How can telcos understand SMBs? Part 1

Why have telcos consistently failed to understand the needs of SMBs*? That’s the question posed in a new report by industry analysts STL. However, our work with MNOs and MVNOs over the last decade or so suggests a very different story. We’ve seen telcos – both large and small – succeed in this market. So, in this article, we explore – and explode -  a few of these myths. Telcos can absolutely understand and succeed with SMBs – here’s why.

*or SMEs, if you are European!

Yet another report highlights the opportunity represented by SMB / SME customers. That’s because, as the research from analysts STL Partners notes, businesses with fewer than 250 employees, represent 99% of all enterprises in the EU. Yet, despite this, telcos have struggled to address their needs or to grow business in this market.

The report makes a number of interesting – though hardly novel – suggestions. For example, it notes that SMBs have widely differing needs, which makes understanding what they need and delivering what might be required complicated – and, potentially, costly. Moreover, many prefer personalised service. In short, the report suggests that “SMBs have the engagement expectations of enterprises, with budgets closer to that of consumers[1]”.

While there is some truth in this, and STL is surely right to point to the disconnect between “what telcos think SMBs need and what they actually want”, our experience suggests things are not quite as complicated – or even as woeful - as this report suggests. Indeed, over the last decade, we’ve seen our customers consistently and successfully target this market and generate considerable profit by doing so. And, on the way, we’ve exploded a few myths about SMB customers that are worth repeating here.

First, the idea that every company, no matter how small needs personal service. Of course, many would like to speak with people, that’s undoubtedly true – but often, that’s only when they really need to do so. The general adoption of cloud services has really helped in this regard – people are now accustomed to buying key IT services online and without any face-to-face interaction. They do this for MSOffice products, cloud storage and more – and, since they probably bank online too, it’s almost certainly misleading to generalise in this way. Yes, there are times when people want to communicate directly with providers, but we’ll explore these in Part 2. Clue – it’s not necessarily when you think.

Second, it’s probably true that many SMBs do have some differing needs – but then most telcos don’t differentiate their offers. Instead, they tend to provide vanilla services. Does an SMB with 8 employees need a fully-fledged multi-channel UC solution, charged at a premium price? Almost certainly not – and, if they do need collaboration and video interaction, then there is a host of free / freemium online tools to choose from (reinforcing the first point).

Instead of trying to think about all of the different things they might want, it’s much easier – and much more important - to think about common tools that they might need and problems they face. Every SMB uses voice and for many this will be a key interface for receiving new enquiries from potential customers. Simply by providing a means by which these incoming calls can be handled more easily is of tremendous value. You don’t need to engineer a bespoke solution to this, you just need to have a way to connect and coordinate calling between 1 and n devices that caters for growth.

Similarly, allowing colleagues to share information and duties helps achieve collaboration – and is more meaningful to most than the advanced white-boarding and video solutions on offer. If Dave is busy, then his calls should go straight to Janet, Sally or George. If Sally is at lunch, then the same should happen, and so on. This is not complicated and while STL is right to suggest that some customisation might be necessary, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine how simple offers can add value to any business, even those of the smallest size.

So, the key point here is that telcos need different flavours of what is essentially the same service. Just as they have different connectivity bundles (and seem to manage what are often many hundreds of product variants and combinations quite easily – more to the bewilderment of consumers than anything else), there’s no reason why they can’t handle a few simple service variants that are pitched at different levels.

There’s more – but to explore this further, you’ll need to wait until next time. If you can’t wait, then why not get in touch for a consultation with our team? We’ll show you how our customers have succeeded in this challenging market.




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