Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

July 29, 2010

Technology Solution and Services Purchasing Cycle Decision Markers in Small Businesses

Small companies will tend to have a less formal purchasing process than their larger counterparts Typically only one or two people will have purchasing authority—usually the company officers in small businesses with the guidance of the IT person, if there is one.

How a company purchases or acquires technology products and services is affected by company size. The size of an SMB and the type of IT organization that they have influences and reflects the technology choices the SMB make. Typically, a small business (defined as a company with 1-99 employees) will have either no IT resources at all or one full-time IT resource.

The technology solutions and services purchase cycle typically involves 4 stages: Identify Need, Evaluate Solution, Select Solution, and Final Purchase Decision. The persons involved in each of these four stages of the process are different as is their level of involvement at each stage, which is usually dictated by the size of the small business, technology sophistication and sometimes the age of the primary decision maker (usually the owner or CEO) in these companies. Figure 1 provides details of all those involved in these technology solution and services purchase decisions at small business in North America.

Figure 1: Personnel Involved in Technology Solution Purchase Process at Small
Businesses (1-99 employees)

Source: SMB Group, 2010

  • Identify Need. In more than 75 percent of the cases, the owner of the business is the person involved in identifying need for technology solutions and services support from a end-user employee or senior business manager (non IT). This is usually based on the business pain points the small business is experiencing and how the use of these technology solutions will help address them. Only 21 percent of the cases involve in-house IT personnel in identifying need for technology solutions and services.
  • Evaluate Solutions. The role of line-of-business managers and end-users becomes more important in evaluating different solution alternatives, often they are involved with doing a free trial of these solution more frequently online but also sometime by downloading applications. The in-house IT person assists with the technical requirements for the evaluation and the owner is also usually involved in about 60 percent of the evaluations. Small business technology environments are straightforward but in some cases may require some advanced features; small businesses are rarely leading-edge technology adopters. In a small percentage of cases small businesses solicit the help of industry colleagues and/or external VARs and consultants in these more advanced and complex evaluations. The results of these evaluations helps small businesses reduce the number of evaluated solutions to a “short list” driven by predefined criteria.
  • Select Solutions. This step is completed by the owner/CEO and the In-house IT person based on the evaluation of various solutions. The factors involved in the selection process are price, ease-of-use, higher quality and stronger brand. As companies grow, the focus shifts from price and ease-of-use to quality and stronger brand as reviews from analysts and social media become more important.
  • Final Purchase Decision. In almost all small businesses, the owner or CEO of the business makes the final purchase decision, with the line of business executive or the in-house IT executive contributing in a limited role.

The insights included in the blog are from a comprehensive SMB study on SMB Routes to Market for Technology Solutions“. The SMB Group’s 2010 Routes to SMB Market Study helps Technology software solutions vendors and services providers identify routes (channels) to the SMB market for their products and services based on how they go about making purchase decisions. Study results and analysis will help them make well-informed marketing, product development, media and channel decisions to successfully reach, influence and market to North American SMBs with one to 1000 employees.

 

 

 

 

 


February 23, 2009

Cloud Computing and Managed Services Opportunity – Is it the Large Enterprises or SMB/Mid-Market Enterprises?

The convergence of web delivered IT services – Cloud Computing, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Hosted Applications, Software-as-a-Service, Virtualization – will continue to redefine and add value to the SMB/mid-market IT services landscape, especially in the current economic climate.

Our outlook calls for rapid increase in adoption of various Cloud Computing and Managed Services components over the next 2-3 years as businesses look to cut costs and reduce capital expenses. This adoption will still be on a piece-meal – with Online Storage/Archival and related services, Hosted applications, Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery and SaaS delivered Business Applications being the most sought-after capabilities (SMB/Mid-Market Key IT Initiatives in the Current Market Environment blog). We see early adoption of these services starting in 2008-2009 and gaining more momentum into the mainstream market by 2011-2013 when the global economy emerges from the current financial conundrum.

It is interesting to see some of the SaaS companies like Salesforce.com focus on small number of enterprise accounts which account for half of their revenues through their direct sales force (they don’t have much of a channel presence). Even in the recent earnings call for NetSuite (again majority of the focus is on direct sales with some VAR efforts), all the financial analysts had questions only on the large account focus. In the U.S.(total 6.5 million businesses with commercial locations), there are less than 0.1% large enterprises(more than 1000 employees) and 0.4% midmarket-enterprises(500-999 employees); the remaining 99.5% are SMB companies. As the low hanging opportunities in large enterprises are already converted into customers, the growth of these SaaS companies is slowing. Why the continued focus on large enterprise, direct sales focus?

Well, to begin, if a vendor is serious about selling to the SMB segment, they should first seek to become their market channel, or connect to their channel – a strategy and value proposition they need to create. The SaaS value propositions that convinced the large enterprises do not always work well for the elusive SMB segment, which is a much more difficult and complicated market, but offers tremendous revenue potential. Although, with somewhat different value propositions, pricing and revenue models.

Who are the well positioned channels or links to the channel to enable selling to the SMB and mid-market enterprises? This can be addressed by segmenting this SMB/mid-market market and then looking at the channels that are well positioned to sell to the various segments based on the existing relationships and touch points. A topic for a future blog!

The vendors that have a good lead in the cloud computing segment are Amazon.com, some of the hosted services vendors like Rackspace and Savvis, and managed services vendors like Iron Mountain, IBM, BT and EMC. Virtualization will play a big role in this migration; vendors like Citrix, VMware and Microsoft are developing cloud services and platforms to help virtualize the data centers of some of the cloud solution and services vendors. Who out of these vendors understand how to navigate the complex SMB segment?

Cloud Computing and managed services providers (and their technology partners) need to learn from the business models of SaaS companies and early cloud computing vendors. Then put in place strategies and channels to capitalize on the huge IT services opportunity in the SMB and mid-market enterprises that lack the IT and financial resources of large enterprises, outside of the small number of technologically sophisticated SMBs and software developers (ISVs) that are the early adopters and have the IT resources to leverage the cloud solutions and services. In addition, by taking advantage of the internets’ low-cost marketing and delivery capabilities, companies can profitably mine the “long tail” of the SMB market.

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