How the Cloud and SaaS Can Help the SMB Run Like the Enterprise

Everybody wants to land a whale. And why not? Since today’s technology is much more easily demonstrated than explained, it makes it even easier to land a big sale with an enterprise customer. Based on the centralized, hierarchical structure of larger businesses, it can be much easier to demonstrate the power of groundbreaking technology and impress a single customer; whereas with SMBs, you often have to put in much more time and legwork to match the volume of your larger clients (and many times they are not the type to spring for the bleeding edge). If the sum of all of your accounts with 10 small businesses equals the same as the revenue you collect from a single, large account — and it takes a relatively shorter time to make the sale to your larger customer — then why would you even bother with the little guys?

Part of the answer is simple: there are not enough whales to go around for everyone. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), fewer than 1 percent of all businesses hire over 500 people. In other words, very few dealers could survive in a world where they neglect SMBs.

Besides, interesting developments in recent years — namely huge advances in technology — have shifted the marketplace. Unlike in the past, small businesses suddenly have access to powerful, cutting-edge technology. And the way that technology is sold plays right into the SMBs wheelhouse.

The SMB Wants to Grow

According to the SBA’s Small Business Profile, nonfarm small businesses account for nearly half of the GDP, employ 48 percent of the workforce (56.8 million people), and are poised for growth. The organization’s findings show that small businesses make up a sizable chunk of borrowers, with “bank loans going to small businesses total[ing] almost $600 billion in 2015.” The SBA cites expansion as one of four principal reasons for why these businesses are borrowing. Job numbers at small businesses also point toward growth, with small businesses in the U.S. adding 66 percent of all net new hires over the last four decades, including an additional 1.1 million in 2012.

These businesses desperately want to grow, but they need a helping hand to overcome their larger competitors.

The Cloud and SaaS: Bringing the Enterprise to the SMB

Not so long ago, cost barriers and the lack of IT resources made it difficult for smaller businesses to experience the benefits of the technology that their larger competitors could afford. For one, many small businesses lacked the IT know-how, or flat out didn’t have an IT department altogether. And even for those who did have the right people in place, taking on the cost of an enterprise-grade solution was too big of a risk that smaller businesses simply couldn’t take.

As an example, it was not so long ago that deploying document management systems or workflow solutions could come with a hefty price tag, and that’s just for licenses and support. When you factored in the other costs — like purchasing servers and other equipment to run the new system, training workers to use the new system and hiring IT workers to deploy and maintain the solution — SMBs were simply priced out of the market. Without access to cutting-edge technology, smaller businesses had a tough time keeping up with their larger competitors.

But as software development continued to mature, we saw prices come down significantly. And when advances in cloud computing gave way to the rise of SaaS (or anything as a service, really), most of the labor requirements and upfront costs traditionally prohibiting SMBs from realistically implementing enterprise-grade systems were no longer an issue.

Why SaaS?

Currently, there is healthy growth in both cloud computing and the SaaS markets, particularly among the SMB segment, which is promising for dealers that want to diversify their portfolio by jumping into the managed services industry. According to Forbes contributor Louis Columbus, cloud computing will grow from a $67 billion industry in 2015 to a $162 billion one by 2020 — a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19 percent with “cloud services adoption increasing in the mid-tier and small and medium businesses (SMB).” Columbus also notes that “Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is projected to grow 36.8 percent in 2017 and reach $34.6 billion” and that “Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is expected to increase 20.1 percent, reaching 46.3 billion in 2017.” Clearly, the potential to make money is there, and providing SaaS-styled document management, workflow automation and other cloud-based services would be an excellent way to tap into that market.

Because small businesses prefer to stay nimble, offering them the best of both worlds is enticing: technology that can help them compete while not tying them down to a long-term, costly investment. Do this and you’ll notice a lot of interest. With SaaS deployments, SMBs can skirt costly upfront payments, avoid lengthy deployment times (which would be unattractive, as they would prefer the shortest ROI possible), pay as they go, and can usually decide what features and functionalities they want to purchase and add or subtract licenses as needed.

Be a Tailor

Instead of rolling out costly server-based document management and workflow solutions, many small businesses are deploying relatively inexpensive, MFP-embedded applications. These devices can be tailored to meet specific business needs. And since many SMBs have limited IT resources, they’ll need some help programming workflows and connecting the device with the necessary applications, databases and cloud services.

Dealers could grow this area of business rapidly if they have coders and developers on their teams. The latest and greatest technology is incredibly powerful, and having folks on staff who can harness and leverage that power as a way to help your customers’ businesses thrive can add even greater value to your business.

This is especially true for those in the managed services industry, given their customers’ presumed lack of IT know-how. Coders and programmers can be key for increasing revenues by creating and merging workflows across the customer’s network and cloud services, or optimizing other business processes. For example, let’s say you have an SMB customer that still onboards customers into their CRM manually. With a good programmer on staff, you can approach that customer and say, “I can link your CRM to your website, or put tablets in your storefront that feed directly into your CRM system, so you can onboard customers faster while using fewer resources.” The ability to walk into your customer’s office and say “I can solve your problems” is a great way to get new business and retain it for years to come.

Final Thoughts

Small businesses want to grow, and they want to stay nimble and responsive to their rapidly changing environment. According to the SBA, they’ve got a ton of borrowed capital they plan on spending on growth. And with the cloud computing industry and SaaS models undergoing rapid growth, plus an uptick in SMBs adopting more advanced technologies, there is a great opportunity for dealers to expand their operations to include managed services and SaaS options.

Ultimately, the name of the game is stickiness. And as we see the emphasis on printing and copying shift to scanning and paperless solutions, speeds and feeds and the lowest cost per page are not necessarily the most important factors that your SMB customers are considering. In other words, you’ll need to find something to keep them around,  — you might as well get in as close to the ground floor as possible.

Today, small businesses can come out swinging with the same technology as a Fortune 500 company. And for dealers, there is a lucrative opportunity to attract new customers and keep them coming back. You need to give them something more than affordable copiers and low-cost consumables, and by acting as a gatekeeper to enterprise-grade document management and workflow solutions, and providing services to help your customers get the absolute most out of these systems, you’ll have found yourself seeing more and more repeat business.