Want To Win In SMB? Free Up Business Owners' Time


That was the advice of Carol Modell, vice president of sales and co-partner at A&R, a maker of figure skating and hockey accessories, that is partnered with solution provider Powersolution.com., Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.

"I was the in-house IT person and that was by default," said Modell, whose husband, Ira, is the president of A&R, Ridgefield, N.J. "Whatever I was spending with Dave's [David Dadian, CEO of Powersolution.com] company freed up my time. And my time is invaluable." Modell said that precious time is critical in being able to focus more on strategic issues and growing a small business.

Modell was one of the participants in "Selling Into The SMB" Virtual Trade Show panel session on Wednesday hosted by Everything Channel Senior Vice President/Editorial Director Robert DeMarzo.

Modell said there are several stages small businesses go through before they finally realize they are being dragged down by focusing on IT rather than the business. "I know how to create the perfect terry cloth blade cover," she said. "I don't know IT."

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Modell said the biggest challenge facing solution providers selling into the SMB market is "reaching customers like myself with the 'Martha Stewart' model of explaining to me something I need that I didn't know exists."

"When you are reaching out to small businesses you have to realize they don't know what you do," she said. "You speak in alphabet soup letters. Explain to me what you can do in terms of saving me time and I may be willing to give up money for it. In the beginning, I didn't even know folks like you existed. It is that rudimentary. The basic businessperson in business for five to 10 years doesn't understand the value you VARs have."

Modell also advised VARs to establish a solid personal relationship with small businesses by selling yourself. She credited Powersolution.com's Dadian with establishing a "gold standard of how a company" should treat customers. "He doesn't dumb things down," she said. "He has raised my level of IT intelligence and made it easier for me to be a good partner with him."

Modell said the current economy has her "putting some projects on hold" that she hopes to move forward with next year. "We expect to continue to grow, but not at the same pace," she said.

Solution providers on the panel said they are focusing on cost savings and selling pieces of a solution rather than a complete end-to-end solution in the current economic climate.

Dadian, for his part, said he is focusing squarely on "cost containment" with SMB customers. "Upgrades are being put on hold," he said. "We're working with clients to make sure their existing infrastructure is capable of getting them where they need to be."

Skip Tappen, executive vice president of NWN Corp., Waltham, Mass., No. 1 on CRN's 2008 Fast Growth list, said one of the keys to thriving in the current economic environment is to focus on "fundamentals."

"Customers are still moving forward, but they are moving forward cautiously," he said.

Tappen, like the other VAR participants on the panel, said NWN is winning SMB customers with its managed services offering. "We can maintain that infrastructure more efficiently and leverage resources across multiple customers," he said.

Ronnie Parisella, chief technology officer of Primary Support, a Microsoft and SonicWall Gold partner based in New York, said the economy is making his job tougher.

"Everybody is feeling the economic crunch," he said. "There are longer lead times on payments. Projects are being delayed and customers are trimming back their purchases." For one thing, he said, customers are backing off robust hardware purchases and pulling back on software licensing commitments of three years in favor of one- or two-year deals or even less than a year.

Parisella said Primary Support's managed services offering is also resonating with customers. "It's really all about giving us the reins and trust to take care of the infrastructure," he said. Oftentimes, customers struggle with dealing with issues such as software licensing. "The time savings for the midsize-business owner are exponential," he said.

DeMarzo said that with the economy tightening, vendors inevitably will focus on the SMB market, which remains healthy. He said that despite the economic cloud hanging over the market, there is no sign of broad-based SMB pullback. "Sitting here right now in December, the SMB market remains a healthy place to focus and we believe it will be in 2009 also," he said.