Small and medium businesses – plus public sector firms – are an ideal target for IT and tech retailers. Laura Barnes speaks to some key industry figures to uncover the secrets to being successful at selling into these sectors…
While consumers may have once been the core customer base for a lot of retailers, it’s no secret that pressure from online competition, along with a tough High Street climate, continues to pile on the pressure. In fact, we discovered in this year’s annual PCR Retail Survey that 49 per cent of retailers are now generating sales in the B2B sector. Some smaller retailers and vendors can be put off selling to the B2B market as they may feel their business can’t support large enterprises, but the small and medium business (SMB) market can provide a way in. It offers companies the opportunity to build up relationships with a number of much smaller firms and grow their offerings as demands increase.
It’s not just smaller companies that have realised the opportunities this sector brings, as a number of big players are also selling into the SMB market, from Ebuyer to Amazon and more.
Spot the difference
Selling into different markets sometimes means looking at things from a different angle, and making sure you’re offering the right thing in the right way. As Lenovo’s head of channel, Leigh Saunders, puts it: “The sales process should always be driven by the needs of the customer. Ultimately, a product will be used very differently in an office to how it would be in a home.” And that’s why the PC manufacturer has two very distinct product ranges designed for each specific user.
Stone Group’s corporate director, Simon Pettit, agrees: “Consumers have a different mind-set and emotion is always involved. They tend to follow trends for the ‘latest and greatest’ devices, whereas the public/SMB sector’s primary concern is proving total cost of ownership so there is a stronger case for value for money.”
However, Dell UK’s executive director and general manager, Sarah Shields, believes the differences aren’t always so obvious: “If you look at the SMB market and you split it into two, you’ve got your traditional small business and then your SOHO (small office home office).
“So how are these companies buying? Well, a lot of them do follow the same sort of pattern as consumers. You’ve got more and more emphasis on slim form factors, so it’s no longer just executive toys – it’s looking for something really smart and an alternative to other ‘fruit-like’ names.”
Regardless of how perfect they may be, the products and services you offer won’t sell themselves. That’s why having the right staff and presenting yourself in the right way is also a key element.
“A different language is needed for each audience,” believes Prestigio’s UK head of marketing, Simon Buckingham. “Match your pricing with the quality of your product and have a training structure in place to make sure your staff know enough about the product to sell it on your behalf.”
Whether you’re a retailer, reseller, vendor or service provider, your selling options aren’t just consumer or SMB. Those working with public sector organisations may see bigger rewards, making it an area definitely worth looking into. But it is important to bear in mind that there are even more elements to the sale process than with SMBs.
Roger Harry, CEO of Circle IT warns: “The bid process in the public sector is frightening compared to the SMB world. SMBs normally just want a single page with the costs whereas most public sector tenders include lots of legal requirements so as the bidder, you need to absorb and understand all of this information to have a shot at getting the business.”
Prestigio’s Simon Buckingham agrees: “There are crunching financial situations still existing in the public sector, therefore every penny counts.”
While this may initially put some people off, what might be a little more work in the beginning may eventually result in more long-term contracts with businesses.
“The public sector is more about the long term. They want to know about roadmaps, maintenance, how much it will cost now and upkeep in the future,” explains Stone Group’s Simon Pettit.
“Public sector organisations can have much different requirements to other businesses such as the need for certain standards and processes to be in place, as well as policy directions from both local and central governments, but overall you are still looking to fulfill a need,” adds Panda Security’s UK and Ireland marketing manager Neil Martin.
So, there are clearly differences between SMBs and the public sector, but ultimately, business is business. Lenovo’s Leigh Saunders stresses that the most important thing when selling into any business environment is to “understand what makes the customer unique and then provide the most suitable solutions based around their specific needs.”
With all that in mind, do you own the kind of company that can actually get out there and sell to SMBs and public sector companies?
The consensus amongst those who spoke to PCR for this feature was that, as long as they have the right products and attitude, almost any company can sell into these markets.
“If your offering is something required within the business or public sectors then there is no reason why you cannot offer it,” says Panda Security’s Neil Martin.
“Selling to SMBs and public sector organisations require expertise and an inherent understanding of these markets, as well as an extensive product portfolio that can meet a range of requirements,” adds Lenovo’s Leigh Saunders.
Circle IT’s Roger Harry agrees that anyone can make a go of it, and advises that frameworks can provide a good route to securing work. “You can buddy with other companies on the frameworks to help secure bids too,” he suggests.
Six Top Tips for selling to SMBs
“You need to concentrate your offering and provide support and feedback to the whole buying group when selling into larger organisations. The purchase cycle can be multiple months and often years before you may make an initial sale. However once this is achieved, the experience gained and the new client, who you can use as a reference, will make further in-roads much easier to navigate.”
Neil Martin, Panda Security
“For any company to succeed they need an inherent knowledge of the businesses they are selling to and must understand the macro and micro trends taking place within their sector. Take education and health for example, these public sector organisations are worlds apart and are subject to very different government rules and regulations, so specialist knowledge is vital.”
Leigh Saunders, Lenovo
“Brand police are needed to ensure there is no deterioration of pricing and to ensure the brand does not lose any integrity. Think hard about your campaigns and promotions to your customers. Look through the eyes of the recipient – what would you expect from a supplier? Also look at the service structure. It is a big thing for me to ensure everyone is taken care of post-sales, and that the brand is recognised for its customer service.”
Simon Buckingham, Prestigio
“You must understand the marketplace. Qualify it, research it and understand it. From there you will find it a lot deeper and broader than you ever imagined.”
Simon Pettit, Stone group
“Get the conversation away from price, notebooks and desktops. We need to be talking about what else there is. What else is critical for a small business today? It’s about connectivity, security and scalability. Any small business today wants to grow. So how do you get the right IT infrastructure in order to grow? That’s where the conversation changes, and you go from a tactical ‘have I got a deal for you’ to a proper, deep relationship and keeping that customer throughout the lifecycle of that SME’s growth.”
Sarah Shields, Dell UK
“Invest in your technical staff. You really need top IT nerds to play and compete in the public sector as the solutions are much bigger and more complex than in other markets.”
Roger Harry, Circle IT