Most Wanted: SMB Business ConsultantsBy Michael Vizard | Posted 2006-06-06 Email Print
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Opinion: Designing products for the small and midsize business space is a first step, but vendors need to take a more holistic approach.
At first blush, it may seem the last thing a customer in the small business or midmarket space needs is a consultant showing up at the door. After all, consultants are a luxury of the rich Global 2000 type customer.
And yet everyone wonders why the SMB (small and midsize business) market is always two or three steps behind their Global 2000 brethren when it comes to technology adoption.
Much of the blame for this is usually placed on the fact that vendors such as IBM, SAP and EMC design their products for large enterprises that can afford big-time consulting and integration fees.
In contrast, SMBs have little tolerance for those types of soft costs. What they really need are products that work out of the box.
While there is a fair amount of truth to that line of reasoning, it has led to a general lack of funding for consulting in the SMB space. The end result is that there is not a whole lot of external pressure being applied to increase demand for technology in the SMB space.
In just the same way that the SMB customer needs products that are fundamentally different from what might be deployed in a Global 2000 account, so too do they need consultants that are well-trained to deal with their issues.
The question that arises: What type of consultants do they need? The vast majority of the consultants in this industry are pretty much tied to a specific type of product.
So while companies such as Sage Software can be applauded for coming up with new channel programs that help put more Sage consultants in the field, that approach may not address the fundamental challenge.
The challenge is not the lack of product and technology consultants, but rather the lack of business consultants in the SMB space.
If you want an SMB customer to adopt a new technology platform, the only way to get them there is to promise them either a massive short-term investment on their effort or show them how the technology can be used to transform their business in a way that establishes a compelling business advantage.
Alas, there aren't a whole lot of independent business consultants in the SMB space. Some distributors have made limited investments in trying to connect solution providers to business consultants in this space, but for the most part those efforts have been halting at best.
It's tough for vendors to wrap their head around the fact that they need to help fund the development of business consulting practices that are more focused on generic areas such as customer relationship management than, say, pushing a product.
But if the industry really wants to change the behavior of the customer, the time has come for them to pretty much put up or shut up about the SMB space.
The best thing they could do is align their efforts in a non-partisan way by cooperating enough to fund a foundation or institute that would help drive technology education across the whole SMB space.
But short of that ambitious goal, maybe they could just have a realistic conversation with distributors about what really needs to happen in this space.
Designing products for SMBs is only a first, albeit important step. But unless the industry takes a more holistic approach to changing the business processes of these companies, they have no hope of ever really influencing their technology acquisition strategies.
Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media's Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.