More business management tools than ever … yet many small businesses stick with spreadsheets and other “outdated” processes.

csbr

It seems like there’s never been more information – and technologically based solutions — available concerning marketing, sales and other business operations support than there is today.

Just go online, type in a few keywords, and watch how many hundreds – in some cases thousands – of web links pop up. And there’s a lot that’s really quite beneficial and instructive.

But even with such a smorgasbord of information – much of it available free of charge – it can actually be overwhelming for owners and managers of small businesses.

Maybe it’s “analysis paralysis.”  Or perhaps something more fundamental.

Typically, small business owners wear many hats inside their companies — a jack of all trades and master of maybe just one or two.

The same dynamics are at work in the field of customer information management as well. Last year, the Harris Poll surveyed a group of small business owners on their practices in this realm, and the results were published this past December by SalesForce Research in its 2016 Connected Small Business Report.

The results showed that small business owners continue to rely on outdated processes such as spreadsheets (or even paper-based systems) to store and track their customer information.

As for more modern (digital) tools like CRM and analytics, it isn’t happening much at all.

For starters, more than 80% of the companies surveyed by Harris reported that they do not have any dedicated IT staff – so it comes as no surprise that nearly three-fourths of company owners are the ones responsible for making their companies’ technology buying decisions.

Here’s what the survey found:

  • Small business owner typically makes technology buying decisions: ~72% of respondents
  • A co-owner or business partner: ~28%
  • Chief technology officer, chief information officer or head of IT: ~4%
  • An outside vendor: ~3%
  • Chief financial officer: ~2%

Note: Tally above exceeds 100% due to multiple mentions.

Where is the technology spend going? Hardware expenses are the most significant, with financial software second in importance:

  • Hardware: ~46% of respondents cite as the majority of their annual technology spend
  • Financial software (e.g., accounting/bookkeeping and bill payment): ~33%
  • Productivity software (e.g., Microsoft Office): ~26%
  • Internet hosting/ISP services: ~22%
  • POS/POP software: ~20%
  • Telecommunications/VoIP: ~15%

E-mail and spreadsheet tools continue to dominate in terms of customer information management, and quite a few of the companies surveyed are still working with paper-based systems:

  • E-mail tools (Outlook, Apple, Gmail contact, etc.): ~44%
  • Spreadsheets (Excel, etc.): ~41%
  • Written customer ledger: ~34%
  • Basic database (e.g., Access, Quickbase): ~29%
  • CRM system or app (housed within the business): ~20%
  • Other paper-based practices: ~15%
  • CRM system or app (cloud-based): ~12%

And when it comes to customer service, small businesses rely on three major practices:

  • Direct phone contacts with customers: ~51%
  • Direct e-mail communication with customers: ~47%
  • Social media interaction: ~32%

So on balance, it looks as though most small business aren’t really tapping into many of the “new tools” that could help them manage their businesses and their sales, marketing and customer retention programs better.

It may be a similar dynamic to what we see with small investors. Today there’s more investment information available than ever before – and it’s right at people’s fingertips, too.  Even so, often the result is … to do nothing.  Whatever the choices are, so many investors make no changes at all to their investment portfolio.

And just like there are financial planners to assist the timid investor, there are plenty of business consultants ready and willing to guide small business owners in ramping up their operations.

But that’s another entire discussion, of course.

To access a copy of the 2016 Connected Small Business Report, click here.

Inked in stone: One societal trend that’s going off the charts.

ttWhat’s one of the biggest societal trends in America nowadays? Believe it or not, it’s the rapidly growing popularity of tattoos.

Once the province of just a slim slice of the American population, today we’re smack in the middle of dramatic changes in attitudes about tattoos.

Let’s begin with figures published by the Harris Poll recently, based on its survey or more than 4,000 American conducted in late 2015. That survey finds that nearly one in three Americans age 18 or older have at least one tattoo (29%, to be exact).

Not only did that percentage surprise me, but also the increase that represents over a similar Harris Poll conducted just four years ago. In that survey, ~21% reported having a tattoo … which means that the nearly 40% more people have tattoos today than in 2010.

Pretty amazing, I thought.  And the surprises don’t stop there, either. Of those people who are tattooed, more than two-thirds report that they have more than one tattoo.

