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Are You Ready For Customer Reviews?

Customers are increasingly in control of the buying process. They make decisions without calling your sales team. They don’t read your marketing materials. Then, they share their thoughts, good and bad, on review sites all around the web. Business owners don’t complain about the good ones, but the bad ones can drive them crazy.

Positive reviews are not only a target for business owners, but the focus of study for many university professors. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are routinely studied. The Harvard Business School found that a one star increase in your Yelp rating led to a five to nine percent increase in revenue. That’s fairly compelling if you are contemplating whether social media participation can help your business.

One more bit of evidence: Cornell University found that “a one-point increase in a review score (on a five-point scale) allows a hotel to increase its price by up to 11.2 percent without scaring away customers.”

My Forbes post: How To Get Positive Reviews shares another recent study, this time at Stanford, which looked at how consumers use Amazon reviews. Ultimately, you have to take consumer reviews seriously.

Here are a few tips from Vedran Tomic, local Internet marketing expert and the co-founder of Local Ants, LLCabout how to get more positive reviews.

Have a system in place to ensure a couple of negative reviews don’t harm your business. The best way to do that, of course, is make sure negative reviews don’t happen in the first place. This is easy to say, hard to do. However, there are good tools like FreshDesk or ZenDesk to help you manage your customer service process.

A great customer service process will help you to make sure the good reviews outweigh the bad. The New York Times pointed out – most reasonable people are going to discount the gushing, positive accolades as well as the scathing negative customer who expects you to give him or her the moon.

When you get a negative review, do what you can to make it right. Avoid retaliating. Too many small and mid-sized businesses make a mistake of defending themselves and not acknowledging their part in any mistake. Forget the legal threats, too, because it almost always makes it worse.

How To Get More Positive Reviews

Mr. Tomic emphatically explained that you should not create fake reviews. It takes effort and a delicate balance to organically grow your positive reviews, but it can be done. He suggests that instead of offering rewards solely to get a review, take a survey approach. Ask your customers about their experience, use this to improve your overall operations, and occasionally ask your customers if they would like to share their experiences online. You can then link to various options for them to leave a review.

Read the New York Times piece: There’s Power in All Those User Reviews.  The MarketingLand post discusses some of the opening stats: Survey: 90% Of Customers Say Buying Decisions Are Influenced By Online Reviews.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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What Is The Hybrid Cloud?

Earlier this month, I joined in on a #hybridcloud tweetchat to discuss cloud computing. Some of the experts who joined in and shared their experience and insights include: Ron Miller, Paul Gillin (Moderator), and Alan Dickinson.

One of the first questions was “what is a hybrid cloud?” We explored how there are three main types of cloud services: Infrastructure, software and platform. We each had a slightly different definition of hybrid cloud, but mostly, we agreed that it is a mix of on-premise and public cloud services. This post at WhatIs.com gives some basics and a deeper overview at Search Cloud Computing may help readers understand it.

But ultimately, the true value in cloud computing is that you can have a strong backbone of powerful computers (servers) in “standby mode” for your needs, when you need it. When you hear people talk about scalable architectures – they are essentially saying that you have access to a bank or group of servers that can be “called into action” when a sufficient load approaches your cloud server setup.

For example, you have a webpage that gets 1,000 visitors on a regular basis, but you run a special sale and 200,000 people now visit your page. That load is not easy to manage if you run one or two servers. But with a cloud environment, you can set it up to disperse the load across a bunch of different servers and the customer experiences little to no slowdown.

The same principle can apply across the three main types of cloud services mentioned above. Quite often, people talk about the cloud for storage purposes, but as we discussed in the tweetchat it is more than that. Ron Miller highlighted how many companies are pushing applications and operational needs to cloud computers to take the load off their internal servers, to save money, and to make their apps and data available to an increasingly remote workforce. That is, people need to have access to core applications and having them in the cloud can reduce the IT burden on midsize business technical staff.

