SMB - SMBs emerge from the enterprise shadow

Not long ago, network products for small and midsize businesses were nothing more than enterprise products with lower port densities and perhaps a partial lobotomy. After all, if it's good for Citibank or General Motors, it has to be good for you, right? Not really -- but it sounds good, if that's what you're selling.

These days you can't swing your arm without hitting somebody's SMB strategy. The products now are more customized and the manufacturers are more focused on the integrators and value-added resellers (VAR) that serve this portion of the market. Much of the emphasis is on motivating them to be more focused on solutions and to spend more time analyzing the business needs of the customers.

Didn't they have to do that before? Well, yes, they always had to look to the needs of their customers. But as different technologies become more tightly integrated and applications become more vertically focused, the process of identifying the right solution for the customer becomes increasingly complex.

To best capitalize on this from a user point of view, it's important to look at technology from two aspects. The first is from a management level, where you compare existing technologies and prospective technologies with the major business objectives you pursue combined with the budget realities of your company. This process is fairly self-explanatory.

The second aspect is sometimes more difficult to achieve because it requires top managers/owners of the company to at least privately acknowledge that they are not omniscient, God-like creatures. But it's clear that having lower-level people involved in the tactical use of the technologies makes a big difference in securing success. Given their roles, they have a unique perspective on what it takes to get their jobs done -- often more valid than that of the top-level folks.

Next, tolerate, or even welcome, a bit more nosiness from the integrators and VARs with whom you do business. To deliver a truly customized solution, it's more important than ever for them to understand how your business works and then determine how technology can augment those efforts. So expect them to be looking at your back-office practices, what types of information about your customers is most important and so forth.

Be sure to ask the channel partner questions about services and support; most notably, what kind of arrangements they have with the manufacturer to give them support when they can't figure out the problem on their own. That's not the kind of subject they're likely to broach on their own initiative. When the selling process is under way, everybody likes to put their best foot forward. But the answers they give will provide a better understanding of the extent they're prepared when things go wrong.

With a bit of extra focus, and perhaps some extra dialogue, customers will be the beneficiaries of this trend favoring the SMB space. The world of technology offers this segment more value than ever before. And with that value comes competitive advantage.

Presti is president of Presti Research & Consulting, which specializes in go-to-market solutions for technology companies. He can be reached at

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Ken Presti

Network World
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