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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.

Zoho – A Great Bet for Mid-Market firms

In October 2022, Zoho reached US$1 billion in revenue. Zoho was founded in 1996 to deliver easy-to-use and deploy CRM solutions to the SOHO market segment (Small Office, Home Office). Even the Zoho name was a spin from SOHO. Zoho has transformed from a fledgling startup to an enterprise serving small, midsized, large, and public sector organizations globally. In recent years, Zoho has successfully moved upmarket from helping small businesses to midmarket firms and enterprise customers. Mid-market firms are measured, thoughtful, agile, and rapidly digitally transforming, focusing on cloud cost optimization and business process automation. These firms are building a longer-term strategy for an integrated, flexible approach to incremental cloud expansion. In direct contrast, small businesses move from point to point, working first on one discrete solution and then on the next. This dichotomous approach is a real challenge for suppliers as they need to differentiate solutions for the small business market and demonstrate that their offerings are essential components of broader strategies for mid-market firms while attracting attention to their products and building brand preference in both segments. While the expectations of mid-market buyers about SaaS providers are similar to large enterprises, the budgetary limitations create challenges in supplier selection, deployment, and management.

Techaisle research shows that midmarket firms invest in their employees and are social responsibility advocates. As a result, they want their vendors to share these characteristics and mindsets. Therefore, serving the mid-market segment necessitates a distinct culture that is not characterized by high prices and lengthy sale cycles.

Midmarket technology DNA and role of Zoho

The positioning of the solutions within the midmarket is essential. It requires in-depth information on business benefits and the process steps needed to capture those benefits targeted at BDMs, and information on how to assemble, deploy, integrate, and support/optimize these solutions targeted at ITDMs – and an understanding of how to position and convey the messages to each audience.

Its extensive portfolio of cloud business applications includes 50+ products, ranging from traditional office suites to analytics, finance, sales and marketing, collaboration, customer service, HR, and many more business processes at competitive pricing. Zoho has a deep engineering culture immersed in R&D, along with maintaining its cultural ethos without having to cope with any interference from either external investors or the public market. Zoho believes that instead of spending heavily on sales and marketing, it would instead invest in software development efforts or let its potential customers access the limited-feature platform for free. This strategy has proved to be very successful for Zoho and its customers.

Simplicity, flexibility, and value for midmarket firms

Zoho One, the flagship product, is designed for mid-market businesses. With Zoho One, customers have access to 45 business, collaboration, and productivity applications, of which over 20 applications (across functions) are used by more than half of Zoho’s customers. The solutions are a part of a unified technology platform with built-in search, messaging, and AI services. It runs on a unified database with a unified data model with data pillars that enable seamless integration to deliver single truth for the business empowering users with a unified experience. The collection of apps running on a single database architecture and purpose-built on Zoho technology stack - services, software, hardware, and network infrastructure - deployed on Zoho’s own global data centers ensures performance, availability, security, and privacy. All these solutions and features come at an affordable price, which makes the package suitable for mid-market firms as it significantly reduces the total cost of ownership, deployment, and integration timeframes.

Raju Vegesna, Chief Evangelist, Zoho, once said, “the market is littered with features masquerading as products.” Zoho One provides single sign-on, single subscription, and a fully integrated platform. It is common knowledge that app-specific experiences drive infrastructure-level optimization steeped in Zero Trust, AI, distributed file structure, and data center expansion driven by market dynamics.

More than 60% of Zoho’s workforce is devoted to engineering, developing new technologies, and keeping these technologies updated. Since the launch of Zoho One in 2017, Zoho has been innovating and updating its applications. With the evolution and maturing of newer technologies, Zoho has been adding AI/ML functionalities and improving user experiences.

In the past five years, Zoho One has grown considerably and has acquired over 50,000 businesses as customers in 160+ countries. Over the past two years, the platform has grown 150%, with 37.5% of new customers from mid-market and enterprise segments. License upgrades have increased by 92%. These figures spotlight the strategic commitment by Zoho to deliver end-to-end solutions that empower organizations to be agile, scalable, and adaptive to changes in their industries. Even the midmarket developers are taking notice as they can access Zoho Tables, RPA, and Test automation tools. Zoho Finance suite has seen tremendous growth. As per Zoho, it is processing 100M invoices per year.

Zoho One is wholly developed in-house on a single technology stack and is a unified, end-to-end platform that offers plenty of integration points across applications. Well-grounded unification enables organizations to link functions such as sales, marketing, customer support, accounting, human resources, and others. Moreover, the platform can be easily integrated with third-party solutions, allowing organizations (especially mid-market enterprises) the flexibility to manage complex systems, large amounts of data, and dispersed teams.

