There are two big reasons Microsoft should be concerned about the health of small and midsize businesses: First, because many of its revenue dollars are tied up in this chunk of the commercial market. Second, many of channel partners happen to fall into this chunk of the U.S. business universe.
Microsoft Corporate Vice President Allison Watson, who runs the company’s worldwide channel programs, is focused on finetuning her programs not just to help channel partners find opportunities in today’s wacky market but also to help them keep their own businesses healthy at a time when accounts receivable are growing longer by the day and banks tighten up their lending criteria. Based on some comments on heard the other day about the accelerating pace of mergers and acquisitions and failures out there in channel-land, she is right to worry about whether the company will exist 2009 with the right channel capacity.
Earlier this year, Microsoft commissioned a study of more than 600 Microsoft Small Business Specialists in five different countries to help its entire small-business channel get a better handle on current market activity. The good news, which is published as part of its first Microsoft SMB Insight Report, is that 55 percent of small and midsize businesses (the ubiquitous SMB community we always hold up as the holy grail) will either maintain or increase their spending during the next seven months.
Just in case you were thinking that virtualization and IT consolidation were topics only for big enterprise accounts, the study found that more than half of the Small Business Specialists participating in the survey believed that virtualization and other consolidate measures were the key to helping their customers save money and therefore commit portions of their IT budgets to new projects.
This jibes with some anecdotal information I picked up earlier this year when I was studying the concept of virtualization for smaller companies. Turns out that many of you are jumping right in there with your smaller clients, not just because it can help your customer but because it makes things easier for you to manage over time.
CRM deployments were also seen as beneficial projects for SMB customers. Moreover, nearly 40 percent of the Microsoft Small Business Specialists expected an increase in business intelligence deployments. That one really bears some more investigation, because we all know what a bust BI has been among larger companies. Everyone KNOWS they want it, but the pain in getting it set up (especially when it comes to process change) is so great that few are willing to succumb. Especially now when they need it most.
The survey respondents also expected a 20 percent rise in the number of SMBs opting to use software as a service options for some of their applications.
Watson offers a navigation through the data, along with some tips on how Microsoft partners can improve their own business practices in a Webcast. Here’s a link to the archived version.