From little things....

From little things....

When it comes to selling IT into small and medium business everybody wants a piece of the action, and the channel is where it’s at in terms of service and support. ARN talks tips and techniques with channel veterans to find out if there’s an easier way to approach this vast and fragmented market place.

It might sound funny, but nobody should be in any doubt that small business is big business in Australia.

According to the Council of Small Business of Australia, the nation's 1.88 million small businesses employ 3.7 million people, roughly half of all those working in the private sector. Combined they are worth $4.3 trillion, four times as much as all the companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Notoriously difficult to service, this market sector is also characterised by its diversity and breadth. Everybody from a local hotel or accountant, through to the construction consultant working from a home office or the local grocer, fits into this broad base. Nonetheless, each of them has totally different IT requirements and entirely different business concerns.

Given the numbers involved it's little wonder that technology vendors are keen to get a piece of the action, but the level of diversity means it's hardly surprising that most are keen to leave this market segment entirely up to the channel.

Currently working as chief technology specialist for IT reseller and services company, Correct Solutions, Wayne Small has more than a decade of experience working in the small to medium business sector.

As a starting point on what is traditionally a difficult segment of the market, he claims resellers should look to partner with vendors who understand how the market operates.

"Vendor relationships are as important as our relationships with our clients," Small said. "We seek out vendors who are capable of building and developing client relationships with us; it has to be a two-way street - we are helping them sell their products and we need to be able to go to them for support."

According to Small, many IT vendors limit their success in the SMB space by insisting on fixed budget and sales targets, rather than moulding these to the individual reseller. Others, he said, fail to listen and respond to reseller feedback, and in doing so lose an important information stream.

"We work very closely with our vendors and develop a symbiotic relationship; we provide them with feedback regarding the way their products are performing in the market place," Small said. "The smart vendors encourage this and respond to it."

Vendors who accepted this level of feedback, he said, showed they were serious about the SMB market. While other smaller vendors, especially local software developers, had proven particularly responsive to his customer's needs.

"We also seek to work with smaller vendors because they're often the best at adapting and responding," Small said. "The bigger guys, even if they have the commitment, can find it difficult to change."

Director of Sydney-based IT reseller Phrixus, Mark Giles, said many of these smaller software vendors were very familiar with their own software but lacked general IT skills, creating an important partnering opportunity for the reseller channel.

"We came across a small local vendor who was delivering software to dental practices," Giles said. "They were brilliant at setting up their own software, but they were not so good at setting up the rest of the network."

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