You might use the public cloud for data backups, such as in one of the four online backup services I mentioned last week, or you might run your applications. Companies like Cubby, Backblaze, and Carbonite are services that can help you backup and run your enterprise. For example, an organization might use a public cloud service for archived data but continue to maintain in-house storage for operational customer data (that is – credit card number, personal data, etc.).

According to SearchSOA, “Hybrid cloud hosting is a model that allows organizations to provision dedicated servers and storage and shared cloud servers and storage on the same network. A hybrid cloud consists of a minimum of one private cloud (also known as an internal cloud) and one public cloud (or external cloud).”

As we discussed in the tweetchat, companies are reducing costs with cloud hosting and hybrids give some of the best of all tech worlds. Reducing costs with the ability to scale up and down, as needed, creates a winning strategy for midsized companies.

You can review the whole Twitter stream here: Understanding Hybrid Clouds: an #IBMCloudChat, Dec. 5, 2013. Four Online Backup Services worth a look.   (My post from last week, mentioned above.)


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

 
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Useful Online Cloud Backup Services

cubby online backupDepending on whom you ask there are two things you should do every day: Brush your teeth and back up your data. The maxim is 321 – 3 copies of your data on 2 different media types with 1 existing offsite.

Mentioned in this post: Cubby, CrashPlan, Backblaze, Carbonite, and ioSafe.

Your computer or device counts as the first media, then you likely have an external hard drive that you rarely use. Buying an additional physical hard drive is like buying a fitness club membership at New Year’s – you buy it to have the card in your wallet. For the third copy, you choose an online backup solution to keep only your mission critical files.

In this post, I’m going to suggest you buy an ioSafe device for your on-premise backup device. First, because they are virtually indestructible. Second, they come with a killer guarantee. Look around the web and you’ll see that a lot of people have tested the indestructible part to humorous levels. I have tested several and I now tote around the portable one. Excellent hardware (link is provided below).

There are dozens of backup solutions. The following four services are worth considering if you worry about the security and protection of your data. All four of these give you a lightweight, downloaded application that you run on your local machine.

Note: If you want even more online options, check out the post by PC Support expert, Tim Fisher at the end of this post where he explores 27 different services.

Most of these tools offer mobile access so your iPhone or Android device can connect and access documents, too. Another great feature offered by online backup services is a version service, which shows you iterations of your documents or folders allowing you an easy way to restore a file to a previous version.

Cubby is a sweet service in that you do not need to be connected to the cloud to backup your data to your other devices/drives. You get 5GB on the free plan. The paid plan gets you more storage space, lets you direct sync between devices, and further encrypt your data  – is only $48/year right now (normal price is $6.99/mo or ~84/year).  Cubby is from the well-known and well-respected folks from LogMeIn – which offer remote control and file sharing of your PCs, servers, Macintosh computers, smartphones and other connected devices. They also own the cool Join.me presentation /screen sharing service.

CrashPlan offers an elegant, easy-to-use service.  If you have a lot of data to backup, they will ship you an empty “seed” drive, which you fill up and return and they backup for you. It has a super-impressive FREE plan that you can’t help but check out. Approximately $48/year.

Backblaze is a popular backup solution for business owners and consumers. The part that stood out for me is that if you get stuck, lose all your stuff, they will overnight your data to you on a flash drive or USB stick. That drive option isn’t free, of course, but if you have a lot of data and downloading it to restore would be too intense, just order a drive.

Carbonite is probably the best known name in online backup. Home users can backup one computer starting at $59.99/year. Business plans start at $229.99 per year. They have free trials for consumers and small business owners.

Again, ioSafe is the maker of physical, fireproof, waterproof, practically bombproof hard drives. I use their rugged portable and while heavier than your average drive, it goes with me just about every long trip I take. Sure, you can get an external hard drive for less from Costco, but go ahead and drop that puppy when you’re traveling on a hard airport floor. So, you can get something for less, but I like the assurance and insurance ioSafe offers.

