What do you need to know about working with the SMB?  We asked a panel of experts.

channel chat panel

What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned from working with/selling to the SMB?

Brett Butler: Understanding the buying process and creating a terrain map of the account to understand who is influencing, and who is making the decision are just as important as understanding the requirements. Sometimes that salty thirty-year admin assistant has more juice in the account than the CFO who has been there only a year.

David Clearman: We’ve worked a lot with the SMB, and that includes not only end users, but many of our dealers qualify as SMBs as well. One of the most important things we’ve learned from working with them over the years is the importance of being flexible. By being the easiest organization to work with, and always trying to do right by them, we’re able to maintain our relationship.

What trends are you seeing with SMB customers?

Butler: Everything that supports Anywhere Operations: Unified Communications, collaboration tools, meeting solutions, cloud office suites. Secure remote access: Passwordless and multifactor authentication, zero trust network access (ZTNA). Remote support, and contactless interactions automation to support remote operations, endpoint management, SaaS management platforms, self-service. 

Ed McLaughlin: The SMB sector has been hit very hard over the last year. While the issues were the same for enterprise and SMB, the smaller companies do not have the reserve or the cushion the bigger boys do. The reluctance to reenter the workforce is a harder hit to the SMB. The result is the need to be even more flexible and nimble than this very adaptable sector is so famous for being. This sector is even more cost-conscious than before the pandemic. There will be a greater reliance on technology to improve productivity as the need to do more with less is more critical than it may have ever been. Initially, it was almost a foregone conclusion that working from home would take firm roots in this sector. Still, many of these companies realize that maintaining their company culture and remote work is not necessarily a good mix. The remote movement has also had a more considerable impact on the security breaches in this sector than in enterprise. Helping them through this transition can be an enormous opportunity to create an even closer bond. Interestingly, we are SMB selling to SMB, so we see many of the same problems and trends in our own business. Agility is the most significant need from now on. 

What unique challenges arise when it comes to selling to the SMB?

Butler: Making the change from a market share business to a wallet share business and clearly identifying what your ideal client profile looks like, and keeping your focus there.

Clearman: Many of our dealers were unfamiliar with selling label products when we first launched, and labels and packaging were a new technology. But especially now with the new opportunities the pandemic has created, it has turned out to be a great way to grow their business – the SMB has found a lot of creative ways to use specialty printing over the last year.

Scott Lewis: Providing relevant solutions so that the SMB can remain competitive in a world where much buying is done through the ecommerce giants.  Although this online exposure is challenging, most SMBs have the unique opportunity to leverage relationships to further sales opportunities.  The digital world is less personal, but at the end of the day, people still buy from people and this is a clear advantage of the SMB. Additionally, maintaining inventory is an outdated strategy for most resellers. Distribution partners with product availability for dropship on demand is necessary to fulfill today’s consumer requirements.

McLaughlin: This one area of being a small business ourselves is the key to success in this sector. Even the largest mega dealers in our channel only classify as a medium business. There is a reason that every single enterprise organization that has attempted to support this market has failed. Quick response involvement by the executive level and knowing that you may run into your customer at the supermarket is all you need to know — you don’t want to be ducking down another aisle because you’re too ashamed to face them. Treat your customers the way you want to be treated, and you’ll shine in this space. Keep bureaucracy out of your business and trust your people to do the right thing.

What do SMB clients consider their top priority in terms of office technology?

Butler: Security, productivity, and finding a partner that is easy to do business with.

Lewis: The ability to move from an office-centric workplace to a WFH environment.  Pursuing this model could eventually lower operating costs for the SMB while not sacrificing productivity. What many business owners wondered about prior to the pandemic became a reality over the past 15 months, and many SMBs have maintained or grown business within newly adopted WFH settings. Having cloud-based solutions available to collaborate in this model is essential — if not for collaborating with your own employees, to communicate with your customers.

McLaughlin: They are interested in things that will improve their productivity and simplify processes, but the top three priorities are security, security, and flexibility, in that order. The security breaches have increased more along the lines of orders of magnitude than percentages. SMBs have been impacted exponentially harder than enterprise organizations. Exacerbating the problem is the “working at home” movement. The SMB has a double challenge — either bring the workers back into the office or fix how to achieve security standards in a remote workplace. Opportunity?  

Brad Roderick: Honestly, I have spoken with many SMB owners and leaders, and guess what isn’t at the top of their priority list? Office technology! What is at the top of their list? Attracting and retaining employees, inflation, supply chain issues, material and operational planning, managing remote workers, current business models, keeping the business from consuming me (work/life balance), attracting new customers cost-effectively, changing demand for products/services … and the list goes on. It’s a long, long time before anybody brings up office technology. It is not that office technology is not important; it’s that SMB is talking about other things. Keep in mind the adage: sell them what they want, deliver what they need (to accomplish their wants). Office tech helps provide part of the solution. Remote worker packages that are easy to use and immediately connect (increase job satisfaction). Access to great virtual training programs where employees can advance their skills and personal development. Hint: personal development ranks higher in employee attraction and retention than money. The office tech needs will vary by type of SMB but think in terms of “bundled, easy to use, great experience, automation, workflow, data access.” Personally, I would be designing packages for remote sales and sales support and the accompanying training — prove it with my team and then take it to the market. 

