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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

121 percent likely increase in adoption of vertical industry cloud solutions within US SMB and Midmarket segments

Industry-specific solutions that connect digital capabilities to real-world challenges are critical factors in transitioning from digitalized to digitally transformed organizations. In the past few years, globally, a clear trend has emerged of offering cloud solutions for vertical industries. Financial services, healthcare, and industrial equipment manufacturers have witnessed high adoption of such solutions. US SMB and Midmarket cloud adoption trends research by Techaisle shows that there is likely to be 121 percent increase in the adoption of vertical Line of business cloud solutions within the next year. Top adoption growth will be for ERP solutions.

Corresponding Techaisle channel research finds quantitative, meaningful, and actionable differences between channel partners who successfully sell cloud and those that have not developed successful cloud practices. Industry expertise and the ability to offer vertical solutions is one key area that is creating a distance. Channel partners providing vertical solutions are 2.6 times more likely to be very successful than their less/not successful counterparts.

Techaisle's channel survey research data shows that 60% of successful cloud channel partners emphasize their industry expertise and industry knowledge during their interactions with their clients. Conversely, 60% of not-so-successful partners lead with their technical knowledge, and 43% lead with price. These channel partners lack the understanding of their customers' businesses needed to offer sophisticated cloud solutions. They claim that they can demonstrate an understanding of their customer's business needs, mainly at a technical level, but get constrained by a lack of vertical application availability and experience. Only 26% of very successful partners lead with price. They can demonstrate knowledge of the industry and are therefore able to create confidence within their clients. They are also the most likely to build and maintain long-term relationships with customers.

Most channel partners position themselves as "your one-stop solution provider." However, the approach is coming under pressure. More successful channel partners focus on understanding how technology can benefit business processes. Understanding the connection between vertical business processes and IT represents a kind of expertise that will support a long-term billable relationship between "trusted advisor" channel partners and clients. This kind of relationship will become more important than the capacity to deliver IT as a horizontal solution source.

Techaisle's channel research reveals that a channel partner serves an average of 8.0 verticals but lacks deep expertise in all verticals. Vertical applications stand out as the solution needed by SMBs, midmarket, and enterprise firms the most, but only a tiny percentage of channel partners offer them.

Almost all channel partners agree that manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and financial services segments are the fastest growing with high demand for cloud business applications. Customer-facing apps (50%) and apps that support internal processes/operations (48%) are the top two in-demand applications, followed by solutions that replace legacy apps (36%), apps that involve AI/ML (27%), and IoT (14%).
techaisle industry vertical cloud solutions

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SMBs innovating at the Edge to address business challenges

From the perspective of the technology world, 2021 and several years following will witness the benefits of the interconnection of all types of resources: platforms/environments, information, devices, and applications. With the connective fabric rapidly becoming ubiquitous, SMBs of all types and sizes will move beyond a focus on network access and concentrate instead on using edge technologies to drive progress across business processes and enable innovation.

Connectedness is an intrinsic component of the edge. It applies in two directions: client devices ranging from PCs to smartphones to sensors connect to more gateways and other powerful edge systems, which process time-critical responses and then communicate data safely back to clouds at the core of the infrastructure fabric.

Consider these data points from Techaisle's latest SMB technology adoption research study covering 2410 SMBs:

  • 30% of SMBs have a "very innovative" mindset and are investing in edge technologies that drive innovation; 51% are in the "somewhat innovative" segment with a focus on transitioning to being very innovative and are evaluating edge solutions
  • 38% of SMBs are investing in digital transformation to initiate innovation in products, services, and business processes
  • 9.9 is the number of technology categories that very innovative SMBs use, which is 1.8X non-innovative SMBs. Cloud, security, virtualization, mobility, AI, analytics, IoT, SD-WAN, AR/VR, HCI are the leading technology areas where very innovative SMBs are increasing investment and deploying edge solutions

Innovation at the Edge

Cloud is not only the IT business infrastructure; it is also the essential business infrastructure for SMBs. While the cloud replaces conventional data centers at the core of the network, an entirely new technology tier – "edge" – is emerging as a complementary IT infrastructure source. Edge supports many innovative technologies that promise to extend technology's use and impact into entirely new domains.

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Zoho business analytics platform is knocking on the doors of more established players

Techaisle SMB and Midmarket AI and Analytics adoption trend research shows tremendous analytics scope to deliver more forward-looking predictive or prescriptive perspectives. In addition, there is a need to support the development of evidence-based corporate cultures that value positions and decisions based on data. Still, there are a mix of technology, organizational and cultural issues that businesses need to address along the journey to this future point.