What isn’t surprising at all is that the tattoo craze is most prevalent among younger Americans:

  • Millennials: ~47% report having at least one tattoo
  • GenX: ~36%
  • Baby Boomers: ~13%
  • Matures: ~10%

There are also some locational differences, with rural and urban Americans somewhat more likely to be tattooed than those people who reside in suburbia:

  • Rural folks: ~35% have at least one tattoo
  • Urban dwellers: ~33%
  • Suburbanites: ~25%

[There’s no discernible difference at all between people of differing partisan/political philosophies, according to Harris.]

With such a big increase in tattooing, the next question is, what’s behind the trend? For clues, we can see how respondents described what their tattoo(s) mean to them personally:

  • Makes me feel more sexy: ~33% of tattooed Americans cited
  • Makes me feel more attractive: ~32%
  • Makes me feel more non-conformist/rebellious: ~27%
  • Makes me feel more spiritual: ~20%

[Far smaller percentages felt that their tattoo(s) made them feel more intelligent, more employable, more respected or more healthy.]

But what about regrets? Are there people who wish they hadn’t taken the plunge?  The Harris survey found that approximately one in four respondents do feel at least some regrets about having a tattoo.  The reasons why are varied — yet all pretty obvious:

  • Personality changes … doesn’t fit my present lifestyle
  • The tattoo includes someone’s name I’m no longer with
  • The tattoo was poorly done … doesn’t look professional
  • The tattoo is no longer meaningful to me
  • I was too young when I got the tattoo

In conclusion, I think it’s safe to conclude that tattoos are a generational thing. Those of us north of age 50 don’t have any tattoos — and likely will never get one.

But for the younger generations, not only have tattoos gone “mainstream,” for many they’re a decidedly aspirational thing.  And that, of course, means ever widening acceptance of tattoos along with encountering more of them than ever before.

Comments … thoughts anyone?

Companies behaving (not quite so) badly: Financial services firms continue their slow reputation recovery.

Financial services industryBack in 2009, no industry in the United States took such reputation beating as the financial services segment.  And to find out how much, we needn’t look any further than Harris survey research.

The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient study of American consumers is conducted annually.  The most recent one, which was carried out during the 4th Quarter of 2014, encompassed more than 27,000 people who responded to online polling by Harris.

In the survey, companies are rated on their reputation across 20 different attributes that fall within the following six broad categories:

  • Products and services
  • Financial performance
  • Emotional appeal
  • Social responsibility
  • Workplace environment
  • Vision and leadership

Taken together, the ratings of each company result in calculating an overall reputation score, which the Harris researchers also aggregate to broader industry categories.

Most everyone will recall that in 2009, the U.S. was deep in a recession that had been brought about, at least in part, by problems in the real estate and financial services industry segments.

This was reflected in the sorry performance of financial services firms included in the Harris polling that year.

Back then, only 11% of the survey respondents felt that the financial services industry had a positive reputation.

So it’s safe to conclude that there was no place to go but “up” after that.  And where are we now?  The latest survey does show that the industry has rebounded.

In fact, now more than three times the percentage of people feel that the financial services industry has a positive reputation (35% today vs. 15% then).

But that’s still significantly below other industry segments in the Harris analysis, as we can see plainly here:

  • Technology: ~77% of respondents give positive reputation ratings
  • Consumer products: ~60% give positive reputation ratings
  • Manufacturing: ~54%
  • Telecom: ~53%
  • Automotive: ~46%
  • Energy: ~45%
  • Financial services: ~35%

So … it continues to be a slow slog back to respectability for firms in the financial services field.

Incidentally, within the financial services category, insurance companies tend to score better than commercial banks and investment companies when comparing the results of individual companies in the field.

USAA, Progressive, State Farm and Allstate all score above 70%, whereas Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, BofA and Goldman Sachs all score in the 60% percentile range or below.

Wendy Salomon, vice president of reputation management and public affairs for the Harris Poll, contends that financial services firms could be doing more to improve their reputations more quickly.  Here’s what she’s noted:

“Most financial companies have done a dismal job in recent years of connecting with customers and with the general public on what matters to them.  Yet there’s no reason Americans can’t feel as positively toward financial services firms as they do towards companies they hold in high esteem, such as Amazon or Samsung, which have excellent reputations because they consistently deliver what the general public cares about …  

[Individual] financial firms have a clear choice now:  Prioritize building their reputations and telling their stories, or let others continue to fill that void and remain lumped together with the rest of the industry.”

Here’s another bit of positive news for companies in the financial services field:  They’re no longer stuck in the basement when it comes to reputation.

That honor now goes to two sectors that are Exhibits A and B in the “corporate rogues’ gallery”:  tobacco companies and government.

