the cloud

By Rieva Lesonsky

Everyone’s talking about cloud computing, but is your small business taking advantage of all the cloud has to offer? Or are you worried about housing so much of your data in the cloud?

I talked to Maria Groeschel, General Manager, Worldwide Marketing, Cloud Solutions for Microsoft to get her insights about the value of the cloud for small businesses. And she offers some great marketing advice as well.

Rieva Lesonsky: There’s so much discussion about the cloud, mostly good, but sometimes not. What would you say to a small business owner who is reluctant to work in the cloud for fear of hacking?

Maria Groeschel: Security is paramount in today’s mobile-first, cloud-first world, especially for SMBs, which are targeted by hackers today more than ever. Since most SMBs don’t have an in-house IT team, they turn to the cloud for data storage and security. Cloud solutions like Office 365 provide automatic updates to ensure SMBs are always benefitting from the latest security advances, so business owners can rest easy and spend their time growing their businesses instead of worrying about hackers and data breaches.

Lesonsky: What’s the best argument for using the cloud? Is it money savings? Time saved? Productivity enhanced? Security?

Groeschel: All the above! The cloud saves business owners time and money, and it enables them to spend more time on what matters—growing their businesses. Microsoft is constantly creating solutions to make small businesses more productive and secure. Office 365, for example, offers a myriad of collaboration tools that help SMBs get work done faster and more efficiently. Best of all, advanced security solutions and data protection are baked right in to all our products and services, so business owners can rest easy knowing their data is secure.

Lesonsky: How does a small business owner determine if a cloud provider is legit? What should they look for?

Groeschel: Your cloud vendor should be a trusted partner and adviser, and that’s what we and our partners strive to be for each customer. A good cloud vendor provides not just the platform but also technical expertise, training and implementation support. Vendors that offer several solutions that each address a different need in your business are key to ensuring everything works seamlessly together, making your transition to the cloud a piece of cake.

Lesonsky: Let’s move on to marketing. If you owned a small business and had a small marketing budget, how would you allocate it?

Groeschel: It can be hard for SMBs to set aside budget for marketing, especially when you’re just starting out. When the budget is tight, take advantage of your owned channels to get the word out. Engage with customers on social media channels, invest in promoted posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., blog about customer success stories, share positive reviews, host an open house—do what you can to make lasting and positive impressions on your customers. More than 80% of consumers say a recommendation from a friend will sway their opinion of a product or service, so don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth marketing!

Lesonsky: Email marketing is incredibly effective, but it’s getting harder to break through in people’s crowded inboxes. Any tips for getting email messages to stand out?

Groeschel: Absolutely. Our research shows 62% of customers prefer to receive updates from businesses via email, but it’s critical your emails are relevant and don’t become spam. The key here is to know what your customers want from you, and to not inundate them with content they don’t. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Outlook Customer Manager and Dynamics 365 give you exactly those insights so you can make sure you’re giving your customers exactly the content they want, when they want it, and not wasting time and resources on content they don’t.

Lesonsky: Social media is an efficient and inexpensive way to reach potential customers and keep in touch with current clients. But many small business owners find it overwhelming. How can entrepreneurs better manage social media?

Groeschel: Social media marketing can be incredibly effective, and customers are coming to expect it more and more. In fact, millennial customers are almost five times more likely than other generations to expect businesses to interact with them via social media. If it feels overwhelming, start by taking small steps to get organized before you dive in all the way. Put one person in charge of your company’s social handles, and let them be responsible for posting. Create a social content calendar, and set aside an hour or two each week to plan the content you want to push out each day rather than try to make it up on the spot. There are even some great (and free!) tools available online to help schedule your social content—some even do the posting for you!

Lesonsky: Do you think white papers, ebooks, other forms of content (which can be created with Microsoft Sway) are an effective way to reach clients?

Groeschel: It really depends on your customers. If you are in the tech or manufacturing space, your customers may find a white paper or ebook incredibly useful! And Sway has an interactive and shareable format that makes it easy for business owners to create fresh, fun and engaging content for their customers. If you haven’t tried it yet, check out this blog from the Office team to see how small businesses in the food industry are using Sway to make an impact.

Lesonsky: You’re a woman in technology, which is still not all that common. How’d you choose this path? How can we step up our efforts to encourage girls to embrace STEM?

Groeschel: As a Korean American, I grew up within a culture where women traditionally stayed at home and men went to work. At a young age, I was very interested in breaking these stereotypes. I was very competitive and an active learner—anything of interest I was exposed to that I didn’t understand, I spent a lot of time trying to educate myself on how things worked. In the 1990’s when the internet really became a thing for companies, I was determined to understand and be involved with brands who were embracing the digital age back then. I loved the immediacy of it all and the learning that came with it in real time.  That meant for me, learning more about how to create a website, how to build a dynamic display ad, how to use data from customers. I had a rigid focus on learning digital skills from different companies and ultimately had a skills-based career approach in my 20’s. When I felt I had enough information to do it myself, I moved on to learn something else. I was fortunate to be in New York City and Silicon Valley where companies were innovators—disrupters—so I was able to capitalize on my experiences and that ultimately brought me here to Microsoft today.

Throughout my career, I have been very passionate and vocal about Diversity and Inclusion and empowering female leaders. Early in my career, I mentored female students in a program called MindsMatter which helped young adults learn the skills needed to succeed in school and prep for college. I was also active in Women in Leadership groups at multiple companies and actively sought out female leaders for sponsorship. I think it’s important for women in leadership positions to give back, to support one another and the younger generation by getting involved. While I understand this can be a huge commitment and not everyone has this flexibility, I believe there’s no greater impact we can have than showing up for our communities and be an example for the children of the future.