If you need more choices for backing up your data, one of my favorites is: Best Online Backup Services by Tim Fisher at About.com.

The 321 backup philosophy may be the reminder you need to create a backup plan. These options can help you reduce your risk in the event of a computer or mobile device crash. You wouldn’t think of not brushing your teeth each day – so don’t forget to take care of that hard drive and your irreplaceable data.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Social Selling

Social selling is a term that is tossed around a bit lately. Marketing and sales execs are beginning to see the power in social media to truly engage with customers and prospects. So, social media marketing and social media in general is evolving into “social selling.”

The logic is that social media is rapidly changing the world of sales and of marketing. True enough. But I like what Trish Bertuzzi says in an interview with well-known blogger, Craig Rosenberg, aka Funnelholic: “Social selling is a misnomer. Social doesn’t sell. People do. Now Social Prospecting I can get behind.”

Social doesn’t sell. People sell.

Let’s look again at what Trish is saying. Sure, you can use social media to help you sell. That’s been proven. But if you are trying to improve your sales (and we’re all selling), then you need to understand how social media and in-person networking, can help you to build rapport that matters, to build trust, to create a relationship that isn’t based on a one-way conversation (typical marketing).

One thing is certain – today’s customers are insisting that the conversation be a two-way street. Many are okay with some selling within the social media realm. In fact, many brands are reporting better sales because of their presence and effort in social media.

Social Capital Measurement, Not Yet

At some point, we’re going to want to put “social sales” on the accounting books, in some way. Executives are going to want to measure this social selling in a new way. Some are already starting to call it “social capital.”

However, as Wikipedia points out, “the analogy with capital is misleading to the extent that, unlike traditional forms of capital, social capital is not depleted by use; in fact it is depleted by non-use (“use it or lose it”). In this respect, it is similar to the now well-established economic concept of human capital.”

I really like this Wikipedia idea – “social capital is not depleted by use.” Beautifully true. Perhaps this moves us to a world that is more collaborative, versus competitive. I am not that naïve to believe that social media, as amazing as it is for leveling the playing fields of commerce, will remake the world. One can hope, but I digress. Back to social capital and social selling.

Many popular sales management systems have added tools to help you keep track of your sales relationships on social media. Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms are increasingly aimed at social media. HootSuite, LittleBird, Tweetdeck, Tellagence, Meshfire, and a host of others, are vying for ways to help you, in a nutshell, understand how and if you have built a trust relationship with your buyers (whether they are consumers or businesses).

Last month, I was exploring how listening tools are a big part of the social selling trend. If you can listen better, you can sell better, or at least “serve” better. But you can’t listen alone — you need to evaluate a tool like Meshfire (mentioned above) that lets you manage social media as a team. The early looks I’ve had at this new tool are exciting because the dashboards are easy to figure out.

HootSuite published a report that stated: “Social selling remains an ambition, not reality at most B2B sales organizations today; however, the evidence is clear that change is underway. At this point, sales managers don’t have to make a decision to adopt social media, because their customers have already made it for them.”

From the recent IBM study that I blogged about last week, to the folks at HootSuite, most savvy marketers and sales experts know that customers are not turning back. Social selling is the new reality.

If you need some tools to help you listen into the conversation, read my post: Improving Your Social Presence With The Cloud. It includes some tools to help you monitor and listen to your customers in online social settings.

Disclosure:
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

 

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Pinterest Case Studies Wanted

Thanks for visiting. I am looking for success stories of how you are using Pinterest to drive your business. Mostly,  I want proven examples, including revenue and sales numbers. If you are interested to share details, please email me at Q4Sales via Gmail. Or reach out on Twitter and mention Pinterest.


Unrelated to this case study request, here are a few of the cool mobile apps I have found to help you with Pinterest. Some of them might be new to you. Feel free to share apps you like with me as well.

iPhone app 

Android app  

Pinterest Pin It Button  makes pinning easier and greatly improves the functionality of iPhone and Android apps. Just go to the goodies  page and drag it to your toolbar.

