I came across an interesting article by Michael McDerment today on a concept he calls “ Transitional Services ”. It’s well worth the read regardless of whether you’re a small business, or seeking to provide technology to small businesses.
Transitional services are “services that facilitate a user’s transition from one platform to the next – or at least ease their pain.”
I think the lack of transitional services are a key reason why many small businesses are not able to make the technology leap. Unfortunately, both parties lose in this process. Technology vendors lose because they miss out on potential clients and small businesses lose because they miss the opportunity to implement technology that would likely have improved their business.
The solution, I think, is for technology vendors to spend some time thinking about how they can facilitate users moving from the “old way” of doing things to the “new way” of doing things. This goes beyond simply being able to import data from some old software to some new software (like a database application that allows you to import your old Excel spreadsheets). What about when your data is not even in Excel yet – but sitting on post-it notes or in your physical Rolodex? If you’re moving to a new, powerful, interactive website that allows you to manage your content and create a blog, how do you migrate your old site? Unfortunately, many of these services can’t be automated yet and it takes good old fashioned service (delivered by people) to make this happen.
This is where things get tricky. Technology providers like to automate everything and shift as much of the effort into a “do it yourself” model as possible. This is not hard to understand. This is how they make the most profits. People, particularly competent people, are expensive. That’s why most software vendors selling applications over the web simply want to sell you the software – but rarely the services you need to actually get value from it. In the big enterprise market, this is not as large of an issue as it is conventional to always have some services along with a software sale. This is what is known as “solution” selling (basically software + service = solution). In the small business market, the conventional wisdom is that you can’t charge for service. I think the notion that small businesses can’t or won’t pay for services is a myth. Sure, we as small business owners are not going to pay $250/hour to have our website migrated – but, the concept of paying for service is not that foreign to us. It’s surprising (at least to me) that so few technology providers selling to small businesses get this. Most don’t have any way of purchasing their assistance or guidance in helping use their product. My message is simple: service is often necessary for the software to succeed.
So, my advice to the technology providers seeking to sell to me (and to other small businesses): Make it easy to buy both technology and service from you. Charge a fair price, and I will pay it. Don’t make it difficult for me to pay for your time and definitely don’t make me feel guilty for using your service when I need it. If I’m willing to pay for it, I should be able to pay for it.
My advice to small businesses: When selecting technology providers, make sure that they are easy to do business with. Reward the providers that are willing to take lower profits on service in order to earn your business.