Parallel Lines: UC for SMEs


Everywhere I turn, the industry is refocusing to address the “business consumer”, the “hard-to-reach SME”, or the “elusive SoHo or micro-small business segment”.

On the back of the economic recovery, the SME market has become a veritable plate du jour. We have been involved in this market for a long time, serving service providers and operators that deliver SaaS solutions to SMEs.

Last week, I heard the number of Europeans employed in the SME sector was approaching 98 per cent. In the UK alone, 47 per cent are employed in micro-to-small businesses. It’s easy to overlook this market, but not easy to underestimate its value.

A study by The Radicati Group predicts the market opportunity of BlackBerry-like services for the SME sector will grow from $7.2 billion in 2009 to $48.6 billion in 2013. This is based entirely on operators extending a well-understood model from a proprietary platform across a range of devices.

Actually, the opportunity stands to be much greater if we take a moment to think of the other very specific services that your local medical or legal practice, accountant or real estate agent would benefit from.

During a chat with a small business owner and a friend at a UK operator, I was asked how I thought mobile operators should sell unified comms to SMEs.

The key is identifying requirement trends across the many thousands of niche businesses, then offering a simple solution that fits those needs, with little overhead and low cost.

Two examples: a web calendaring and appointment service with SMS appointment reminders for legal and medical practices, and voice divert and calendar delegation for plumbers, electricians and builders.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at my leaky roof. Last month my roof sprang a leak and I needed a local roofer, so I turned to a Yellow Pages web service.

I was given twelve results for roofing specialists, with two highlighted as ‘premium’ listings. I began to call each of them, starting at the top of the list. It wasn’t until I called the sixth company on the list I was able to speak to someone and arrange an appointment.

The cost of a “sponsored” or “premium” listing in this type of business listing varies based on the business and listing type, and in many cases the coverage area. However, with a little research, it is easy to see this is a significant investment for a small business – £4,000-£5,000 in this case.

Businesses recognise the benefit of paying this to get higher visibility and greater customer acquisition. In this instance, however, when it came to converting the click to real business, they failed, and in doing so actually generated a negative ROI on my enquiry.

The failure wasn’t to do with customer profiling, keyword or geographic targeting, or even search engine optimisation. It quite simply came down to being too busy to answer the phone. 

This low-tech failing is not unique to roofing specialists, and by no means is it unusual. All businesses tell the same story; that business comes in waves. When it’s good, it’s very good and they struggle to fit everything in.

But it is the inability to manage simple things like booking in new business that leads to the agonising lulls that many have recently experienced.

It is this understanding that will drive SME-friendly solutions into the market. Understanding how and where today’s roofing specialist, solicitor, or architect fails in their business process and providing solutions that fit with their working practices, and also drive new business.