The year ahead for SMBs: a story of growth
This is the first blog in a series exploring the findings of Microsoft’s SMB Voice and Attitudes to Technology Study. Parts Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six are available on the partner blog.
As we look ahead to the coming year, there is a fantastic opportunity for partners to support small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in their digital transformation—but each customer requires a tailored approach. Defined as businesses with 1‒300 employees, SMBs play a crucial role in society and the global economy. Making up almost the entire population of businesses worldwide, they are as unique as they are plentiful.
As a team, we recently completed the SMB Voice and Attitudes to Technology Study, bringing together insights from 3,000 businesses in 10 countries around the world. In listening to SMBs’ priorities and perspectives for the coming year, we heard over and over that they will grow larger and faster if they can adopt digital technologies. This is the first in a series of blogs where I will share key insights from the research and discuss the opportunities this brings for our partners. In this blog, I’ll provide an overview of some of the key results, before we dive in deeper. Let’s start by taking a closer look at how to engage with this significant market segment.
Introducing the SMB audience
Don’t judge a business by its size: SMBs account for 99.9% of global businesses, more than 50% of worldwide employment, and contribute 61% of GDP in high-income and 45% in middle-income markets. Remember, some of today’s largest corporations including Microsoft, Amazon, and Disney were once small businesses operating out of someone’s garage! Today’s SMBs have the potential to grow into tomorrow’s industry leaders.
Like larger businesses, many SMBs are also on a journey of digital transformation to cut costs, improve efficiency and access new markets. However, the SMB market presents significant differences from larger organizations due to different needs and behaviors. For example, smaller businesses rarely have in-house or dedicated IT resources, and as a result have less technical capabilities than larger companies. They are often more customer-/relationship-focused than larger businesses or more heavily influenced by individual executives.
That said, a subset of SMBs are born in the cloud, or Digital Natives—these companies are more tech intense and have broader technology needs than traditional SMBs, and they consume and grow their digital technology usage at a far higher rate.
We are also seeing more millennials enter business decision making or ownership roles—and they bring new buying behaviors and priorities, which we’ll look at more deeply in future blogs.
The bottom line is that partners will be most successful by approaching SMBs with agility and openness to their specific goals, challenges, and priorities.
Addressing small business needs
SMBs want technology that directly supports their business objectives—whether targeting growth, profits, or operational efficiency. 75% of SMBs view technology as important or very important to their business success—and a further 16% see it as essential. When evaluating new technologies for their business, SMB decision-makers factor in reliability, security, efficiency, and the quality of customer support. Often facing tighter operating margins than larger companies, this can be a tough equation to crack.
Here, partners can help guide SMB customers to become early and enthusiastic adopters of technology. Early adopters of technology show higher revenue growth and more progress towards their business objectives, including being:
- Almost two times more likely to have achieved some of their business objectives
- Two times more likely to have achieved higher revenue growth over the past year
- Four times more likely to be highly confident in their business
By tying tangible outcomes of implementing new technology—such as much needed security protection, a high priority for many SMBs—to specific objectives around growth, partners can speed up the decision-making process.
Navigating purchase decisions
Cost is not as large of a factor in SMB decision-makers’ initial criteria for selecting new technologies. But come time for adoption and deployment, leaders may be concerned about ongoing costs of maintenance and management. SMBs also struggle with the uncertainty of a new technology’s business impact, either because the SMB wants to focus on running their business or because they generally consider deploying new technologies a leap of faith.
By providing specialized knowledge and support throughout the adoption process, partners can help SMB customers feel confident in their choices. Successful deployment can have compounding results: early adopters of cloud solutions are five times more likely to depend on cloud technologies today and are more ambitious for future deployments. Additionally, they are over seven times more likely to view technology as essential to achieving their objectives.
Realizing the partner opportunity
SMBs’ technology partners are major influences on the business’ decision-making regarding which tech to adopt. While three-quarters of SMBs do have dedicated, internal IT staff, these employees typically focus on the maintenance and management of existing technology within the business. In fact, 45% of SMBs rely on external consultants to manage their technology, with a preference for those who can offer a full service, like Managed Service Providers (MSPs)
Microsoft partners offer specialized intelligence in areas that are essential to the consideration of new technology, such as platform development or cybersecurity. MSPs or cloud service providers (CSPs) can provide specific guidance on technology and access to experts at any stage of the adoption process. We’ve also found that SMBs look to their technology partners to proactively suggest and lead acquisition of new technologies that will support their business goals (including CSR and ESG objectives).
Successfully connecting with SMB customers requires a tailored approach that demonstrates a partner’s understanding of where they are, and where they can grow. To learn more about SMB attitudes, explore the full study and watch out for more upcoming blog entries on this topic.