BizSugar Community Roundtable: Virtual Teams Key to Long-term Business Success

BizSugar Community Roundtable: Virtual Teams Key to Long-term Business Success

One of the key findings of the recent survey undertaken by the BizSugar mastermind community was that many small businesses focus heavily on DIY for things that have to get done outside of their area of expertise.

Not only does that cost you precious time, a lack of expertise may cost you even in more in the long run.

That’s why the BizSugar advisory board, along with a few members experienced in building virtual teams, recently got together for a LinkedIn Live discussion to share tips, tricks and hacks for putting together successful virtual teams to get things done for your business. Participating in the discussion are:

  • Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends
  • David Elkins, Zoho
  • Ivana Taylor, DIYMarketers
  • Monique Johnson, Live Video Labs
  • Gail Gardner, GrowMap
  • Martin Lindeskog, EGO Netcast Podcast host
  • John Lawson, ColderIce Media

BizSugar Roundtable – Virtual Teams and Business Success

We covered a lot of ground in the hour long group conversation, from how to decide when to bring on virtual help, to tips for hiring virtual assistants, to what apps and sites to use to manage virtual workers. Below is an edited transcript from a portion of the conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player below to hear the full conversation.

Determining the Right Time to DIY, Automate and/or Bring on Virtual Assistants

Anita Campbell: I’m a big believer in doing everything. I’m a big believer in automating where you can, first of all, because it’s almost always going to be cheaper and you’re going to get more what I would call data that you can use. If you automate, use software for as much as you can.

However, there are things that you just can’t automate and you shouldn’t automate, definitely should not. I mean, we were just talking in our team meeting earlier about the need to have personality, to bring personality into your business, and I think that’s important for any small business. You’ve got to give people something to remember your business by. And personality, whether it’s the people involved with personality or your brand or whatever it is, that all matters. And that all comes from people. And today, you can get so much of that by people working remotely and virtually.

One of the things that I’ve done is I’ve assembled a team really by people self-selecting, and what I mean by that is people who became interested in us and then they became on the team. You know, it’s not necessarily that I went out and I recruited someone, but if I look at all the people on this call today, these are all people who just somehow became interested in us. I’ve known Martin since I started online, and that’s because Martin came and visited my site, and he started commenting and I got to know him. And it’s been 17 years now, all the way from Stockholm, Sweden. I’m sorry, Gothenburg, not Stockholm. Gothenburg. I’ve never met him in person, but I feel like I know him. So I do feel it’s really important to use every advantage that you can and that’s a combination of things.

Ivana Taylor: If you’ve read the book, The E-Myth… If you have it, pick it up and read it again, because Michael Gerber gives some excellent tips on outsourcing. So the first tip is that you’ve got to document your processes. Do you know what I did? I just sat down, and for about 30 days, I used the tool, and I kept a time log to keep track of what I did and how long it took to do this thing.

Then, once you’ve done that, you’re starting to notice patterns, you’ll see that there are financial things that you’re doing like invoicing and stuff like that. Then there were physical things I was doing such as writing an article, so there was research involved. There are all these different steps of things that you’re doing. You’re not going to know what you’re doing until you document it and get a real picture of what’s happening.

This is the best tip ever from The E-Myth, once you’ve got your long list of tasks already done, pick out the ones that only you can do. This kind of hearkens back to what Anita said, which is the personality. I can outsource a lot of things. And I know, don’t be fooled, DIY Marketers. There are things you absolutely do need to outsource, and then there are things you absolutely cannot outsource.

Then if you’ve done those tasks, now you can start grouping them. These are financial things, these are marketing things, these are social media things. You know what I’m saying? And so, people always wonder how I do so much with so little, and that is the secret. Pick up The E-Myth.

David Elkins: Yeah, Ivana made me think a little bit about the early stages of my team. I run a team of at this point 12 editors who work with our product teams in Chennai, India. That’s where all of Zoho’s products are built and all of our marketers are located. And so my team is sort of a localized team for the US helping to support those marketing efforts.

And I was thinking about in the beginning, when we were first starting to set up this process, of how we have 45 different products, each product has between three and 15 marketers, that’s hundreds of people involved in these sorts of things. And I remembered an early struggle that we had, which was the amount of mental bandwidth that was taken up by not having things automated, by trying to manage everything in our own heads, by trying to make sure that every T got crossed, every I got dotted. That really ate up a ton of bandwidth.

And I think that’s something that’s true for any managerial position, but when you shift to remote, it means that you have to do so much of that stuff internal to your own mind instead of being able to say,” Hey, can you take care of this? Can you take a look at this?”

So what we did is we built a custom app to help manage that process, depending on the complexity of what you’re doing. I mean, in some cases, you can find solutions and tools that will work out of the box. In some cases, depending on how complex your systems are, how complex your processes are. Sometimes putting together something that’s fully tailored to exactly what you’re doing can be a huge lifesaver.

My team, probably we’ve edited, I think the last count was about 5 million words of content. And if I were trying to do that how we did it in the beginning, which was someone would send me an email and then I’d write down on a yellow, legal pad, “Oh, remember to edit this document,” I would have lost my mind.

So I think that that’s a big, sort of building off of what Ivana was saying, that idea of take a look at the things that are eating up a lot of your time, and also eating up a lot of your mental energy. Because sometimes these little things, like keeping track of all of the requests that come in, that’s not going to take a ton of time, but it will take a ton of energy. And I think energy is also an important resource to conserve on your team.

Monique Johnson: I would like to also jump in here real quick, Brent. I love that book, Ivana, so I’m so glad you brought that up. And even just building off of what you said and David said, because there are some people out there who might be listening to this or watching us and saying, “Oh man, I’ve got to do a lot of typing and a lot of writing.”

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Well, you guys know I’m the video person, and in today’s world with the tools and everything, don’t make it so hard on yourself to document your process. There’s different tools out there from Loom to Up! Free to Paid where you can just screen share what are the things that you’re doing and creating what Ivana was saying, SOPs, standard operating procedures. So that when it’s time for you to hire or outsource to build this virtual team, it’s not like you bring someone on and it’s like, “Oh, what do I tell them?” Or, “Go read this document.”

A lot of times video, especially if they’re small and succinct, and people are very much visual learners as well, have the written documentation like David said, but I would also say take the video and even have it transcribed. And if you have to update a new video for any updates, you re-transcribe it. But having both helps with tackling different modalities that we have. I think that helps a lot when it comes to building a virtual team.

Finding the Right Virtual Assistants for How You Work

John Lawson: Okay, so most of my virtuals, I hired from the Philippines, and I used All right? versus any of the other ones. I’ve tried other ones, but when it came to actually adding full team members, I found that one to be the best.

One of the things that I do, and I’d suggest everybody do, is that I hide codes inside of my text for the ad for the worker. So what I mean by that is that if I’m looking for a worker, I’ll say, “This is Job #75124,” but I’ll put that at the very end. You have to say job #75124 in your response, and that way I’ll know if they read it or not. Because so many workers like that, whether they’re in five or any other place, they’ll bid on your job, but they’re bidding on everybody’s job and they won’t read the description at all. So if you hide little things like that in, that’s one of the key things that I do.

The other one, this is a big key thing, because like I said, I’m hiring people for my team. These are people I want to depend on. And so I ask one question during the interview, I say, “Where do you see yourself in the next three to five years?” And I ask that question. If they answer to that question, “Well, I see myself being a doctor or a dentist after I finish my school,” I’m not hiring your ass. That’s not who I want. If you answer to me, “I can see me being a team lead and helping you grow your business,” that’s the person I want. So I will see little things like that to really see the intention of the people.

And another thing is if you’re hiring these workers, I just think it’s better to hire a full-time worker than a part-time worker, especially when you’re talking about the Philippines where you’re paying them literally 20%, even 10% of what you would pay a US worker, why not? If you’ve got them, if you’re paying 10% of them, why put them on part time? Put them on full time so they have your… I don’t want people moonlighting. I don’t want people working for two and three clients. You work for me, you work with me. I need your full attention.

Brent Leary: I’ll give you one. I do a lot of transcriptions and Rev is great for me. They can turn around a 15-minute transcription in two hours or less, and it’s really well done. And that’s part of being virtual too. I don’t know the person who’s doing it, I just put my request in and they do the matching of the person who would be the best fit for doing this job, and they handle all of that stuff. So that’s part of, I consider Rev be a virtual team, even if it’s not an individual person. It helps me to get my stuff done.

David Elkins: Honestly, for me, one thing about building a virtual team is if it’s going to be a full-time team where you’re really expecting it to be a very cohesive environment of people, this may not a very satisfying answer, but I find personal recommendation to be really important when building a virtual team. If I’m hiring somebody locally, I know I’m going to be able to sit down with that person, we’re going to build a rapport. There’s going to be trust that’ll build over time.

But when you’re switching to a fully virtual process, especially one that isn’t easy to set clear metrics and benchmarks where it’s like, “I need you to transcribe 5,000 words a day.” That’s easy to measure. Things that are harder to measure, I really feel that that personal connection is important because having a little bit of that rapport, having a little bit of sort of social consequence if that person ends up being flaky or not really stepping up to the job.

I do think that for those permanent teams that you’re building, pulling from social networks, your personal social networks, is really helpful for me. The most successful remote hires that I’ve done have come in through that source.

Anita Campbell: You know, we use our website, so we’ve recruited a lot of freelance writers just by having a link in the footer. It says, “Looking for writers.” You attach it to a form and then have people fill out the form, just ask them a few bits of information, and you can screen people that way. That has worked out really well for us.

Another thing then that we’ve done is we’ve tapped into our existing freelancers also, so if you get one person working with you, you can tap into them. For example, we had someone from Ethiopia who wrote for us for a number of years, and we talked with him and he said, “Yeah, I know several people and I’d love to get them involved.” And he actually recruited other people locally for us to help write, and to do some SEO work and so on. So that worked out really, really well.

Managing Virtual Team Members with Project Management Software

Gail Gardner: Yeah, well, I’ve been working online entirely for over 20 years, and I do work with people in a dozen countries or so, and I’ve had VAs in the Philippines and in India. And the best way I find people is I find one good one, and then they get me other people. Because in those two countries, there are big companies who hire a bunch of people, train them up on a particular skill, and then when their contract with whomever is up, let them all go at the same time. And so it’s pretty easy for you to get one and then have them let you know, “Oh, their contract is going to be up at X time. How many do you want?” And pick them up that way.

