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Episode 27
March 8, 2017

NRF Series: "Future of SMB"

We interview Brian Moran of the IBM Influencers team to talk about the future of SMB

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Brian: [00:00:24:50400] Welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge commerce and next generation commerce techniques, tools and everything else in between. I'm Brian Lange, your host. I'm without my co-host, Phillip, today. Shout out, Phillip. You helped me get all these NRF interviews going, and I really appreciate all your support on this. I'm really excited to have Brian Moran on the show today. Brian is quite the expert in SMB, and so I'm really excited to talk to him about the future of commerce for the SMB market in and lots of other stuff. So go ahead, introduce yourself, Brian. Give us a little history about who you are, your journey to where you are now and just introduce yourself.Brian Moran: [00:01:06:1800] Ok, sure. I'm Brian Moran. Currently I am founder and CEO of Brian Moran and Associates, and we're a consulting company that has two divisions. We help marketers, large marketers such as IBM, Target in the SMB space. And we have another division that helps everyone from startups to growing entrepreneurs run better businesses. So whatever they need, you know, will help them, whether it's financing, going global, procurement, social media, stuff like that.

Brian: [00:01:38:62100] Nice.

Brian Moran: [00:01:38:62100] Yeah.

Brian: [00:01:39:15300] That's way cool. Yeah. And you actually have quite a history of journalism too. So where does that come into play here in your career?

Brian Moran: [00:01:47:14400] Sure. Well, I guess I went to journalism school at Marquette University in Wisconsin.

Brian: [00:01:51:65700] Nice.

Brian Moran: [00:01:51:65700] But I actually started my publishing career on the business side at Success magazine. And then I went to Entrepreneur magazine and Inc magazine. I think I might be the only person in America that's worked at all three of those publications. I had my own publishing company for about eight years, and I published magazines such as Urban Success of Winning Bids, which I owned. And then I published the SBA's National Magazine for business owners. After that, I went back into corporate America for a brief spell. It was one of the executive directors at the Wall Street Journal, and I left there in 2012 to start my current company.

Brian: [00:02:32:5400] Nice. And you've been out on your own since 2012 now. What's it like owning your own business as opposed to kind of coming out of the journalism world and going into the consulting side of business?

Brian Moran: [00:02:45:15300] For the people who have the entrepreneurial spirit, and it's in their DNA, there's nothing like owning your own business. Yes, the initial leap is a tough one. But once you get past that, the idea of being in control of your own destiny is something that I couldn't imagine not having and I'll give you a great quote that I actually got from my mother. And it had to do with job security when I was thinking about starting my own business and my mother asked me what my concerns were, and I said, "Security, for one, I have a mortgage. I have four young children." And she said, "The only security you will ever need in your life is between your years."

Brian: [00:03:29:68400] Yeah. Good advice.

Brian Moran: [00:03:31:15300] Yeah.

Brian: [00:03:31:30600] Good advice.

Brian Moran: [00:03:32:36000] At some point, of course, I go to the bank and they ask me for some security on loan that I want. I reach towards my head and I think, well will you accept this.

Brian: [00:03:42:12600] {laughter} That typically doesn't work. You never know. You never know. Yeah I love to see SMB succeed. I'm really excited to talk with you. I come from a kind of a history of eCommerce and we've played in their SMB space quite a bit. And, you know, there's been quite a lot of new tech released over the past year, even over the past few weeks. Some seems like it could be a barrier due to costs. But some seems like it could really empower SMBs in new ways. So what are a few lines of new tech you feel good about SMBs investing in?

Brian Moran: [00:04:22:44100] Well, the savvy business owners, they're talking to their IT people or their IT development partners right now. And, you know, they're inquiring about cognitive computing and how it's going to change their specific industry. And that's what business owners need to do. I mean, if you are about growth in your business as opposed to the lifestyle business owners that see everything as an expense as opposed to an investment.

Brian: [00:04:48:55800] Right.

