A big challenge for SMB (small-to-medium businesses) is how to leverage advances in technology in the way that Enterprise companies can, but in a more cost-effective way.
I am a big believer in keeping things simple. So, I don’t mean that a SMB should consider taking on the big tech footprint that Enterprise undertakes. It’s more a case of understanding what that tech can do, and then trying to find a way that you can do it with the tools you have that fit into your budget.
Especially when it comes to marketing tech.
Echoes from the past
I know its sort of a case of you taking the person out of the role of solution architect, but you can’t take the solution architect out of the person. It’s just how I think. Solution architect was a technical role I held in the 00s. As a software vendor employee, I designed and deployed multi-million user email systems at mobile operators. Way back when email on a phone was new.
In truth we never, maybe I should say rarely, went into a customer and installed something that was completely new. More often or not, we were replacing an install base of different systems band-aided together and stretched to it’s limits. We replaced that spaghetti network with a robust complete platform. Sometimes customizing. Usually integrating with things that were beyond our scope. Like billing and provisioning.
Another piece of the puzzle was that our customer base was technical. We were a technical vendor providing technology that our service provider customer used to service their customers. So that band-aided together different systems stretched to it’s limits was solution architected in the first place by our customer’s brilliant people. A lot of opensource software. Or things that came already installed on the box (OEM software). Or they built in-house.
Which gets me back to the challenge for SMB
In some ways, I’m advocating that a SMB act like those early wild-west email service providers.
The challenge is that SMBs usually don’t have in-house the technical skills to be able to architect what they need with what is available to them. Or if they do, they can go down rabbit holes of spending too much time fiddling with systems and not enough time on their businesses. (I can resemble that remark myself.)
Yet. SMBs do have the available tools.
A big difference that has happened since the early 00’s is the move towards cloud-based platforms and software-as-a-service (SaaS). With over 7500+ marketing applications out there, there is a lot to choose from. And with most of our business being online, we have a much smaller hardware footprint.
Today, smaller companies can use free and basic subscriptions of the same software that enterprise uses. With a few gotchas. Firstly, the features we want often are only available at a much more expensive tier. Secondly, sometimes the basic service is hosted on systems with less bandwidth. Still a lot is available to us at a lowish price.
Also, there can be similar but different products that cater to different markets. SMBs might use a vendor that offers a lower priced product that performs some of the functionality of a product offered by a vendor catering to Enterprise companies. We see a lot of that in the CRM space,. Another example is the difference between using Google Forms, Survey Monkey or Qualtrics for customer surveys. Three completely different price points in products that do surveys.
Often a limitation in cheaper tiers is in being able to customize or brand. Or it’s a limit in how many resources you can use, for example a limit in number of products, features, users, or amount of your data.
If you try to extend it you can end up hitting some roadblocks. Or go down those rabbit holes I spoke about earlier.
Then there is low-code and no-code
Another interesting trend is the move away from people having to have technical coding skills to do things. A lot of customization and extensibility comes with being able to manipulate or configure low-code or no-code features.
When you think of it, it’s amazing that a website can be created by drag and drop of elements. (or an old coder like me thinks it’s amazing, lol.) After applying unique branding one site can look completely different from another.
And believe me, Enterprise companies are using this to move some of the customization out of IT and into the hands of departments.
It takes changing our approach to SMB Tech
In truth, the thing that I got out of studying computer science at university wasn’t learning how to code. It was learning the way tech works. The design thinking concepts. How things work. The logic. The innovative experimental approach. Which stood my career better in the everchanging world of technology than learning a contextual skill. It’s those skills that moved me from early coder to solution architect.
And I believe they are skills that a SMB should try to hone. Not coding skills. Because then you can step back and see the common things that different vendor packages can do. And not get bogged down into the weeds of how each one does it differently.
So how do you do it without going back to school?
The short answer is play and experimentation. Trying things out, just to try them out. And trying different packages out to see how different vendors do the same thing.
One of my mobile operator clients in the late 00s installed its customer base across us and a competitive vendor. They did have overhead of an “authoritative” customer database with the smarts to move customers between systems. Part of that install base was provisioned on on our systems and another part on the competitor’s systems. They could move users around. (And used that dual setup to get tailored support from us, because there was always the threat they could drop us.)
I know if you find technology overwhelming you might find this idea to be like diving into the deep end without a life jacket. But there are advantages to it.
We are already doing it in real life without realizing it
In truth all of us have had to do something similar if we have vendors or clients that use different video conferencing software. We likely all have used Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Citrix Webex. (but then maybe I do because that’s just how I roll, lol.) We probably have our favorite. And maybe we pay for one. But we have used the others.
So why not extend this to other applications you use. Going back to that survey example. Maybe you do an NPS survey using Google Forms. And then do an extensive Customer Satisfaction survey with Survey Monkey. Or send announcement emails to one segment on MailChimp. While you send email sequences to another segment on ActiveCampaign.
So SMB, let’s explore for our own advantage
The benefit is that we can sometimes keep within pricing limitations that way. It also means we can kick the tires of a different product that might be a little out of our reach by trying the free versions. We can lean a little bit more about the functionality and logic of a feature by looking at how it works on different systems.
And then when we are ready to scale, we are more comfortable with what we want we want to use in doing that. We are better informed in making our choices of what applications we want to use at scale.
Something to think about.