And so that’s how I find the people, but the best way for me is they have to communicate the way I communicate. So in my case, I don’t like email. I have so much email it makes my head explode. So they have to use Skype. All my people that I work with, all my collaborators and all of my clients even, and all my VAs, they all use Skype so that I can message them and expect a live response within a reasonable amount of time. Whereas I feel like you email somebody, it drops into a bucket somewhere, and who knows if they’ll ever see it.

So that’s for me, and I also use project management systems. I use Trello, I use Zoho Connect, I use Wrike for different things. Different people and different groups are in different project management systems. And I love project management systems. If you’ve never done one, pick Trello first. It’s free. It’s very visual. You can get your processes very structured and you can make checklists. Like when I get a new person, I have a very detailed checklist. And everything they do, I’ll say, “Okay, start this one. Here’s your checklist. I want you to check it off as you do it.” Then go to the next one. Same checklist is in there, check that off as you do it.

So I know that they are really doing what I’m asking them to do, because if they check it off and I go check and they didn’t really do it, then I know that we’re going to have a come-to-Jesus moment, and they’re going to either learn to do it the way I ask. That’s a problem you’ll run into. They will just decide to stop doing it the way you’ve asked and do it some other way, so you can’t really just delegate and forget.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Watching Amazon: Online Grocery Shopping Rose 7x in a Month

Watching Amazon: Online Grocery Shopping Rose 7x in a Month

Amazon maintained its position in the number one spot and saw its brand value increase 32%, or almost $100 billion, to $415.8 billion, according to the 15th annual Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking released earlier this week by advertising firm WPP and research firm Kantar.

And they are smoking the competition, as #2 Apple is over $50 billion behind.

It’s easy to see that COVID-19 has been a big factor in this increase in value, as the size and speed of the shift to online shopping brought on by the virus caught everyone off guard.

But even after a shaky period at the beginning of the crisis, Amazon seems to have weathered the storm and is operating at levels customers have grown accustomed to.

And because the pandemic has accelerated the move to the world being even more digital, it has also positioned Amazon to be even more successful in a Post Covid world.

Growth of Online Grocery Shopping During Pandemic

My Watching Amazon co-host John Lawson and I talk about how this, and how Google looks to be responding to a downtrend in digital ad spending during the pandemic – that might also help them fend off Amazon in the long run.

And a couple of other things that happened in Amazon world this week. Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.

Click on the embedded SoundCloud player below to hear the full conversation.

Brent Leary: We talked so much about how Amazon got hammered in the first part of the pandemic.

John Lawson: Absolutely. I saw a story. Now, if you get to catch this, it’s really good to watch. CNBC did a thing on grocery special, on the grocery stores and the pandemic. And it was really interesting, but a couple of numbers that I got from that, was that online shopping for groceries was about 3% pre-COVID. And that rose, literally, in less than 30 days, to 21%. That’s 7X. Any kind of business that just overnight goes 7X up, it’s impossible to keep up with. And that was really interesting to see some of those numbers. Wow.

Brent Leary: A recent survey found that 20% of those polled bought physical goods online for the first time during the pandemic. 20%. First time they’ve ever bought anything online, physical goods. And it was just because of the pandemic. And then followed up with, 46% also said they would keep on purchasing online more frequently once we get past the pandemic. And then the last one, this is why Amazon is in such a great position, and it’s not good to say because of the pandemic. But it’s just facts here. Because people were forced to buy more stuff online, they ended up doing it. And then they realized, you know what? It’s not that bad buying this stuff online. And then only 8% said they will reduce online shopping post-COVID. All of this lines up for what, I guess, we’re seeing all over the place, which is everybody’s saying Amazon is going double their share price in the next couple of years. Because the pandemic actually accelerated the move for people to buy online at a bigger rate than it was before. And there’s no going back.

John Lawson: I won’t say there’s no going back. There’s different parts of that that will go back. It’s like, yes, I’m buying my groceries online, but when I can go back to actually touching my fruit, I’ll probably go back to touching the fruit. But there’s some areas that are definitely going to see and maintain that increase. I had a friend that actually bought a car online, but I don’t see that sustaining. Once post-COVID is over, I think people are going to go back and test drive a vehicle. So yes, you’re going to maintain some of that, but then there’s other industries that might float backwards.

Brent Leary: Well, I think that it was a general statement, that people were forced into doing something that they had never done before. And because they were forced into it, some folks, and it seems like a pretty significant amount of folks, realized, man, this ain’t bad. And then, even once things get back to whatever the new normal is, part of the new normal is, a percentage of folks will maintain buying stuff online that they had not bought before. Even though things will be more open up to go back to the way they want. Yeah. That’s what I think.
Just lets me know, where do you shop? Because I don’t want to shop there once you go back to touching things.

Google Moves to Expand Free Retail Listings to Counter Growing Ad Rivalry with Amazon

Brent Leary: Google announced they will expand free retail listings to its main search page in. They had already changed the rules so that merchants could list items in the Google shopping selection for free, but they still had to pay for a slot at the top of the main Google search page.
Google’s feeling the pain just… Well, maybe not like Facebook. But Google is feeling the pain as a lot of companies are not doing digital ad stuff right now.

John Lawson: Yeah. Yeah. Well, if you think about it too, when you say a lot of companies are not doing, they’re not spending the money on digital ads?

Brent Leary: Right, right, right.

John Lawson: Right? And does Amazon have the ability to counter this? I don’t think they do.

Brent Leary: Amazon is already countering it, let’s think about this. The uptick in shopping online, Amazon is getting more of that fair share of that uptick. So if people are cutting back their ads, but online retail is still going crazy, guess who’s benefiting from that? Amazon is getting it one way or the other. So Google is trying to figure out how do they get sellers to sell stuff on their platform? They’re trying every which way, but people don’t want to advertise.
So Google, I think, is trying to figure out a way to fend off Amazon, in one way, and keep their advertisers and I guess third party sellers, try to make some headways with them. And I think it’s tough for them right now to do that, but they’ve got to do something because the big brands are not spending as much as they used to on Google ad work right now. At least right now.

John Lawson: I don’t think that’s really the case. We’ll see when the earnings come out for second quarter. Google stock is doing well. Google is not like, oh my God, Amazon’s coming for our core business. I don’t think that’s even close. However, I do think that when it comes to advertising and advertising of hard goods, that there was a niche and an opportunity there that Google themselves never adequately navigated, in my opinion. I don’t think they ever navigated advertising for product very well. And that allowed Amazon to sneak in and make a lot of inroads in that area. I think Google-

Brent Leary: The initial business model for Google was not to point people to where they could shop. It was about finding information and-

John Lawson: No. Let’s remember. Wait. Hold on. You don’t remember something called Froogle.

Brent Leary: Was that the initial part of Google, or was that an add on?

John Lawson: No. I’m just saying that was Google’s shopping platform was Froogle. And Froogle was great. It was 100% free. All right? And it was just a shopping for you to… It would suck all your stuff out of your store, a lot of eBay stores, and it would list it. And it’d make it easy to find. I think that concept needs to come back. I think part of Google search should literally be product search.

Brent Leary: Yeah. Well, but-

John Lawson: Without paying.

Brent Leary: But I think it was originally that until people were like, well, why don’t I just go to Amazon and search.

John Lawson: Not really.

Brent Leary: It was what, three or four years ago, since Amazon became number one destination for product search?

John Lawson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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Brent Leary: Yeah. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

John Lawson: I’m saying product search is different than text search.

Brent Leary: But product search is intent search because they want to buy something.

John Lawson: Right. And if I want to buy something, I need to see the picture. I need to see the description of said thing. When you do that on Google, you don’t get any of that experience, or you didn’t really get that experience.

Brent Leary: They tacked it on. And they also didn’t get ratings and reviews right away.

John Lawson: Exactly.

Brent Leary: Because of all that, people started going directly to Amazon for product searching.

John Lawson: Right, but Google has all that data. All that data,

Brent Leary: They have all that data, but their business model was not set up for people being able to buy stuff right from there.

John Lawson: They need to get that set up. They got all the components. They got GooglePay.

Brent Leary: I think they’re trying.

John Lawson: Look. See, that’s what I’m saying. I don’t think they were trying. I think if they do try, they’re going to have a little bit of, could be awhile-

Brent Leary: Why weren’t they trying? Why weren’t they trying real hard? Because look at the margins on retail. Look at the margins they had on ads. They had huge margins and-

John Lawson: Oh, yeah. Retail versus … Yes, absolutely.

Brent Leary: Right. But they were optimizing around that. And let’s face it, retail is a tough market, even if it’s online retail.. And supply chain isn’t easy. I think-

John Lawson: No, they need to stay out of that part.

Brent Leary: I think they need to figure out how can they best position themselves for what digital ads and digital campaigns are going to look like after COVID, because they’re going to look different than what they were before COVID. And they could position themselves, because they are the leader already, just generally speaking. So how do they take that lead and change the way that they need to keep that lead after we get through this pandemic.

John Lawson: Look at LinkedIn User’s comment says, “I always use Google because I get options. Usually end up in Amazon, since there are not many other results that matter.” I think that is the most important part, is that when you do a thing on Amazon, you’re not going to get a whole lot of different options, as you would in Google-

Brent Leary: That’s because they are optimized to sell something at the end of the interaction. How does Amazon make it easy for us to find what we want, make that decision, click the buy button, and then stand by our doorstep 24 hours later with our stuff? Google’s not optimized for that. Amazon is. And that’s why it’s going to be hard for them to try to attack on Amazon’s territory. And maybe it’s a little easier for Amazon to attack Google on their territory with the digital ad plan.

John Lawson: I disagree, but we’ll see.

Brent Leary: What else is new? You always disagree with me.

John Lawson: I think you’re saying that Amazon has an advantage.

Brent Leary: I think I’m saying –

John Lawson: That Google can’t match in its advantage, and I think Google has some tools up its sleeves too that Amazon doesn’t have. And definitely data-wise I think they do.

Brent Leary: I think you’re right about that. But it’s also about being able to actually execute. And Google has shown that they have hard times when it comes to physical products. Some of their own-

John Lawson: Here’s the thing. And that’s a good point. I think you leave Amazon in the physical product space. Don’t try to compete with that. That’s where they had their problems. When it comes to actual search, there’s nothing that compares to Google search on the planet. Amazon search is not even close. Amazon is not in my pocket. Google knows everywhere I’ve been, where I’m going, and everything that comes out of my mouth. They have to utilize that and figure out how they can use that to the advantage of the end user to make shopping experience better.