Brian Moran: [00:04:49:19800] So it's really... We're talking about those types of business owners that see investing in technology and cognitive computing as an investment into their companies. They need to be reading everything they can get their hands on about cognitive, AI, virtual reality, conversational commerce, and how these technologies are going to disrupt their industries very soon. And it's going to be in every aspect from supply chain, logistics, to customer purchasing and payment solutions. So, again, you want to have as much information about future disruption as you possibly can, so you can prepare for it.

Brian: [00:05:31:46800] That's awesome. Yeah, no really good advice. You mentioned conversational commerce, and it seems like chat bots could actually be a real point of empowerment, especially with tech like IBM Watson. And so on the show we've talked about how even in the near term, some businesses may not necessarily need your standard catalog Web site anymore. Do you have any advice on how SMBs can properly leverage chat bots and what they can do to prepare for the future of chats?

Brian Moran: [00:06:03:31500] Well, chat box can definitely help SMBs automate some of the more mundane tasks and questions that they received from their customers. They then need to take that time that they're saving and focus on the bigger picture of where their business is going.

Brian: [00:06:18:18000] That's good.

Brian Moran: [00:06:18:18000] So but they should also use that time to educate themselves, as I mentioned earlier, on disruptive technology in their specific industries. As I mentioned earlier, business owners should have a conversation with their development team or their partner about how to implement chat bots into their business because in different industries, you know, it has a different implementation.

Brian: [00:06:41:74700] Right. Right.

Brian Moran: [00:06:44:7200] There are some that this technology is not going to be applicable.

Brian: [00:06:47:58500] Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:06:48:52200] I see that kind of the bigger purchases, the longer term selling process as opposed like maybe in the B to C world where it's, you know, changes have taken place in real time.

Brian: [00:07:00:900] Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:07:00:30600] You know, the chat bots are going to free up your time because you don't have to answer every single question that you get. They can cover the FAQs for you.

Brian: [00:07:10:9900] Yeah, it's really good advice. I think one thing you mentioned there that really resonates with me is, in short, if you're a small business owner or you're running a part of a small business, right now it is imperative to go educate yourself on what's available to you.

Brian Moran: [00:07:27:86400] Totally.

Brian: [00:07:27:86400] And that's really the first step, because otherwise, I think either, one you're going to miss out on opportunities, or two, you're gonna get surpassed by your competitors really quickly.

Brian Moran: [00:07:42:54000] Right.

Brian: [00:07:42:54000] And then also, I think there's a lot of I mean, just being here at NRF, it just hammers this home. There are a lot of people out there, a lot of businesses out there that want to sell you their solution. And unless you personally have some amount of education in this area, in the area of advancement that you want to make, it's going to be really easy to get pulled into a solution that may not be a good fit for your business or may not be a good solution at all.

Brian Moran: [00:08:16:2700] Right. And that's always the question. How it interact with the other technology you have and in terms of scaling? You know, you need to know where you want your business to be next year, three years from now, five years from now. And you don't want technology that's going to lead you down a dead end.

Brian: [00:08:33:51300] Right.

Brian Moran: [00:08:34:18900] Let's take a step back and talk about technology. Most businesses, and I tell us to a lot of my clients, you need to have that strategic goal of where you want to be at the end of 2017, end of 2020. And that goal needs to be specific. It needs to be measurable and attainable. So it could be a revenue number. It could be how many new accounts you plan to open. It could be market share, but it's a specific number. Everything that you do in your business from today to the end of the year should lead you towards that goal. And so the challenge for businesses that are looking to invest in technology, to grow it, is what's going to help me get closer to my goal and what's a wild goose chase?

Brian: [00:09:20:20700] Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:09:20:61199] And, you know, when in doubt, error on the side of caution because there's an onboarding process. There is a... It's getting your whole team to change the way that they do business. And your customers. The way they interact with you. You don't want six months later to say, OK, we made a mistake, we're going to scrap this technology and start something.

