Quintin Lew: service providers must position themselves to
be a one-stop-shop
While the Western economy goes into freefall and large
businesses begin to slow up on their investments, there remains
a large section of the customer community that can't afford to
put essential information and communications technology
projects on hold - the small and medium business market.
So integral are high-performing networks and systems to being
competitive and delivering customer service, that many small
and growing companies depend on them almost entirely to run
IT vendors have long recognised the commercial potential of the
SMB sector, given the sheer number of smaller firms that make
up national business markets, not to mention their growth
potential. When IBM launched a renewed attack on the market
last year, it valued the SMB market for hardware and software
at $330 billion globally. And that's to say nothing of the
potential for communications services and networks.
All of this applies doubly to communications technology and
services, being the means by which staff keep in touch - with
customers, with suppliers, with each other, and with their
business and their market.
SMBs have several basic but vital needs as they contemplate
new voice and data services:
• Solutions must meet their specific requirements as
modest but growing businesses;
• Purchasing strategy must be simple - with number of
suppliers and platforms to a minimum;
• They should rely on close relationships with trusted
suppliers who can advise and support them;
• They need flexible purchasing options, especially
leasing arrangements or monthly managed service
Service providers addressing the SMB market may have found
all of this a challenge in the past, wondering how they can
sustain their own margins and cash flow as they serve customers
that keep looking to drive down price.
Today, there is a plan to meet these challenges. To serve this
customer base effectively, and make a good business out of it,
requires the right kind of support from the carrier community -
in the form of a comprehensive range of SMB-targeted offerings,
provided on a wholesale basis, which provide price advantages
and room for margin.
Simplicity is crucial, too. SMBs need to be able to pick and
choose the solutions and capacities they need, which means
service providers must be able to mix and match offerings
easily, without billing becoming complicated or customers'
future options being restricted.
They also need access to creative financing in the form of
credit support. The so-called "credit squeeze" and growing
uncertainty over the economy have dominated the news recently.
Lenders and equipment leasing companies have generally
tightened their underwriting requirements and are less willing
to extend credit.
The ability to offer a financing source as part of a proposal
- to the service providers as well as the SMBs - can now, more
than ever, make all the difference when it comes to a
customer's selection of a wholesale provider. This flexibility
means SMBs are able to deploy the services they need without
having to worry about cash flow.
Sales and training support are vital, too. With the right
promotional campaigns and incentives behind them, and
appropriate training to make sales easier, service providers
can better serve their SMB customers, while running an
efficient, profit-making operation.
Happily, the rewards are more than worth it. Having struck up
a relationship with the right partner - one that is prepared to
support them proactively - SMBs can be intensely loyal.
From SP to life partner
As economic conditions get bumpier, SMBs will be under
increasing pressure to do more with less, pushing them in the
direction of ever more versatile communications solutions,
especially those that enable continuity of service as staff
The value of a wholesale service provider is its ability to
offer solutions, through its wholesale customers, that remove
the challenges of location and reachability for the smaller
This will result in growing demand for sophisticated mobile
solutions that keep SMBs fully in contact, wirelessly. But,
rather than add new suppliers and bills to their already
unmanageable portfolio, SMBs will be seeking to streamline
their numbers of suppliers and court greater simplicity in the
way they manage and pay for their various services - for
example by turning to integrated wireless/wireline
SMB service providers must position themselves, then, to be
that one-stop-shop. In so doing, they will need to seek out a
wholesale carrier with the complete portfolio of offerings and
support services, right across the communications spectrum -
from wireless to wireless - to fully support them and their SMB
With the right partner behind them, the SMB service provider
will be in the best possible position to drive simplicity and a
solid return on investment down to the SMB. Above all, SMB
service providers must seek out wholesale providers that
understand what it takes for them to be successful in the SMB
The only remaining question then is whether the SP community
is ready to take SMB customers on their new journey. Are you?
Quintin Lew is senior vice-president of marketing at
Verizon Partner Solutions, the US wholesale organisation of