Both of these choice sectors come in with positive reputation scores hovering around 10%.

I suspect that those two sectors are probably doomed to bounce along the bottom of the scale pretty much forever.

With tobacco, it’s because the product line is no noxious.

And with government?  Well … with the bureaucratic dynamics (stasis?) involved, does anyone actually believe that government can ever instill confidence and faith on the part of consumers?  Even governments’ own employees know better.

Americans Still Love Their Libraries

local libraryI’m trying to remember the last time I visited our local library in our town.  It was more than a year ago … and it was to attend a community meeting, not to check out a book or use the reference materials.

For me at least, access to the Internet at work, at home and on mobile devices has made the library pretty much irrelevant to my daily life.

It wasn’t always that way.

There was a time — not so many years ago — when I went to the library on a weekly basis.  I even traveled to other cities to do business-oriented research in larger libraries that were the designated repositories of U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce and other government publications.

So based on my personal evolution, I was a bit surprised to read the results of a recent Harris Poll that surveyed ~2,300 Americans aged 18 or older on the topic of libraries and their role in people’s lives.

Harris found that ~64% of the respondents it surveyed have a library card — a statistic that is higher than I thought it would be.

[Granted, that library card figure has declined from the ~68% level that was reported by respondents in a similar survey conducted by Harris in 2008.]

The Harris research also found that women are more likely to use the local library than men.  Related to this, more than 70% of women in the survey possess a library card, compared to only ~57% of men.

Children may be a factor in how strong a relationship adults have with their local library, since adults who have children are significantly more likely to patronize the library — and more often as well.

For those who have library cards, nearly 80% reported that they’ve used the library at least once in the past year.  Indeed, more than one-third use the library on a monthly basis or more frequently.

Most library-related activity appears to be for traditional uses:

  • Borrowing books: ~56% identify as the “top reason” for going to the library
  • Borrowing DVDs/videos: ~24%
  • Consuming digital content: ~15%
  • Attending kids/community programs: ~5%

A Community and Education Resource …

library meeting roomRegardless of their own personal library usage patterns, more than nine in ten respondents in the Harris survey consider libraries to be a valuable education resource for their local community.

Nearly as many consider the library to be an important community center and meeting space.

Based on the Harris results, the role of libraries may be evolving more slowly than I would have thought.  And they still play a central role in the nourishment of their communities.

What about you?  How are you using (or not using) your local library these days?  Please share your experiences with other readers here.

Harris Poll: What Americans say they want in news coverage.

When it comes to the news, Americans say they’re tired of so much attention on celebrity gossip and scandal stories … but are they really?

news mediaExperience has shown that healthy foods on the menu at fast food establishments test well in consumer attitudinal surveys — only to bomb big time when actually introduced.

It seems as though many people answer the way they think they’re “supposed” to respond, even though they’ll never actually opt for the apple slices in lieu of the order of fries.

I wonder if the same dynamics are at work in a recent Harris Poll, which queried ~2,500 Americans age 18 or over about their preferences for news topics.  The online survey was conducted in August 2014, with the results released this past week.

For starters, three-fourths of the respondents felt that celebrity gossip and scandal stories receive too much coverage.

Indeed, many believe that entertainment news in general receives too much attention in the news:

  • Celebrity gossip and scandal stories: ~76% claim too much attention is paid in the news
  • Entertainment news in general: ~49%
  • Professional spectator sports: ~44%
  • Politics and elections: ~33%

And which topics do people feel aren’t covered sufficiently in the news? It’s everything that’s “good for you”:

  • Education topics: ~47% believe too little attention is paid in the news
  • Local/national humanitarian issues: ~47%
  • Science topics: ~45%
  • Government corruption and scandals: ~44%
  • Corporate corruption and white collar crime: ~42%
  • Global humanitarian issues: ~33%
  • Health topics: ~30%

I suspect that the “actual reality” is different from how the survey participants responded. If news organizations weren’t seeing keen interest generated by their celebrity, entertainment and sports stories, they would stop producing them.  Simple as that.

Harris Poll logoYou can view more findings from the Harris survey, including data tabulations, here. Among the interesting findings is the degree of trust people have for various different news media:  network TV news, local TV news, local newspapers, national newspapers, online news sources.

Hint: trust levels are nearly where they should be …

What are your thoughts about news topics? Which ones are getting proper coverage versus too much?  Please share your observations with other readers here.

Football remains America’s #1 favorite sport – and it isn’t even close.