Zoho is on a quest to enable the future point. One of Zoho's primary goals has been to offer end-to-end business applications that allow businesses of all sizes to automate business workflows. But it is not enough to enable companies to automate the workflows or collect data. It is also vital to have a platform, which gives businesses the capability to understand the data, analyze it and drive insights. If analytics is the key to connecting data to executive objectives, the cloud is the platform on which analytics and data – and digitalization and many other impactful solutions – will reside. With 13,000 paying cloud customers, separate from 50,000 who are using Zoho bundles (Zoho one – a collection of 45 apps), the Zoho analytics platform is knocking on the doors of established players.

Zoho has built its analytics platform vision on four pillars providing an end-to-end solution:

1. Self-service data preparation and management:

Zoho DataPrep, an AI and machine-learning driven self-service application, enables users to retrieve data from a wide range of sources, smartly cleanse, transform, enrich and prepare the data for practical analysis. It includes auto modeling and ML-based enrichment. Because of its popularity and ease of use, Zoho also offers its DataPrep tool as a stand-alone service.

2. Visualization and analysis leading to data stories:

An integrated enterprise portal builder (Zoho Sites) and presentation software (Zoho Show) enables business users to analyze data through self-service interfaces like drag and drop interface or natural language processing as well as other automated analysis for developing insights.

3. Augmented analytics for insights and actions:

Augmented analytics component enables business users to get both prescriptive and predictive insights from data. What-if analysis and forecasting models are a core component of augmented analytics.

4. Marketplace apps:

Developers and partners can develop analytical apps and publish them on Zoho's marketplace. Applications such as Jira, ServiceNow, and Shopify have seen the highest uptake within Zoho Analytics customers.

AI and ML seamlessly embed into all the components of the analytics platform. A crucial part of analytics initiatives in any business is preparing the data for insights. Marc Fishman, Director of Sales and Marketing, Call Center Sales Pro, could not contain his excitement when speaking with Techaisle about Zoho's DataPrep tool. He said, "the recent release of DataPrep honestly blew us away, causing us to explore that potential sharing of call center data. Depending largely on the toolset available to us after successful import, we have many options to consider — both internally and potentially externally for our customer base. It's beyond exciting!"

Many lenses can assess the importance of analytics and AI in the SMB and midmarket segments. One that illustrates the pace of these segments is the often-cited 'hype cycle,' which begins with a "technology trigger," soars to a "peak of inflated expectations," crashes down to the "trough of disillusionment," and then rises through a "slope of enlightenment" to a "plateau of productivity." Analytics and AI provide excellent examples of how this process plays out in the IT-centric world. As a concept, AI has lived at the peak of inflated expectations for many years, borne aloft by an amorphous vision of systems that will automatically know what's needed next. This is because, based on some elixir that combines a large quantity of data with fuzzy algorithms, supported by computational capacity delivered by Moore's Law, the rising quantum, or some combination of future breakthroughs. Meanwhile, analytics has followed a more gradual path, showing both real current benefit and the promise of additional value in the future – at which point, naturally, it will become a sidekick to AI.

Unfortunately, this is not an entirely apt description of the evolution of analytics and AI in the real world, especially in the midmarket segment. Despite bold claims to the contrary, businesses have primarily deployed analytics applications to consolidate data from diverse sources into an intelligible whole. Analytics as a discipline has been mainly concerned with using that data to create dashboards that illustrate current status and immediate or potential problem points. That is, as a descriptive or diagnostic tool. Techaisle research shows that 53% of US midmarket firms use analytics to provide a diagnostic view of the business, and 39% use analytics to recommend actions, in other words, prescriptive.

Zoho's unified business analytics platform may well change the adoption from diagnostic to prescriptive. Zoho's simple, cost-effective BI tool enables collaborative analytics and quickly provides 360-degree views of customers or the entire organization.

