Selling to SMBs requires a thought-out approach

Smaller organisations have specific needs, says Johna Till Johnson

Telco service providers are getting very interested in pitching to small-to-midsize businesses, and that’s a great idea (only partly because I run one). Also, SMBs are often where the action is — we spearhead a surprising amount of technology innovation. So it’s cool that carriers are marketing to us.

But along with the increased visibility of SMBs come misconceptions. For starters, take the definition itself. No vendor or carrier I’ve spoken with has exactly the same definition of what comprises a “small” business (let alone “mid-size”). Are we talking about fewer than 500 employees? Fewer than 50? Or less than five?

Marketing teams wage pitched battles over this issue. Here’s a suggestion: Peg your definition to the presence (or absence) of a dedicated IT staffer. Companies that have one or more IT executives buy differently than those with none. Research shows that companies tend to hire dedicated IT people at somewhere between 50 and 100 employees. So use that as your baseline, and then extend the definition as far upward (to 200, 250 or 500 employees) as makes sense to you.

About those other SMB misconceptions: Another biggie is the notion that SMBs are somehow “business-lite”, or toy versions of real businesses, and that SMB offerings can be scaled-down versions of what carriers provide to bigger companies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Businesses of every shape and size can have stringent requirements for service and support. We often need five-nines availability of our critical communications services, with detailed performance metrics. And we often require 24/7 support. So don’t duplicate Google’s lame SMB hosted messaging services that skimped on service and didn’t offer 24/7 support.

Moreover, we’re more distributed than many providers realise. In a recent Nemertes Research benchmark, we found that between 15% and 20% of SMBs have global operations. Finally, as I noted earlier, we tend to be aggressive innovators — small businesses are considerably more likely than larger ones to have an IT culture that’s bleeding edge, meaning that we deploy technologies early in their life cycles and view them as competitive advantages.

Another SMB misconception: We’re just overgrown consumers. Enterprises — even small ones — have requirements that are fundamentally different from those of consumers. So here’s the deal. If you’re handling IT at an SMB (by whatever definition), please drop me a line. And push your vendors to respect your organisation’s unique identity as neither a toy business nor an overgrown consumer.

Finally, if you’re a service provider selling to SMBs, don’t patronise us. Don’t confuse us with consumers. And get ready to grow with us.

Johnson is president and chief reserach officer at Nemertes Research, a technology research firm. She can be contacted at

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Tags managementSMBssalesservice providers

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