Brian: [00:09:44:4500] Yeah, that's really good advice. I think there are a lot of wild goose chases out there right now. And so I'm going with something that maybe has a little bit more market penetration and it's clearer that it's got a future is a really smart play. And the other thing is picking things that you know that you can sort of sink your teeth into and not picking something that's too big. Because that can also happen.

Brian Moran: [00:10:07:56700] Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And then and again, it becomes if you know, you have to take into consideration what's the learning curve with this technology that we're going to be implementing, and how is it going to affect my employees? And how many of them... There are companies where employees will simply sabotage your efforts because they don't want to change. And so that's the whole, that's the mindset of your corporate culture. Is the corporate culture in your company open to change? And there are silos between marketing and sales and technology and H.R. and the fact that they don't interact with each other, their systems don't really work well together. And you try and introduce disruptive technology... You're biting off more than you can chew. And then it comes back instead of being positive or even a neutral, now it's a negative.

Brian: [00:11:01:10800] Yeah. Then all of a sudden, that's when you start to look at technology like a cost. Right. And then like you mentioned, you want to be looking at it as an opportunity to invest. But if you do take on some of these technologies that are a little bit too big for you, all of a sudden it really changes the way you think about things. And you start to, and I've seen this with SMBs, you start to really sort of present it. And that's when you start to think of it like it's a cost instead of an investment.

Brian Moran: [00:11:30:10800] Right. So you know what? Talk to your customers. If you're going to introduce technology that's going to make visiting your Web site, easier and seamless and efficient, make sure that's what your customers are asking for. And it's the same thing with your workforce productivity. It's not going to hurt you to get involvement and engagement from the employees who are expected to use this technology every single day. You can also ask like minded businesses. You know, that's the beauty of social saying, OK, I'm considering, you know, bringing this technology, the CRM system or something like that into my business. Who's used it? What have your results been so far?

Brian: [00:12:16:52200] That's great. Really good advice. I'm loving this. Back to chat bots real quick. I guess beyond chat bots, even, I think there's a lot of talk out there about AI. And so there's Watson and then we've got the personal assistants like Google and Alexa, Siri and so on. What have you seen as successful applications of some of these AI technologies? Do you have any good examples of people that you've seen?

Brian Moran: [00:12:45:11700] So from a personal perspective, I the side of...

Brian: [00:12:49:00] There we go. I like this. Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:12:49:81000] I love what I've been seeing and using with these tools. Alexa is like my fifth child.

Brian: [00:12:55:29700] Right. {laughter}

Brian Moran: [00:12:56:60300] And my personal virtual assistant. Being from a business perspective. These tools can be great resources for content development. You can ask Watson a question about your industry and post the answer on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn. Think about how easy it would be to provide educational content to your customers and your prospects and strengthening that relationship with them online. A lot of the challenges in the SMB space is comes down to what do I talk about? What am I going to post?

Brian: [00:13:31:43200] Right.

Brian Moran: [00:13:32:51300] I don't want to post something that's a mistake. You know, it's also I need to have access to industry information quickly that I know my customers will benefit from seeing in that even a B to B world or or to a certain extent, the B to C world. So these, let's call it virtual assistants, can provide that information to you very quickly.

Brian: [00:13:56:23400] Yeah, that's good. That's really good. Good advice. So, you know, on the flip side of all this, I've seen some pretty cool augmented reality and virtual reality tech lately, but it seems like an entry point might still be a little high, although I did see some stuff here at NRF that maybe is changing my mind on that, actually. When do you think SMBs will be able to leverage this kind of tech stuff that is a little bit maybe hire a little bit more difficult technically to implement? And maybe you could point out a few of those tools where you're like, hey, maybe not quite ready for SMBs. Let's leave that to enterprise and let them develop that before small or medium sized businesses do.

Brian Moran: [00:14:37:10800] So you're gonna hear me repeat myself. And I do I have a tendency to do that with my small business clients. Because what they need to do is they need to keep their eyes on the prize. The first thing is, do you have that strategic, measurable goal? And everything you do is going to lead you towards that goal.

Brian: [00:14:58:24300] Ah. Yes.

