Industry experts share strategies for resellers to deliver networking solutions to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which accounts for the majority of the regional businesses.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute the majority of the Middle East economic landscape. A recent study done by BLOOVO Middle East revealed that 90 percent of the total registered companies in MENA are in fact SMEs. And in UAE alone, more than 350,000 SMEs account for over 94 percent of the companies operating in the country. And these small and medium-sized firms are realising the importance of having a robust networking infrastructure in place to be able to meet customers’ evolving demands.
Manoj P K, Senior Business Unit Manager, Gulf, Aptec- An Ingram Micro Company, says that small and midsize business customers are increasingly accepting and implementing new technologies such as mobility, network and cloud solutions in order to increase productivity and to help compete cost-effectively in a mobile work environment, with a minimum capital investment.
“As the technology is changing rapidly, those who stay up-to-date are the ones who will emerge as winners. Partners should be equipped and keep an open mind to embrace and find opportunities from both, a technology and a business perspective,” he says. “Some trends we are seeing with SMEs include the fact that they are betting their trust on everything wireless, from accessing the Internet to streaming data from the cloud, they require simple management tools to deploy and administer, and robust networking hardware that support growing bandwidth needs.”
“Understanding each company’s requirements and developing domain expertise will lead to partners offering the right solutions that help small and medium-sized businesses to thrive and increase productivity.” -Sakkeer Hussain, D-Link Middle East and Africa
SMEs face a number of challenges when it comes to their networks and this is where channel partners can stand out through customised offerings.
According to Bruce Zhou, CEO, AXILSPOT, the issues SME customers usually face include high bandwidth, high-density connection needs, interferences, user authentication and recognition of network application, all of which severely affect network efficiency.
“Also, cost-effective project installation and deployment are undoubtedly required to reduce considerable technological expenses. To tackle these problems, SMEs notably require more comprehensive and tailor-made networking solutions that would ultimately increase enterprise efficiency,” he adds.
In order to offer customised solutions, reseller partners need to first have the knowledge about the specific industry features that define the networking solutions, says Zhou.
“They need to know what the project entails in detail, price expectations, budgets, ROI, requirements for technical support and after-sales service and also their own IT maintenance capability.”
Manoj adds that the complexity of enterprise networks still remains one of the major challenges for most IT organisations.
He says, “Partners need to be attentive to new networking solutions that better address the changing needs of applications to solutions. Customers look for robust approach that reduces the total cost of operating networks, when added applications on a daily basis are dependent on network services.
“Often partners find themselves in a difficult situation when they have to explain to their customers that the technology that was sold to them just a few months ago was not the latest and they have to propose a new one.”
It is paramount for partners to know their solutions thoroughly. They should be in a position to counsel customers on best practices and how that can be customised based on individual business needs.
“Due to lack of IT resources and financial challenges, SMEs depend on their channel partners to provide end-to-end solutions that meet their requirements and budgets, yet provide high levels of security.” – Zacky Vaz, Fortinet
Khalid Khan, Mid-market Director, Avaya MEA, says, “When partners approach SME customers, it is important to note that their offering should be plug-and-play, affordable and support mobility and other high-end applications. SMEs typically have a smaller number of staff who often are required to multi-task. This is why it is important to ensure the offerings are apt for a mobile environment.”
Manoj adds, “Most IT organisations have started to realise the fact that networking as a whole is becoming software-defined. As most of the existing network deployments are of previous generations, the challenge lies in the implementation of next-generation networking technologies. We recommend, enable and train our channel partners to position networking solutions to suit customers’ economic as well performance demands.”
Agreeing, Sakkeer Hussain, Director, Sales and Marketing, D-Link Middle East and Africa, says, although the SME sector offers a huge opportunity to partners, it is vital not to have a generalist approach when talking to customers.
He says, “Understanding each company’s requirements and developing domain expertise will lead to partners offering the right solutions that help small and medium-sized businesses to thrive and increase productivity.”
Fortinet’s Regional Channel Manager, Zacky Vaz, says, security is increasingly becoming another big priority for SMEs.
He says, “Due to lack of IT resources and financial challenges, SMEs depend on their channel partners to provide end-to-end solutions that meet their requirements and budgets, yet provide high levels of security.”
The biggest challenge for partners when talking to SME customers is the fact that they are price-conscious.
Hussain says, “Affordability tops the priority list for any SME business. Partners have to put together an offering that matches their requirements.”
“Partners should keep in mind that SMEs have limited budgets, and look to invest strategically in solutions that will deliver more for less. Also, it is important to note that most of these companies lack dedicated IT resources and security expertise. They are looking for solutions that are easy to manage and are competitively priced. Also, it is crucial to offer after-sales support because this is the value they sought from their channel partners,” says Vaz.
Manoj says that building effective SME-focused channel account managers in organisations with adequate coverage remains one of the hardest business development tasks for vendors, VADs and for channel partners.
“Cost-effective project installation and deployment are undoubtedly required to reduce considerable technological expenses. To tackle these problems, SMEs notably require more comprehensive and tailor-made networking solutions that would ultimately increase enterprise efficiency.” – Bruce Zhou, AXILSPOT
He adds, “Create your new GTM with a clear definition to include a clear understanding of desired activities from all involved with a clear strategy to support your goals. Be flexible, bold, and agile and be at the centre, before competitions capture the customer mindshare.”
He believes partners who use content marketing and social media platform to drive awareness with useful information by understanding buying patterns and requirements will be able to differentiate from competition.
While knowing the industry and customers’ businesses are important factors, identifying your own strengths are even more crucial to succeed, adds Hussain.
He says, “To serve any customer, big or small, a partner should understand and know their key strengths and expertise. Partners that develop mastery skills in the offerings they take to market are more likely to succeed than those resellers that depend on the brand name or the vendor’s reputation to win new business.”
Vendors and distributors play a huge role in enabling partners to stay updated and garner specific skillset to deploy these solutions efficiently.
“When partners approach SME customers, it is important to note that their offering should be plug-and-play, affordable and support mobility and other high-end applications.” – Khalid Khan, Avaya MEA
Khan from Avaya says, “We have programmes such as iConnect Lite, which specifically caters to the SME-focused resellers. Partners receive end-to-end training on our solutions meant for SMEs including networking, pre- and post-sales. We are also enabling partners to deploy networking video conferencing and voice communication solutions.”
With 90 percent of regional companies being SMEs, partners have a tremendous opportunity to optimise and scale-up, provided they have the right skills and market knowledge.
“As SMEs increasingly adopt cloud-based technologies, we will see a shift happening in the market. Today many customers are not able to leverage the benefits of higher-end applications because either they are too complex to deploy and manage or is too expensive to acquire. Cloud-based technologies will eliminate these concerns as the consumption model picks up,” adds Khan.
Partners should keep an eye out on market developments and go the extra mile to offer comprehensive solutions to SME customers.