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3 Tips to Tell if Your IT Supplier is Right for Your Do-it-Yourself Approach

3 Tips to Tell if Your IT Supplier is Right for Your Do-it-Yourself Approach

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: June 11, 2010

The small business world is increasingly becoming self-sufficient and do-it-yourself. Yet many IT suppliers still communicate as if they are talking with IT pros.

There's certainly a need for IT professionals. By no means do I wish to suggest IT people are unimportant or unnecessary -- not at all.

But the reality is, many small businesses today operate leanly without in-house IT support, or even external IT support. Most of their tech buying decisions are made without input from an IT person, and technology has to be installed without an IT pro's help either. This is a trend that has been going on for a while now, as demonstrated by two studies:

- The Intuit Future of Small Business Report* (PDF) noted the connection between easy-to-use, less complex technology and business formation and innovation, stating: 'Reducing barriers such as cost and complexity to creating an online business and sophisticated online applications will accelerate small and personal business formation. Also, because of the ease and minimal cost of creating and integrating online applications, new and better customer support, inventory management, and financial management applications will emerge, and innovation at all levels of small business operations will be possible.'

    - Back in February 2010, Microsoft released a survey of small and medium businesses*, which found that 65% of SMBs used hosted software applications. In other words, SMBs are increasingly looking for software applications that deliver a desired business result -- but without the fuss of installing, updating and maintaining software and servers.

      Whether out of necessity or as a result of a conscious choice, small businesses are making the decision to become IT do-it-yourselfers -- and need simple, less-complex information technology to be able to operate at low cost and still innovate.

      If you are a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to IT, then it's crucial to choose suppliers that share the do-it-yourself approach. That way you can avoid expensive disconnects, hours of wasted time, and frustration.

      Last year I attended a conference at which the CEO of an IT company put up 2 PowerPoint slides making a powerful point:

      Slide #1 showed a beautiful car. Slide #2 showed the car completely disassembled in pieces and parts.

      As he pointed out, 'Our small business customers want slide #1, but we give them slide #2.'

      He was making a couple of points with his slides. For our purposes here, the relevant point is about the disconnect between customer expectations and what the supplier actually delivered: That IT company acted as if they were communicating with skilled mechanics, who know what's under the hood and can (or want to) delve into how the car works. In reality, their customers just wanted to drive a car -- they had no idea how to put one together nor did they care to learn. In other words, they just wanted a 'turnkey' product.

      I think that CEO was communicating largely to his own organization, in the role of change agent. Unfortunately, regardless of how he identified the problem so well, fast forward to one year later, and that IT company still is working on making their products and services 'turnkey' out of the gate.

      And that's precisely what many small businesses today want: turnkey products that can be used out of the gate by do-it-yourselfers.

      Some suppliers are better than others at deploying technology suited for do-it-yourselfers. Here are 3 tips for how to tell if a supplier is likely to be better for a do-it-yourself approach to IT:

      (1) Make sure they speak 'business results' versus tech lingo -- What language does the vendor use on its website and in sales materials when describing products and services? If you go to a technology supplier's website, can you understand what the product or service clearly does and does not do? Is it filled with tech lingo that has meaning only to IT people? Or corporate marketing-speak that only vaguely describes what the product does? Look for suppliers that focus on results that a business needs to achieve, and are able to communicate that in clear, unambiguous terms.

      (2) Look for an emphasis on ease and speed of installation and deployment -- Does the vendor emphasize a fast installation? Does it use words like '2-click install' or 'up and running in minutes' or similar language? Does the website urge you to get started right away? Or does it speak about lengthy processes such as sending reps to call on you?

      (3) Compare the prospective supplie;s sales materials with their competitors' -- Not every kind of technology is suitable for getting you up and running in minutes. But if competitors of that vendor are able to simplify a product or process to the point that they emphasize fast installation and simple out-of-the box deployment, then you should be asking why every vendor can't simplify their own process.

      Remember, it's not so much about whether a product or service is good or bad. Making the right technology choice may be more about whether the technology is well-suited for your organization's level of IT knowledge and your expectations of what it will take to deploy and use the product.

      *Note: Hyperlink directs reader to non-government Web site.

      * * * * *

      Anita Campbell is the founder of Small Business Trends*, an online publication serving small businesses.

      About the Author:

      Anita Campbell

      Guest Blogger

      My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.