Creating an Enterprise App Vendor Short List, Part 1

Globalization, adoption of more open, capitalist economies in developing countries, and technological advances have made building a small or medium-sized business (SMB) as tough as it’s ever been. The potential rewards are substantial, however.

Thanks to developments in the IT and telecommunications industries, SMBs — like their larger counterparts — are now able to benefit from distributing core application software throughout their organizations, helping them build businesses that can tap into opportunities the world over. The market’s largest software and computing systems vendors — the likes of IBM, SAP and Oracle — as well as less well-known providers have offerings targeting the SMB space.

However, selecting an enterprise application software solution is a process fraught with pitfalls. A judicious choice of vendor and software can mean the difference between failing and thriving.

“Are the software licensing and pricing terms comparable over a 10-year period? Does the vendor have a clearly defined product road map for the next 10 years? What do references in your industry say about the ownership experience of the product?” These are just three of the key questions SMBs should ask when choosing an enterprise application, according to Forrester Research Principal Analyst R. Ray Wang.

Proven Products, Solid Support

A lot rides on the choice of the core applications supporting a business, and for firms with comparatively smaller budgets and limited IT and other resources, choosing the right vendor is a high-pressure process. Before compiling a list and approaching vendors, SMBs should clearly define their needs; the methods, means and measures they will use to choose and differentiate between vendors and offerings — as well as to gauge their value to the organization; their expected returns; and their payback period.

“Will you be able to find cost-effective and available implementation resources? Are there various deployment options and implementation methodologies that expedite the implementation time? Is it easy to find training resources or individuals with existing experience to run the application?” and “What’s the vendor’s financial viability, and can you build an effective partnership with them?” are all key questions that should be part of an SMB’s vendor and enterprise application selection process, Wang advises.

Generally speaking, that leads SMBs toward preferring proven solutions backed by proven vendors that offer solid tech and customer support. It also means finding a vendor that can demonstrate the ability to get a best-fit solution up and running in a short time frame, as well as one that offers a flexible upgrade path and maintenance fees that don’t break the budget.

Beyond Cost and the Short Term

SMBs looking to choose enterprise application vendors and solutions need to go beyond cost and the short term to determine the real value they’re looking for.

“This can be extremely challenging in an enterprise software selection process, which is why Lawson developed Lawson Opportunity Analyzer, which includes something called a ‘value assessment,'” explained Pramod Mathur, technology programs director for Lawson Software.

It allows an organization to set practical business performance targets and identify, in advance, quantified financial and non-financial gains before committing capital expenses against an enterprise resource planning project.

Lawson’s Opportunity Analyzer also suggests best practices and key performance indicators for particular industry groups, along with benchmarked business processes that a company should implement in order to achieve such desired outcomes as payback and return on investment, Mathur added.

Oracle, Enterprise Apps and Open Source

In Oracle’s experience, the attributes and criteria that characterize SMBs and their enterprise software needs are reflected in the impact open source application software has had to date in the marketplace. “The impact of open source on enterprise apps in the mid-market space is negligible. The fact is, open source works great in a tech community where people have the time and inclination to feed the open source — so certainly open source has more impact at the OS and database levels,” commented Jeff Abbott, Oracle vice president, global accelerate strategy and 0rograms.

“But for business applications, while open source products exist, we have not seen that as significant competition. People are looking for a more complete solution backed by the strength of a major vendor and the expertise of a local partner,” he said.

“We find that there is very little that distinguishes the requirements of enterprise and mid-size customers. They share the same complexities, such as globalization [and] increased compliance and regulation. … The only difference is that mid-size customers are resource-constrained,” Abbott told the E-Commerce Times.

Enterprise resource planning may be the “definitive” enterprise application. “It’s actually very simple for Oracle to provide enterprise apps to our mid-size customers. We provide the same solutions that a (US)$10 billion customer needs to a $50 million customer,” he explained. “Unlike many of our competitors, we do not require that our customers go from a ‘small business solution’ to a ‘mid-size solution’ to an ‘enterprise solution.’ Our [enterprise resource planning] applications are the same across all customers.”

The Same but Different

Sharing common core business needs means that both large businesses and those within the SMB sector share common enterprise application needs, but there is a wide range of diversity within the SMB market. Hence, it pays for SMBs to have a comprehensive and detailed grasp of their enterprise-level data and application needs — and know to what degree off-the-shelf software packages meet them. It’s crucial to articulate them before putting together a list of potential vendors.

“How flexible is the system in allowing you to model existing processes and, in the future, design new processes? Will your users find the user experience compelling and productive? Does the application integrate well with Microsoft Office and other frequently used applications?” These are questions SMBs need to dig into when choosing enterprise applications, Forrester’s Wang continued.

