5 Ways SMBs Can Better Influence Technology Vendors

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It has been a year since SMB Research posted “SMBs: Get Influence Working with Large Vendors; 7 Guidelines to Ease the Process”.  As we have been working with a number of end users in 2010 and in early 2011, we are updating and refreshing this with some new insights and recommendations.

While it is undoubtedly true that small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) cannot avail themselves of all of the price breaks and other advantages of larger enterprises who have bigger IT and capex budgets, there are steps you can take to “look” big and be treated with the respect and amount of attention that you deserve:

  • Help the vendors help you.  While we know there are those among you who believe that as long as the money is flowing in one direction, all of the work should flow in the opposite direction, you can in fact help yourself by helping the vendor.   When we are talking to vendors, one of the things we hear, not pejoratively, is that the SMB segment requires education.
    Many vendors and VARS are trying to tackle this in different ways.  The fact remains that while everyone’s time is getting more and more precious, software is getting more and more complex (more on SaaS to come.)  Trying to use a software or technology vendor as a complimentary and private tutoring channel is a sure sign to the vendor that you are an SMB trying to act smaller, not bigger.  (Warning – shameless plug: One of the several services that SMB Research delivers is to prepare you to talk with, or engage with, software and technology vendors, putting you in a much better position to influence vendors, and get what you need from them in the most cost-, risk- and time-efficient manner.)
  • Act bigger than you are.  As an SMB, there is nothing stopping you from establishing or utilizing a high level contact in the organization as high as VP level.  More often, however, we hear concerns from clients about directly opening up a channel to a vendor’s salesforce, and getting into a vendor’s pipeline and sales cycle too soon.  We know that one of the values that SMB Research delivers, in addition to our focused research and analysis, is acting as an intelligent buffer to allow the SMB to continue to be able to focus on their business until they are really ready and can commit the time to engage directly with a vendor, and to leverage SMB Research’s vendor relationships.
  • Use your Network or other peer-group resources.  A smart buyer needs to do their homework; a smaller end-user needs to have friends.  This can mean being aggressive at finding vendor references not only from the vendor but particularly from other sources: user groups, IT forums and societies, councils, and other networks.  This also means leveraging these contacts to demonstrate that your sphere of influence extends beyond whatever size company you are running.  Use this network to do your research and ask a lot of questions, and validate what you are being told.  Better yet, since this is what SMB Research does all of the time, engage with us as extension of your team, and we can do this for you.  Watch this space for additional insights on some of the organizations. In the meantime, give us a call to discuss.
  • Demand industry-specific and SMB references. Software is not a one size fits all business. Many products are designed for one type of industry but not another.  In ERP and Supply Chain, for example, there are vendors who specialize their solutions on the process industries, while other vendor solutions are intended for discrete industries like Make-to-Order or Engineering-to-order.  Thinking of this ahead of time, approaching the right vendors for the right reasons, to make the best use of their and your time, earns you a lot of respect right from the start of the conversation.  Making it clear upfront that you are going to ask for industry-specific and SMB references will mark you as a serious prospect who knows what they are doing.
    When SMB Research was recently working for a client doing an ERP and service provider selection in the Oil and Gas Retail Distribution industry, we ran into a number of the vendors who claimed experience in “wholesale distribution” – but in an industry not well-related to oil and gas (apparel).  Demonstrating your familiarity with such nuances when it comes to software and technology will give you greater influence with the vendors you want to work with.
    Engaging a vendor appropriate for your size is just as important.  You need to think ahead of time about the relationship you want – and the technology you need.  While many vendors are obviously downscaling their solutions and their sales and marketing strategies to address the SMB segment, we have heard and continue to hear horror stories around products that were designed to be robust and support by large IT staffs.  We have spoken to companies who expected to be able to deal directly with a vendor, only to be redirected to a reseller or another channel.  SMB’s don’t have the luxury of large IT staffs to support the product complexity or interfaces.  [Warning – shameless plug: SMB Research can help you in each of these areas, just so you know.]
  • Be bigger than you are.   Use a 3rd party advisor.  Using a technology analyst firm used to be out of the reach of the small-to-medium-to-large (but not gigantic) enterprise, with yearly contracts for their research and advisory than can exceed $40K per year.  Today, however, an SMB has options – 3rd party advisors who act on your behalf, provide their research, analysis and advice for a fraction of the biggest players, and very likely a fraction of what you are going to pay for your technology investments.

As an SMB, you probably cannot – and should not – siphon off time from running your business to do technology research when there are analysts who do this for a living, and who can do it a lot more efficiently and effectively than an SMB can on a part-time basis.  [Shameless plug: SMB Research is not the only firm by far that provides this service; but we think we stand up pretty well with our respected peers and competitors.]

SMB Research is ready to help in these and other areas.  Let’s talk.   Please feel free to contact us (Miles Prescott, 339-933-0643, mprescott@smbresearch.net, or Bob Eastman, 781-475-4734, reastman@smbresearch.net) with any questions or if you have tips to share; we would be happy to include those in a future post.

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