Pinterest official Pin It buttons

Windows phones – There’s no official Pinterest app for Windows phones, but one third-party Pinterest app, Scrapbook for Pinterest is available.

PinHog for Pinterest  This unique Pinterest app allows you not only to browse while offline, but it also lets you schedule when you would like to pin items to your board.

PinReach  is designed to let you know how well you are influencing others.

PinPuff  lets you track trends and analyze how your Pinterest account is doing. PinPuff also calculates the monetary value of your Pins and what kind of traffic they are generating for you.

Snapito  is for you if you prefer surfing the Web and taking screenshots for your Pinterest page. this app gives you a variety of easy ways to pin screenshots to your page, including a Pinterest Bookmarklet that lets you do this from your iPhone.

Pin4Ever  Backup your pins.

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IBM Midmarket CxO Executive Study Infographic

UPDATE: Please scan this infographic and if you fall into one of these “buckets” and think you have data or insights into these areas, please get in touch. I would like to consider writing about your company and social media success here or at another of my blogs.  Ping me on Twitter and reference the IBM infographic somehow. Thanks.

Okay, just received this great infographic summarizing my summary of the IBM “Customer-Activated Enterprise” Study.
Good stuff. Take a look at this, but also visit the post outlining some of the key points: IBM Midmarket C-Suite Survey Results – Are You Digitally Savvy?.  Thanks.

IBM_mm_CXO_email_009

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When you speak to over 4,000 C-level executives in midsize companies, you are certain to uncover powerful insights. In fact, IBM has spent ten years exploring how midsized companies need to engage with their customers. This ten year effort has yielded 23,000 face-to-face interviews for IBM and its “Customer-Activated Enterprise” research this year is especially relevant for those seeking to bridge the gap between the enterprise and the customer.

UPDATE: Great Infographic link at end of post. 

And there is a gap. Social and mobile are obviously huge components of engagement today and this work from IBM is explaining how and why the C-level folks need to change and adapt. There are quite a few obvious, confirming facts, but also a fair number of “aha” moments in the full study results. This quote paints some of it:

“So what’s preventing CxOs from doing more to unite their business and digital strategy? The biggest hurdle is how social media fits into the mix (see Figure 12). Indeed, when Watson analyzed more than 10,000 natural language responses, it uncovered the fact that CxOs simply don’t know how to strike the right balance between the social, digital and physical worlds.

Understanding the return on investment is also a challenge, particularly if organizations view social simply as something they snap on to existing workflows. Its value is realized when social inspires entirely new ways of working, learning and orchestrating processes across the organization and beyond.”

–Page 14 of CxO Study

The survey’s top findings include:

  • More than half of midmarket companies lack an integrated digital strategy.
  • 65% of the midmarket c-suite business executives recognized that the lack of a cohesive social media plan is the biggest barrier to doing more in the digital space.
  • More than half of respondents also cite the need to better understand how social media fits with other operational priorities, and how to measure its return on investment.

Successfully fusing the digital and physical

The survey results indicate that companies which have successfully fused the digital and physical, including Big Data analytics, mobile and cloud, to achieve transformation were 26% more likely to outperform their rivals.

So what’s that mean? It means that Chief Marketing Officers face some big hurdles on how to integrate big data along with all the monumental changes in social media – which drive how one handles leads, how one interacts with customers and prospects. There are some specific insights that the report shared:

  • Apps are a big piece of how to connect and serve with the customer.
  • 67 percent of CMOs feel underprepared for the tidal wave of social media. That leaves an opportunity for smaller shops to come in and help, but it means that even with all the monitoring and measurement tools on the market – none have hit the nail on the head. Or made it easy enough for a marketing executive to take comprehensive action.
  • Most feel they need a more cohesive approach to social media.