Brian Moran: [00:14:58:86400] And so, again, we talk about augmented reality, virtual reality, social media. It's all just a means to an end.

Brian: [00:15:06:19800] Right.

Brian Moran: [00:15:06:49500] And so if you're the business owner and you keep your finger on the pulse of what's happening in these areas, AI, VR, social, you will then be able to decide what's the right time for your business to make this investment. You talk to your IT people. You talk to your development partners. You talk to your customers. You talk to your employees. And so it requires efficiency in your business.

Brian: [00:15:33:63900] Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:15:34:2700] So, you know, I always tell the CEOs of companies to watch the time robbers in your business because what you need to do requires a lot of time.

Brian: [00:15:43:62100] Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:15:44:12600] And so if you are losing your time to these meetings that don't really lead to anywhere or these lunches with friends or whatever. Those primetime hours are so critical for businesses, especially the ones that are growing. If you treat your time wisely, and time is the only currency that matters. I talk about that a lot, too. Then you will have the opportunity to investigate the technology in your business, talk to all of the people you need to talk to, and then decide when's the right time for me to implement.

Brian: [00:16:20:81900] Yeah. I think what I'm hearing you say is basically actually barrier to entry is not the right metric. It's actually about picking out the right solutions that are going to help you achieve that 10 year goal.

Brian Moran: [00:16:32:6300] Yeah. And so as the tailors used to say, you know, one hundred years ago. Measure twice. Cut once. Right? So it's OK... I don't think... There doesn't need to be a rush to introducing technology to your business if you haven't done your homework. Right? I'd rather see you take more time and investigate it and ask the right questions, make sure you talk to the right people, don't leave a stone unturned before you say, OK, I'm going to start implementing this disruptive technology. Because the potential for the downside issues that would come in, with your employees, with a customers, onboarding and...

Brian: [00:17:14:84600] Departmentally.

Brian Moran: [00:17:15:67500] Yeah. Because then all of a sudden, the worst thing that happens is six, nine months down the road, you've invested anywhere from a couple of thousand to a couple of hundred thousands of dollars into this technology or into social media. And you say to yourself, you know what, I didn't set it up properly.

Brian: [00:17:33:13500] Right.

Brian Moran: [00:17:33:51300] And my team didn't set it up properly. And we didn't address these obstacles, which were obvious. They should have been obvious to us. And now I need to scrap everything and start over.

Brian: [00:17:45:59400] I think another thing that I'm hearing as you're talking and this I think this is really important to call out, is you have to have someone on your team or a partner that you genuinely trust. If you're not doing the investigation yourself... I think maybe even before starting to learn about this, if you're not going to be the one making the calls or really calling the shots on what to do, then probably the right thing to do is to make sure you have the right team that you can rely on to go achieve this. I think that's another big piece of this. If you're not confident in that person, then you need to find someone else.

Brian Moran: [00:18:26:22500] Absolutely. And that goes back to corporate culture and seeing the big picture and sharing that vision of where you want to be at the end of the year with your partners and your vendors and your employees. And sometimes even your customers. If you have that strong relationship with your customer and they appreciate it, you let him inside or under the hood of your business, I have found that they will be your champion. You know, they will work with you. And it strengthens the relationship. But a lot of that requires taking a proactive approach. And that's what leaders do. They take a proactive approach to business.

Brian: [00:19:09:75600] And investment. I think that's the other thing.

Brian Moran: [00:19:11:73800] Yeah. Yeah. Because this SMB market is a finite amount of money. Right? So and there are going to be so many changes that happen in the next two, three years. I mean, so many that you will see good businesses make bad decisions that will suddenly put them behind the eight ball. Whether it's in technology they invested in or they didn't invest in and suddenly they just, it was like a tsunami that hit them.

Brian: [00:19:42:35100] Yeah, I absolutely agree. And I think just from my angle on this, if you're not going to be able to handle educating yourself or you don't feel like you're going to be able to handle the technical side of this, make sure you find a good partner. I really think it's absolutely imperative.

Brian Moran: [00:20:05:24300] I couldn't agree more.

