Small businesses are increasingly dependent on information technology. 78% of small (1-99 employees) businesses consider technology critical to their success. These small businesses are dealing with an ever-expanding portfolio of increasingly complex applications and platform technologies. Techaisle's small business research data shows that 73% prefer to purchase from a supplier who provides business issues focused technology advisory guidance and 64% want an IT supplier vested in customer success. In an IT environment that is already very complex and likely to become more so, trusted advisors are essential to small businesses. Launched in May 2016, Dell Technologies' Small business Advisor program has been consistently simplifying the technology complexity and removing the friction from purchase decision inertia.
There is a perception that Dell advisors only sell PCs. Reality is quite different than perception. The advisors advise and sell end-to-end solutions. For complex needs, such as digital transformation, Dell has a clear second-level escalation path. The front-line advisors can raise the small business needs to large order specialists or technical resources to work on complex solutions. These specialists have the depth to look over the needs and the entire customer account from an end-to-end perspective, provide infrastructure guidance, including VMware products, and configure solutions based on the customer's requirements.
The advisors are not sales agents. Instead, they have the expertise to determine where a small business is in its technology journey and thereby provide contextual guidance. Their goal is to advise customers on what they need and what they could get, what needs to get fixed, how to fix it, and how to get the right next solution. It is a much more holistic way to drive the customer experience. For example, over the last year, a vast majority of advisor conversations were around the following topics:
None of the above are simple technology adoption questions. They are also not point-and-click PC purchases. Techaisle data indicates that there is an interesting opportunity to connect high-value guidance with click-to-buy type options. However, this kind of offering needs a more extensive consultative capability in many cases. For example, nearly three-quarters of small business buyers would like their IT suppliers to provide technical advice directly connected to business issues. In addition, almost two-thirds want an IT advisor who is "invested in customer success." Dell has a very rigorous model of getting to know the customer. Customer conversations revolve around what solution the advisors are trying to help with and what problems they are trying to solve through technology.
Customer success is a critical component of the advisor program. For an advisor, the conversation does not end with a transaction. On the contrary, advisors reconnect with buyers throughout the year to understand the business progress.
Training is the foundation of customer success. Each advisor goes through 160 hours of training before they connect with their first customer:
The training results in many positive customer interactions. As one satisfied Dell small business customer said in praise of a small business advisor, "I am amazed at the level of service you have provided our company. For years I have had to research and price out desktops, laptops, printers, accessories, etc., for all our managers and foreman. Having you as my dedicated representative has made a huge difference in my workday. I feel like I am talking to a real person who cares about our company’s needs and wants. I can tell that your number one priority is to find the best solution for us, whether it be a small laptop or a large printer for office use. I get the same level of service. I've noticed over the years that I usually only get outstanding service when making large purchases, so when you took the time to assist me in buying earbuds and a small laptop, I noticed that. Thank you for helping us make this printer purchase. Our current system of 3 different machines is a nightmare. I am impressed that you got it to ship earlier than expected. We are counting the days for its arrival. I will send you a photo of me smiling next to it."
The advisor organization consists of approximately 800 employees, half of which are front-line advisors, 200 are second-level specialists, and the balance is coaches and management staff. To manage and constantly improve the performance of the vast organization, Dell has put in place several measurement metrics. For example, revenue per advisor, revenue by tenure, percentage of quota, attrition rates, customer experience feedback, and net promoter scores. These metrics are really about customer and advisor engagement. In addition, Dell expects its advisors to be actual solutions sellers, and therefore it also measures percent leads being raised to specialists to drive solution sales.
Among all the end-user commercial market segments, small businesses are the most complex. Not only do they constitute over 97% of any country's firmographics, they are in different stages of IT maturity, cloud adoption, digital transformation mindset, innovation curve, and analytics approach. These small businesses also often operate in micro-verticals with particular use cases which are incredibly challenging to pre-define. It has historically been the case that many small businesses purchase based on immediate needs and current pricing. As a result, they end up with a mix of technologies and suppliers. Still, even in these segments, Techaisle has observed a more holistic procurement strategy as small businesses encounter increasing requirements for cross-product integration supporting digital business practices and develop a greater appreciation for the value of a trusted technology advisor.
Three-quarters of small businesses rely on a trusted party – an internal employee with expertise in IT and external consultants – to provide advice on IT strategy. In most cases (over 60%), small businesses trust these advisors because they view them as unbiased and experienced and give the "right guidance" to the buyer. While the 'unbiased' observation would seem to rule out product vendors, small businesses prefer advisors who can move seamlessly from advice to procurement and deployment.
