All in the Family Business

Wednesday Sep 12th 2007 by Lauren Simonds
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A survey conducted by Microsoft shows that within family-owned businesses, the tech divide falls along generational lines. It's Boomer money versus GenX savvy.

Plenty of variables affect how, when and why family-owned small businesses invest in technology. However a survey commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by KRC Research shows that in family businesses with multiple generations, age and attitude toward technology are the main points of friction.

Microsoft polled the primary owners of 252 small, family-run businesses by phone to get a better understanding of the small business customer, according to Glauco Ferrari, Microsoft's director of SMB marketing, worldwide. "Many small businesses are family-owned, especially at the smaller end of the spectrum," said Ferrari. "This research will help us to design and develop the right products around the needs of our customers."

The survey results point to a technology debate between the two generations. Sixty percent of the responding businesses with multiple generations said there's disagreement between the older and younger members of the family when it comes to adopting technology. Ferrari said that in broad terms, older members view technology as gadgetry while younger members are more involved and willing to adapt.

Adam Williams, owner of ROI Marketing Services, a consulting firm in Memphis, Tenn., took part in the telephone survey, during which he told Microsoft the following:

"The challenge to my son, who always thinks we need the latest gadget, is to prove to me that the investment in technology will help the business grow. If there is a positive return on our investment, I'll listen."

In a written statement, Eddie Yandle, a senior director of the worldwide small and mid-market solutions at Microsoft, said "The survey revealed that seven in 10 owners with multiple generations working in the business said that the younger generation is more enthusiastic about technology than the older generation. In addition, two out of three owners agreed that technology is a good way to attract younger generations into their companies."

Microsoft also listed six areas in which technology can improve small businesses and asked participants whether they agreed or disagreed.

  • Increase the efficiency of our operations — 79 percent agreed
  • Grow the business — 74 percent agreed
  • Provide better customer service — 74 percent agreed
  • Improve the quality of our image or product — 70 percent agreed
  • Stay competitive with bigger businesses — 68 percent agreed
  • Gain an advantage over our competition — 68 percent agreed

Three out of four respondents said that technology was important to sustaining their business, while 52 percent said they couldn't be in business without it. When it comes to technical advice, the respondents split fairly evenly with 29 percent getting advice from friends and family, 24 percent from professional colleagues and 24 percent from retailers or VARs.

However, the survey showed that the business owners who received advice from retailers and VARs had a higher rate of satisfaction — 95 percent — compared to 88 percent from colleagues and 75 percent from family and friends.

Overall satisfaction also related to age with respondents aged 50 and under coming in at 93 percent while those ages 65 and over at 67 percent.

Ferrari wasn't surprised at the survey results. "It confirmed our thinking," he said. "The technology division between these two generations shows us that we need to learn how to develop and market products to both groups."

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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