Oracle offers its SMB enterprise application solutions across some 80 market segments. That type of diversity has led SAP to take a multiproduct, multichannel approach to the market, each linked by common architectural and software standards.

Three Tiers

“SAP is not a one-trick pony — we do not believe that one size of solution fits all. Hence, we are addressing [small and mid-size enterprises] with a solution portfolio approach, and are providing a portfolio of three solutions that best fit the unique and individual needs of small businesses and mid-size enterprises,” reported Astrid Polchen, SAP global communications and media relations manager.

SAP has a three-tiered line of enterprise solutions for SMBs: SAP Business One for companies with up to 100 employees; SAP ByDesign, the line’s latest addition, which caters to businesses with 100 to 500 employees; and SAP Business All-in-One for companies with demand for deep vertical and sub-vertical know-how and up to 2,500 employees.

With customer and tech support critical to supporting SMBs’ IT needs, SAP has adopted a multichannel customer support strategy that includes Web, telephone, and direct and indirect extended partner systems — with a different mix according to the particulars of geography, country and individual market demands, Polchen explained.

“SAP has all the tools and can combine them appropriately for the individual market demands,” Polchen concluded. “Partners are a key component of SAP’s go-to-market approach. Partners are also key when it comes to developing industry add-ons for the SAP SME solution portfolio.”

Creating an Enterprise App Vendor Short List, Part 2

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CRM Buyer Channels

EXPERT ADVICE

Sink or Swim: 5 E-Commerce Pain Points To Address for Success

Cart abandoned! That is the action no e-commerce seller wants to see at their online store.

Many business owners believe they have done their best by releasing a mobile website or online store. However, more goes into creating a riveting online shopping experience that attracts the right customers, converts casual browsing to sales, and engages shoppers long term so they are drawn to an e-commerce store and keep coming back to buy more.

Successful e-commerce operators continually identify and cure potential sources of frustration that diminish the customer’s online shopping experience.

To understand what these issues are, it’s important to examine your e-commerce store from the customer’s point of view.

Following are five major pain points where e-commerce efforts often suffer or fail. Focusing on these can help sellers fix critical mistakes, delight online shoppers, and increase sales.

1. Poor Shopping Experience

A customer’s shopping experience includes everything from the website’s speed to the design, quality of photographs and content, ease of finding information, and navigating the store.

An e-commerce store with high-quality images, engaging text, search features, and all the relevant information a customer needs to make a decision is the gold standard.

If your offline store has a unique aesthetic and brand identity, ensure that your e-commerce store reflects that and goes the extra mile. While many business owners can find it intimidating to recast their retail experience for e-commerce, not doing so is a lost opportunity.

Fortunately, there are several tools and apps now available to create a great online shopping experience without any programming or graphic design skills.

2. Low User Engagement, Retention

An e-commerce website must engage customers from the instant they visit the store online. This involves taking all the possible steps to guide a customer from the browsing stage to the buying stage; not too different from what shopkeepers do offline.

The most potential often lies with customers who have made past purchases. While your brick-and-mortar store may have a friendly policy toward your loyal customers, e-commerce stores can completely overlook existing users who come back to see what’s new.

Offering online-only discount codes, highlighting new products, encouraging users to share their own shopping images, social media feeds, and customer reviews are some basic ways to reward and engage regular visitors.

A dynamic e-commerce store that offers a good mix of familiar and novel content will help retain and upsell regular customers.

3. Mobile Deficiency

Roughly two out of three online orders are made on mobile devices. Clearly, brands cannot afford to ignore the power of a mobile-ready shopping experience.

Using a mobile app results in three times more conversions than a mobile website. An e-commerce site that provides a superior experience on mobile phones immediately gains a competitive advantage.

Today, it is easy, low cost, and low tech to get a mobile app that has a great user experience (UX) and offers all the functionality needed for your store.

Tools like live selling, linking social media content, push notifications and mobile-app-only offers can radically upgrade any e-commerce business.

4. Inadequate Access to Customer Service

An e-commerce store must not become a cold virtual shop front that does not offer a sense of human interaction.

While a clear display of pricing, sizing, information related to shipping and returns, etc. is vital, an e-commerce store must also offer a simple and easy way of connecting the customer with the business, for any kind of query.

Millennials and Gen Z customers are more likely to prefer to chat or text versus making a phone call to customer service. The presence of an active and responsive live chat adds to the credibility of the store and helps in sales conversions.

Including comprehensive product FAQs, an intuitive customer service menu, and setting a service standard for time to respond to customers are a few ways to improve the service experience.

5. Unfriendly Checkout Process

A complicated or inflexible checkout process is one of the major reasons why customers abandon shopping carts just when they were ready to checkout.

