Partner Advocate

The SMB Feeding Frenzy

It's not small-minded at all for partners to think about the small-to-medium business market.

That there's a lot of business interest in the small to midsize business (SMB) space is not news. Big vendors have been talking about getting into the SMB action for a few years now. With the saturation of enterprise markets, especially in North America and western Europe, many vendors are eyeing the still-somewhat-green field of SMBs.

What's different these days is that what was just a glimmer in huge vendors' eyes has developed into fully formed channel programs. Witness recent developments from Cisco, EMC, HP, SAP, CA and others.

For the SMB market, Microsoft software is foundational. Few of these smaller customers have the patience, inclination or, frankly, the time, to tinker with Linux and such. They need primarily wizard-driven software that sets up fast.

What that means for Microsoft's established set of SMB-focused partners, such as Microsoft Small Business Specialists, is that a lot of vendors are going to be courting you. You're a ready-made conduit to the imagined riches of the SMB market.

It's good to be wanted -- and it gives you a lot of power. So be ready with pointed questions that get at the ultimate issue: "What's in it for me?"

Of course, the first question is whether the products that the big guys are offering are any good for your SMB customers. Simply slapping an "SMB Edition" onto the end of a product name and throwing in a few wizards isn't enough to turn an enterprise solution into a useful SMB product. Remember how many editions it took Microsoft to get Windows Small Business Server right.

Next, can those big guys bring you any help in generating new business, or are they looking entirely to you to deliver customers in a market that's brand-new to them? Do they have not just the budget, but solid ideas, for conducting the "air cover" -- that is, the branding ad campaigns that will make your job easier?

Finally, do they have a clear idea of which sector of SMB they're after, and a set of solutions to help you address that customer segment's problems? After all, the small office with no server is a very different animal from the midmarket company with a few dozen servers.

While some skepticism is healthy, it's definitely time to have a look at layering some of these offerings onto your existing business. Maybe an infusion of new ideas and approaches in the SMB market will help you identify or meet the needs of the millions of small businesses and thousands of midmarket firms in the United States alone. Microsoft may be installed in every shop, but when it comes to figuring out how to target and upsell those customers, Redmond is struggling as much as anyone else.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.