Small and medium businesses want leadership from their ICT providers
As business technology and cloud adoption reach dizzying speeds, small and medium businesses (SMBs) want their communications and network vendors to be their ‘trusted advisors’. How do vendors reach this influential position? We discuss tactics with experts from across Australian ICT:
IDC research’s Sabhari Bala,
Stuart Dickinson from DXC Oxygen, DXC Technology’s SAP Solutions Practice consultancy,
Glenn Flower from Telstra Wholesale and
Ashleigh Watt from Encoo.
Small and medium-sized businesses are embracing digital technologies like never before. It is a time of great opportunity for IT service providers, and as SMB IT buyers become more sophisticated, they are re-evaluating what they want from their vendors, demanding more from their technology.
Small and medium-sized businesses are embracing digital technologies like never before.
According to research company IDC, two-thirds of SMBs are frustrated with the lack of service providers’ strategic advice to support their IT sustainability. “The tactical approach that most service providers take might be good enough to tackle today’s challenges, but it doesn’t help in building the foundation to take advantage of disrupting new technologies,” said Sabhari Bala, senior research manager with IDC's Australia Research Group.
How can service providers move beyond tactical, transactional relationships to become the trusted, strategic partner that their customers crave? Our panel suggested five top tips.
1. Understand your customer’s overall business objectives
“Vendors should be having a 360-degree conversation with their customers about business problems, not just IT problems,” Glenn Flower of Telstra Wholesale said. “That requires getting involved with the customer earlier, before they decide on solutions and it becomes a question of who they pick to fulfil the requirements.”
Ashleigh Watt, Director of network solutions provider Encoo, agreed. Service providers that want to co-create solutions with their customers need to be prepared to spend more time and energy than they would in typical RFP processes, but the rewards are there, said Ashleigh.
“Our customers are now looking for a broader range of solutions in response to their business requirements than just connectivity. Even if it’s a single site, they want voice, security, and additional services rather than just a 100mb link. We have to help them decide what’s best for their business,” Ashleigh said. “When we have that deeper level of engagement with our customers, it adds anything up to a month onto the sales process, but we are delivering a solution that both parties know will satisfy the customer’s specific demands.”
2. Flex your expertise
IDC’s research suggests that less than 10% of SMBs currently have in-house resources to take care of their network related needs. “SMBs, especially the small businesses and even several mid-sized firms, lack the technical prowess and resources to take care of their network related services and even their general complex IT needs,” Sabhari Bala explained.
One challenge for procurers is the vast selection of providers and service from which to choose from. As Ashleigh of Encoo says, there are lots of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings out there.
“Customers understand the high level of what they want to achieve but not the fine detail because the pace of change in SaaS and IaaS is relentless. Good partners glue all these components together for their customers. But if those partners aren’t capable, then it can go horribly wrong for the end customer with soaring costs, timeframes blowing out and applications falling over,” he said.
Stuart Dickinson Director and General Manager for DXC Oxygen, DXC Technology’s SAP Solutions Practice Consultancy , says: “With all the choice out there, there is a risk that organisations get stuck in technology, cul de sacs from which it’s costly and time-consuming to get out of.” It is here that partners can prove the value of their experience and expertise gained from seeing what has worked, and what hasn’t for others.
3. Simplify your customer’s experience
Stuart Dickinson says that IT buyers and users want a straightforward experience. “They don’t just want a piece of hardware anymore. They want the problem to go away,” he said. “The trend in the mid-market is moving towards valuing quality over cost but price is still a very important part of the equation. Providers have to prove value they are adding to customer experience and through their systems because their customers are asking ‘Is it a really easy company to do business with?’”
Ashleigh says that digital tools and automation of network ordering and service provision is another value-add to make the experience as easy as possible for customers and channel partners. Glenn agrees: “At Telstra Wholesale we are on a digitisation journey to make our systems and processes as simple as we can, so that our customers can pass on those benefits to their end-customers and users.”
4. Be transparent
For Encoo, transparency is vital to delivering a simple, easy experience for their customers. “We empower our channel partners with a lot of information. We have a portal so resellers can see the end-customer's network in real time. We give channel partners access to the same reporting tools we use internally,” Ashleigh said.
5. Explain what others are doing and why
“Don’t overlook the importance of understanding, and explaining, what is happening in your customers’ market,” Stuart Dickinson advises. “SMB leaders are aspirational in their system requirements. They really want to understand what other people in their industry are doing and learn about what makes best practice in their sector.”
In order to get ahead of the pack, Stuart suggests looking at what is happening at the start up level. “These are the SMB companies of the future and one to watch for their savviness and technology ideas which will no doubt be the driving force moving forward.”