Selling technology to small and midsize businesses (SMBs)? Give buzzwords the boot--no one is buying them.
Recent Techaisle research into the top pain points for SMBs produced a telling and entertaining sidebar: The 1,000 companies included in the study listed their least favorite lingo that IT vendors use to sell them stuff.
"Out-of-the-box" took first place, with "next-generation," "best-in-class," "mission-critical," and "solution-driven" rounding out the top five. That's a pretty great list--or maybe awful is the right word. I'm probably guilty of using a few (OK, all) of them at some point. But the buzzwords are just surface symptoms of a deeper issue: Technology vendors are complicating matters for SMBs when they should be simplifying them.
"SMBs said vendors should stop talking [in buzzwords] because we really don't know what it means anymore," said Techaisle CEO Anurag Agrawal in an interview. "Everybody talks about the same thing in the same way in their pitch to us."
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IT vendors like to tailor those pitches around "business pain points." Those are issues such as increasing revenue, decreasing operating expenses, moving into new markets, finding and keeping talented employees, and managing regulatory compliance. Agrawal points out that they've stayed consistent over time.
"The business pain points for SMBs have not changed; they're always the same," Agrawal said. That spawned the driving question behind Techaisle's survey: "If the business points haven't changed, why have the IT vendors continued to [say] I'm here to solve the business pain points?"
In fact, technology has become the pain point for many SMBs, rather than the business problem-solver it often claims to be. Some 39% of the SMBs Techaisle surveyed said technology headaches now outnumber business problems. The chief concern: Too many choices that look and sound too similar, thanks in part to those aforementioned buzzwords. Agrawal said the common desire among SMBs was for unbiased advice; as a result, they're spending more and more of that most precious commodity--time--doing their own research, usually online, and then relying on a trusted IT consultant or employee to help steer their decision making. Once they've done a bit of due diligence, they're increasingly contacting vendors directly rather than relying on third parties.
Yet six in 10 SMBs in Techaisle's survey said they're passing on certain technologies even if they're quite certain they're relevant to their business. The reason? The IT industry makes them too complicated to easily understand and consume. The top five culprits: Cloud computing, virtualization, business intelligence, remote managed services, and marketing automation.
That's not to say SMBs aren't investing in technology--quite the contrary, according to Agrawal. Rather, they're often spending too much time and money just making a decision--a decision that doesn't necessarily best match their needs and skill sets. "They are committed to IT, but the industry as a whole needs to simplify it for them," Agrawal said. Doing so will help SMBs make better, more efficient choices that actually improve their operations and bottom lines.
One area where Agrawal thinks vendors can do better: Producing "proper," objective case studies of how different types of businesses--say, a 200-person construction firm--have used different technologies to achieve quantifiable results. Those should be short on window dressing and product promotion and heavy on tangible specifics. "We don't see that often enough because there are too many vendors coming up with their own subtle answers," Agrawal said.
Agrawal also points out that few true SMBs can pony up for expensive subscriptions with the major analyst firms. He thinks the IT industry has an opportunity to create its own ecosystem of objective consultants, separate from the existing "channel" ecosystem of resellers and related providers, to help SMBs make informed decisions and "sift through the technology options that are actually available." Objectivity would indeed be key, but such advice would certainly be a welcome change from the buzzword-laden pitches.
Speaking of which: I was disappointed a few of my favorites didn't make the cut. Where's a seamless, industry-leading, bleeding-edge, or feature-rich value proposition when I need it? Agrawal obliged and sent over the full list of bad buzzwords SMBs took umbrage with. Survey says: Seamless (#7), industry-leading (#9), bleeding-edge (#12), feature-rich (#16) value proposition (#18) it is.