NETWORK SOLUTIONS PROVIDER takes enterprise-level practices and applies them to our small and medium-size customers to optimize their businesses. By doing so, we are transforming IT from a cost center to an empowerment tool for business productivity. We are also filling a void that differentiates us from our competitors.
Large companies have operations managers, CIOs, and IT roadmaps. The SMB, in contrast, typically lacks this type of strategic technology planning. They know they need a router when one breaks, or a computer when they have a new hire. The majority overpay for IT services because someone told them this is what they needed, or they saw it on a television commercial. And while they may have valuable customer intelligence still lurking in their old GoldMine CRM systems, they have neither the expertise to extract it nor the time to vet a more current solution.
This was an epiphany we had when we were transitioning from a telecom master agent and small internet service provider into a managed IT services business.
That move commenced during the recession in 2007, when our SMB customers began asking us for help with IT execution and support. We started with a question: How do we provide value? We held several strategic planning sessions to ask customers what was bothering them right now. We hired some consultants, including one with a Six Sigma background, to participate. It was a business dialogue, not an IT or telecom discussion.
We created a quadrant for our conversation:
- What does the customer want?
- What do we want?
- What is the market saying?
- What is best way to structure this?
One conclusion was that SMBs need vendor management services to vet products and solutions and create one point of contact for billing and oversight.
Another conclusion was about cost containment. SMBs often overpay for products and services. As part of our evaluation services, we look at what they have, what they need, and what their business goals are. SMBs are often surprised when we tell them we can lower their spend and add more services. For example, we had one customer who would wait for computers to go on sale at a local retailer so he didn’t have to pay full price. We pointed out that with one of our plans in place for IT purchasing—either a device-as-a-service model or an IT liquidation model that allows you to pay forward to new IT—that customer could save time and money.
Another big piece of our services that evolved from the strategic planning sessions was asset recovery. We take customers’ old technology and give them credit for new equipment and solutions. It immediately adds value to what we do. Our strategic partnerships with vendors like Lenovo and Microsoft give us a bit of leverage over the typical VAR model. In addition, we offer our customers a multicloud solution with IBM, Azure, and Amazon, and bring enterprise solutions like Sophos and Information Builders down to the SMB level for them.
We also help our clients with customer engagement. One insurance client, for example, had data from a customer survey showing dissatisfaction with email and phone response time. We upgraded their phone system and implemented unified communications. Call time dropped, productivity picked up, and the owner was mesmerized. Helping your SMB clients improve their customer experience will give them tangible ROI.
Another example is an SMB customer that was sending his customers a newsletter designed for email readers. We pointed out that most people were likely opening it with their cell phone, and that it took 25 swipes up to read it. So while they may be opening the newsletter, they likely weren’t reading it. We helped them redesign it as well as create customized versions using mobile data from their clients.
Selling business value is not always easy, however. For one, it’s a challenge to get in front of SMBs because they’ve already been pitched so many times. And there are some prospects that no matter what we say are just waiting for a giant price tag to get slapped down on their desk. The perception is they can’t afford us.
Inertia is also an obstacle. We see SMBs that still have huge brick phones on employees’ desks, and they are reluctant to replace them because they “work.” Others may be overspending on telecom but are locked in to a five-year contract and don’t have the time to grapple with making a change.
Still, there is plenty of opportunity to provide optimized business services. Every SMB has a room with blinking lights. Most of the equipment doesn’t belong there, and that is the opportunity to help them consolidate, upgrade, and optimize—turning IT into an empowerment tool.
Photography: DeShawn Scott