While new programs designed to rededicate sales, services and resellers to small business keep rolling out month after month; one equipment maker has always focused of taking care of small businesses. After a conversation with Matt Millen, Gateway's SMB vice president, it's pretty easy to see why many small businesses are going with Gateway.
"When it comes to technology, small businesses do what they need to do. They like things that are proven and they're typically a pretty conservative group," Millen said. "Like a florist that needs to tap into new revenue by taking orders over the Internet, small business owners know that the world is changing and computers are finding their way into every business."
But the small business IT market is changing, too. Millen said Gateway is seeing more and more small businesses approach the procurement process just like a big business.
"Today the procurement process is very rigid and formalized," Millen explained. "Years ago new equipment procurement was a quick process for small businesses the buying decision was usually made by a single individual. Now, we're seeing small businesses go through a more methodical process taking buying decisions to a committee or all the way to top officers in order to the validate investment."
Another small business shift that Gateway is experiencing shatters a myth about small business buying habits. As a market segment, small businesses are said to be slow to adopt new technologies. Not so, says Millen. Gateway introduced its first Tablet PC in December 2002 and the company is already seeing the portable PC gain traction in the small business market.
"Ninety percent of the first Tablet PC users originated from very specific vertical markets like the health care industry," Millen said. "Now we're starting to see more general office use of our Tablet PCs because the Tablet PCs are portable, they make a great office productivity solution for small businesses."
Gateway is also experiencing great interest in its 42-inch plasma display that was first introduced in November 2002. Millen said the company is seeing small business put the Gateway Plasma Display to work in some very interesting places.
"We're seeing sports bars replace their big screens with the Gateway Plasma Display for more interactive entertainment," Millen said." We've also had a plumbing company put the Gateway Plasma Display to work in their main office as an interactive map of where each and every truck is currently dispatched. Doctors and dentists are putting them in their waiting rooms. It's really amazing to see how many different uses there are for our plasma displays in a small business setting."
So small businesses have changed the way they buy their IT and communications gear, and changed what type of equipment they traditionally buy. Why the changes? Millen said it's because small businesses recognize new technologies are paths to greater efficiencies.
"Small businesses know that new server-client technology is more cost-effective than old peer-to-peer networks," Millen said. "The third trend we're experiencing is that small businesses see new server technology as a way to be more efficient."
Gateway is entirely cognizant of the fact that hardware is only half of the picture, which is why it's sticking very close to Microsoft. Millen said software is driving the hardware business right now. With this in mind, Gateway has been quick to embrace Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 release this week. Although designed with the enterprise in mind, Gateway plans to be similarly prepared for the release of the Small Business 2003 Server when Microsoft launches the system in June.
Gateway also recognizes that all small businesses are not created equally. Small businesses with less than 20 employees have different needs than a small business with 300 employees. Millen said Gateway has designed a service lifecycle program for three different segments of the small business market.
"Sixty-five percent of the small businesses we serve have less than 20 employees," Millen said. "Thirty percent have 20 to 100 employees and five percent have between 100 and 500 employees. What they buy and when they buy is very different. So we interact with each segment very differently"
Millen said that successful equipment makers understand how to explain a value proposition to small business buyers. But for Gateway, that's not enough.
"We want to love-bomb our customers," Millen said. "I want every small business to know it's very important to us. We get to know our customers and we get to know their business. That's the only way we can do what we do provide a great sales experience."
Gateway didn't have to reinvent itself to serve the small business market. For those small businesses that buy retail, and many do, Gateway's 200-plus Country Stores fit the bill. These retail outlets also allow Gateway to provide small businesses with the training and support they need to leverage their investments in new technologies.
Others business buyers prefer to shop over the phone or online. Gateway strives to have its call centers representatives pick up the phone in 30-seconds or less. No matter which way a customer connects, Gateway strives to build a better sales process so small businesses keep coming back for more.
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