My thanks to the following people for participating in one of the longer discussions I have seen or been involved in on LinkedIn:
- Amy Babinchak, IT Business Owner, Author, Advisor, Professor, and blogger at ThirdTier.net and at Small Business Tech Notes
- Peter Brown, Managing Director of Pensive; Board Chairman and President of OASIS
- Rebecca Edgerton Wright, PWEA Lead Developer/Architect at IBM PartnerWorld
- Sanjeev Aggarwal, Founder & Partner, SMB Group, Inc.
- Scott Wilson, Principal Consultant at Indigo Moon Systems
Here are some take-aways from this discussion:
Peter Brown offered that the definition of SMB goes beyond being a ‘semantic nicety”, which is very well stated.
At least a couple of the discussion participants suggested that it is possible to put too much focus on trying to come with a strict definition, to the detriment of the end-user who may or may not care what you call them but rather care more about your delivering the technology and capability they are looking for. Fair enough, but a discussion about the definition of ‘small business’ or ‘small-to-medium business’ is important at least for the reason that it enlightens the discussion that follow about the value that small businesses create and what the supporting and enabling technologies that small and small-to-medium businesses need to help create that value.
This LinkedIn discussion did bring up some interesting perspectives on the parameters that can be used to define business size. While my blog post spoke about headcount and revenues, discussion participants enlightened me on the fact that business size is sometimes thought of in terms of hardware count or benchmarks, that, as Leon McCaskill, pointed out there can be an IT-centric view of this. Scott Wilson offered that he believes it is actually ” the level of systems complexity that is the most appropriate measure of defining the business ‘size.’” Jere Terrill described how Cisco‘s Services for Small Business segments customers based on the perceived criticality of the customer’s network to the customer’s operations. Tom Daly made the interesting suggestion that another consideration might be whether the business is centrally located or dispersed. Rebecca Edgerton Wright said that the definition also depends on one’s target market: “A local or regional business will likely consider a company with over 100 employees a mid-size account while a global would more likely define the midmarket as >5,000 – 10,000 employees.”
Amy Babinchak made the excellent point that small businesses, however you define them, deserve the respect and attention of technology vendors. While it may be tempting to assume that what ‘small’ businesses need and use most of the time is in the category of consumer-level technology, this might often be a serious misperception of the level of sophistication of many ‘small’ businesses. (My business partner, Miles Prescott recently pointed me to an AMR Research article from July 2009, the title of which is telling, “Harris Corporation Wins the AMR Research Supply Chain Excellence Award for Small to Midsize Businesses“. Harris Corporation is a $5B business with 15,000 employees.)
Jere Terrill said that he feared that “…trying to include small business with mid-market by manufacturers makes them put the emphasis on the “M” to the exclusion of the “S”. Indeed, perhaps one of the more interesting exchanges in the discussion was around the question or idea of whether the association of “small” with “medium” in small-to-medium” (SMB) is really as much to ‘protect’ small business or to lend it some of the respect that mid-market and larger enterprises get.
This begs the question of whether ‘small business’ really needs this kind of help, and whether small and small-to-medium business isn’t really doing pretty well on its own.
Amy Babinchak, Jere Terrill, Leon McCaskill, Peter Brown, Rebecca Edgerton Wright, Sanjeev Aggarwal, Scott Wilson, and Tom Daly have contributed admirably to my understanding, and I hope to your understanding as well.
SMB Research has initiated some research into the SMB focus from enterprise vendors, and you will see much more written on this topic in this space.