Recently I’ve had occasion to talk with a number of small firms that provide local IT support for small and medium businesses. The disparities in approach are striking, with implications for everyone selling equipment or services for SMBs.
Take basic Internet connectivity at firms with 20 to 100 employees. By now, early adopters and the early majority have heard of dual WAN connections and realize that two different low-cost services are much more reliable (and faster and less costly) than one supposedly gold-plated service provider. Stand-alone dual WAN routers cost less than $200, and many firewall appliances include dual WAN support. Yet a substantial number of firms continue to rely on one Internet service. Some have moved to a wireless ISP or other competitive provider, but many are buying a single Internet connection via T1 or T1-like services. No wonder many employees have a better Internet experience at home than they do at work.
The cost and reliability of business Internet connections is a major motivation for moving Web sites and externally focused IT applications into the cloud or at least relocating them to on-net data centers. But, again, the disparities in the community are striking. The issue, of course: IT is a support function, not the central focus of the business. IT gets attention when something is broken, but not otherwise.
So how do we accelerate adoption of our new products and services?
Some SMBs have one partner or employee who is the in-house IT expert and thus they may never, or only occasionally, pay an outside consultant for IT services. But as the Internet becomes critical for every kind of business, the market for IT consultants is growing. Some are called in only when there is a major problem; others provide on-going maintenance as well as responding to emergencies. In either case, these folks can be key to driving adoption of new products and services, but education is critical.
The same disparities among SMB firms show up in the IT consultants who support them. Some consulting firms we interviewed were experts focused on specific vertical markets such as financial services. Others were generalists fixing PC software problems and anything else that comes up. Not surprisingly, much of the business is reactive, so something as simple as a white paper on dual WAN services can be critical in getting the word out and thus driving adoption of dual WAN routers or new Internet services.
Once the early majority adopts an IT product or service, complexity issues are under control and return on investment is understood. Education is the big bottleneck, and increasingly this means educating IT consultants.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi