channel chat2018For as many differences as there are between the SMB customer and the large enterprise, there are just as many similarities. Ultimately, the SMB can be a lucrative resource; it’s just a matter of knowing how to sell. We asked our panel of experts for some tips.

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

Hedy Belttary: One way that I have seen SMBs differ from [our] enterprise customers is that they have to think outside the box in order to get ahead in very competitive environments. As a result, they embrace technologies that support their innovative ideas and enable them to make those ideas into reality, faster. The SMB market is a great place for technology companies to focus on for those reasons, as well as the fact they make up a considerable portion of our economy.

Jim D’Emidio: We’re somewhat unique in the sense we’ve worked exclusively with SMBs over the past several decades. We don’t have a direct sales force so we’ve had to live and die by our dealers, many of whom fall into the SMB category. We need dealers more than they need us, which means we have to be the easiest company to do business with. I’ve always told my team we need to be a flexible organization who isn’t afraid to do the right thing for our dealers. That strategy has worked well and is part of the reason why we’ve been able to survive through these tough times.

James Foxall: Most SMB executives are very busy working IN their business, and seldom find the time to work ON their business. Also, most SMB owners have had to learn as they go, so they often lack the business experience of their larger counterparts. That means they can get constrained by invisible barriers because they don’t know any better. On the other side of the equation, they are often very smart, hardworking people that are willing to push boundaries and forge new trails. 

Victoria Hensley: Their operational problems hurt them worse and they recover more slowly than big companies when inefficiencies arise. Because of their size and infrastructure limitations, the results of those unattended issues, or even newly arising issues, can impact them much more severely. We have found that helping them to fix those issues usually means winning a long-term customer.

Ed McLaughlin: The most important lesson is that the basics are more important when dealing with a small company. The need to dig deeply into the problems facing each account will be varied, and the understanding of the problems they face will have an impact on their ability to compete. There is less room for error than in enterprise. SMB customers are closer to their mission than their enterprise counterparts. They usually cannot afford the staff and resources that exist in the enterprise. For that reason, they are more focused on the details of their business and are less likely to be up to date on emerging or developing technologies. When working with them, it is important to learn as much about their business as possible so that you can help them realize process improvement. If you are providing services rather than a product you will likely be helping them focus on their core business, so you need to understand how your service enables them to improve the support to the customer. In-depth knowledge of your product or service and the value you bring is critical. With the SMB, decisions are higher up in the organization. When dealing with a small business, it is not uncommon that the president may be the one that makes the decision. Don’t be afraid to start high.

Joe Reeves: One of the most important lessons we have learned [from a technology perspective] from working with SMBs is that offering backup and recovery services is not enough. Business continuity, creating a mirror image of your server, is a necessity. If a server fails, it’s a matter of minutes before its replacement can be brought online. Creating a virtual machine is the same as the original hardware, ready to use within minutes. Typically, you have a combination of on-site and off-site backup and storage. In the event of a national disaster or fire, business continuity provides a level above and beyond your typical backup and restore process.

What trends are you seeing with SMB customers?

Belttary: SMBs are looking for ways to streamline operations to become more productive and profitable. The internet is allowing SMBs to run their operations in a very different way than they have before by allowing them to compete at a global level. These are very exciting times for this group.

D’Emidio: The biggest trend we’re seeing in manufacturing is companies are insourcing as much as possible. This is especially true in labels and packaging. Today, manufacturers are starting to see the benefits of in-house label production like increased flexibility and reduced cost.

Hensley: Automation of anything possible. This is probably the No. 1 need across many environments, from document processing to the development of products, to marketing in more channels — and the cause of this issue is really resource management. Due to a smaller footprint than their larger competitors, they look at automation for what it is — the great equalizer when competing against giants. They can take their current resources and, through automation tools, achieve their goals more efficiently and more profitably with fewer resources. After automation, we have seen the cloud … as the next largest topic or trend that the SMB is exploring.

Reeves: Trends that we are seeing with SMB customers are their ability to leverage technology applications and services that in the past was only for enterprise businesses. An example is collaboration and video platforms. With the price of these platforms decreasing, SMBs can now provide enterprise-level sales and support through video conferencing at a much lower cost than in the past. Another hot trend is security. As SMBs bring in more connected devices to their offices, the concern for security is growing. Implementing a security initiative and evaluating it regularly is important. As a managed network services provider, we alleviate any concerns about vulnerabilities from connected devices by strategically placing wireless access points outside the network, lock down user access and authenticate everywhere possible.

Are there any unique challenges when it comes to selling to the SMB?

D’Emidio: We view these challenges as opportunities. Our biggest challenge is the fact that not many of our dealers have ever called on businesses with label products. But the opportunities are the same. Labels and packaging are in growth mode; however, our dealers are just getting their heads around this new technology and how it can help grow their business.

Foxall: One of the key things to always remember when working with the SMB is that they are people, with real lives, and often they have everything invested into their company’s success. That means there is often a lot of fear about making major purchasing decisions – especially if those decisions might be disruptive to their organization. Many SMBs also struggle with cash flow, so keeping startup costs low and billing them monthly often yields better results than asking for a large purchase upfront.

Hensley: Providing financially viable products that perform the same functions the big companies get, but on a smaller scale. Also, because of the lack of resources sometimes encountered, it can take surprisingly longer than expected to implement because of the SMB’s internal need for their staff to multitask.

McLaughlin: In many ways selling to the SMB market is easier than to the enterprise organizations; generally, they are a local business and so is the dealer. Large national organizations have difficulty getting to the SMB, as it is difficult to get the resources to adequately reach the market, but local dealers are more suited to support local business. [But] the local dealer can find themselves challenged to provide all the support that these companies need at a cost that is effective for the small business. This is where local dealers need to evaluate the partners they work within the services area to make sure they are providing the level of support that can only come with scale.

Reeves: One unique challenge we face when selling to SMBs is the ability to make them understand the importance of planning and budgeting for all office technology. Usually you are dealing with the business owner, as opposed to a dedicated IT professional or purchasing agent, who only has general knowledge of their technology needs. Whether it’s an MFP, phone system, network solution or backup device, budgeting for hardware and support is essential for any SMB. Cost can vary per solution, and business owners might not understand the complexity and the overall cost. It’s important to evaluate, communicate and educate those key decision makers. They will appreciate the time and energy you spend with them, and you will eventually earn their trust.

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

Belttary: SMB clients are big advocates of technologies working together to create the total solution. Any unnecessary redundancies in human labor to facilitate the technologies cuts into their workforce, productivity and bottom line.

Hensley: We deal with a variety of companies, so it may be a little different from what some others see. Years ago it used to be that the computers, copiers, printers and scanners were the main priorities as office equipment. It amounted to a little bit of input/content creation and a massive amount of output. Today, it is turning virtually upside down. The computers are still the mainstay, along with portable tablets and phones as the content creation devices. This is all leading to a gradual decline in the need for larger copiers and printers for output. Scanners are still prevalent, but only to convert paper to useful electronically stored business information, like a one-way ticket to the cloud.

Where can an SMB save money with office technology?

Belttary: There are a variety of ways that technology licensing is being offered, allowing SMBs to make the best use of their investments. One great example is the subscription-based licensing of software, hardware and services that are widely available. This allows SMBs to adopt state-of-the-art technologies to help run their operations with a lower point of entry and minimal commitment if that is a point of contention.

Foxall: Controlling costs (through things like page management technology) or increasing efficiencies (through office automation using business automation software) are key areas where an SMB can save money/make money with office technology. This often takes an investment in time and money to get going, but then continues to pay back the SMB through the lifetime of the technology.

Hensley: It does depend on the type of business, but overall, money can be saved in a number of places. From an output standpoint, MPS is still out there and doing well, although changing with new models. That helps with the cost of printing when you have the need. Other cost savings are things like cloud-based storage and document management. With the all the business process automation capabilities proper storage and management solutions can bring, let alone the ability to access them from anywhere, time and IT resource savings can mount up quickly. Finally, companies should look at the document processing automation offerings out there. For instance, simply automating your document indexing by converting it to a hands-free process can save a ton of time and money, while allowing employees to return to performing more important duties within the company. With hours (or days) worth of labor regularly being saved, these types of solutions basically pay for themselves, but the dollars and efficiencies multiply fairly quickly.

Reeves: SMBs can save money with office technology by outsourcing to a managed services provider. Dedicating multiple personnel to different technology platforms is expensive. If SMBs outsource all their IT to a single managed service provider, the cost savings could be sufficient; salary, benefits, car allowance, cellphone, credentials and more. By leveraging a single MSP they will have access to multiple experts for VoIP phones, document management, security, content development and desktop support. If SMBs utilize a managed services provider in conjunction with their IT department, there is still an adequate savings by having less staff on payroll. A managed services provider can assist with small, tedious tasks such as resolving printer connectivity issues, third-party software problems, business phone configurations, virus software and more.

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

Hensley: To outsource or not to outsource. With trying to “do it all” and not only build, but support, whatever they actually do for a living, SMBs run across this challenge quite often. One reason this is an issue is security. Some security story appears in about every news organization at least once a month, so this is obviously a big issue for both large and smaller companies. Finally, an SMB quite often overloads their resources for projects and normal day-to-day responsibilities. Having to manage resources tighter than their larger competitors can also be extremely taxing on an SMB and therefore force an outsourcing conversation.

McLaughlin: There are very few IT departments in the SMB environment. Most small organizations have a person or two that handles the IT requirements. But the IT world is changing faster than ever before. The hardware is stable as we have pushed the principles of Moore’s Law, but software and analytical capabilities are exploding with possibilities. It’s more than one person can keep up with, but without the benefit of these developments, companies can lose their competitive edge. The upside for the SMB world is that when confronted with the facts and benefits they can act quickly to implement these opportunities. Enterprise organizations are lethargic in comparison.

Network security is perhaps the area of greatest vulnerability for the SMB customer. The absence of technical staff means that their exposure to the very high-end security product is likely not there. They are limited to the standard packages offered by the network carriers, which are too general to be really effective. They need access to the more advanced systems. Their need in this area is every bit as critical as is the enterprise and actually maybe more critical. Many SMBs feel that they are somehow less a target but actually, they are a higher target for the very reason that they are less protected. Where there is vulnerability there is opportunity.

Reeves: The biggest IT challenge facing SMB customers today is without a doubt network security. It’s imperative that SMBs adopt a plan to monitor all types of network security: access control, anti-virus and anti-malware software, backup and disaster recovery, software applications, printers, copiers, email, firewalls, mobile devices, web security, wireless access points, desktops, laptops, remote access (VPN) and more! In addition to adopting a security initiative, SMBs need to budget and create a long-term plan: desktop and laptop additions and replacements, firewall and server upgrades, new versions of software applications and additional user licenses, cables and wiring, professional services for installation, and so on. A rule of thumb is replacing desktops at the manufacturer’s warranty expiration date.

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

Belttary: Probably the biggest challenge that SMBs face when it comes to digital transformation is a clear and actionable allocation of internal resources. Without a solid plan in place, employees struggle to work toward the bigger picture because they are unable to visualize where they are today, where they need to be and how they are going to get there. This, however, can be addressed through outsourcing the experts who would conduct the analysis.

Hensley: The cost of the tools typically available to big business has not necessarily scaled downward. SMBs are therefore at a disadvantage due to lower budgets and strained resources. To combat this, SMBs need to employ a strategy of intertwining multiple solutions we have described. For instance, deploy an MPS strategy to lower the cost and volume of printing output. Push those savings into a cloud-based document management system, equipped with an automated document ingestion engine for automated indexing and filing. These solutions, when put together, will allow for massive savings and speed of getting information where it is needed for quicker business decisions. Plus, when done correctly, they should help pay for themselves and keep operating costs low, even during growth.

McLaughlin: This is where the lack of staff and support personnel can be a detriment to the SMB companies. Enterprise companies have full-time staff whose job is to evaluate and analyze emerging and developing technology trends. They know what is coming and how it fits into their existing systems or what changes they will have to make to accommodate new solutions to problems. They also have the resources to plan and implement them with minimum disruption. However, the SMB is capable of moving with a much greater agility and speed than the large enterprise organizations, and this can offset not only the visibility, but could become an advantage over the bigger organizations if they are provided with the right information in a way that enables them to grasp the importance to their mission. The advantage, generally speaking, is there are no committees to reconcile the opinions. Management instead just makes a decision and they go. The best part is those small companies can make mistakes, correct them and adjust course. Large organizations adjust errors even more slowly than their smaller brothers, compounding the cost of missteps. I really think that with the speed of change in digital transformation and the speed of implementation, the advantage goes to the smaller, quicker and more agile SMB player. Partnering with the right provider that really understands the issues and paths to solutions is key.

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

Foxall: Get help! I recommend joining a peer group of some sort and learning from others’ mistakes rather than making your own. In my case, I joined Entrepreneurs’ Organization and got into a peer forum – probably the smartest thing I ever did. I was able to realize that my problems were not unique, and that many other bright and capable people have fought my challenges with mixed results. Not feeling alone and being able to learn from others has elevated my business. In addition, never settle for the status quo and always be looking at how you can improve your business. Do your best to be part of a group where you surround yourself with people smarter than you are. This means peer groups, but it also applies to hiring – as a leader you never want to be the smartest person in the room on all topics.

Hensley: Build your infrastructure before you need it and growth comes much easier. Making the investment early may seem risky, but it’s not. Growing fast and not being able to support it is the real killer. You want your company to be able to respond and not panic and have to wing it in times of growth. When you have made the investment in the foundation, you will be much better off.

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of The Imaging Channel.