by May 2, 2014 0 comments

Let us start with a basic question that still remains vaguely unanswered–what’s the definition of an SME? Some OEM/Vendors define SME on the basis of their business turnover, while others define it on the basis of the number of people working in the company or by the number of PCs or servers they own. While these are yardsticks one should consider, we normally categorize SME as any company that is using basic applications such as mail, office automation tools, etc and is yet to graduate to such “Enterprise Applications” as ERP or CRM.
We also consider the maturity level of IT usage in the company in terms of the need for such applications versus the acceptability that these Enterprise applications will have within the company. We have created a simple test to define such usage. This entails customer approach towards usage of IT in such core areas as Production Planning, Finance, Order Processing, Customer Relationship, etc. We also consider other parameters like websites, online presence, bandwidth usage, etc. Of course the comfort level of employees in adopting IT is another major factor.

We feel that by defining SMEs by the maturity level of their IT usage can be more useful in understanding their actual pain points. This is one major apprehension we have come across from nearly all SME owners. They feel that there’s insufficient effort being put by vendors to address their actual pain areas. Let us try to illustrate this with few real life situations.

Budget is Not a Constraint for Right Solutions
Most IT vendors/OEMs we interact with complain about lack of budget and payment problems with SMEs. This is not true for all SMEs, as the following examples illustrate. One SME owner we had been interacting with, was worried about the irrational behaviour of his IT network. He complained that their network was unreliable and they had no confidence about using any enterprise level application on it. He rued the fact that at least two of his customers constantly complained about either not receiving mails from his ID or receiving these mails after a long gap, although they had been exchanging mails for years. The SME owner also mentioned that the problems exist despite having solutions implemented from multiple network solution providers and even after having involved the bandwidth provider.

Another customer in the education segment complained of having bought a cloud based ERP from a large vendor, which remains unimplemented even after a year. The company says that their model of implementation is only through cloud and can at best offer telephonic support.

Yet another customer engaged a Digital Marketing agency to build online presence for them, and were bombarded with solutions on SEO, PPC, EDMs, etc. After a year of trying all such solutions, using multiple vendors, they are nowhere in terms of their online presence. This customer complained that whenever RoI was mentioned, the vendor would ask the customer to have some patience and politely mention that currently they are on a brand building exercise. After spending almost two years and close to INR 35 Lacs, the customer is nowhere in terms of their digital presence.

The Key Lies in Understanding their Pain Points
Some other feedback we’ve received from SMEs is that the Vendor/OEM sales people who approach them for business have limited knowledge of the subject and are not able to offer a complete solution to the customer. For instance, sales people with knowledge of networking/storage will refuse to even discuss any other pain area. The SME owners themselves have very low awareness of technology and its actual benefits, and they also lack information on business best practices. A majority of them have short term objectives with a focus on quick turnaround solutions with a high measureable ROI. There’s also insecurity about how to actually operationalize solutions offered and about opening their systems to third party vendors, which could give ease of access to critical businesses. There’s also lack of security (fear of losing control) among employees leading to non acceptability of an IT solution. This results in investments on IT being seen as adding a new set of problems mostly due to lack of necessary in-house skill sets.

What SMEs Need for Growth
“Nobody listens to us” is a common gripe heard across all SME verticals. Till now, says one SME owner, no IT company has approached us to offer solutions based on our actual pain areas. No vendor discusses the Business Goals that the SME wants to achieve and then align the IT investments as per this need.

SME owners also rue about the fact since they cannot afford to hire top notch CIOs due to budget constraints. They feel that a lack of vision in where to invest in IT has hampered their growth. In response to our article in the last issue of PC Quest (Dec 13), the CFO of a Punjab based manufacturing SME aptly sums up his feelings:

“IT professionals must change their attitude towards SMEs, where help and support in times of need, at an affordable cost is offered to them. An atmosphere of fear of IT and its cost has to be removed. You have rightly said that SMEs do not have people who understand modern IT terms and phrases. They simply need a solution suited to them at the scale they are accustomed to operate at.”

SMEs Understand the Importance of Technology But…
Today’s SMEs face competition not only from vendors from within India but also from other SMEs across the world. This is particularly evident in highly competitive industry verticals such as auto manufacturing, garment exporters, services etc. Without adopting and accepting technology and making it a comprehensive part of their company in a big way, their growth will be limited. if investments in technology can be aligned with business goals and the RoI can be clearly defined, then budget would not a problem. The world is changing dynamically and maybe the time of pushing products and solutions, just because IT professionals/OEM/Vendors feel that their solutions are the best for the customer, is now almost over.

The bottom line is that today customer will buy anything, and this is true for almost all solutions and for all verticals, provided the seller is able to show value to the customer. The sellers have to move away from the culture of making the customer buy what the sellers think and assume is the best solution for them.

Let the solution providers start actually listening to the customer before suggesting a solution. A good solution doesn’t have to be grand, large scale and glamorous. A good solution is NOT the one which involves lots of IT terminologies and is complex. A good solution is one that solves the problem it needs to solve. May be it will be good idea for solution providers to actually follow “Pahle Aap” (customer first) with
the customer.

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