For many IT support companies, trying to guess what your small business clients actually want, let alone need, is like trying to assemble a winning Fantasy Baseball team. You think you have all the answers until a team like the St. Louis Cardinals defies all odds to make it to the postseason and overcomes a tremendously-talented Texas Rangers roster.

So what do small businesses actually want from their IT support companies?

This question came up on LinkedIn last week, courtesy of Jason Russell at Nerds On Site in Toronto.

Jason asked, “I own a small on-site IT company. I want to know truly what is wanted from small businesses. Is it only on-site IT support, only when they call? Ongoing care and maintenance plans? Cost-cutting measures like VoIP? Thank you very much for your responses!”

Here’s our take: What small business clients actually want from their IT support companies largely depends on three factors:

  • Your Business Model: How you position your company (VAR, integrator, consulting firm, MSP, system builder, computer repair business, etc.)

  • Your Ideal Client: How do you define your target market (by geography, by industry, by company size)

  • Your Level of Marketing Sophistication: How you market to that segment (B2B-style marketing vs. B2C-style marketing) 

Understand that Non-Technical Small Business Owners Don’t Differentiate Among Different IT Needs

Your best small business clients don't just want ongoing care and maintenance.

They want it “all.”

These clients want their IT support companies to take care of anything and everything having to do with their IT truly be their single point of contact.

Realize that Only Industry Insiders Know What “Virtual IT” Means

If your company targets local small businesses, you won’t find many prospective clients going to Google and searching for a “virtual IT company.”

Non-technical small business owners and managers crave solutions to their immediate problems...their biggest, most frustrating, most challenging business and technology headaches.

Your firm has to solve those immediate aches and pains, these huge IT migraines before new customers will be willing to open up and listen to your big-picture advice.

In other words, don’t even think about bringing up long-term service agreements until you’re sure that your company’s dose of “ibuprofen” has taken effect.

Don’t Lump All Small Business Clients into One Bucket

If your firm wants to succeed with small businesses, it’s vital to understand that not all small businesses are alike.

In fact, the phrase "small business" is rather vague and rarely reflects the marketplace realities.

It may be convenient for government agencies and financial institutions to group all small businesses together. But remember just how much waste can be found in typical government bureaucracies and financial institutions, and how little accountability there often is.

To thrive in the small business space, you must understand just how flawed these oversimplifications are.

Recognize that Bigger Small Business Clients Spend More on IT than Tiny Small Business Clients (Usually)

Although different industries and vertical markets certainly have different IT needs, other things being equal, larger small businesses usually have more sophisticated IT needs and larger IT budgets than smaller small businesses.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. But let’s revert back to baseball for a moment.

Which team can afford a higher payroll? A winning team that has sell-out crowds at nearly every home game? Or a struggling team that depends heavily on marketing promotions and rock concerts just to get the stadium half-filled on Saturday evening home games?

Generally, the winning team with more fans in the seats has more revenue and can afford a much higher payroll.

And on a related note, baseball teams, or any professional sports teams for that matter, just like any small- or medium-sized business, that have more revenue, will likely invest more in IT.

Get Proactive about Solving Your Small Business Clients’ Problems

Small businesses that lack in-house IT staff almost always lean on some kind of outsourced IT support to fill this need.

While this outsourced IT support can include VARs, integrators, consulting firms, MSPs, system builders, or computer repair businesses, the key piece of the puzzle for small business IT support companies is being proactive.

When your small business clients have no in-house IT staff, be proactive and take charge of literally anything and everything having to do with their IT needs.

So what do you do when clients have requests that are outside your in-house skill set?

Find a solution. Why?

Because that’s the way that full-time project managers in enterprise IT departments handle curve balls. They find solutions, even if it means seeking out vendor partners or hiring subcontractors for specific project needs.

Make “Win-Win” Your Mantra

Usually, when most IT support companies think about long-term client relationships, their thoughts turn to service agreements and managed services.

But remember, in order for your offering to be effective, compelling, and profitable, your program must be a win-win for both parties.

To say that your value proposition must be mutually beneficial would be the understatement of the year.

While it seems simple enough on the surface, win-win is often an afterthought for many. Why?

Many technology providers tend to severely under-price their service agreements and managed services.

Think their clients are going to “complain” and ask their IT vendors to raise prices? Not a chance! So, pricing errors set the relationships up for big win-lose scenarios.

Remember, your firm is not the St. Louis Cardinals battling the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Both your firm and your clients must emerge as winners.

Send Prepaid Time Blocks Back to the 1980s and 1990s…Where They Belong

Some IT support companies still cling to the dated idea of selling a prepaid block of time.

What happens when one of these technology providers sells a 40-hour block that’s only half used?

20 hours sits on the books as a credit because the technology provider wasn’t proactively helping their small business clients better use IT.

So the naïve, shortsighted, break/fix-focused technology provider stupidly grins about their bonanza of collecting a 100% bonus of unused time.

But small business clients like this feel cheated. The relationship is destroyed and there’s clearly another win-lose scenario.

Bet Your Firm’s Future on Selling ROI Results

Finally, if you’ve followed corporate layoffs over the past few years, you keep noticing the same trend. Most of the time, only some employees are fired. Who gets to stay? Generally, those who “pay for themselves” by generating a lot more revenue and profit for their employers than their salaries.

You need to adopt the same thinking about your marketing, selling, and client retention efforts.

You don’t become indispensable because you refuse to share passwords with clients or provide training on key system admin tasks.

You become indispensable because the financial results that your IT projects generate far exceed the money that your clients spend on your firm’s outsourced IT services.

If Simon Cowell started hanging out with IT support companies (and let’s hope he doesn’t), he would probably say that the “X Factor” that distinguishes between the struggling $25/hour computer repair technician and the thriving $100+/hour outsourced virtual CIO is understanding real business problems and consistently demonstrating real return on investment (ROI).

Reviewing What Small Business Clients Want from their IT Support Companies

  1. Understand that non-technical small business owners don’t differentiate among different IT needs.

  2. Realize that only industry insiders know what "virtual IT" means.

  3. Don’t lump all small business clients into one bucket.

  4. Recognize that bigger small business clients spend more on IT than tiny small business clients (usually).

  5. Get proactive about solving your small business clients’ problems.

  6. Make “win-win” your mantra.

  7. Send prepaid time blocks back to the 1980s and 1990s (where they belong).

  8. Bet your firm’s future on selling ROI results.

So what do you think small business clients want most from their IT support companies? Please share your tips, hints, and war stories in the comments below.

And if you're serious about growing your IT support company with great SMB clients, especially with those that need SaaS and IaaS support, enroll now in our free 7-day eCourse: Go-to-Market Strategy 101 for B2B SaaS Startups and Scaleups.

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