Analytics, mobile and cloud technologies allow small and midsize businesses (SMB) to tap into the social channels of influential customers who have a deep interest in their products and services.  Engaging these digital influencers helps brands connect on a deeper level with current and future customers. The future of brand strategy will include an ability to demonstrate authenticity to those who actually help define an SMB’s markets, and then turn customers into influencers.

If you need some ideas on how to bridge the physical with digital, take a look at the recent study as well as some great posts here on the IBM C-Suite Study site.

For access to the full study findings, please visit: www.ibm.com/midmarket/csuitestudy

Coming next week: Part Two of Creating Customer Conversations.

New infographic to give you the survey/study results visually: IBM Midmarket CxO Executive Study Infographic

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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HP Microserver Proliant Gen 8

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HP recently released a new server aimed at the midsize business owner and after some initial tests; I’m a fan. UPDATE: Three opportunities to win one below (look below the email form for the other two).

This new server packs a ton of power into a small space and my favorite aspect is how quiet it is. If you’ve run a server in your office before, you know that they are often quite noisy. This elegant little server can sit on a desk and goes largely unnoticed from a sound perspective.

I’m happy to share news about this new HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 system because it is easy to install and expand to help you as you grow your company. I’ve loaded this one with the Windows Server Essentials 2012 and plan to load up Windows 7 to see if it can handle easily running as a desktop, even though I know that isn’t supported or part of their plan. I’ll update this post then. In a nutshell, if you are considering a server that you can manage locally, you should look at this new one from HP.

The HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8 is valued at over $1000. It includes:

  • Dual-Core 2.6Ghz Pentium Processor
  • 16GB of RAM
  • 500GB Hard Drive (4 bays expandable up to 12 Terabyte, not too bad)
  • HP PS1810-8G 8-port Gigabit Web managed switch
  • Windows Server Essentials 2012

HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 Contests (three now running) from November 17th through December 1st:

Here’s how to enter my version of the contest:

My contest is ONLY open to Los Angeles/Orange County/So Cal businesses and startups. If I can’t meet you at a Starbucks in the LA area and hand over the device in person, you cannot win. I’m looking to build a conversation with area marketing executives, so to enter this contest, please do one of the two steps (or both if you are so inclined!). You can, however, retweet this information (with the basic tracking pieces) each day until Dec 1st for an additional chance/entry to win.

Click here to Tweet.  (You can edit it after clicking, but keep the core, please, so I can track your entries)

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Delighted Robot contest is live, too, so give yourself two shots to win!

Contests that ended, but content worth exploring:

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Improving Your Social Presence With The Cloud

We are each operating technologically in the cloud. We already live there, but statistics and reports make it sound like we’re still debating. Maybe we don’t have all our financial or human resources work there (for good reasons), but we sure spend a lot of marketing and sales money in the cloud. If you’re not, you are missing the opportunity for connecting with customers.

This post includes several of my favorite tools for connecting with customers, by listening, monitoring, and analyzing the conversation. While there are desktop-based tools, all of the tools in this post are operated in the cloud.

Are you really listening?

Your customers are talking. You probably already know this. You could listen more attentively and learn how to improve a product, or catch a complaint before it goes viral, as they say. Social media is so powerful, and so frightening to some, but you get the truth. You could use one or all of these tools to get in tune with your customers. Twitter provides one of the best networks, but you’ll need some or all of these tools.

Topsy is a Twitter search engine. With it, you can wade deeply into the social stream. You can look just for a keyword, links, images, videos, and for specific Twitter users. I use it to track my own posts and how far they reach. Once I track a link, I can use it to find new followers or study how another Twitter user is doing something I want to emulate or avoid. The search function is free, of course, but they have a fee-based advanced pro option, too.

Moz (formerly SEOMoz) is well known for its search engine optimization tools, but the company offers a robust analytics suite for business owners, marketers, search experts, and more. I have used it for tracking competitors (for clients) and for optimizing content topics and titles. They acquired FollowerWonk, which is a great tool for managing (and analyzing) your Twitter following. The “Open Site Explorer” tool is for link research.