Brent Leary: I totally agree with you on that. Google is the search king, but there’s an opportunity, not just for Amazon. There is an opportunity, because search is changing more and more to voice search, which is a completely different animal. And that leaves some opportunities for, not just Amazon, but for others, to figure out how do they leverage voice search and be able to optimize voice search and voice conversations that could turn into actually connecting a retail experience that starts with a voice search versus a retail experience that starts with a traditional text search? There’s some opportunities. I think Google should be trying to optimize for that, because to me, that’s where this is going faster and faster.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Wilson Raj of SAS: Customer Data Privacy is the New Experience Differentiator

Wilson Raj of SAS: Customer Data Privacy is the New Experience Differentiator

COVID-19 forced many of us to shelter-in-place, and caused us to do things like shop for groceries digitally. And while it took a pandemic for many of us to do that, now that we have  done it, many will continue grocery shopping online long after the pandemic is over.  Just as people who went into an office to work before COVID might never do that again now that working from home has been great for many folks who never imagined doing it before COVID-19.

The pandemic has sped up the move to a digital-first economy.  But there is more needed to be done before you can successfully transform your organizations to thrive in post-COVID era. And earlier this week I talked about this during a LinkedIn Live conversation with Wilson Raj, Global Director of Customer Intelligence for analytics platform provider SAS.

Interview with Wilson Raj of SAS on Customer Data Privacy

Below is an edited transcript from a portion of our conversation.  To hear the full interview click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

Small Business Trends: What impact has the pandemic had on your business customers so far?

Wilson Raj: Oh, absolutely. I think what has happened with this pandemic is it forces organizations of all sizes, whether you’re a midsize or a Fortune 500 to really go digital-first. That’s the mentality. I think for SAS going digital-first means being data-first. That’s where it all starts. It’s not so much of the digitalization of channels, it is using the data that’s coming from digital, that’s coming from within the organization.  Digital-first means being data-first, which means we have to have analytics at the core to unlock all that. So in terms of responding to the pandemic, every key aspect in terms of dealing with recovery, whether it is optimizing hospital beds, whether it’s doing contact tracing, it’s all data-first.

And it’s fast. It is automated, is aggregated, and is actionable. We’re seeing that in use cases, not just in the pharma or the healthcare space, but in optimizing supply chains, looking at inventory supply, how do you optimize that, looking at pricing, how do you optimize that and predict in lieu of what’s happening now, how the organization can take advantage and start to thrive. So in all these areas of recovery, whether it’s supply chain, merchandising, pricing, financial stability, healthcare, we were able to bring that whole notion of data-first powered by analytics very quickly. What was really cool was that these solutions were brought in sometimes within weeks, sometimes within days to the marketplace. That was really a huge testament to the agility of the platform, the automation that’s built into it. I think the third thing I would say is the very rich knowledge set that we had from an analytical perspective in manufacturing, in retail, in utilities, and in healthcare, that really galvanized, and we were able to do to help our customers that way.

Small Business Trends: You say part of being digital-first means data-first. When you look at what’s been happening with the pandemic … We’ve talked about digital transformation for a number of years, but has the talk of digital transformation changed in some ways because of COVID-19? And if so, how do you see COVID-19 changing the definition and the approach to digital transformation?

Wilson Raj: I think the COVID-19 clarified the definition of digital transformation. It really did, because it showed how using data at the core, the companies that were effective were able to start to recover and reimagine three areas of the business. One is obviously, the way they were relating with customers, going digital-first, having digital channels to be able to identify needs, and service the customers. The second area of that transformation was in operational management. We talked about processes being digitized, being accelerated, efficiencies being squeezed out within minutes. And the last one is around innovation. That’s another aspect of digital transformation using data. For me, innovation is just coming up with the new way of doing the first two things, right? It’s a new way of connecting with your prospect and a new business model, right?

And so that to me, those three areas around customer experience, around process improvements, around new business models, all were expressed, and you can see this Brent in the last three months across all sectors. It doesn’t matter, we saw elements of all those things. I think now the question becomes, do brands now go back to normal, or are they going to sustain the advances that they have gained during this period?

Small Business Trends: What impact will Google going away from using cookies have on SMBs?

Wilson Raj: Yeah, Brent, I think this balance… We’ve chatted about this several times, around this balance between personalization and privacy, right? Where’s the line? What’s creepy? What’s relevant? I think today with everything going digital-first where the physical aspect is completely non-existent, at least for now or in the near term, there might be some elements of that coming up maybe, I don’t know, in the near mid-future, but for the most part, it is screen interaction, or using apps.

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What we’re finding is that that third-party cookie has always been sort of a panacea, unfortunately, seen rightly or wrongly by companies, certainly the mid-sized enterprise as well as to be used for better targeting. Now, unfortunately, I mean, the research has shown third-party cookie tracking, and the way we do metrics and you really do attribution has been sketchy at best, right? Because when you look at the ad-tech environment in terms of how third-party cookies are measured and how digital properties are synced to that, there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of grayness in terms of how do you really map that? Are you really doing that one to one? And so with Google just recently announcing the demise or the lack of support for the cookies, the first knee-jerk reaction is like, “Yike, how am I going to track people on my website?” That’s the first thing people are screaming or, “There goes my digital identification, tracking mechanism.” But when people calm down, you could see that, you know what? There is a world beyond third-party cookies. I would call that first-party consent, not first-party data.

In fact, there would be a greater reliance on first-party data. That’s the data that the grocery store or the mid-market brand would use as the customers or prospects interact with them digitally. Correct? Absolutely. You’re tracking that stuff now. That’s behavioral. But then when you talk about first-party content, that’s the data that is provided by the consumer as a tacit invitation to say, “Hey, I want to know more.” Right? It could be as direct as texting Brent and say, “Hey, give me information.” That’s very direct. Or it could be through other kinds of behavioral footprints or sentiment that the brand can capture to say, “This person is giving me tacit approval to engage with you, to do something, to provide information.” So if you’re a bank, maybe how do you change your account number, or how do you add more services?

It could be for a transaction. “I want to pay a bill. I want to split this investment portfolio into five pieces.” Whatever that is, or it could be something from a support perspective. “I need to talk with someone to help me make some smart decisions about my investments.” You can use that same informational, transactional, and support moments of truth in any industry. In those interactions, you have what I call first-party consent. I think to do that again, you’re collecting that data, and then, how do you use that? That becomes a question, and that’s where things such as predictive analytics, things such as lookalike modeling, things such as churn analysis, or sentiment using AI can help you get that consent, and then you’re able to hopefully use that in the right way.

Small Business Trends: It’s all about trust, and if you don’t have the trust, I don’t care… If you become digitally transformed and you are digital-first, if nobody trusts you, no customers trust you, who cares?

Wilson Raj: Absolutely. Who cares, right? That trust is not… We have talked about this, and I’m glad we’re bringing this up because even more so today, trust is not a theoretical concept here. Trust is not this warm, fuzzy, cozy feeling between a brand and a consumer. It would be things such as, boy, from a data governance perspective, how are these folks managing data? How are they protecting it? How are they cleansing it? Do they have very clear-cut definitions in terms of retention dates, how they are used, when they’re used, where they’re not to be used? All of those so-called legal, data governance, boring things are absolutely critical. On the other hand, from a experiential perspective, how is the organization communicating the value of data collected? Not just in terms of being very succinct in terms of what consumers are going to get, what they’re going to experience, but also provide protocols where you and I can vet, we can audit our own data preferences through a contact or a data preference center to say, “You know what? I’m not going to say it shared this anymore. I’m not going to share this piece of data anymore. I’m going to time out on this one.”

That is now giving the power back. And so by a combination of what I call internal governance initiatives through data management and security and so on, and then through an external way of providing that flexibility and choice to customers, you can make trust a little bit more tangible, I think.

We did research late last year in terms of what the future of customer excellence looks like between an organization and the consumer. One of the themes that came up is the balance between privacy and personalization. You can see the industries that are more trustworthy; healthcare providers, food providers, and so on. And then on the other side of the spectrum those which are less trusted, because there’s a notion that these folks on the right are not necessarily communicating what they’re doing with the data, number one. Number two, they’re just using it for other financial purposes, right? Selling it to third parties or other entities without your knowledge.

Small Business Trends: Consent first, if you can build that into your corporate culture, your DNA, then you have a solid foundation to move forward and put all these other pieces into play. But if you don’t do that, you might as well not do anything at this point.

Wilson Raj: Right.

Small Business Trends: It’s that important to me, I think.

Wilson Raj: You’re right. Brent, A great customer experience is not just one P, personalized. It’s not just that. It’s the second letter P, is privacy-aware. We have to do privacy. We have to go first. We don’t want the customer to make those choices, right? We want to meet with privacy first. I think as we go through this disruption and into future state, whatever that looks like, privacy can now become the new customer experience differentiator. It is no longer the backroom topic where the lawyers and the governance folks talk about, right? It is front and center of the chief marketing officer, of the chief executive officer. It has to be that vital and visible.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Don Schuerman von Pega: Keys to a virtual film conference

Don Schuerman von Pega: Keys to a virtual film conference

Like everyone else, I take part in a series of virtual events that were originally intended as physical conferences. And like everyone else, I attended a number of really bad virtual events … because the organizers haven't changed the structure of their event to take advantage of a virtual event world. <! – ->

A company that turned its physical event into a successful virtual conference was Pegasystems a leading platform for customer loyalty and process automation. After participating in a number of physical PegaWorld events over the years, the changes in the “virtualization” of the conference were felt and gave the impression that it was developed from scratch to experience the conference differently than if you were sitting on 10,000 seats auditorium at MGM in Vegas. And it worked.

My CRM Playaz co-moderator Paul Greenberg and I had the opportunity to hear (virtually) from PegaWorld's chief technology officer and master of ceremonies, Don Schuerman how he was doing successfully switch physically to virtual. And also hear how some of the insights gained from these experiences are transferable to broader digital transformation efforts that businesses of all sizes are beginning to undertake due to the coronavirus pandemic.

<! – -> Below you will find an edited transcript of part of our discussion. Click the embedded Soundcloud player to hear the full conversation.

Interview with Don Schuerman von Pega

Small Business Trends: PegaWorld should move to Boston for the first time this year from Vegas, where it has been running for years. Then Covid-19 met. So Pega was already doing a great job moving to Boston, but then you had to deal with going virtual from Vegas to Boston. How did you do this?

