tools also include automatic reminders which drive conversion. In this case, the technology hounds the prospect instead of the provider.
7. Automated reporting
Web tools have an impressive array of reports that allow small businesses to view current pipeline, sales volume, territory performance and conversion rates, and customize automated dashboards for their teams.
8. Consolidated social media
Tools like Buffer allow consolidation of social media accounts in a single hub. Our tool even allows for a scoring of online engagement useful for measuring the impact of campaigns, and scorecarding marketing return on investment.
9. Low cost
If you want proof that Moore's Law still rings true, consider the cost of web technologies. For about a third of the cost of Salesforce, many of these tools offer an inexpensive solution with low integration costs (there are always soft integration costs).
If you are a small or mid-market business looking to scale, think about how you can utilize an end-to-end web solution to drive sales and productivity. Technology is the great equalizer for small businesses seeking the solutions to scale.