The IT services market is a unique one, and the SMB niche within it is even further refined. Small and medium-sized businesses have far fewer resources (and minimal manpower) when compared to their enterprise counterparts — and traditionally, these restrictions have prevented smaller organizations from gaining access to emerging technologies and infrastructure solutions.

However, the advent of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solutions and the cloud have turned this notion on its head — and today, the SMB IT services market is booming.

For managed IT services providers (MSPs), the news gets even better. According to a March 2015 report from CompTIA, only 17% of SMBs say that they’re exactly where they want to be with technology — and 43% claim to have some idea about where they would like to go, but are unsure of exactly how to achieve those goals. These statistics should be music to your ears, as they illustrate one of the greatest advantages that local providers can have over big-box retailers — the ability to act as strategists, not simply as hardware or software vendors. The opportunity is out there, it’s simply a matter of getting out and capitalizing on it.

But what exactly are SMBs looking for in an IT provider? What unique requirements do these smaller organizations have, and how should you go about marketing and selling to them?

The SMB landscape is all about relationships. Products come and go (all too quickly in this industry), software evolves, and technology requirements change — but business owners always value strong, positive relationships. Of course, the technology offerings in your portfolio matter, without question; but when targeting SMB accounts, the value you’re bringing to the table as a partner is equally important.   

With that in mind, here are three things today’s SMBs are looking for from their IT providers:

1) Peace Of Mind

As a technology services provider, you’ve undoubtedly got RMM (remote monitoring and management) and BDR (backup and disaster recovery) offerings in place — but what you’re really selling is peace of mind. SMB owners are looking for a partner they can have complete confidence in when it comes to keeping IT up and running — and it’s your job to create that confidence through the support and services you’re providing.  

When it comes to sales and marketing, the key to winning SMB accounts isn’t necessarily pitching features or tech specs — after all, these customers likely don’t need to understand the technical nuances of your solutions. Would they really need to partner with you if they did? Instead, make sure you’re focusing on business benefits and the bigger picture. Don’t just tell a customer that you have a network monitoring platform that allows you to keep tabs on their endpoints from an offsite location; assure them that you are constantly working to maximize their uptime and help them focus on growing their business.

There’s another important element here: visibility. As remote technologies have evolved, there’s less of a need to get out and visit your customers on site — but if you aren’t still demonstrating your value to those clients, they may begin to question if they’re getting enough value from their investment with you. Don’t leave customers guessing as to how much work you’re doing for them; many RMM and PSA tools have built-in reporting capabilities, and showing business owners exactly what’s being done behind the scenes (e.g., how many tickets you’re closing, hours spent resolving a particular issue, etc.) is a great way to remind them of the value your business is delivering every day.

2) A Strategic Partnership

If you sell a data backup solution to an SMB, you’ll likely have a customer for the next year or two. If you work with an SMB to help them understand how technology can help them strategically grow their business, you’ll likely have a customer for life.

Many businesses today are looking at technology as a means to an end, rather than as a key driver of business growth and development — and while some providers may see this as a challenge, they’d be wiser to view it as an opportunity. It’s not enough to simply resell software to an SMB and leave them wondering how best to leverage it. Help your customers understand and define their company-wide objectives and goals, and then work with them to help create and implement a technology roadmap to get them there.

In the aforementioned CompTIA report, 66% of SMBs said they are likely to seek outside help or expertise as they consider new strategic uses of technology — and 46% listed a need for “greater expertise in new areas” as the top driver for working with an outside IT firm. Again, the proof is in the pudding here; small businesses are asking for help, and are willing to pay for it.

3) Simplicity

The easier it is for someone to do business with you, the more likely they are to stick around and purchase additional services. When dealing with SMB customers, remember to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. Small business owners often wear many hats, deal with multiple vendors and spend much of their time firefighting one issue after the next — if you can make their day-to-day lives just a bit easier, you’ll be well on your way to solidifying a successful long-term relationship.

Being proactive is important here — whenever possible, don’t wait for a client to call and report an issue or problem; work to resolve it and then tell the customer what work was completed. The fewer interruptions they’re experiencing throughout their daily routine, the better.

Make sure your customers also know how best to contact you for support, what documentation and resources are available to them, and work to ensure your invoicing and billing processes are as streamlined as possible.

The SMB IT market has its own set of unique challenges and requirements, and thriving in this space does require careful planning and preparation; but the payoff can be well worth it. It’s an audience that values everything that modern MSPs are positioned to provide: one-to-one relationships and local support, strategic advice and technology planning, and more. Get out there and go for it!  

The preceding blog post was adapted from this original Business Solutions Magazine article.

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