Don Schuerman: We had a team that, as you say, was quite active in bringing a conference that was taking place in Vegas to a conference that was taking place on the City of Boston to be distributed. The Boston infrastructure is very different from Vegas in that it is only able to support something like this, and this team immediately focused on thinking about how we would do it as a virtual event.

One of the first decisions we made was basically to reduce the event back to the beginning, because if … It's great to see a CEO, a product manager, at a big event 30, 45 minute keynote stops when you We have 120 foot screen and lights and DJ music and smoke machine in operation. I mean, you really stay engaged. The fact is, however, that the 45-minute keynote streamed from an empty conference room somewhere via zoom or a web tool is simply not appealing. It just doesn't work. <! – ->

When we rebuilt the event, we noticed three things. First, it has to be compact. The actual live share of PegaWorld this year is two and a half hours. These are keynotes, these are outbreaks, Q&A sessions, etc. We really compressed it because I think that in this virtual world, when people are sitting at their desktops and they have a lot of distractions from the kids, they help with theirs Math homework needs, from emails that come from work, & # 39; We have to work out and be effective in a short time. So we wanted to make it compact.

The second thing we wanted to do was make it stay interactive. It can't just be a few videos and people talking about you online. So we went back and looked at each other, okay, how do we get Alan into a live Q&A? So, Alan Trefler, our founder and CEO, how do we get him into a live Q&A session right after his short keynote, where he answers live questions from viewers? How do we take one of the most popular sessions at PegaWorld, a vision and roadmap session where our product managers talk about where the product is going and turn it into a technical conversation where we get together Kerim Akgonul, our SVP for products , and again allow people to ask live questions in front of him so he can have a real time conversation? How do we do things like demos?

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<! – -> Every great technology conference, there is always this exhibition, we call our the Innovation Hub, where you can walk around and see and talk to product engineers. So we looked at tools like Twitch that many players use for interactive live games, and we said, “Okay, how do we make Twitch-style demos where a developer can create something, but we can do people who want to ask about things and see how things ask questions so they stay interactive? “So that was the second piece, how do we keep it interactive?

And then the third piece, how do we make sure that it lives on after the event? How do we make sure that the content that we create, that the continued engagement becomes available to people? Because if we want to make it compact, there will actually be more content available than people can actually fit into this time. So how do we give them the opportunity to come back and continually engage with our products, our customer stories and some of the insights we have published on thought leadership that go far beyond the actual live event we did?

Virtual means for the transition from theater to film

Don Schuerman: One of the other things that we have really taken to heart is that when you become virtual, you also switch from the theater, how do I manage this as a theater, to the cinema, how I do it like little films, right? How can we record keynotes so that we have multiple camera angles and play with the fact that we are on video? We want this to feel very different from anything else. Above all, we want the content to be really great. We want to teach people again how to really build a business architecture around the customer journey and extend it to your channels, add legacy systems to it, but really operate from the center around your customer journey, because I think that is where there is success.

I think the digital transformation is really tense now. If you do it right, you can thread the needle. That said, there are immediate things you need to do as an organization. You have to keep your employees safe and healthy. You have to be prepared for everyone to work from home. You have to respond to a flood of new customer inquiries, many of which are for services that you haven't previously offered, or if so, for a relatively small volume, right?

Organizations must react immediately. But I also think that this time has opened people's eyes to the fact that digital transformation is real. I spoke to the CIO of one of our major clients in a media company and he said: “For years I have been trying to teach my organization to be agile, to think agile, to fail quickly and overnight. The company just became agile because there was no choice had because we were all spread out, because we had immediate problems that we had to solve. “How can we leverage this insight and transform it into a truly ubiquitous transformation by expanding digital platforms and best practices that not only respond to immediate needs, the things we need to fix now, but also organizations to create better customer experiences deliver to be stronger organizations if we focus on 2021 and beyond?

Small Business Trends: It sounds like you've transformed the conference. The same lessons you learned in converting the conference into a virtual event apply to COVID.

Don Schuerman: Complete. One of the things we do with many of our customers is design thinking sessions, isn't it? And before COVID, they were great, but hard to plan. You have to put everyone in one room. You have to block the time. You have to fly people to a place to achieve this. Now we use tools like MURAL. We make it virtual. Instead of like a week, we do it in a day or two. We get the same great results. Our customers have exactly the same eye-opening moments. With the Bavarian government, we went from a design thinking session to a live application that automates all small business loan requests they have to make in response to COVID and the economic changes. We got it live from a fully distributed team in five days because there was no choice.

And so I think when we return we will bring a lot of it into the future, like: "Hey, I can do a design thinking session virtually. Hey, I can do a design thinking session very well in a few days I don't have to put everyone in one room for a week to do that. "And I think that will strengthen our business and make our customers' businesses much more agile and effective.


This is part of the one-to-one interview series with thought leaders. The transcript was edited for publication. If it is an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher .

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Interview with Mona Abou-Sayed from Mitel about Remote Empathy %% sep %%%% site name %%

Interview with Mona Abou-Sayed from Mitel about Remote Empathy %% sep %%%% site name %%

Covid-19 forced many people who were used to going to an office every day to work from home. <! – ->

And while many of these people will eventually return to an office to work, a significant number of them will not.

Even those who return return to a completely different environment and work experience than they do. What will that mean for small businesses in the future if we try to survive the pandemic and position ourselves for success once the crisis is over?

<! – -> That was the topic of a LinkedIn live conversation that I had earlier this week with a friend and analyst for small businesses Laurie McCabe and Mona Abou-Sayed, VP of Collaboration & Applications for Mitel ; a global leader in business communication.

The discussion touched on a number of ways the pandemic fundamentally changes people and how these behavioral changes are changing business and customer engagement.

Interview with Mona Abou-Sayed von Mitel

Below is a edited transcript of part of the conversation. Click the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full discussion.

Trends for Small Businesses: How Do Small Businesses Respond to the Pandemic? <! – ->

Mona Abou-Sayed: What is happening is a key event in our lives. There will be Before COVID and After COVID, right? And those who will survive will be able to adapt to how business changes, how people change. And at the same time, you have all these cultural implications. I have seen many companies that have already changed, especially small companies that have really changed their business processes.

I have an important friend, a mentor, who is completely changing her business. And when will we see changes? I think we saw a change immediately. However, I think that in the next part, companies will go through different phases in which they react, learn and adapt. So here we will see a real change.

<! – -> Initially, companies started in the reaction phase, right? They say, "Okay, what do we do now?" You had some companies, as you said, that were already prepared. So they immediately increased their licensing and increased their commitment to more employees in the organization. But others had nothing in place to deal with the change, so there was a lot of emotion, a lot of change for a lot of people.

And then, when the rush was over, people grew milder and learned how to work in this new normal or next normal. How will I manage to have a child here who does e-learning right next to me and uses the bandwidth I need for a meeting? Just this whole work-life mix. And then I think you saw a lot of stress in people. Law? The working day has suddenly extended and interferes with lunch and breakfast and even dinner. The day seems to have no end.

And then we move into this calming phase, when we realize you know what? We just have to learn to adapt. And that is how we want to be able to progress in business. And so we have to support our employees from the point of view of reassurance. We are now planning how we will survive in the future. Finally, we will be in this recovery phase over time. But I think we're somewhere between mitigation and reassurance, depending on where you've been.

Laurie McCabe: Mona, I think it really captures the way many people think and move about it. We are already seeing so many companies, and not just Google and Facebooks or whatever, who say, "Okay, we're going to extend the work at home for a significant amount of time." I mean, that local bank that I mentioned earlier, a lot of their employees, they decided, they learned, hey, they can do their jobs at home. And so we are planning. I think you are in this calming phase, as you mentioned. They're planning how we might be able to rethink some of our applications, security, and infrastructure issues so we can really do better. It wasn't just in this way that we started.

Mona Abou-Sayed: Definitely. And I can only find so many other creative solutions from my social environment. Law? I have someone in my social environment who has a newborn child and who would go back to the office and daycare. And suddenly they were caught at home, both of them worked full time with a newborn and had no childcare. What they said to me is, "Well, there's no working day anymore." We have work to do, right? It is not a place, it is not a time. Work is an activity. We can do it if we can. And as long as you do your job … this is a complete change of mindset. This time ticket concept and where are you? Are you actually in the office? It has totally changed. So it doesn't just work from home, but from anywhere. It works where you need to be.

Small Business Trends: Which of these areas do you think are the most challenging for small businesses?

Mona Abou-Sayed: I think it really depends on what type of small business it is. So I would say it would be different depending on which market you are in. What do you think Laurie?

Laurie McCabe: Yes, I agree. If you are a company that relies on a physical location and physical services, I naturally think of hairdressers, doctors, dentists and the like. You need to find out what is and is not doing well online and virtually. If I have a rash, I can of course show my dermatologist. But if I have a heart attack, I'd better call 911, get the ambulance, and shoot to the hospital.

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Personally, I think that in many companies the biggest challenge will be culture, as you said, Mona. It's not about how many hours I see you sitting at a desk now, is it? It has to be about really defining what the results are for this employee and what we can do to help that employee achieve these results, all of which add up to the business objectives. I think it goes without saying in some companies, in others it is difficult. It is difficult to trust and trust will really be at the heart of it all. Trust and really good goals and defined roles and goals.

Mona Abou-Sayed: Yes, yes, absolutely. What I've really seen is human connection and bringing mankind back to what we're doing. Humanize the work again, right? I think at some point we turned into robots and brought them back to reality and brought your whole self to work. But basically, as a manager in a company, you have to think about your employee and his whole self, right?

Laurie McCabe: Right.

Mona Abou-Sayed: In the past, when you might have been in the office or had a handful of distant workers, they were used to being alone while not always feeling so committed may be because the majority were in the office, they were used to it. What I really like about what we went through is that we really balanced the field. Now everyone is working from home and now we all know how it feels to these remote workers. I think we will see a lot more empathy for this kind of environment in the future, for the people who work alone. Video conferencing is therefore vital.

And then I not only did it where it was just a video call, I even watched it in the past few weeks. And if we get into a call now, there is a little bit more of that human connection in the beginning. And it's even fun whether it's a game or a meeting topic and the like.

Small Business Trends: How do you make sure you get the right mix of skills and cultural fit in the future?

Mona Abou-Sayed: I think, similar to how we did interviews in the past, in which you met a lot of people individually and in a team environment, in a group environment, I think it will be essential to continue with video interviews and see how they can respond.

