by Patricia Ames | 10/13/15

In conjunction with our “Selling to the SMB” October issue of The Imaging Channel, I had the opportunity to interview the always entertaining and remarkably insightful Chris Taylor, President and CEO of Fisher’s Technology based in Boise, ID. As you will see, the SMB is right in their sweet spot and Chris had plenty to share with us! Join me for this online exclusive.

PA: What do you like/dislike about working with the SMB customer?

CT: The SMB client base is the heart and soul of most office technology providers.  We have built our organizations around delivering exceptional service experiences, and this is often more critical tothe SMB than to enterprise organizations.  Our technology is mission-critical to their operations, and there is often less redundancy in their environments to accommodate “down” technology.

We thoroughly love working with these SMB customers for several reasons.  First, we often get to work with the top officers at SMB companies —fascinating entrepreneurs and business leaders.  We get to know their businesses inside and out, which is both interesting and rewarding.  Secondly, and as a result of those senior relationships, we often become a strategic partner for the SMB, as opposed to being merely a vendor.  We have a seat at the strategy table, working lock-step with our customers’ leadership on the growth and efficiencies of their businesses.  Finally, the impact of our technologies, solutions, and services is often more significant and is realizedand valued faster than with the larger enterprise customers.

One drawback to working with the SMB, sometimes, is encountering their opinion of the office technology community.  Because the decision-makers are more accessible to sales people (some in our industry have become known as slick, sleazy, pushy annoyances), the SMB customer is often left to either despise our industry or to shift their decision-making to a simple price comparison choice without regard to business value to avoid too much exposure to these types. We therefore occasionally have to educate our prospective customers long before we attempt to sell to them.

PA: When it comes to printing and print-related services, how are SMB customer needs different from those of larger enterprise accounts?

CT: SMB customers have less redundancy in their environments than enterprise customers.  So it is even more critical to them the we are onsite immediately, that we fix issues the first time, that we communicate extremely well, and that we have backup plans, such as loaner equipment and replacement servers, if a resolution is lengthy.  Enterprise customers often have considerable redundancy as well as their own support team to ensure end-users are shielded from technical interruptions.

SMBs also rarely have a central print center for higher volume work, whereas large enterprise often does.  The SMBs require our expertise to understand print work types and workflows and our help to understand what can, and should, be done in-house versus through outsourcing. 

Finally, large enterprise almost always benefits dramatically from managed print services.  SMBs may only have a handful of single function printers, which, as we learned the hard way, can be a lose-lose proposition for MPS. 

PA: What would you say are the top five IT challenges facing the SMB customer?

CT: The SMB sector is highly under-served by IT service providers today.  We believe that a highly-communicative, standards-based, strategically proactive managed IT provider can add dramatic value to SMB companies, resulting in increased uptime, better support of their business processes and at the same time significantly reducing risk. 

  “The SMB sector is highly under-served by IT service providers today.”

The primary areas that need to be solved for the SMB customers include:

–       Steering clear of in-house IT personnel.  It is certainly appealing to have a resource that is all yours, immediately available and intimately familiar with your environment.  These niceties, however, are dramatically overshadowed by numerous concerns.  First, the familiarity of the environment resides in one head.  What if, for whatever reason, that person no longer works at the SMB?  Is there well-crafted and updated documentation in place?  Likely not.  Vacations, if they happen, are not fun for the IT person or the organization.  And what in-house SMB IT department has the breadth of skills needed to design, implement, manage, and keep current technologies spanning networking, security, mobility, applications, cloud hosting, SAAS, regulatory compliance, scanning, imaging, and all the other complexities of an IT environment?  We believe having an outsourced support team, with bench strength, bullet-proof documentation, technical breadth, technical specialization, and high levels of communication is in a much better position to deliver faster, more effective, and lower-risk support than a dedicated in-house support member.

–       Being lured by break-fix support.  We all work to reduce overhead and watch the bottom line.  Once an SMB decides to outsource their IT, they often do their due diligence and compare service provider pricing.  There can be a perception that only paying for services when they are needed, rather than a fixed monthly fee, ultimately saves money.  The pay-as-you-go pricing concept can often seem more tangible than some monthly ambiguous fee with unknown resulting services.  Ultimately, however, a break-fix model pits customer against provider.  If nothing breaks, there is nothing to fix—which means there is no billing.  So the break-fix provider needs things to break, which is not what the customer wants.  And does a customer want to pay nothing this month and then get hit with a huge bill next month?  Fixed-fee managed services, on the other hand, put provider and customer in perfect alignment.  The customer wants nothing to break, and the provider wants nothing to break (because fewer services equals more profit).  The model results in a proactive, strategic view of IT services that ensures the environment works now and anticipates future needs.  Break-fix providers fight fires, managed services providers ensure fires cannot start.

–       Worrying about cloud versus on-premise:  Accessing applications and data in the cloud, rather than from on premise servers, is a major question for most organizations.  Some organizations should be mostly cloud, and some should steer completely clear.  And some should have a hybrid mix of both.  The challenge therefore is to determine what is best for a given company.  We have a standard architecture that we migrate all our customers to, which is a hybrid environment.  By definition, this is not the right fit for all SMBs.

–       Ensuring information securityThe stories of security breaches are plentiful and terrifying.  How can an SMB company maintain a secure environment when some of the largest companies in the world cannot?  The SMB advantage is that they are not as public and are not as likely a target—but they do need to have environments that are appropriately protected.  And the definition of protected changes with technology, industry, and regulatory constraints.  So SMBs often need to select an IT provider that has a platform that is robust and tested and that has expertise to ensure ongoing security strength.  

–       Protecting against data loss. Most SMBs perform system backups on a regular basis.  But are these backups also done to an offsite location, in case something happens to the physical location of the business?  Are those backups performed with appropriate frequency?  Is everything that should be backed up actually in the backup process?  And (most common concern) are the backups regularly tested to ensure they can actually restore an environment?  Having a robust disaster recovery and business continuity plan is extremely important for risk management, and we see many SMBs severely lacking in this area.

PA: Name three differences you encounter when working with the SMBs versus the enterprise

CT:  SMBs are nimble.  They often make decisions much quicker than large enterprise.  Therefore, we actually see some SMBs become earlier adopters of new technology than large enterprise, who are hobbled by rigid budgetary processes, lengthy committee-based decision making, and cultural inertia. 

Despite being nimble, we sometimes see that our software solutions have much longer sales cycles with the SMB than in large enterprise.  This is because they often don’t have existing budgetary funds for new software and professional services investments.  SMBs regularly budget funding for printing and IT, but software solutions for electronic document management, advanced capture, output management, and business efficiency end up needing to be financially justified not with existing monies, but with “soft cost” savings—improved productivity, reduced risk, increased business intelligence, etc. 

Our IT organization does not target large enterprise customers.  We are focused on the SMB because they are best positioned to completely outsource their IT and support to us.  If we sold to the enterprise, we would need to create a completely different company in order to provide complementary offerings for in-house IT departments at large enterprise companies.

 

Patricia Ames is senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 10 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community. Follow her on Twitter at @OTGPublisher or contact her by email at patricia@bpomedia.com.