Techaisle’s latest midmarket research shows that 42% of firms are increasing their spending through cloud marketplaces. Over 500K Zoho users use 1500+ apps from the Zoho marketplace (e.g., Twilio for Zoho CRM). Recognizing the need for verticalization, Zoho has purpose-built industry apps such as real estate CRM, travel agencies, IT services, field services, and many others. Most importantly, Zoho enables midmarket firms to develop and deploy custom apps.

zoho unified dashboards widgets

Zoho addresses the need for high-velocity custom apps

It is relatively easy to adopt a single SaaS solution, connecting its inputs and outputs to relevant internal systems and processes. It is possible to adopt a handful of cloud applications, hand-wiring the interconnections between them and adjacent applications. But this craft-built approach to the cloud differs from longer-term visions of scale, flexibility, and agility. It creates IT management overhead and performance and security risks. Even worse, disconnected systems affect relationships between companies and their customers: workflows that lack cohesion create unnecessary gaps in service. Unable to link all inputs to achieve a single view of the business reduces visibility into individual customer preferences and broader market opportunities. Zoho One provides midmarket firms with tools they can use to develop their applications and automate their business processes by creating workflows. For example:

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Evolve Small – a differentiated small business campaign from Lenovo focuses on business mentoring and community outreach

SMBs are an excellent indicator to measure the economy's pulse in any country as they constitute over 90 percent of global businesses. They intricately link to large companies, government departments, and educational institutions as both suppliers and customers. In addition, a large percentage of consumers rely on SMBs for products and services that they consume within their households. Technology plays an integral part in the daily operations of SMBs across all departmental functions, including sales, marketing, operations, finance, and customer support.

Over the last three decades, the global SMB (1-999 employee size) market has been the growth engine for the IT industry at large. The path to business growth, strategy to deal with the competitive landscape, route to profitability were predictable and linear. And the way to adopting technology was also predictable and linear. The business pressures existed, but they were few and came on slowly. But it is not so anymore. Today, business pressures are increasing, coming from all directions - cash flow constraints, access to capital, competitive landscape, need for innovation, digital transformation, erratic revenue, uncertainties, the pace of technology change, and many more. A Techaisle survey found that a typical business leader deals with an average of five business pressures daily.

What is more telling is that 52 percent of SMBs deal with more than five pressures daily. These would be enough to put the brakes on any regular business operation. COVID did just that. Small businesses are struggling with revenue loss, attracting and retaining workforce, and lacking access to capital. As a result, technology has become even more important than two years ago. To manage costs, drive growth and enable resiliency, Techaisle data shows that 41 percent of small businesses have accelerated their digital transformation initiatives. However, for 55percent of small businesses IT budget is not sufficient to meet their needs. In addition, 63 percent of small businesses are actively looking for external guidance on cost-effective technology solutions.

Launched in July 2021, Lenovo's "Evolve Small" is a purpose-driven campaign centered on lending small businesses a helping hand. Founded on the principles of aid, mentorship, and community, the "hug and a hand" approach essentially focuses on three primary vital areas:

1. Financial assistance
2. Business mentoring and consulting
3. Rallying local communities to support their small businesses

The chief architects of the "Evolve Small" campaign are John Bischof (Executive Director, SMB Sales) and SMB Segment Marketing Managers, Megan Wine & Michelle Wiese.

As part of the program, Lenovo has committed US$1 million in grant funding to support BIPOC-owned (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) small businesses. To facilitate and administer the grants, Lenovo has partnered with LISC, a non-profit organization in the US and a non-profit organization in Toronto, Canada. What is unique about the grants (average of US$10,000 per small business) is that they come with business development support. Techaisle believes that business development mentoring and community outreach is essential differentiation. Techaisle data shows that small businesses prioritizing growth are more likely to thrive in today's unpredictable economy than those focusing primarily on cost reduction or other 'business as usual' objectives. Business growth is more than simply increasing the top line in the digital world – though, of course, expanding the top line is a crucial measure of success. But growth also includes the ability to reach into new markets, identify and capitalize on adjacencies, and identify and integrate with suppliers who can extend the relevance of the small business in new ways. There is also follow-up, built into the campaign, where business development organizations that partner with the non-profit, LISC, help small businesses identify the best ways to use the funds (e.g., prioritize paying off some rent or paying employees) which new technologies they need.

lenovo 321 coffee

The campaign has been rolled out across seven geographically diverse cities, including Raleigh, Chicago, Austin, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Seattle in the USA, and Toronto, Canada.