I think we have to be much more creative in how we evaluate an individual's ability to solve problems without having this interaction directly and being in such an environment. Some companies use similar personality and assessment tests and the like. I think that measures some things, but I really want to see how you will react when you are in front of the camera and talk to people who are not in the room with you. What is your body language This is important.

Laurie McCabe: I also think it's important, obviously there are a lot of people who are shy or introverted and I have people say to me, "I don't know how you do that can do that. I don't know how to watch these videos or speak to a group of people. "Some of us are very comfortable, others are not. So there probably has to be some kind of help so that the people who are just shy or more introverted but are really good at doing their job except zoom in or wherever you can meet online, do it comfortably and well and let your skills show through.

Mona Abou-Sayed: A key piece of this is once you get the staff to really start from the top. It is a culture that starts from the top. If you are in meetings where executives do not tune in or schedule their video, you will never get this adoption, you will never get this connection. But I think there is a balance. I think in the past few weeks I've felt like I've made video calls from 7:00 am to sometimes 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm. The video fatigue is real. And so it's okay and acceptable. I don't think we have to put people to shame when they have to turn off their video. That's okay.

Laurie McCabe: Right.

Mona Abou-Sayed: But I think we have to promote it by just humanizing it. And one thing that I actually noticed is that sometimes I get calls and someone is a little hectic and says, "Well, my baby is crying." Pick up the baby. It's OK.

Laurie McCabe: Yes, yes.

Mona Abou-Sayed: I met dogs, I met babies, I met spouses. It is great. I've seen tours of some people's homes. We have to add this human piece somehow. We're all going to be real, right?

Laurie McCabe: Right.

Mona Abou-Sayed: We are here as human beings, we bring our whole selves to work. You build so much better collaboration as a team when you can identify with people and these connection points are real.


This is part of the one-to-one interview series with thought leaders. The transcript was edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click the embedded player above or subscribe through iTunes or through Stitcher .

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Geoff Webb from PROS Interview – How Pandemic Changed the Plan %% sep %%%% Site-Name %%

Geoff Webb from PROS Interview – How Pandemic Changed the Plan %% sep %%%% Site-Name %%

Geoff Webb, VP of Strategy for AI / Analytics Platform PROS says his company received about 10% of their orders at the end of last year digital online e-commerce to 80% of their business today. <! – ->

Geoff shared this with me and my CRM Playaz co-moderator Paul Greenberg during our last weekly show .


That stopped us on our trail.

But also led to a fascinating conversation with lessons for companies of all sizes. <! – – ->

Below you will find an edited transcript of part of our discussion. To hear the full conversation, listen to the embedded SoundCloud player.

Geoff Webb, PROS, Interview with Small Business Trends

Brent Leary : You deal with optimization and numbers and try to help your customers find the right mix of data perspective so that they can get the best out of it Offer at the right time and expand it to this level. How has the digital transformation changed in this pandemic and how has the use of numbers, the use of these optimization techniques and skills changed due to current developments?

Geoff Webb : I think the first thing that is done is that almost every company around the world looks at and says their current business plans, you know what, that probably won't work anymore, will it? We saw every kind of business, you know what, that was great. Looked like a great, no longer valid plan in December. In fact, not only is it no longer valid, it is likely to be actively harmful if we try to do so. <! – ->

And with that the pressure to contact customers in different ways and get involved where they want, the transition to digital from something we had planned over the years has shifted to something we have to do over the weeks and months. And that really accelerated the transformation of the things we work with companies on, which is really the transformation of the sales process. Every step of this sales process has to change, because the one thing we can't ignore has changed, and that's exactly what your customers want to do, the way your customers want to buy.

Everything went faster, everything got more intense. Everything has become more direct, everything is more personal. As a result, there is a risk that the company will run if you only react, right? If you don't look at the information and don't listen to the market again, you run the risk of doing the wrong thing very quickly. And that's a bad thing right now.

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We recommend that you carefully review what's important to your customers, and it may have changed. It probably changed, didn't it? What they see as a value in your relationship with you is likely to change. So you understand that better and shape better how you go to market, what you put on the market, how you sell it, how you pack it, how you rate it, obviously an area we focus on so that you can agree what they want to get out of things. So, yes, everything is faster and everything is now more focused. <! – ->

Paul Greenberg : So what would be some evidence that you saw such changes?

Geoff Webb : Oh my goodness. I mean, there are a lot of things that we see. On the whole, I think every conversation we do is more and more focused on how we can get involved digitally faster, right? So there was a conversation with one of our customers, who was a longstanding customer, one of the largest food manufacturers in the world. They said we thought about things like e-commerce because we really are a B2B company, but we think e-commerce should become important to us in the future. Now we can see that we are far behind. We need it now and we have to do it now. We have to scale now.

We have a company, a customer of ours, which is a special factory that has been around for a very, very long time. You recently told us that as of late last year, early this year, you placed about 10% of your orders through online digital ecommerce channels. Now it's 80% of their business. Can you imagine that they don't have the infrastructure and the ability to respond to the damage their presence in the market does? Fortunately, they are able to do that, but that's an incredible change that has taken place in an unprecedentedly fast way, right? Nobody could have planned that.

Paul Greenberg : No, no, no.

Geoff Webb : I think for us and Paul sees that, right? He works with us, he looks under the hood and understands what we're doing. First, we invest an incredible amount in really meaningful AI research. We have some of the smartest and most brilliant people you can imagine. Our main AI strategy Dr. Michael Wu is a global leader in thinking about applying AI to business problems, complex business problems.

I think the other thing I would say is that we've been doing this for a while. So we're not saying here is a generalized AI platform, do something with it, hire a lot of people and do stuff. What we did is that we consumed a lot of AI power and we linked it very closely to solving very specific business problems. Things like I'm in real time with a customer in a store based on everything that's going on in my store, everything else is similar to them. What is the right price for this special offer that I can offer? Can I increase the margin by 1% and still win this deal?

What is the correct configuration of this very complex product so that I can take it to this customer and it is right for him. And we did that. We provided this function through the trading platform, which we have built up again and again. And it's proven, right? The nice thing is that we have the proven results because we see this, we process roughly, I think it sounds like about two trillion transactions a year, literally with a t going through our system.

The amount of information we see through the systems, etc. gives us the breadth to really use it in a demonstrable way. And I think that's what people are looking for now when they think about AI. Can you prove that?


This is part of the one-to-one interview series with thought leaders. The transcript was edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click the embedded player above or subscribe through iTunes or through Stitcher .

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My parents are just as enthusiastic about language technology as my children

My parents are just as enthusiastic about language technology as my children

In 2016 I made my first presentation on Amazon Alexa and Echo, and at the time there were about 700 skills available. Today there are over 100,000. And hundreds of millions of Alexa-enabled devices. Since most of us spend more time in their homes than ever, I wanted to catch up with Dave Isbitski, Amazon's chief evangelist for Alexa and Echo. <! – ->

In a nifty chat we recently had on LinkedIn Live Dave tells some of the stories about how people use Alexa / Echo and Smart Assistants in general during the Covid 19 pandemic, why he thinks Language technology unites generations and how he sees that language plays an important role in the PC era (Post Covid).

Below is a edited transcript of part of our conversation. To hear the full convo, click on the embedded SoundCloud player.

<! – ->

Small Business Trends: How far have things got with Alexa and Echo devices?

Dave Isbitski: If I said in 2014, who has an echo? I had to explain what that was all about. By 2020, most people know what Echo is. I mean, there's even the Saturday Night Live sketch. You get what Alexa is. You probably have multiple devices. They're just smart assistants and AI across the board. Popularly that has really changed. It's part of people's daily routines.

What people may or may not know is that you have the ability to teach these AIs. So it's not Alexa, it's one of those intelligent assistants. What we do at Amazon is that we make it free, open, and available to everyone. So if you want Alexa in things, it could be cars, it could be car radios, it could be your phone. Alexa is now built into Windows, or you want to teach Alexa how to talk about things.

And when you talk about something, we call it a skill. So you're teaching Alexa a new skill and you can talk about anything. And that could be like ordering your domino now, right? If we sit in a pandemic at home, they deliver. You could make a simple order or just pull up games. Just go to Amazon … If people are curious about hearing from people who say, "Hey, my kids are driving me crazy. Are there games? "There are absolutely games. Go to Up there you see categories, Brent that we didn't have a while ago. So you see all of these categories, just like any other Amazon product. You can sort , You can say show me four stars and more ratings, some of which now have tens of thousands of ratings. <! – ->

One of the things you can do now as an Amazon customer is that you can go to and do these things visually. That's how I hear from parents that their children create their own stories.

Small Business Trends: Yes.

<! – -> Dave Isbitski: Maybe take care of someone who is at home. You want to remind them to do things. They want to be able to ask questions. What medication do I take? When do i take it You can do all of that and then you can assign it to your Amazon account.

I did that for my parents, where I set things up. That's why we tried to make the process as seamless as possible so that you can teach Alexa to have conversations and create content that you want, whether you can write code or not.

Small Business Trends: Do you see a lot of behavior changes and people who use their speakers to do things that they simply haven't really done before?

Dave Isbitski: Well, one of the things that I hear and that you will see online, you can even see on your Facebook feeds and Twitter that it is so important during all connections Connect this. We actually have … We try to video connect with my parents once a week just to see. And one of the things we keep hearing … If you go here . This will take you to a blog post about Alexa and devices and what's going on. You will hear us talk about it.

I don't think this was available when we last spoke, but a popular feature is the ability to drop by. So you set up people in your life and then they just say, “Alexa, come to the grandparents. ”Or“ Alexa comes to mom. ” Or "Alexa comes over to children." And it's amazing how seamless it will be. And just during this pandemic is the ability to communicate just like that without the need for a phone, without updating apps, right? It is an experience. It's just there. And the voice is seamless. It is included. Anyone can do it. Voice is the first technology that makes my parents as excited as my kids, right? And my father still doesn't use a computer, but he can do things on

Small Business Trends: Really?

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Dave Isbitski: Yes, I know it's crazy, right? Both my brother and I are technicians, my mother prints emails for him. He never logs in … Yes. But I was talking about where we donated these devices to the hospitals, and people have the ability to just talk and connect at any time, right? Because you don't touch it, which is an important thing. We gave them to hospitals where nurses can check in and talk about, all hands-free.