An exciting example of unbiased, no-pressure customer feedback is: "I have worked with many technology companies over the years and have communicated with many "claimed" sales professionals but never, have I dealt with such a detailed, happy one like Emily. I purchased three new computers yesterday and mentioned to Emily that I would be buying Samsung curved monitors as I like them. With no forceful tactics or oversell, Emily understood and let it be. After spending some time on the phone yesterday with CDW and BestBuy, I realized that I needed to call Emily to fulfill this monitor need. In a nutshell, I love Dell computers but more so enjoy working with Emily. I contacted her today and decided it was best to purchase from her rather than in the other direction. She is 100% the reason I am making the switch and genuinely appreciate her knowledge and communication."
Five years after the launch of the program, the work has just begun. Dell Technologies has committed to a $450+ million long-term investment for small business advisors and marketing. Technology in the cloud era means leadership, strategy, and management expertise. Despite the complexity, small business expenditures on cloud, conventional, edge, and digital transformation will increase substantially in the next five years. US SMBs are forecast to spend US$354 billion on digitalization and digital transformation in 2025. In addition, 68% are actively investing in digital transformation technologies, and 55% have accelerated their investments in digital technologies.
Dell Technologies’ Small business Advisor program is also evolving, identifying blind spots, bending its sights around corners. Erik Day, Senior Vice President, Small business, Dell Technologies, says, "We have a closed-loop partnership between the commercial and global training organizations. An annual process assesses, compares trends, challenges leadership to simplify complex solutions, identifies training needs, and fills the gaps."
Erik Day aims to provide each small business customer the right experience, regardless of size or order value, "whether they are buying one Chromebook, or 100 Dell Latitudes or six servers or five switches and storage. Every customer needs to get the same experience. Unless we give every one of those customers a fantastic experience, we will never get the next outcome. We do not know when a ten-employee company will be the next Unicorn."
Erik is also passionate about minority-owned businesses. He says, "Women and underrepresented minorities are starting businesses at a much faster rate than others. So, therefore, I think it's also imperative that we get the message across to them that we are not only a provider of technology, but we can be their guides. My goal is to be the thought leader for these up-and-coming small businesses and get them the information they need to make them smart about their technology."
Small business firms are a primary force in local and national economies – but they are often constrained by a lack of targeted strategic inputs, especially concerning the business impact of IT investments. Large enterprises can combine internal, cross-functional specialist teams with advice from management consultants to develop strategy blueprints. Small businesses are typically reacting to immediate requirements; strategy is not a primary consideration. With emerging technologies, though – cloud, edge, analytics, and related solutions, Dell Technology Advisor Program is playing a definitive positive role that technology can play in expanding current customer relationships and forging new ones.
Dell Technologies’ Small Business advisors work with millions of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and innovators worldwide every day. And as a trusted partner to small businesses, they also advise local tech service providers on driving digital transformation through technology for their small business customers. In addition, Dell Technologies advisors give free advice and one-on-one partnership to fuel business growth by understanding business needs and helping select the right technology solutions for success.
The statement from a Dell small business customer says it all. "I just wanted to take a moment and acknowledge what outstanding customer service I received from Morgan. Monday, I received an assignment to purchase two laptops for our startup company and establish what type of computer will set the precedence for our company needs from here on out. We estimate that we will require another 8 in the next 60 to 90 days with more exponential growth over the next year. Once our startup has launched, we will also require computer systems for our mobile units. Morgan was there from the start, not only answering all my questions but was right on top of revised quotes as we homed in on what our computer needs were going to be. Morgan gave me clear, concise, and honest information with which I was able to make a decision and easily sell it to my senior management. I appreciate that I didn't feel pressured in one direction, but most of all, she was right on top, helping me through every step of the way. I am sure you hear it all the time. I'm not a hardware person, I can make the software work, but GB and HZ, I have no clue. I contacted another company but didn't receive any of the help I needed, let alone the personal attention I received from Morgan. Meredith Gering was also extremely helpful in getting our business established and set up for future purchases. Thank you again for all of your help. I anxiously await the day I can open my box and plug my new computers in, and I look forward to our continued relationship with Dell."
Today's economy demands that technology support business activities. Businesses capitalizing on technology-enabled business options will define their future. So what's the path forward, from today's foundation to tomorrow's opportunity? Dell Technology advisors are on that guiding path to be the beacons for small businesses.
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