Brian: [00:20:07:54900] All right, so we've been seeing a lot of new tech this month. CES here in NRF at the Big Show. So what tech have you seen that's been released in, say, the last six months that really has catch your eye that you feel like is going to revolutionize commerce in some way or is something that small to medium size businesses really need to go invest in now?

Brian Moran: [00:20:31:41400] So in the SMB space, what you see, and we touched on this earlier, starts with the focus on enterprise.

Brian: [00:20:40:48600] Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:20:40:60300] And the companies get their enterprise solutions set and it starts to trickle down into the SMB space. So in 2017, what I want to see more from SMB is actually invest in social, video, and engaging with their customers and prospects who are on the go. A mobile first approach to marketing, sales, customer service is going to be critical for small business' success in 2017 and even beyond. But there's always that lag time of implementation of technology from enterprise down to SMB. So really, what was hot in 2015 and 2016 in big business is now affordable and expected in the SMB market.

Brian: [00:21:28:17100] Yeah, that's a really good point. I think there are a lot of there are a lot of small SMBs that have already started to approach mobile properly. But I think there are a lot that still haven't. And so if you haven't done that, you have to now.

Brian Moran: [00:21:45:4500] {laughter} Right.

Brian: [00:21:45:4500] Like, get out there, stop listening to this podcast, and go get mobile because it's where the younger generation is. It's not actually a generational thing. That's where everyone is now.

Brian Moran: [00:21:59:56700] Think about this. Put yourself in your customer shoes. I tell every one of my clients this, and think about how they approach your business. I go to your Web site on my desktop computer, on my laptop, and then on my phone. What kind of quality am I getting out of the Web site? Is your Web site designed for mobile interaction? Is it easier for me to make purchases or scale look at products and stuff on your Web site from my smartphone? And can I buy? Whether it's movie tickets or ordering stuff from a sporting goods store or whatever. I mean, where we're going now is everything is on the go. So your smartphone is everything it. And that applies to, I'll say, 90 percent of all businesses.

Brian: [00:22:54:30600] Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:22:54:55800] And so you have to approach it from your customers' perspective. And what are their expectations and what are you delivering? And I promise you this, for the majority of businesses, there is a wide chasm between the two. You are not delivering what your customers want, but because they like you and they like doing business with you, they accept it.

Brian: [00:23:18:80100] Yes, I agree. I think that's really true. And that's how you lose business ultimately, because people may like you, they might be really good friends with you, but if you are actually able to provide for them, or if there's someone else out there that can provide them with a solution that's going to save them time or money, ultimately in the end, at some point they're gonna make the switch because it makes dollars and cents.

Brian Moran: [00:23:43:36900] Yeah. Here's the final piece of advice I'll give. Look at what your competitors are doing. Not only look at what your customers are doing, but look at what your competition is doing. So be a prospect on their Web site and see what kind of AI or virtual reality or conversational commerce... See what technology they've implemented into their business, and be honest with yourself. Have other people in your company do it and then sit down and say, OK, what do we like about our experience with our competitors? What didn't we like? What do we need to focus on right now?

Brian: [00:24:17:37800] And what can we do better? Right?

Brian Moran: [00:24:18:82800] Yeah. Yeah. I can steal that business. {laughter}

Brian: [00:24:20:83700] Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Well that's good. Now this is all really good. Thank you so much, Brian. I really appreciate hearing your insight. You have anything else you want to add before we go off the air here?

Brian Moran: [00:24:32:27000] You know want? To any of the small or mid sized business companies out there, best of luck in your endeavors and efforts in 2017. You can find me if you want to on Twitter. My handle is @BrianMoran. Let me know that you listened to this podcast and you had a question. I'd be more than happy to interact with you and help you any way I can.

Brian: [00:24:58:29700] Thanks, Brian. He will definitely be tweeting this out as it goes live, too. So we'll be in contact. Thanks so much for coming on the show. It was great. Yeah.

Brian Moran: [00:25:05:26100] Thank you.

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