I just spoke to the people at Johns Hopkins. And I will not mention his name. He is a surgeon in New York. And it was very heartwarming. He just said, "I just want to thank you. Two years ago my mother had dementia and Alzheimer's and we used Alexa all the time. She had the opportunity to call for help. You could call us at any time. And so we were able to communicate with her. "

So a few things that we added. One of the topics is customer feedback on how to personalize Alexa. For example, everyone can tell Alexa at any time to remember things. The first thing I did was remember the Wi-Fi password, right? So if we have guests, they can be: "What is the WiFi password?" Law. And she can tell you, or it could be for my parents to remember dates and birthdays and the like.

We all have different personalities. When you look at Myers-Briggs, when you look at NBTI and five core personality types like I am at INFJ. I don't know if you're familiar with these guys. I often don't get out of my own head, but I can reconcile several ideas in my head. I can live in cognitive dissonance. Other people don't like that. And mobile and web are one size for everyone. Here is our design. And if you don't find it difficult, we train our brains, right? We are building these neural pathways and how to use an interface. And if you change this user interface, it's amazing to people. When one of these social media sites changes the look of their feed every day.

Small Business Trends: Right.

Dave Isbitski: What is great about the voice is that you want to consume it that way. You can decide what type of person you want to hear. In fact, we have a service called Polly Brand that generates voices. KFC, we worked with them and you can get the colonel's voice. This is my absolute favorite today, with the Alexa device you can say, "Ask Sam." So Samuel L. Jackson, and he'll tell you the weather and jokes. And all of that uses a technology called Neural TTS (Text to Speech), right?

There was a breakthrough in the use of neural networks for sound reproduction. Now when you use a computer through Neural TTS and see that it is computer-generated, it sounds like a human to the human ear and you can change the deflection. You can make it excited. We did this with Alexa, where you choose how the voice sounds when creating these experiences. You can make them sound excited. We added the thing to customers where we hear we have little children and I play a lullaby or turn off the lights at night, right? Since many people who use Alexa with smart home say, "turn off the light." And she’s super loud and wakes the baby, right? Like never waking the baby.

So you can whisper Alexa and then she says, "Oh, it sounds like you're whispering. Should I whisper back?" And you say, "Yes, it's a whisper mode." And so you will say : "Turn off the light." And she'll say, "Okay, I'll turn off the light." Right? But it's very human. Another area that you can say is, "You know what, talk faster, talk slower, slow down. "And so she will say things slower or faster.

We have the ability to recognize sound, right? So that's very different. When I say, "Alexa, shut up." Versus: "Alexa, thank you. Halt. "And we have all sorts of things. As if we always had the ability … I think we talked about it on your last show. You have had the opportunity to do everything since the first day we started delete what you've ever said to Alexa. You had the ability to see things. And if you don't want to deal with technology you can just call Amazon and get it done. But people wanted to hear and the ability on the fly So we opened that up and you can say things like "Alexa, delete what you just heard." You could say, "Alexa, what did you just hear?" and then she'll do it again say, "Alexa, delete everything you heard today."

And it is interesting. You can even say things like, "Alexa, why did you do that?" And she will say, "Well, I heard that and that's why I did it." And so it's very empowering because it helps people understand, because even as a human being I will say one thing, but it is not necessarily what you heard or processed in the same way, is it? When you give people that ability, they say, "Oh, she hears this word over and over. Or maybe I say it like that." It's very empowering in an open environment.

Some of the other things are bilingual. So you can switch between English and Spanish on the fly and behind the scenes in the United States. We take that and insert it into a lexicon. And so that both language models work and you can switch between the same things with … In Canada French French Canadian, Hindi and English in India. Because that's how we speak as humans. If you grew up in a bilingual family, just move back and forth between words and languages ​​and they will be able to do it.

And so are such things, because nothing is faster than just being able to ask for them. And here I would say we are developing as we are today, there we are and we can talk about future prospects.

Small Business Trends: Do you see some of the interactions that would normally have occurred on your phone from your voice devices?

Dave Isbitski: Well, I see it that way. Our group's mission has always been Alexa, wherever you want it. And now it's in the house. But when you take a ride, you should be able to say, "Alexa, read my book." And it was the audiobook you may have just heard in your cave, right? It's just seamless. I've already been quoted, and I think it's still the best analogy that voice is the new HTML.

So think about when the web first came out and the internet first came out. How did you contact companies? Law? It was like writing a letter, going into the lobby, or talking on the phone. And suddenly through HTML, right? And I didn't want to say that voice is the new web because the web is so extensive with social networks and everything. Because it's the interface. So HTML suddenly became the interface to connect with anyone, anywhere in the world, any brand in the world, to learn, right? Ask questions about anything. It was really how HTML brought the web together. And so you should look at the voice. It's the HTML code for everything.

This is part of the individual interview series with thought leaders. The transcript was edited for publication. If it is an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher .

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SMEs say sales are the biggest challenge but don't see automation that solves them

SMEs say sales are the biggest challenge but don't see automation that solves them

In the past year and a half a sister site of Small Business Trends has undergone a certain transformation. <! – ->

The website is designed to help small businesses understand how to use integrated platforms and automated processes to grow and scale their business. Part of this effort was to create a mastermind community for the exchange of ideas, experiences and expertise.

And in this relatively short time, the BizSugar mastermind community has grown to more than 18,000 members.

<! – -> I am the Chairman of the BizSugar Advisory Board. One of the activities we did earlier this year was a survey to better understand the current challenges for small businesses. This happened before the Covid 19 pandemic hit the country.

Earlier this week, some members of the Advisory Board participated in a livestream discussion in which some of the key findings from the survey among 585 small businesses were discussed. We also offer some solutions that may help you overcome some of the biggest challenges that small businesses face.

Below is a edited transcript of part of our conversation. To hear the full conversation, click the embedded SoundCloud player. Members of the BizSugar Advisory Board who are participating in the livestream are:

  • Anita Campbell, editor of Small Business Trends
  • Monique Johnson, founder of the Live Video Lab
  • Ivana Taylor, editor of DIYMarketers
  • Rhonda Wall, founder of VA Village

Taylor Backman, an evangelist for BizSugar's founding partner Zoho, also joined us. And we would be happy if you join us and become a member of the BizSugar mastermind community.

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Small Business Trends: Everyone said they needed marketing help. So it doesn't matter whether you are a one-person business or a few hundred people. Marketing was one thing everyone agreed on. However, if you have fewer than five, five, or fewer employees, you were 2.5 times more likely to need the most attention in sales compared to customer service. This is completely the opposite if you look at companies with over 100 people, it is completely about.

This probably means that larger companies have already built customer relationships. And what you need to focus on is how we maintain these customer relationships. How do we extend the length of the relationship? How can we get more value? Can our customers maybe spend a little more on more than one product or service?

<! – -> If you look at the under five employees, totally flipped. You may not have as many customers as you want. You need to attract more customers.

Well, the next thing we looked at was what happens when you need to do something new in your business? You have a new initiative, something that you may never have done before, but you know you have to do it for your business to move to the next level.

Once again, the size of the company seems to make a pretty significant difference in how they do things. With five employees or less, they are three times more likely to tinker themselves (three times themselves) than trying to figure out how to use automation to help them do it.

That means you are likely to spend more time doing things manually. You put more effort into doing things that need to be done, but you have to do it over and over again, about yourself or with an employee, rather than using some kind of automation to do it without doing that kind of time to have to. These are the five employees that need to be cut.

If you reach this brand of over 100 employees, it will be completely reversed again. The bigger the company, the more employees they have, the more automation they use and not just try to do it themselves. And when you think of larger companies, more automation can be a reason they grow. because they use automation and don't necessarily have to do everything manually.

Rhonda, where do you think automation should fit for small businesses? How can it help from a sales perspective in particular?

Rhonda Wall: One way to determine where you need automation is to identify tasks and things that you do constantly in your company that are time consuming. They may not be difficult, they seem simple, like sending an email or touching the base with the lead. It's not difficult, but it is time consuming and something that you do all the time.

What I suggest in the sales process even starts with the leadership. So if you bring in leads from any source, it's your advertising or social media, or wherever they come from, to integrate them into email automation. You can build this knowledge, your preferences, and your trust in the email sequence.

If you have nothing, start with three simple emails. The first would be "knowledge". So the tour comes in and you have little more contact with them. Let yourself be informed in an email about what you do, what services you offer, something like that. And then your next email sent to them would be creating something similar. So you want you to know, like and trust.

The "Like" could be that you may share your social media links so that they can come to you and deal with you and get to know you. And knowing you is the love you have. So you want to build it that way, and then you want to build trust.

The "trust" card could be an email that may be testimonials or success stories and the like from other customers. So you build that trust there. And these are your three most important. Of course, you can maintain your leads with more emails in the sequence, but this is like a jump and would make it easier for you to get started, especially if you want to make it yourself.

Small Business Trends: I would like to ask Taylor to step in a little here and talk about what you see when working with clients for small businesses. Are you surprised that you still don't use automation in this area to help with sales?

Taylor Backman: I wouldn't say I'm exactly surprised when I looked at some of the surveys, but one thing I think … And I'm saying this from a software company that that makes a lot of software, a lot of products. But I think what I would underline and I think everyone would agree is how important it is to understand the process before you even go to the software, right? I mean, the software will do a lot for you, and it will be able to speed things up through automation and keep things structured for you in a really nice way.

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But ultimately the software is not magic, is it? I mean, it still starts with having an idea of ​​how this process actually works. And as already mentioned, what are the weaknesses of the process? Where are the things that repeat and are time consuming? Software doesn't know that, just by nature, right?

So I think if I see customers or potential customers or small businesses and they see, for example, very dependent on spreadsheets, it is usually in a way a red flag because you know that a spreadsheet is only of one kind some limits to what it can really do. And it can go very crazy very quickly, which of course will result in the process becoming a little less clear and a bit ad hoc, and then it becomes difficult to model. And, of course, modeling will be the key to automating it.

Small Business Trends: Hey, one thing I would like to turn on, many small businesses that do their business in spreadsheets. To a certain extent, this is completely understandable. But I think if we could remember these tables, they would be great when it comes to numbers, because that's what they should do to deal with numbers. Not really good with people and relationships with people. So it's probably a good thing not to try using a tool that has nothing to do with relationship management.

Monique, we are talking about how video begins to fit in with the process, collecting leads, but also closing opportunities. Maybe you could talk a little bit about it.

Monique Johnson: Rhonda definitely said something that I firmly believe is one of the most important types of video that any company can create for themselves. These are testimonials or success stories. I prefer to call them success stories. But there is nothing more powerful than someone who talks about your business, unlike you who talks about your business.