Favorite sportsThe Super Bowl XLVIII game between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos may have been a yawner … but that doesn’t mean pro football is in any danger of being knocked off its perch as America’s #1 favorite sport.

In fact, a December 2013 Harris Interactive Poll of ~2,300 American adults who follow at least one sport finds that the gap between pro football and any other favorite sport is a big as ever.

Today, ~35% of American adults say that professional football is their favorite sport, whereas only ~14% say that professional baseball, the next most popular sport, is their favorite.

That 21 percentage point gap is even larger than the previous year’s polling by Harris, which found ~34% naming pro football as their favorite sport, compared to ~16% for pro baseball – a difference of “only” 18 points.

Harris has been querying American adults on this topic annually for nearly 30 years.  In only one other instance before has the preference gap between football and baseball been as great as it is today.

In fact, since the question was first asked by Harris back in 1985, pro football’s popularity as a favorite sport has risen 11 percentage points … while pro baseball has dropped by 9 points.

That means that whereas the two sports were at near-parity barely a generation ago, the divergence in the two’s fortunes has been dramatic since then.

If you’re wondering what other sports are considered “favorites” by Americans, only one comes even close to professional football and baseball – college football.  Here are Harris’ popularity figures found in its most recent survey:

  • Pro football:  ~35% consider the sport to be their #1 favorite
  • Pro baseball:  ~14%
  • College football:  ~11%
  • Auto racing:  ~7%
  • Men’s pro basketball:  ~6%
  • Men’s hockey:  ~5%
  • Men’s college basketball:  ~3%
  • Men’s golf:  ~2%
  • Men’s soccer:  ~2%
  • Swimming:  ~2%
  • Men’s boxing:  ~2%
  • Men’s tennis:  ~2%

[Eight other sports were cited by 1% or fewer survey respondents each.]

Harris has also published cross-tabs which point to some interesting differences in sports preferences within certain sub-groups.  Some of those include:

  • Americans who live in rural areas are more likely to cite pro football as their favorite sport (~44%), as are ~39% of Easterners and ~42% of people with children under the age of 18.
  • At the other end of the football popularity scale, people with post-graduate degrees are less likely to prefer professional football (~24%).  Perhaps the game isn’t subtle enough for them!
  • As for professional baseball, Hispanic Americans are more likely to cite it as their top favorite sport (~19%), as well as similar popularity percentages of suburbanites and people living in households with incomes over $100,000.
  • Is it a surprise that Southerners are more likely to cite college football (~17%) than any demographic other sub-group as being their #1 favorite sport?  I think not.
  • And how about auto racing?  It’s the #1 favorite for Americans living in rural areas (~12%) … those with household incomes under $35,000 (~12%) … as well as people with high school or less education levels (~11%).

If you’re interested to see how Harris’ survey results reinforce certain demographic stereotypes – or not – you can view more details here.

Where in the World do Americans Wish to Vacation?

World of travel: Americans see Italy as their #1 overseas vacation destination.Have you ever wondered where Americans would wish to vacation overseas if they had the opportunity and the financial wherewithal? It’s a topic that that Harris Interactive surveys every year.

The results are now in for the 2011 survey, which queried nearly 2,200 adults online in July … and for a second year in a row, Italy comes in first place in popularity.

Countries in Europe and Oceania remain the most popular vacation countries for Americans, a finding Harris has observed in annual surveys ever since 2008. This year, the Top 10 countries chosen by respondents for vacation destination are as follows:

#1: Italy
#2: Great Britain
#3: Australia
#4: Ireland
#5: France
#6: Greece
#7: Spain
#8: Germany
#9: Japan
#10: Canada

Since 2008, the biggest shift in popularity has been in Spain (up three notches) and in Japan (down two spots). What’s causing this? One too many natural disasters in Japan? … The increased popularity of the Costa del Sol?

While Italy is the top pick in 2011 for both men and women, there are some differences when looking at the next-ranked countries:

 For men, the #2 choice is Australia, followed by Great Britain.

 For women, the #2 choice is Great Britain, and Ireland is #3.

 Baby boomers as well as respondents over the age of 65 choose Great Britain over Italy as the top vacation destination.

In viewing the 2011 results, I was somewhat surprised by the lack of any Caribbean countries on the list.

If Harris continues to conduct this survey annually, it will be interesting to see how the results change over time. I’d predict that Brazil and Argentina may start making the Top Ten list before too long. (Speaking for myself, those two would be my picks a lot sooner than some of the other countries listed above.)

More survey stats and a history of results can be found here.