Big Fish, Little Fish, Cardboard Box?

Today in the UK, there are 998,000 employing fewer than 10 people with 1.2m private businesses employing one or more people generating a turnover of £3,000bn ($4,900bn) and employing almost 19m people.

That’s approximately 1.2m business owners going through everything from emotional highs/lows, financial pressures, employment challenges, to how to create sustainable business growth – 365 days a year (that includes holidays!) 24ish hours a day, seven days a week. Whilst most in the corporate field have the luxury of sustaining something close to a nine hour day and a guaranteed salary at the end of each month, for those who own and/or work within a small- or medium-sized business don’t necessarily get the chance (or choice).

I’m not saying we should feel sorry for small and medium business owners, far from it. In fact, and as biased as I am, life as an Small or Medium Business (SMB) offers greater reward and satisfaction compared to working in what could at times be a thankless task in a faceless corporation. But it is easy for you, me, or any owner/manager/ or passionate employee to get caught up in our company’s internal priorities since the bottom line of our business is to sell which sometimes distorts the way we approach, communicate, and relate to our markets. If generating sales to make a profit isn’t a priority for your business, you need to resign yourself to the fact that what you have is a hobby.

If you are a large vendor or distributor tapping on the door of your SMB Managed Service Provider (MSP) market or the MSP nudging a fellow SMBer from another industry to buy, if you don’t make the time to understand their situation as a professional business and not a prospective sale you may as well tell them you don’t care and all you want is their cash…

…see how far that gets you.

What’s important to remember when trying to get a foot in the door of a SMB is that you are not, and won’t be, their priority until you can guarantee you can offset some of the pressure/risk/resources that they are managing internally. When you acknowledge that and take the time to find a way to help, then and only then, can you confidently approach them with what is essentially your value add to their business.

Promoting ‘value add’ in our industry has become something of a ‘bark and no bite’ definition for anything we sell without bothering to scratch below the surface to understand how it can really help beyond resolving the basics. It may even be resigned to the same pen where the words ‘solution’, ‘consultant’ and ‘one-stop-shop’ hang out.

Within the approximate 8,000 MSPs out there in the UK, some still promote themselves as Value Adding Resellers (VARs) – a title once worthy when the wizards for Windows Small Business Server weren’t so slick, but now, as vendors and manufacturers evolve themselves to a point where there is little management needed, the ‘value add’ is even more redundant. That’s not to say real VARs don’t exist, but what clients now look for as ‘value add’ is no longer your expert knowledge in how to configure online and offline folders… in fact that should be expected given you are the IT professional with a passion for technology. It’s a bit like being expected to tip a waiter/waitress for simply doing their job [and let’s ban automatic ‘optional’ service tips!].

How you define and promote your value add proposition to your clients could start with going back to the roots of what ‘IT’ means; it’s how you look at how Technology can best support a business’ Information – how it’s made, how it flows, how it’s digested, and how it’s protected.

“The economy of human time is the next advantage of machinery in manufactures.”
Charles Babbage

Whether you’re hanging out more in the ‘S’ of SMB or experiencing life in the fast lane of the corporate world, cardboard boxes full of tin and flashy lights no longer hold the same importance or the (fun) benefits it did back in the early 90s. Instead, we need to be more sensitive to how people of all backgrounds, interests, and motivations work so that we can become more agile in a market where being a little fish in a big pond is no longer a disadvantage.

Whether you start reading a few Neurolinguistics Programming (NLP) Books (here’s a starter for ten which will change how you observe your clients immediately!) or start asking more open questions that have a more sensory understanding such as ‘how does what I just proposed make you feel?’, it’s time to start tapping into what’s going on with the majority of businesses in this country to ensure you’re playing the long-game and one that’s relevant to the state of our Channel.

Whether your a big fish, or a little fish, don’t try boiling the ocean – you’ll tire easily and most likely fail. Start small, say with the people who you class as your ‘A’ type clients and find out where you can grow for the last quarter of this year and beyond. Besides, boiling a saucepan of the ocean’s water is a lot easier and quicker to help you define how you can add value to your clients.

Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that helps technology organisations redesign their business models to help them build better relationships with their customers. You can follow the team on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.


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