So if you can collect a number of video testimonials, I highly recommend not complicating them. Don't use professional equipment, just a simple webcam like the one I use here, or a smartphone if you like, and make it really easy.

And the thing with automation is that you want to be able to do something once and let it work for you over and over again. That is the whole point of automation. That is the whole point of a system. And there are so many different things you can do depending on where you are in the funnel, on top of the funnel or in the middle funnel, or to close it, like Brent said, in my personal opinion it means tools like to use BombBomb or Bonjoro . These are special video tools that allow you to send personalized messages via email.

And what's so great about using something like this, especially from a small business owner, is that you stand out immediately from your competitors because they don't. Number two, tools like the one I just mentioned offers tracking. And to me, there is no point in doing anything when it comes to marketing, when you are unable to track it and collect data. So with such tools, you can see if people are actually listening, how far they have heard, and so on and so on.

However, if you have a personalized message that you can send personally in a LinkedIn message or Facebook messenger, you can complete the sale significantly by killing multiple birds with one stone from email and other messaging platforms kill easier than cold acquisition or other random marketing campaigns that just don't work.

Rhonda Wall: I fully agree with that too. And if you think about it because I wanted to mention that. This feature allows you to keep track of whether your emails are working, even if they were written or your video, if they are open, where you need to make changes, which messages do not work and which messages really work. And that really helps you keep track of that.

And then, Monique, I wanted to say that I have a lot of people who, if they're resistant to automation, their number one complaint or their number one resistance, don't want it to feel automated and they want it to feels more personal. And they don't want to be like that, they think, "Oh, I'm just sending these automated emails to my audience." When you fill in this way, the video is perfect as it gives a more personal touch and doesn't feel as static. So this is a really good way to get that real personal feeling and not feel like you are automating everything.

Taylor Backman: I think that's a really great point. I love the idea of ​​these personalized videos. And I also think it's not necessarily an all-or-nothing choice, is it? I mean, I think Rhonda suggests, right, it's the super tedious kind of "hey, I submitted the form from my website." It doesn't have to be a big production, does it? However, if you introduce yourself, you may be able to invest that time again in this personalized message.

Ivana Taylor: If I can jump in here, one of the things that a lot of small business owners come to me with and they are so frustrated about it, and I think that speaks for this very large DIY number. You struggle with the sale because you make the sale. They are these experts, they are the ones who do the sales.

And it's really difficult to scale and grow. If you can't repeat yourself. You can't clone yourself, it's really hard. And they really struggle to find sellers, they invest in sellers, they invest in training, and then it doesn't go anywhere because it is really hard work to reproduce.

Well, one of the really great things about automation and all that Monique, Taylor, and Rhonda talked about is that you now have the ability to multiply yourself, find a process that works, and that process to automate. And now you maintain the quality of the sale. And if you are in a business like financial services or law or something where it is really very important to get this message right, automation can do it for you.

Trends for Small Businesses: Anita, what role did automation play in what you could achieve with Small Business Trends?

Anita Campbell: Well, it was absolutely necessary and it really helped us to push our weight a bit because we had automation. For example, we create a lot of content and there is a lot of content, spreadsheets, I mean you can find all kinds of content that you can use. But, as various people have mentioned, spreadsheets are very restrictive, they're difficult to use, they're difficult to keep track of. They just become very bulky.

One of the things we did is use a product called Zoho Creator. What if you don't know what it is is a wonderful tool. It is a so-called low-code tool. One of those things where you don't have to be a developer, but can create your own custom application for your business. So it was invaluable to us because we built our entire assignment process on this application, which we call SAM, Superior Author Manager. And we use SAM every day and keep track of everything. We even keep track of our budget, as it costs us if we give content to freelance writers, for example, so we have our budget under control. Because we always went beyond our budget.

We would keep track of our budget in our accounting program, but we didn't know how much we were actually spending until the end of the month. And now we can literally follow in real time: "Okay, we not only spent that, but also what we actually allocate and what it costs us." I would estimate that this application has probably saved us a full-time equivalent number of employees, considering everything that it could do for us.

So was there a small amount of time? Yes. We had to invest time to learn it. And originally I did it, I did it on weekends. I mean, I literally created this application on the weekends. And then gradually other people got involved in the organization and learned to use it. And now I'm not really developing with it at all.

To get to the point, I think it's a very valuable thing that you can do with automation. And the way you look at it is this: does it make you look for opportunities? Does it make you do things? Does it give you the freedom to do the higher quality promotional things Rhonda talked about earlier so you don't work in your company all the time? And you have the thought part, the time you can invest in thinking about opportunities, etc.

So don't just think of "Can I automate marketing?" but think of a lot of those back office things that take so much time.

This is part of the individual interview series with thought leaders. The transcript was edited for publication. If it is an audio or video interview, click the embedded player above or subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher .

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COVID-19 offers the opportunity to massively change the health system

COVID-19 offers the opportunity to massively change the health system

COVID-19 has pushed the American healthcare system to its limits and beyond. And things are changing in real time to deal with a pandemic that has cost more than 87,000 lives in just over two months. And technology is at the heart of this change as IoT and mixed reality devices enable dramatic increases in telemedicine and ventilator manufacturing increases in production in months that typically take several years. <! – ->

Microsoft has been involved in the development of IoT and mixed reality technologies for years. During a recent LinkedIn live conversation with Rodney Clark, Vice President of IoT Devices and Mixed Reality at Microsoft, I had the opportunity to learn how these technologies are used during the pandemic to help the healthcare system meet Support requirements from patients and caregivers who are fighting the virus. Rodney also gives us an insight into how IoT and mixed reality devices will change other industries long after the pandemic ends.

To listen to the full interview, click the embedded SoundCloud player.

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And below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Trends for Small Businesses: How Has the Internet of Things Developed Over the Years?

Rodney Clark: We have been offering and supporting these devices with our Windows Embedded operating system for more than 30 years. You return to the beginnings of CE and some HP handhelds. You are returning to some of these industrial scenarios with Beckhoff and Siemens where we are really looking for runtime or near runtime scenarios to actually manage and control some of your industrial devices. Well, the business has matured over the years. When I started the role, we noticed that more and more of these embedded systems were talking machine by machine and communicating important data and information. Sensor Fabric started to evolve and we started to look at heavier computing gateways that could summarize a lot of this data and information.

When we saw that we said, look, if machine to machine is now a reality due to connectivity, we should be able to extend data platforms with the same customers and partners with whom we created these embedded systems . At about the same time in our company, as part of our core Azure services, we developed what is known as an intelligence system service, which was as simple as an SDK on an edge device and enabled machine-to-machine, then you into a wider range of services to bring data services. <! – ->

From then on, Azure IoT was born and we started investing and accelerating the services. We came to Ingestion Engine, for example the Azure IoT hub, the entry into IoT Central, simple device management, the scenario and the cloud-based solution. From our perspective, simple machine-to-machine, cloud, and connectivity companies started to grow and accelerate. We found that Edge had a specific need for data-rich, data-intensive environments, and then developed a number of solutions and features to help you interpret and analyze this information.

And that is exactly what has happened in the past six years. At the same time, we developed from selling little things to partners and customers to building solutions with them.

Small Business Trends: What is Mixed Reality? Where does that fit? <! – ->

Rodney Clark: It is a way for us to speed up and improve human skills. It's a way to visualize data and design and interact with the environment in a way that feels extremely human and extremely natural. This is not a virtual setting. Here you are and manipulate objects. You know, things like object rendering, object detection, we have a spatial anchor service where you can really create a space and go back and you can anchor objects in that space and you can go in and manipulate them with a dexterity Hand to hand. This idea of ​​mixed reality and everything that brings HoloLens as a hero device has essentially created this business opportunity that we see. Again, there are peer definitions of mixed reality, but I'll stop here for this conversation.

Small Business Trends: I saw where a smart thermometer company could use their customers' data to locate potential Covid outbreaks by identifying temperature peaks across geographic regions. How does Covid-19 affect the introduction of these technologies?

Rodney Clark: Let me start with the thermometer example. And then I'll even link it to the mixed reality solution in the scenario. I think COVID has definitely created the opportunity to massively change the healthcare system. We have seen fan production in the last three or four months that is traditionally worth seven or eight years in volume. There was this challenge for ventilators in the UK, a consortium of large UK companies in industrial technology and engineering in all sectors such as aerospace, including medical technology. The HoloLens was actually used in conjunction with a number of absence scenarios to create and record training. This led the workers and had instructions on how to basically make the ventilators and eventually install them using guides or PTCs, euphoria expert survey.

The integration into your mixed reality statement Dynamics 365 Remote Assist is a big part of it. Dynamics 365 guides related to training modules are a big part of it. It enabled these tools and this mixed reality device to manufacture or accelerate these ventilators. Now when I combine that with the thermometer solution and the thermometer scenario, what you see and what we saw in working with partners, GE is a great example, another example where we accelerated the production of ventilators and then also Via a cloud and data platform, they were able to better see and monitor patient data and information. Thus, they could begin to aggregate trends, spot some of these anomalies, and be treated more effectively in the hospital that extends and extends to telemedicine.

Think about the edge points, the ability to collect and use this information and data, and share it securely, taking into account all elements and aspects of privacy. That's what IoT brings and delivers from making these devices, ensuring that we have the safe, connected endpoint along with the patient experience, be it an app on the phone or another tool that you log in from the hospital with and then ultimately the provider who is able to manage this information and data while protecting privacy. These are the types of scenarios that COVID-19 speeds up.

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Small Business Trends: How do you think the other side of the pandemic will look after we have overcome it?

Rodney Clark: Again I'm doing a health scenario. We have a partnership with PCL construction companies and also data companies. They are now a software company, in addition to what they have traditionally done, and Insight is a portable care unit. And today it is used in healthcare where there is basically an old shipping container. This will be retrofitted to a station where they can safely test people. So imagine a line that is formed by heat detection and is able to measure the temperature of a person in the line and get some kind of pre-diagnosis before they actually get to the window, which can also cope with social distancing, so that they can record and get information on whether this is a possible cause or not.

Take this solution and easily extend it to entertainment venues. What is a big stadium? If you go to your beloved Rams and go to the stadium where thousands of people live, you don't want to see any kind of scenario in the future where they monitor this minimum temperature. So that this portable solution actually extends to entertainment. This can extend to retail scenarios. It changes the way we do things forever.