So what do SMBs and midmarket firms require of an analytics solution, and does Zoho meet those needs? Techaisle's survey respondents provided a definitive perspective that surprisingly reinforces the pillars of Zoho's analytics vision. "Solutions that enable self-service for non-technical users" is at the top of the requirements list for both small and midmarket organizations. It is a wise point of emphasis, given that research has found that utilization rates, satisfaction, and ROI increase if users can access analytics systems without IT support. As a result, Zoho has developed its platform for non-technical users. The following most frequently cited attribute, "platform technologies that integrate analytics and presentation," is ranked second by small businesses and midmarket firms. This focus reflects frustration in trying to integrate different tools to meet parts of the overall analytics requirement. For example, the Zoho Show platform integrates with Zoho analytics to create a slide deck and seamlessly embed reports and dashboards to make an interactive and immersive presentation. The third-ranked component in the midmarket findings, "big data designed and enabled database," reflects an immediate need. Similarly, "well-defined security and privacy implementation" reflects a segment-specific need for supplier assistance in ensuring that security is applied to the system of insight, ensuring that data analysis doesn't lead to data leakage. Of course, we all know that Zoho zealously protects user privacy.

Zoho is hitting on all the requirements of midmarket firms, and businesses are noticing. As Marc Fishman, Director of Sales and Marketing, Call Center Sales Pro, said, "We selected Zoho because of the ease of data sharing and integrated Desk, CRM, and connectivity applications. No other suite compared — both in price and breadth — that offered us so many tools we could immediately use."

Zoho analytics platform is built for non-technical, non-analytic users but has the depth and capabilities for technical staff and data analysts. Its best feature is data preparation, which alone is enough to justify using Zoho analytics platform. The platform delivers rapid time to value.

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Five9 driving customer experience solution success with a thoughtful and collaborative global partner program

Survival of every business depends upon customers, and 2020 saw a ground-breaking year when customer intimacy (acquisition, retention, experience & satisfaction) drove technology adoption and business process evolution within the SMB and midmarket segments. Businesses in general, and SMBs in particular, have many poorly automated or un-automated tasks and processes that they could meaningfully improve by using focused SaaS applications. 59% of small businesses, 86% of core midmarket firms, and 95% have prioritized customer experience solution deployment. Still, IT staff within 38% of small businesses, 47% of core midmarket firms, and 55% of upper midmarket firms face challenges in deploying customer experience solutions.

Five9, a cloud contact center software provider, aims to lessen the IT challenge by “reimagining customer experience” through fully customizable solutions that empower customer agents to address customer needs. Deploying customer intimacy is a little bit like making Baked Alaska: the promise is delicious, but the method is mysterious. The journey from IT systems to a better customer experience isn’t a matter of magical alchemy that wreathes unlikely ingredients with an alluring halo. Instead, it results from a roadmap that starts with digitizing data and processes, moves forward through connected systems that encourage and support fact-based customer-facing activity, and result in an organizational capacity to understand and respond to customer needs. Midmarket businesses understand the appeal of the outcome – and they need guidance from suppliers like Five9 that can define the recipe for customer experience.

Five9 knows that contact center software is only one component of a set of sales, marketing, and customer service solutions. It knows that, with customer experience, it’s the mystery of how to aggregate data and integrate it with customer-facing activities successfully. Recent global SMB and midmarket research from Techaisle shows that within US small businesses, customer-focused SaaS business application adoption increased by 49% in 2020 and will rise by another 33% in 2021. Techaisle data shows that by the end of 2021, 76% of new SaaS adoption within SMBs will be customer-focused. Similarly, within the US midmarket firms, the adoption reached 82% in 2020, with 74% planning to add adjacent customer-focused applications in 2021. Europe research shows similar trends. To deliver on the promise of “reimagining customer experience,” extending the functionality of its solutions, and automating entire customer-facing business processes, Five9’s software must integrate with CRM, online retail, automated quoting, eCommerce, social chatbots, email, forms management, help desk, and queue management.

Integration is a crucial impediment to customer experience. Executives often see examples of organizations using data drawn from integrated internal systems, or from social media, from far-flung sensors, or third-party services, or from a mix of all of these sources – to improve the critical operating parameters of their businesses. However, these answers aren’t simply a result of having technology within an organization. Instead, better customer experience results from linking technology (and the data it collects, shares, and enhances) with front-line functions, which requires understanding how to develop technical competencies and integrate them within the organization.

Five9 has identified several partner types, especially CRM solution providers, UC suppliers, and ISVs, to deliver an integrated customer experience solution. Five9 has built an adapter to enable clients of all sizes to seamlessly integrate its CTI with CRM solutions such as Kustomer, Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite CRM, Oracle, Salesforce, ServiceNow, and Zendesk.

For the CRM solutions providers, Five9 follows three distinct engagement models, each of which can establish Five9 and its partners as a partner of the customer, invested in their business success. At the same time, if executed correctly, the models enhance the revenue stream of Five9 and its partners.