Ideally, an e-commerce store must have transparent pricing, not add unexpected taxes or fees, and be as uncomplicated as possible.

Offering various methods of payment is essential so customers can always find a suitable and simple method to pay. Making it easy for customers to make repeat purchases, rewarding customers at the point of checkout, and partnering with trusted payment facilitators are some ways to ensure that your store does not lose customers at the most crucial moment.

Final Thoughts: Social Media, Emerging Tech

In addition to solving these pain points, it’s important to remember that to bring customers to your e-commerce store, you need a social media marketing strategy. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Ensure that you have interesting and fresh social media content and ad campaigns that connect your followers to your online store.

You can also utilize influencer programs and live video across your social media channels to capture the interest of your target audience and bring them to your store.

Today’s customers expect more personalized and interactive experiences online, are interested in integrating technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) into their shopping experience and, in general, have high expectations from online sellers.

Luckily, it doesn’t take a technology whiz or even coding skills to create a successful e-commerce store. All you need is a clear vision of what you want to offer your customers and the tools that can help you get there.

Baskar Agneeswaran

Baskar Agneeswaran is the CEO of Vajro. Headquartered in Irving, Texas, Vajro is a mobile app platform that brands use to build native Android and iOS apps.

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VENDOR WATCH

Zoho Consolidates Marketing Functions

The CRM vendor community seems to be trying to welcome us back to normalcy by priming the selling pump with new marketing tools. It makes sense. Marketing is the beginning of the pipeline that brings in revenue, so why not?

One vendor with plenty to say is Zoho.  The company just announced Zoho Marketing Plus — a suite of tools and integrations for the whole marketing team in companies with 25-to-1,000-member marketing organizations.

That’s like saying everybody — and at only $25 per seat/month, it won’t break the bank. The strategy is to integrate a lot of third-party apps and replace one-off tools which will enable some to reduce their single use marketing subscriptions and save money.

Independent research I’ve been conducting shows that the users themselves are drowning in too many single-use apps, so the Zoho approach might have legs for that alone.

Marketing is a tough task with no end and taking it on with advanced capabilities is a heavy lift. It’s a tough job because it requires constant data management, and it is endless because the more you do the more data there is to manage. There’s customer data and there’s marketing generated data — or more precisely content. There’s also management to contemplate.

Shared View of Data

Zoho Marketing Plus goes after both classes of data. However, it is more focused on what’s internal to the business because that’s what needs management most.

Conceptually, it’s a platform for the entire marketing organization that supports collaboration across marketing activities from first idea, through creation, execution, and management — ending with measurement.

It gives all of marketing’s stakeholders a shared view of marketing information to form a basis for collaboration, and it integrates with other CRM tools like Microsoft, HubSpot and Salesforce, as well as Zoho CRM.

The platform cuts down on redundancies and exposes marketers to deeper understanding of customers and marketing processes. At the same time it reduces the management overhead of collaborating through multiple tools.

Integrations help Zoho Marketing Plus to shine by giving it a central role in many businesses’ marketing deployments.

For instance, CRM integration gives users feedback on revenue generation from marketing spend. Data integration with Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, YouTube, and Survey Monkey helps marketers to target their prospects. To support finance it integrates with QuickBooks, Xero, and Stripe; WooCommerce and Shopify take care of commerce and Eventbrite brings in marketing events.

The result is a single view of the business so that teams can collaborate across campaigns regardless of the chosen channels while automated AI-powered data analysis helps marketers to understand the results of their efforts.

Zoho Marketing Plus Dashboard, Analytics

Zoho Marketing Plus Dashboard (Credit: Zoho)


A long time ago we believed that subscription apps had leveled the playing field between large and small companies and to a degree it did. Subscriptions enabled any company that could pony up the monthly per-seat price to use the same tools as the big guys. That was true as far as it went but overlooked the effort implied.

We’ve now reached a point where there is so much good, cheap product that larger companies again have a relative advantage simply because they can afford to hire the souls needed to man all the battle stations.

Democratizing Information

Zoho Marketing Plus is an attempt to bring things back into focus so that smaller companies can do the same things in marketing that larger companies do with more labor. You might call this the second democratization of information.

My research shows that the pandemic exposed many shortcomings in marketing and sales that had accumulated over the years. Too many single use apps that don’t communicate well is one big issue.

A bigger problem with those single use apps is that they are largely systems of record, which means it’s up to the user to make sense of the data. But the proliferation of so many systems of record makes this nearly impossible for the average user. That’s why Zoho’s announcement resonates.

With good integration between the parts of marketing and feedback from the real world that can be further analyzed, users have a good chance of refilling their pipelines and getting back to revenue generation in a world reconfigured for working from anywhere.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

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