Tech giant Microsoft has unveiled a new suite of tools aimed directly at SMEs and bundled in with its Office 365 collection, including an invoicing, listings, and email marketing tool.
The three tools will be included in the company’s Office 365 Business Premium edition and will come with a centralised management tool called Business Center where SME owners can receive updates from all utilised software.
The company released the software package as part of its “commitment” to small businesses and will roll out the offerings to customers in the UK, US, and Canada in the next few weeks. Australian customers will likely get the software later this year if timelines are consistent with other software roll-outs.
The first product included in the suite is Microsoft Listings, a tool which makes it easier for SMEs to update their online listing details, like opening hours and locations across a number of websites, including Google, Yelp, and Facebook.
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The tool also collates the amount of traffic and reviews and ratings businesses have gotten from those websites and compares them to each other so businesses can “make it easier to understand feedback from your customers and strengthen your online reputation”.
The next cab off the rank is Microsoft’s take on an invoicing tool, imaginatively called Microsoft Invoicing. The tool lets SMEs create invoices, track outstanding invoices, and process payments through services such as Paypal and Quickbooks.
The last tool might be the most alluring to some small business owners, a simple-to-use email marketing tool that lets businesses create, send, and track email marketing campaigns.
The tool lets businesses create customer segments and track analytics about sent campaigns. Chief executive of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens told SmartCompany Microsoft’s move was likely trying to capture small businesses just starting out in the digital space.
“They’re starting to realise the market for SMEs is becoming incredibly diversified, and they’re trying to become the one-stop shop for small businesses,” she says.
Email marketing key for all businesses say experts
Even though some SME owners might think content marketing through newsletters and other email-based methods wouldn’t benefit their businesses, Ahrens says every company, no matter the size or type, should be looking into email marketing.
Ralph Grayden, content marketer at Antelope Media, agrees, but notes businesses should make sure the emails they send out are in line with the offerings of their business.
“A business that relies on people coming in and buying fried chicken might not be the best target for email marketing around becoming the thought leader in fried chicken, but weekly specials emails could work,” Grayden told SmartCompany.
“Businesses need to be quite flexible in their approach, and work out what resonates with your mailing list.”
The main issue for for many businesses thinking about email marketing is the amount of time it takes to set up and execute, says Grayden, claiming many SMEs don’t have the time or resources to do it regularly and let it fall by the wayside.
However, he notes it can be a cost-effective way for businesses to attract more customers, and outlined three ways for SMEs to get on board with email marketing if starting from scratch.
“Firstly, develop a strategy for the email. One of the main mistakes I see is SMEs jumping into it and sending out emails about anything.
“Secondly, segment your mailing list so you hit people with content relevant to them. If your emails miss the mark, people will unsubscribe or ignore them pretty quickly,” he says.
“Finally, be realistic about how often you can send it. People can get a bit revved up and start to think they can handle a couple of articles a week, but then they find they can’t handle the momentum.”