I'm Not Alone In Challenging These Misguided Forays Into Small Business

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CRN launches a new supplement in this issue called "Selling Small Business," a subject that has always been near and dear to my heart and those of a huge number of solution providers and vendors.

Over the years, I've written hundreds of columns about why the channel is so dominant in small-business technology solutions, and why so many vendors fail when trying to target small businesses. I've seen so many vendors make the same mistakes over and over in this market that I sometimes wonder if there is anyone else out there that looks at it the way I do.

ROBERT FALETRA Can be reached at (5160 562-7812 or via e-mail at rfaletra@cmp.com.

Recently, I spent a little time trying to determine just that. Within 10 minutes, I came across a Gartner analyst research note titled "Seven Big Mistakes Vendors Make When Targeting SMBs." After reading the note, I couldn't agree more with Gartner's Mika Yamamoto Krammer and Ted Kempf. The main reason I think these analysts hit it on the head, of course, is because they see things the way I do. If they didn't, I'd be calling them a couple of idiots. It comes with the privilege of having a weekly column in which one can say anything he damn well pleases.

These two analysts clearly have much more to say than they were able to pen in a three-page note. But here is their list of mistakes, along with my own commentary:

Mistake No. 1: "Offering Tweaked Large-Business and Consumer Solutions"

This is one of the most common mistakes made by vendors. Microsoft has done this on more than one occasion by stripping functionality out of an enterprise product and repackaging it as a small-business solution. Microsoft is not alone in taking this ill-conceived approach. Most vendors can't get it in their heads that the needs of small businesses are unique.

Mistake No. 2: "One-Size-Fits-All Offerings: Selling Vanilla IT Products To The Entire SMB Market Rarely Results In Much Traction"

Correct once again. Small businesses require a much more customized approach. Let's face it: The small-business market is not a vertical, although there are many verticals in the segment.

'Vendors think brands are stronger than the relationship between solution provider and customer. They're not . . . the only vendors who will be successful in selling to small businesses over the long term are those that work the channel.'

Mistake No. 3: "Selling Technology Solutions vs. Business Solutions"

They couldn't be more right. There are so many vendors that think technology is "way cool" and market it that way. Small businesses don't give a damn about technology. They only care about solving their business problems. The channel is key because it helps these businesses do just that.

Mistake No. 4: "Weak Channel Strategy"

I'm starting to think these two analysts are geniuses. Vendors think brands are stronger than the relationship between the solution provider and the customer. They're not. The only vendors that will be successful selling to small businesses over the long term are those that work with the channel.

Mistake No. 5: "Competing On Price Alone"

Sure, small businesses are generally more strapped for cash than their larger counterparts, but while price is important, it isn't their only consideration. And as the Gartner analysts point out, razor-thin margins make for unhappy channel partners.

Mistake No. 6: "Selling Distinct Individual Products vs. Integrated Solutions" Krammer and Kempf are correct again. Small businesses don't buy technology, they buy problem-solving solutions.

Mistake No. 7: "Perceived Lack Of Commitment"

They hit it on the head. Many vendors focus on small businesses only when the enterprise market is soft, and they don't really have a long-term goal for the small-business segment.

Maybe these analysts are geniuses.

Make something happen. I can be reached at (516) 562-7812 or via e-mail at rfaletra@cmp.com.

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