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SaaS is the Small Business Super Hero By @CPrimault | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

The space for SaaS innovation and disruption is small business.

As much as we think the Apples and Walmarts of the world are running our lives, it’s much more likely that small businesses are running the world. Or at least in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 99.9 percent of U.S. business has less than 500 employees, 98 percent with less than 20 employees.

One third of all GetApp SaaS marketplace users are from companies with 11 to 35 employees, while 24 percent of users have companies with between two and ten employees. There’s no doubt. The space for SaaS innovation and disruption is small business.

Since CRM (customer relationship management software) is probably the oldest cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) solution, many would think it’s all been done, but, in reality, that’s what makes it really ripe for disruption. That’s where business apps like Insightly small business CRM come in.

Insightly started about four years ago when “our CEO was actually doing some programming for another company in Western Australia and had in his travels of programming realized that there was no good CRM with small businesses, so he decided to create it,” said Insightly Vice President of Marketing Loretta Jones.

While other CRMs take this purely horizontal category seriously by focusing on all levels and sizes in the marketplace, Insightly focuses on a wide range of small businesses in the sweet spot of solopreneurs to two hundred employees. Jones calls Insightly a “cradle to grave system for really small service businesses.”

“One of the nice things about Insightly that appeals to small businesses that it’s not only used in a traditional sales capacity, but for general tracking of their contacts, tasks,” she said. “In a small business, a lot of people wear a lot of caps.”

She points out that service-based businesses might not even call themselves salespeople, but rather simply consultants.

“It started out being a CRM with integrated project manager, which goes to the idea that a lot of small businesses are service businesses,” Jones said. “Once you actually close the deal, that’s when the actual work begins because you have to deliver.”

Rush for Mobile Competes with Tablet Real Estate

Should you be able to do everything on your phone or tablet as you can within the business software? Some would argue, of course--otherwise, what’s the point? But we sometimes forget the real estate of a device is limited and SaaS need to work to keep their mobile counterparts light.

“We realized that everybody’s on the go,” so Insightly created companion mobile apps for the iOS and Android platforms, however, the team still sees only a small portion of their nearly 650,000 users connecting via the mobile app, ”which that tells us small businesses are still, for lack of a better term, a little bit old school,” but she predicts that in the next 18 months that should change.

There’s “a lot of functionality in a CRM and hard to get that into an app,” including contact information for potentially everyone you know, Jones explains. “Insightly focuses on giving small businesses what they need in the moment, like with a mobile app--while on the road, they need contact info, location info, and to jot down notes after meeting.”

Jones says there are purely mobile CRMs starting to surface in the marketplace, but they are “still rather basic”--perhaps because it’d be impossible to pack everything into an app or perhaps, with increased 3G and WiFi bandwidth, there’s no real need.

The Goldilocks Tale: How do you compete in a crowded marketplace?

According to AppsRunTheWorld, 19 percent of all SaaS purchases are CRM, making it the third most competitive SaaS category, after enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human resources software. It’s incredible that with a far and away winner like Salesforce dominating the CRM space for more than 15 users, how more CRMs are entering the space every day.

Perhaps more than any other SaaS, CRMs need to fight to reach their potential customers and then fight again to get them using the service in order to keep them.

“We had a guy who tried 37 CRMs and they decided Insightly, but others say that Insightly didn’t meet their needs,” Jones said. Small businesses have more choices than ever in today’s CRM market.

Insightly also enters small business owners’ lives early with a Freemium model. For up to three users and up to 2,500 contacts, the tool is free for life, making it very useful for the solopreneur, but a good upsell as businesses expand.

Still, there is a battle for end user attention that Insightly is in the midst of. Jones calls it a kind of Features War. Where many apps are trying to offer more and more, while Insightly, like with its mobile app, focuses on keeping it easy to use, and then integrating with best of breed tools like MailChimp, Dropbox and Evernote.

“It’s going to come down to Ease of Use because a lot of CRMs have first-time they do need quite a bit of handholding,” she said, making onboarding of new users the most important thing a sales or customer success team can focus on. “You have to make it easy for them to ease into the transition from using a spreadsheet and email to using an application and the structure and design of the application.”

Basically, like just about everything, it all comes down to customer support.

Insightly offers demos, webinars and dedicated customer success managers, but gets the most value out of having an extensive knowledge base, including a Getting Started guide and step-by-step instructions with giant screenshots on how to do essential things like import things from Excel and your Google Drive. They also heavily monitor social media as it’s becoming the de facto customer support line.

Of course, while there’s no doubt that customers have become more demanding, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t reticent to change.

She continued that “It’s put a different point of pressure on SaaS vendors: ‘I’m used to using my spreadsheet, and it’s not a great thing, but then I kind of know how to use it’,” speaking as a small business owner. But now SaaS has upped the ante. “Now that I’ve tried another SaaS, I can learn to do that, and now I become more demanding wanting to take it to the next level.”

‘SaaS is the Small Business Superhero’

“I think that the people who benefited from SaaS the most are small businesses because it allows vendors like Insightly to have very short development cycles, two months or less,” developing new features quickly in response to end user needs, and at a small business price point.

Jones says SaaS has become the “Small Business Superhero.” And we’re inclined to agree!

More Stories By Christophe Primault

Christophe Primault is the co-founder of GetApp, the #1 Cloud based Apps Marketplace. His aim is to provide tips and advice on how businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, can benefit from cloud-based apps and improve their bottom line. In my spare time he enjoys mountaineering, water sports and long distance triathlons. He's a proud IronMan finisher. You can follow him on Twitter @GetApp