The Australian channel has been slammed in a new report for failing to provide adequate service and solutions to small businesses.
And it may be too late to win back the small business market, according to the report by market researcher BIS Shrapnel. It claims that small businesses have been so alienated from buying technology that most now have no place for it in their future plans, citing budget and time restraints as the primary causes for their aversion.
However, resellers contacted by ARN have disputed the report, claiming their small business customers are more than happy with the service they provide.
The report, titled Marketing Enabled Technologies to Small Business Enterprise, claimed that Australian technology resellers and service providers are ignoring and alienating a potentially lucrative market. It claims there is a distinct lack of after-sales support for the more than 800,000 businesses with one to 20 employees.
The report's author, Liz Berryman, told ARN last week that only one third of busi- nesses within this range even use a PC, not through lack of interest but because of a lack of time and knowledge to implement an effective technology strategy.
"There are several instances where small businesses have bought computers and then simply not used them because so-called experts have only wanted the dollar, rather than following up on the sale."
However, resellers that ARN talked to last week dismissed the survey's findings as untrue and misleading.
According to Arthur Haddad, sales and marketing director for Turbosoft, resellers are reliant upon providing a high level of service.
"We rely on small businesses and their recommendations. We have some larger clients but they are just the icing on the cake. So our after-sales service is just as important as the actual sale."
Director of AB Office Electronics Benson Chan agrees, claiming attempts to provide a total solution to small businesses.
Chan rationalises that large corporations have internal resources that they can utilise whereas "small-to-medium businesses are our focus because they have no one else to rely upon for their technology requirements".
According to Berryman, small businesses are easily driven to frustration by lack of training and access to the necessary information.
Consequently, small business owners mistrust technology and the IT industry.
The problem is exacerbated when a customer's original investment, which averages $4500, expands to an unexpected $7500 due to technology support services.
Warren Macdonald, managing director of Sydney reseller Barmac, recognises the attitude but believes that it is not as prevalent in his dealings with small businesses as the report implies.
He stressed that service is an extremely important part of his business, but it is not free. Haddad agrees, and says that most small businesses don't mind paying a bit extra for good service.
"Small businesses pay a higher premium than large volume driven companies, but they get a better quality and customised service."
The impression that the report paints of small business owners as ignorant is misguided, according to Neil Thompson of Abbot Technology. Small business people are often underestimated in their capacity to take on new ideas and systems, says Thompson.
"They [small business owners] are a lot smarter than some people give them credit for and they are using whatever technology is available to make themselves more efficient."
In general, resellers see the key to operating in a small business market is to work face to face with a customer, recognise their specific needs and provide an ongoing solution for the growth of their company.