Where can an SMB save money with office technology?

Butler: Saving money assumes you have no value to offer other than what the client already has at a lower spend to create a finite and limited value. You actually impair the client and do nothing to help them transform their business. Successful organizations listen and understand a clients business plan to enable them with a technology strategy to help them grow their business.

Clearman: Today’s technology offers a lot of similar features for both larger and smaller organizations – it’s simply scaled down for the SMB. For instance, an SMB organization may need to print the same types of materials as a large enterprise, but in smaller runs. For this, a smaller, less expensive device can create prints of the same high quality but at a price point that’s affordable.

Roderick: “Process,” plain and simple. What process or system can be put into place to reduce steps, ambiguity, and waste? That’s the actual question being asked. It’s not about the solution (managed, print, seat-based this/that/the other, workflow, etc.), it’s about how the organization can remove non-value-added (no value to the customer) waste. SMBs understand that wasted time, whether searching for a document, spending hours on a tech support call or simply manually doing tasks that could be automated, is costing money, time, and lost opportunities.

What would you say are the top IT challenges facing the SMB customer?

Butler: Every business wants their data to be confidential, have integrity, and be accessible. However, most SMB clients are unaware about how deep the solution needs to be to enable all three. 

Roderick: At the top has to be security, especially in light of the “remote worker migration.” But right below that is providing the connectivity tools needed to run the business. Connections in terms of information (remote), personnel (team members workflow and interactions), and customers (meetings, problem-solving, conversations, etc.). This is such a big and important topic. The IT team may be in charge of deciding who gets what equipment at home, ensuring it’s working and secure, but who owns the employee experience? IT? Probably not a great idea. Think about the remote employee the same way you would a customer. Are they thrilled with the experience? They may not be able to unsubscribe from the service, but they can easily disengage. 

What are some challenges the SMB faces when it comes to digital transformation that the large enterprise doesn’t, and how can they overcome them?

Butler: My view of the world is that enterprise is the one behind the eight ball. Enterprise will typically have more requirements. Enterprise typically spans time zones, language barriers, acquisition absorption, have a more complicated buying process, and may be averse to cutting edge innovative partners and business models. SMB can be nimble, have a clear buying process, can react faster. SMB is likely to have a transparent ROI and are more likely to embrace new ways to acquire and manage technology.

Clearman: Transforming existing processes is difficult, and it becomes more so when there is employee resistance – and there is always resistance to change, no matter the size of the business. SMBs have a harder time of it because they don’t always have the resources, budgets and infrastructure that large enterprises do. But cloud solutions, SaaS and other similar solutions allow the SMB to access some of those same resources at scale, giving them access to the same tools larger enterprises have at a more manageable cost.

Roderick: I’ve had the great fortune to sell into SMB and enterprise and to be part of SMB and enterprise organizations, so I tend to look not at what one has and the other doesn’t, but at what I am blessed with (whether SMB or enterprise) and the other isn’t. The grass is always greenest on whichever side of the fence I happen to be standing on. SMB can move, pivot, test, and revise far faster than enterprise. My two comments for SMB are 1) Create a transformation strategy that is in line with the overall vision of the company, and 2) find others who have made the transformation that you want to make. Don’t try to do it alone or with the help of “vendor partners” only. 

What advice would you give an SMB entrepreneur in today’s business environment?

Butler: Look for vendors who start the conversation with ”How can I help?” and stay clear of vendors who start with “Here is how I can help.”

Lewis: Be willing to diversify, yet at the same time, strive for excellence in what is deemed as a core competency.  Continue to look at new ways to innovate your business through services, solutions and technology. Don’t be afraid to look at new ways to redefine your business and take calculated risks.

McLaughlin: Don’t fall victim to bureaucracy. The thing that makes the SMB so vital is that they know what their “why” is. They know what they bring to the market, and they stay focused on that value. The issues that have arisen over the last year will challenge you to “firm up” your operation. Better processes are needed, but the biggest mistake a small company can make is to imitate the enterprise-class companies. Stay nimble, stay focused and remain responsive; do it with sound checks and balances. Keep your “why.” This nightmare we are waking from could be just the best thing that ever happened.

Roderick: Stay positive! Network with positive people. Hire positive people. There’s already enough negativity, fear, and dread in the world; shine a bright light. Working within an SMB entrepreneurial organization, I speak from the experience of having made several transitions and pivots over the years. Some worked out better than others, but each has taught us how to continually look for opportunities to serve more people at a deeper level. It’s been said that salespeople are rewarded for the value they create, and that’s true for the organization. The greater the value, the greater the rewards. What new value can I create today?