My absolute favorite from Moz is their Keyword Difficulty tool because it helps you figure out how hard it is or will be to rank for a particular keyword. Even with Google algorithm changes, this tool is valuable for studying what other top sites are doing to maintain a page one ranking (it only shows you the top ten results, which are usually on the first page of a Google search). The company did provide me with a long term media account.

Little Bird is another useful tool for finding the true influencers around a topic. You input a term and the service brings back the most influential people on that subject. It is still in a request access beta status, but worth a closer look. Great blog, too.

Tellagence is really powerful. I received a demo from co-founder Matt Hixson not long ago and was seriously amazed. You can go beyond searching for keywords or hashtags and dig down into the conversations. The service is analyzing how people converse and getting to the context of the conversation. They can help brands to understand influencers and predict engagement.

HootSuite and TweetDeck are two other tools that deserve mention. They are social media management dashboards and offer some tracking capabilities. What I like about HootSuite is the feature that lets you schedule some of your tweets for different times of the day. You can also post to Facebook, Google+, FourSquare, and LinkedIn from HootSuite.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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There’s growth, and budget, on the horizon, especially the cloudy one.

According to Forrester predictions, SMBs will help fuel the forecasted growth in business reliance on the cloud from 22% in 2013 to 27% in 2014. In the report, “The State of SMB IT” by Spiceworks (link below), 61% of small to mid-size businesses are taking advantage of the cloud already, and an additional 5% of respondents plan to adopt some type of cloud service within the next year. For SMBs with 250 to 999 employees, 55% currently use the cloud.

Despite these statistics, I still read posts that state that security is an obstacle to adoption. While I do not see much truth in those posts and articles, I want to offer a few tips and insights based on some research that I did back in 2010 and which is still helpful today.

As a quick aside, if there is a slower adoption process by some mid-size businesses, I don’t think it is security; I believe it is inter-operability, inter-functionality where we can have our customer database talk to our email and social profiles and to our finance department so invoices can be sent out. I’m over-simplifying; however, the reality is that we are already in the cloud, heavily invested in both time and money.

Keep Your Cloud Secure

One of the things that I bookmarked long ago was a Google Apps Marketplace FAQ on security and how to evaluate a vendor or application. In this case, they are specifically trying to help you with mobile apps in the Google Play store; however, many of their tips are useful for cloud evaluations. Some of the basics:

  • A vendor shouldn’t ask for sensitive information via email
  • The app requires SSL (secure socket layer) technology by encrypting your data
  • The vendor has SAS70 certification (SAS70 was established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants)
  • It should have healthy customer reviews
  • It must have a clearly stated privacy policy and terms of service.

Tom Fisher, in a guest blog post at Sandhill.com, suggests you ask questions like: “Can I see the resumes of the executives running your operations?” or “Can you brief me on the engineering team that will be delivering the critical application that I’m betting my career on?” This might be going a bit too far, however, you can be sure if you’re using a mission-critical application that you’ll want to ask some tough questions and receive great answers. This is pulled from my 2010 Guide to Cloud Computing on Small Business Trends.

If, for some reason, you are still on the fence about the cloud and these tips do not help. There are new servers coming to market (already here actually) that are hybrids that allow you to create and work with your own private cloud while maintaining a local server. That’s a great alternative for companies that have a need to keep certain data secure on site, but also need to grant cloud access. There are storage devices doing a similar thing.

The good news is that there are cloud solutions that can save you money, save you time, keep your teams more productive, and your company more profitable. They do not work for every situation in every company, but you can definitely find ways to leverage the cloud and grow your business.

Read more: The State of SMB IT 1H 2013: Semi-Annual Report On Small and Midsize Business Technology Plans & Purchase Intent.

Forrester study cited in Cloud Computing News.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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