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Mission, Migration, and Modernization – three pillars of AWS Partner Program

There is no doubt that Amazon AWS has been a cloud leader since 2006. Channel partners are an essential cog in the wheel of success. The AWS Partner Network (APN) is the umbrella under which its global community of partners builds solutions and services for their customers. Over the years, APN has evolved to include an MSP program, distribution program, marketplace channel program, and partner transformation program, amongst many others. Despite the evolution, AWS is not particularly well-known for its partner program, except if the partner is a significant consulting partner such as Accenture, Deloitte, Mphasis, and several others or a technology partner of size, stature, and brand recognition. However, the AWS Partner Network (APN) does include more than 100,000 Partners from more than 150 countries, with almost 70% headquartered outside of the US.

Over the last decade, there has been an industry-wide change in engagement models to support smaller channel partners. Except for top-tier partners, vendors have distanced themselves from direct oversight of channel marketing initiatives, relying on distributors to manage market development resources. The changes have made it more difficult for channel organizations to maintain predictable operational arcs. They have also made it more difficult for vendors to build and nurture high-performance partner networks. As a result, almost every week, we field two questions from the channel partner community. 1/ Does AWS have a partner program for the midsized to smaller partners? 2/ How does its program differ from Microsoft's (and increasingly from Google Cloud) channel partner initiatives?

The questions and reality are on parallel tracks. The overwhelming majority of AWS partners are smaller businesses. AWS has intentionally designed the entry point of its programs to be inclusive of small businesses. For example, consulting or SI partners only need four trained employees, two certified employees, and three engagements with customers. ISVs only need to complete a Foundational Technical Review.

Sandy Carter, Vice President of worldwide public sector partners and programs at Amazon Web Services (AWS), is transforming the program to be inclusive and diversified, at least for the partners focused on the worldwide public sector – government, healthcare, education, not-for-profit, space, federal financials, and energy. Mission, modernization, and migration are the three pillars of partner enablement and empowerment. Mission is not about simply migrating something over or performing an IT function; it is about delivering a business value for the organization, agency, state, or country. There are many examples, such as digitizing a hospital, leveraging supply chain technology to get food to the right place, or leveraging AWS technology to deliver vaccines. Modernization for AWS is about using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IoT. Finally, migration is more wide-ranging than the other two, with three converging tracks – application migration, mainframe migration, and data-led migration.

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Causation or correlation - The link between approaches to digital transformation and business success

Techaisle’s 2021 US SMB and Midmarket Digital transformation adoption trends research covering businesses from 1 to 4999 employees (collectively named mainstream businesses by Techaisle) shows a correlation between digital transformation and business growth. Unlike many IT market terms, which tie to specific technologies, digital transformation is most often used to indicate an amorphous state. A state in which firms can seamlessly deploy new digital capabilities that streamline current or next-step processes, eliminating the friction inherent in basing these capabilities on manual tasks and physical documents/inputs. SMBs and midmarket firms view digital transformation as a proxy for business process efficiency. For many years, it has been a management goal, embedded, usually without a consistent set of steps and defined outcomes, in the IT plans of a substantial majority of small businesses (1-99 employees) and more than 90% of midmarket (100-4999 employees) firms. The pandemic brought urgency to these plans. The speed reflected the management’s understanding that highly automated processes are essential in a business environment where physical interactions are awkward or forbidden, adding necessity to efficiency as compelling reasons to invest in digital transformation.

Digital transformation segments

To refine the current and planned digital transformation adoption status perspective, Techaisle segmented the market to one of four phrases to characterize organizations’ attitude or approach towards digitalization of existing processes –

  • Holistic: Digitalization is an essential aspect of overall business strategy
  • Inclusive: Digitalization is a meaningful but non-essential aspect of overall business strategy
  • Siloed: Digitalization strategies are underway in some departments, but there is no overall digitalization strategy for the business
  • In the shadows: Digitalization may be occurring in areas of the company, but it is neither a departmental nor overall business strategy
  • Nonexistent: Business has no digitalization activity or plan; firms have yet to begin digital transformation adoption.

Small business adoption of digital transformation is still at a primary stage. In 27% of small businesses (1-99), digital transformation is either “nonexistent, “in the shadows,” or “siloed.” However, this is vastly lower from 51% in 2020, indicating that small businesses drastically improved their approach to transformation within the last year. Midmarket firms, which have higher overall digital transformation adoption rates, are also much more advanced in their approaches. 90% of midmarket firms take either an “inclusive” or “holistic” approach to digital transformation today. Data shows that there has been an increase of 34% within midmarket firms (100-999) and a corresponding increase of 26% within upper midmarket firms (1000-4999) in their approach to holistic digital transformation from siloed or inclusive approaches.

Digital transformation and business growth

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