The retail trade will also be affected by this traditional retail trade forever. We are asked, "Hey, how can we use the same in the store experience and create data-rich environments online?" Now there are companies that can do this in terms of analytics, but how do I personalize this for Rodney Clark or Brent Leary? Because that is now the opportunity I have, and how can I take advantage of it when a consumer chooses their information that they can share with me to create that experience? This is another major change.

I do two more very quickly. Cashless. Oh my god, half the world is cashless and we are not. We will see an acceleration of cashless and no-touch retail. And so you have a business like Kroger or Target that has been relying on the NCRs for years, or you have ATMs that are now just different experiences and allow you to get in touch with the voice through coding interact, and IoT is the foundation of all of this because it is this interaction with an endpoint and it is the management of the data, analysis and information.

There are other really effective scenarios. One last thing I'm going to talk about is a smart city and ultimately how we're going to behave in this post-COVID world. Well, this is difficult because there are many privacy concerns, but you want to control how crowds gather and where they gather over time. And you want to be able to create safe spaces for people who do this. And one of the ways to do this is two … There are many ways, but one of the ways to do that is to use data and information and to use data and information to do more of these spaces create and spread out there Maybe there is a park within a radius of two kilometers, maybe it provides the flow of traffic that is collected by cameras.

Perhaps it will give the city the opportunity to build another park within the same 2 km radius. Smart grid and intelligent energy management. Hey, we're all at home and I'm typing the hell out of my grid. Law? At the moment I am not sure if we lost the WiFi connection as this is a popular time in my house. Everyone is online, but look, the lights are on. The air conditioning will be on longer during the day. As a result, we also receive many requests from cities about how they can fundamentally manage their networks and some of the technologies we use to do this. So there are a number of areas that will be affected forever.

Small Business Trends: Tell us what you think companies should do now to prepare for when we get over it and be able to do some of the things we're talking about to take full advantage of.

Rodney Clark: I will answer this, Brent, from two angles and perspectives. One of these is from a Microsoft perspective, and when I say Microsoft in this case, I mean businesses that can help small businesses and other businesses and the entire community get back to normal. And then I want to give guidance to these companies. When I think about a company's responsibility, there is community support that we all have to rely on and remote work support. We need to make sure that we support our families who are burdened with children's education. Again, this concept of working from home does not mean working all the time. We can do a lot to rely on these data systems and solutions and to provide the technical expertise that enables these companies to take the next step.

Rodney Clark: I think acceleration is about digital transformation. We already have a shortage of data scientists due to these non-traditional technology companies that have adopted the notion of being a software and service company. We have many companies out there that need help through this DT, this digital transformation journey and then wherever you can, and you have seen many companies that are research-based and really behind healing, be it preventive or diagnostic. And so that we companies can do that, we should do it. So that's something like the super high level, as we emerge from it together.

I think so do we, and now this is a kind of guidance and advice for those who have been in retail, for those who are in production, for those who are planning smart cities. You have to think about where we are right now. And if you want to differentiate, you need to think about the experience you want to offer your consumers and customers. This stadium experience is a good example. We have the Seahawks Stadium here. I won't mention it because it would be a plug for a brand.

You have to think about how they make every single participant, every single customer who comes through these gates feel safe. If you are in a retail environment, you need to think about this non-touch cashless experience. Our commercial real estate companies need to think about how they will manage their tenants and their business portfolios and profiles in the future.

So what every company can do, and by the way this … I was really impressed by many of these event management companies. You and I talked a little earlier about how much you spend on … time you spend on the go and going to these live events. Impressive. Didn't it force these traditional experience companies to really focus on online and virtual? And if there is no natural process to slow down and do this planning for companies in all industries, especially for small and medium-sized companies that are likely to think they don't have the time, this is the right time to do it. This is how we come out.

When you get to a point where you ask questions and have no more answers, turn back to the world's microsofts to help you with the four or five things I set out earlier. So super high answer, but it's not an easy one. I know and I want your audience and these companies to know that we are here to help you. If there is anything I can do to get you in touch to help you succeed on this new wave, this next wave, I am all there.

This is part of the individual interview series with thought leaders. The transcript was edited for publication. If it is an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher .

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Laurie McCabe of the SMB Group: Will the 43% of closed small businesses return?

Laurie McCabe of the SMB Group: Will the 43% of closed small businesses return?

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We found out today that in April 20.5 million jobs were lost due to the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic.

And many of these jobs were people who worked in one of the country's over 30 million small businesses.

<! – -> And according to a recent SMB Group report Impact of COVID-19 on SMEs: On the Way Forward 43% of small businesses have been closed because of many states had issued protection orders in response to the fatal outbreak.

But perhaps the biggest unknown in the future how many of these companies can reopen is what SMB Group co-founder Laurie McCabe and I discussed during a LinkedIn live conversation earlier this week.

“To survive in business today, you have to find out how to do good. Because the good things you do now will have a halo effect later, ”she says.

Laurie shares some of the key findings from the study, including how some small businesses are using certain technologies not only to survive but also to be successful during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Click the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.
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Here is a transcript of the interview with Laurie McCabe:

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Small Business Trends: Comprehensive takeaways at the highest level, lead us through this.

Laurie McCabe: This was done in the last week of March, but 75% of the respondents we interviewed said, "Yes, this has a negative impact on us." And at that point I found It is really interesting that in the last week of March 3% of these companies had already gone under and were not planning to reopen and around 43% had already closed temporarily. And I think the other thing is the impact on earnings; Among the 75% who said, "Yes, it hurts us, we have negative effects." 60% of them thought that their earnings would decrease by about 30% or more in the next six months, and conclude what we knew.

And one of the things I wonder about over time is these 43% that have been temporarily closed. How many of them will be weathered and open again? They wanted that over a month ago now, but we know that the cash flow situation in many SMEs is really limited, so this is very worrying.

Small Business Trends: I am glad that you continue to talk about it. You did this in late March. Because it was a full month, a little over a month ago.

Laurie McCabe: Yes.

Small Business Trends: So we know things have changed, and I suspect they have shifted to a more negative view. But already at that time it appeared.

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Laurie McCabe: I think the supply chain effect may even be worse if you think about it, because at that point many problems with overseas suppliers were the worst. Now I'm not a supply chain expert, but I understand that some of these issues have eased somewhat. So I think in some cases and depending on the industry and where your supply chain is and what you manufacture or what you sell or whatever, there will be differences. But this could be someone who might get a little better.

I am obviously thinking about doing business in the store. Shops were still open at the end of March. Sounds like Georgia is back, but not much is open here in my state and most of the northeast. So you really have to imagine that there is literally no shop traffic in many areas, is there?

Small Business Trends: Yes.

Laurie McCabe: We see that things will open up, so hopefully future bookings, like in salons and spas and whatever, will hopefully pick up dental offices.

Small Business Trends: Interesting and surprising to see that independent software vendors are pretty badly affected.

Laurie McCabe: Yes, I was too. But the downside of this is in this future question, they think things will get better faster. I think we look at these big companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft and know that they do very well. However, I think some of the smaller vendors that would be included in our study are concerned because, although software spending in some of the other categories that we asked about will be less affected by SME budget cuts, they are still Spending cuts and maybe new things you've been thinking about will put you in the background for a while.

The other thing in the cloud is so much per user per month, isn't it? And if you think about it, when they get fired, people won't need that many seats, be it for their HR app or CRM card or whatever app. Collaboration apps. And then there's a lot of free stuff right now, and maybe people say, "Hey, I'm using something I pay for, and I wasn't even that crazy about it at first, so maybe I am. I'm just going to become one of those free Try things out. "

Small Business Trends: And it appeared that many cloud software companies were the first to develop programs that help their customers avoid paying or offering large discounts. And I think they're doing it for the right reason. They do it because they want to help. But it was also pretty wise to think about it, because the longer you can stay in touch with your customers if you can lead them through this crisis and see them on the other side, the better they will likely stay you after that Things get better too.

Laurie McCabe: Right. I want to say that you have to try to find out whether you are big or small for your company. If you stay on course and stay in business, how can you do good now? Because the good thing you do now will have a halo effect later. As you said, hopefully this will also happen for more unselfish motivations. However, it's interesting to get something for free with something like Zoom or any of these video apps, no big deal as you can just turn them on and it's really pretty easy to figure out how to use them. They don't really involve business processes. I wonder about the acceptance of free apps that you need to think more about how to configure and set them up and the like. So my thought is that the companies that always had some kind of freemium might be better equipped to successfully get someone to offer a freemium.

Small Business Trends: Yes, I think before the pandemic I would say that most of these companies' efforts focused on customer acquisition. Maybe 60%, 70%, somewhere more than 80% of their initiatives were based on winning new customers. That has shifted completely. Rightly so, because nobody wants to add a new service unless there is a really deep discount. Most of these companies want to find out how we can expand our relationship with our current customers. I want to say it's The Chips Are Down theory. Because when the chips are out, when times are difficult, you want a provider that isn't just there for a transaction. You want them to be there because they see you as something that goes beyond a transaction, and you want to have such a relationship when the chips are no longer available.

And if things get better, there is no need for you to think about going anywhere else because this company has helped you get through the difficult times when the chips were down. So it seems to be a switch to real customer retention. It's smart, but you need to be able to do it the way I want to tell your little business customers. You feel like you are really with them.

Laurie McCabe: Yes, it is all the soft stuff that is really difficult to quantify. And I think one of the other things to look at is that they are giving away a lot of free software, but what else do they do? What may they do to help me [inaudible 00:09:06]? Or when I'm in an industry where there's only a huge surge, like making masks or turning my distillery into a hand sanitizer factory, they do things to speed me up and get me everything need to cope with this increase in demand? The great thing is, I think we've seen a lot of these vendors offering everything from free software to grants. I just saw Salesforce help them test employees.

Small Business Trends: Yes, this whole initiative. Yes.

Laurie McCabe: Yes, HubSpot has this cool thing on their website where you can go in and look and see. And none of us know how good it looks now, do we? In terms of marketing. So you can compare yourself to the collected user data or things like email openings or new deals in the pipeline and probably feel a lot better because what you will see there is that everyone is making a big dive. It's not just you. And hopefully when things recover, we can see what it looks like and not expect too much for our own businesses, can we?


This is part of the individual interview series with thought leaders. The transcript was edited for publication. If it is an audio or video interview, click the embedded player above or subscribe to it via iTunes or via Stitcher .

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