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Partners the key to unlocking SME sales

Vendors want to increase SME sales and Billy MacInnes knows that working with the channel is the only way to achieve that goal

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Every time I see a headline about such and such a vendor targeting the SME market, I can’t help feeling that it sounds like good news for partners. Not so much for large-scale partners selling to enterprises and larger businesses, obviously, but for the 80% who do the 20% of business with smaller companies.

If a vendor is serious about reaching SME customers, then it has to be commit to working with partners to get to them.

Of course, the level of seriousness that vendors attach to the SME market corresponds to the level of revenue they can obtain from customers in that segment. For many, their business (and focus) is still dominated by big deals with large customers. So while they may talk about the SME market, their words might not be backed up by actions.

This is where partners come in. There’s a temptation to think of partners as gatekeepers to SME customers, to view their trusted advisor status as a means to funnel product to smaller businesses. If vendors can gain their attention, the argument goes, they are halfway to getting their products into the SME market.

And that’s true in so far as it goes. But if you forget the actual sales process for a minute (which is hard for vendors, I know) and look at why partners have become trusted advisors to their customers, it’s because they have been able to make technology work for SMEs. The badge or label on the product or software or service isn’t as important as what the partner can make it do for the SME.

This means that the partner can often act like an interpreter for the technology by taking the hardware/software/service from the supplier and applying it in a way that best suits the customer. The vendor may have a particular view of why the technology should be marketed to SMEs but the partner uses its knowledge of the customer and the customer’s requirements to apply it in the most effective manner.

Vendors don’t have the resources to do that work themselves. Many of them, by virtue of their size, wouldn’t be able to speak the language of small businesses anyway. They’re just too big.

Many partners are SMEs themselves, so they can see things in pretty much the same light as their customers. They understand what they’re looking for. And because selling and supporting IT is their main business, partners can see the merits or otherwise of the technology that vendors are trying to sell into SMEs.

Channel businesses aren’t perfect and they can be persuaded into marketing technology that isn’t necessarily the best suited to SME customers but that’s usually when they fall victim to viewing themselves as a sales funnel for vendors and lose sight of their real role. There’s a reason why they’re called channel partners.

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