What Do SMBs Need?

Being as fully immersed as I am in the world of Unified Communications, it’s sometimes easy for me to forget that there are still many businesses (and I’m looking mostly at SMBs here) out there that are still using legacy phone systems — and they’re perfectly happy to do so. They might not even be aware of how drastically the telecom landscape is changing, or how much money they can save by switching over to VoIP and IP communications.

Do you think part of the problem might be that vendors tend to assume SMBs have the same requirements that large enterprises have? So they try selling SMBs the wrong thing, and end up scaring them off? Of course, that would be the wrong step for vendors; it would behoove them to understand SMB requirements intimately, and make hand-tailored VoIP and IP offerings to them. Sounds like a better move, doesn’t it?

SMBs need more than simply a phone system. SMBs need low-cost communication solutions, and the vendors can provide that for them. It’s a huge market, largely untapped — but the challenge is leading that proverbial horse to water so he can drink.

Of course, since I come from the SMB world, I’m painfully aware that IT resources are limited. Simple everyday challenges of keeping the business going make it difficult to keep up with trends in technology. For business leaders and others, it’s enough to know that the telephony system is doing its job; that’s all they want to know. They’d rather concern themselves with more pressing business issues.

But the IT people like me, and I’m sure the IT vendors would love nothing more than to talk to the SMB decision-makers for a few minutes and figure out exactly what ‘doing its job’ means for them. If they say something along the lines of ‘getting us a reliable dial tone at a low cost,’ then we know where that telephony bar has been set.

That’s a pretty low bar, of course. Gladly, it doesn’t speak for all SMBs. When I’m seeking to drive adoption of UC in this market, I’ve found that it’s critical to focus on the right sort of SMBs. There are the SMBs that are still in start-up mode, and there are those that are in growth mode. For the latter, technology has good strategic business value. They will be wanting to leverage it against their larger competitors, as a way to level the playing field. These are the SMBs that will really benefit from UC.

I know from my SMB experience that they can use every type of competitive advantage they can get. For some reason, though, they don’t tend to view communications in this fashion. VoIP is a great way to lower telecom costs, sure, but you and I know that it’s so much more than that. A business that insists on thinking of VoIP as a simple cost-cutter is still falling behind, and therefore not a good choice for UC. In time they might be, but not now.

Hopefully you at least can see that there’s more to communications than VoIP. Hopefully you can see that UC can do more for your business than a legacy phone system ever could. If you extend this a bit, it should also suggest to you that you no longer define your communication needs completely around a single phone system.

UC providers considering how to take on the SMB market with UC — the crucial takeaway from this article is to remember that this is not a homogeneous group. In order to build a customer base, you’ll have to research the right kind of SMBs — as I outlined above — since they will be more amenable to your proposals than those with a money-saving, start-up mentality.