  • Sell into the customers who are already using CRM solutions from one of the Five9 integration partners
  • CRM solution providers get introduced to the Five9 installed base to help with total CX transformation
  • Joint selling into new customer accounts who are evaluating CRM and contact center solutions

The above is not a simple, straightforward set of changes to embrace. However, the changes are central to transitioning to where the opportunity is growing – and this, more than any adherence to tried and true practices, is the goal to position its businesses for long-term viability. The nature of the partner relationship is a critical determinant of Five9 success. From a strategic sales enablement perspective, Five9 is focused on alignment with its sales team to create a better system by educating its sales team on the benefits of selling together with its CRM partners.

Unified communications is another technology area where most SMBs and midmarket firms have high planned adoption rates. However, the inhibitor is the inability of a hosted solution to adequately meet the needs of an SMB organization which demands many feature sets - call hand-off, integration with CRM solutions, integration of vertical applications, group calling/directory, and regulatory compliance. To enable such features necessitates customization or integration expenses which wipes out the cost savings. Five9 has partnered with Nextiva, Microsoft Teams, fuze, Zoom, TetraVX, and Mitel to integrate contact center and back-office, which augments the telephony and conferencing solutions to enable agents to be more efficient in solving a customer problem. Since many UC suppliers work with resellers as well, Five9 has aligned its partner program to understand how to build complementary routes to market options to capture as much market share together as possible.

ISVs are essential to cloud suppliers serving all types of customers. For example, cloud vendors, such as Five9, looking to build an enterprise-level platform need ISVs to provide critical capabilities to the core offering. In addition, vendors attempting to penetrate target markets work with a specific application vendor to demonstrate the relevance of their services; the ISV, in turn, relies on the platform vendor to provide evidence of a trustworthy application delivery platform. And cloud solution suppliers may position cloud applications as an extension of their core relationship with a customer, even as the ISV involved views them as a resale channel with excellent access to a high-value target buyer community.

Five9 has a formal ISV partner program with co-sell agreements, provides development support and accreditation, and promotes ISV solutions via Five9 CX Marketplace. Five9 already has 70+ ISVs in its program. These ISVs get access to the development environment, documentation, APIs, and SDKs to build integrations. Once the ISVs have built their integrations, they get accredited, and solutions get listed on Five9’s marketplace. To drive success, Five9 has a two-way referral initiative along with a co-sell motion. As a result, the program is growing every quarter, with an increasing number of partners wanting to partner with Five9.

Five9 is anchoring its global partner program on white-glove service, empowering partners, certifications, and development support. This year, Five9 is moving to target the right partners and provide new and improved professional certification options. It is also focusing on specific routes to market around certifications. In Five9’s own words, “…our special sauce is aligning with the Five9 sales team, demonstrating value, building mutual interest and trust, through initiatives such internal newsletter.” Partner Loop, a monthly newsletter, keeps all of Five9’s salespeople in the loop on sales wins, resources, all the great things happening with the partners, and why they should continue to win together with the partners. In addition, to accelerate time to market for its sales teams, Five9 has a partner locator, partner profiles, and CRM and UC integration guides to reduce the complexity of sales conversations. Partner Hello is an onboarding and activation concept that is seeing tremendous success and driving engagement. Five9’s amplify education webinar series provides training to its partners on new services and products. Five9 is addressing essential partner requirements. Techaisle partner survey shows that onboarding training and webinars are the two most crucial training options for partners with certification programs and web training modules representing the next-most important training options

To top it all, Five9 has also launched its Five 9 Global Partner Advisory Board and new Five9 Partner Hello Onboard and Welcome Guide in June.

Modern IT generally delivers systems that improve sales process efficiency and visibility. The drive to develop new customers and retain existing ones directly impacts the desire to emphasize solutions that support business growth, including social media, mobility, and analytics. Additionally, growing business confidence affects all business-relevant solution areas, freeing up resources for new solution exploration, adoption, and optimizing or redesigning business processes. Besides pure SaaS business applications, including cloud solutions, analytics, marketing automation, customer service, CRM, and other adjacent solutions, data shows that SMBs are planning to increase spending in AI, Chatbots, voice assistants, UCaaS, and mobility solutions.

Five9 is positioning itself to be a key player in the customer experience solution segment by successfully embracing an industry-wide trend away from rigid solution definition towards fluid, flexible configurations that integrate multiple components and moving from opportunistic to strategic. In addition, it is accelerating collaboration across partners for predictable, rapid responses to customer demands, becoming proactive in building effective relationships with trusted allies.

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