Enterprise Tech Marketers Struggle in SMB Space

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Listening to some high-tech pundits and reading the trades, one might conclude that everything that could possibly be sold to enterprise accounts already has been, and the only business market left is small and midsize businesses (SMB). As a result, lots of big tech outfits are direct marketing to SMB vigorously ... and finding that the going is remarkably tough.

Some of the difficulty is caused by the usual suspects: outdated and fatigued lists, creative that isn't and sales people who can't sell. But in my work with enterprise technology marketers and SMB, I see deeper causes.

Organizational mismatches. The size mismatch between an 80,000-person tech behemoth and an 800-employee manufacturing firm is self-evident. Eight hundred employees could disappear from the behemoth, and it would look identical. The size differential also implies a complexity mismatch. When a huge tech company woos an 800-person firm, its DMers and sales reps may think they understand the prospect's realm. But their frame of reference is skewed by the rich complexity of their own corporation that includes: the breadth and depth of resources, the internal support networks and the deep pockets. They may present their technology as if its installation and implementation would be seamless, while to the 800-person business the technology might require a wholesale cultural and operational overhaul.

Selling models mismatched to the market segment. The sales forces of most major tech manufacturers and resellers have been indoctrinated in the "solution" sell or some other sales model the top officers liked. But it is my experience that the senior managers of small and midsize firms are exceptionally pragmatic. They tend to question, if not resist, formulaic sales approaches and direct marketers who pitch "relationships" prematurely. Right up front they want to know, "what's in it for me and my company?" and "what does an enterprise firm know about a company our size?" and "does your product or service fit our business, or would we have to adjust to yours?"

The operational piece. Implementing new technology at a behemoth isn't always easy, but usually there is help, such as in-house experts and often an army of consultants, engineers and technicians. And because the organization is so big, if an installation is in trouble, it seldom affects the entire corporation. But in an 800-person firm, IT resources are much more limited. And if you shut down production to upgrade the technology, the whole company stops and profitability goes to zero for the duration. Too many enterprise marketers and sales people don't seem to get this.

So what can, and what should, enterprise high-tech direct marketers do to improve their opportunities and boost results in the SMB space? Consider these suggestions:

· Consider playing to your enterprise strength and leaving SMB to others. That's what a New York-based software giant did in late 2003, selling off its small business accounting products subsidiary to focus on enterprise accounts.

· Establish a separate marketing and sales entity to work the SMB market. SMB differs enough from enterprise, and certainly from consumer, to merit its own structure and team.

· Craft and conduct more collaborative arrangements with business partners and resellers that are themselves SMB. Learn from them and adjust DM and sales strategies.

· Delete the marketing words and phrases that SMB have come to distrust, such as "turn-key" and "scalable" and especially "solution," which is by far the most overused and meaningless word in high tech.

· Adjust sales practices from "surround and conquer" to "ask before telling and learn before selling." Add humility to the marketing and selling repertoire.


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