Due to the popular and seemingly angered demand, here is a blog post for you today. In the few years that I’ve posted here on nearly daily basis I’ve encouraged you to take these rambling, incoherent, grammatically and politically incorrect posts not as the gospel from some all-knowing entity but to just think consider them and hopefully start a blog of your own and discuss them. Wonderful things happen when we talk, when we take enough pride in our work to discuss it in the open and hopefully let others understand just why we do what we do. Maybe we even learn something new or find an error in our ways.
So my thought for today is, whose fault will it be when the SBSC is dead?
If it would make it easier to consider this, whose fault is it that the Firewall Dashboard from Scorpion Software is dead. Now Firewall Dashboard is a commercial product by one of the best friends and peers you can have in this business, Dana Epp. Dana has made enormous contributions to the community, from presentations, to blogs, to conferences, to user groups, to all the MVP stuff, and a ton more than I can account for here or that even Dana could put on an expense report. Time is money, right? This guy gave and gave, and will continue to contribute to community, because great people like Dana do not see the community as the brief marketing outlet, or a stepping stone to the next promotion. He is our peer. But today, according to Wayne, SMB community has lost a great product and very likely a great vendor that supported and understood the needs of the SMB community. Wayne goes on a little further to explain the connection between community investment and the types of products built for the businesses that people in our community serve. He goes further to say:
“So the next time a vendor makes a great product like this go out and buy it. Don’t continue to use it in “trial mode” if it’s giving you value. Don’t complain that vendors don’t build product for the SMB space either. They do and we continue to screw it up by not supporting them.”
Who can we blame?
If I am going to channel a VAR, the easiest person to blame here would be Dana, since it’s never my fault and he’s the face of it so it’s easy to take a potshot at a reputable IT leader in hopes that my miniscule penis will grow beyond 1.75″. Dana is just a bad businessman, he made a product available for free and I am not some dirty stinking vendor that takes peoples money for software, I am a noble IT consultant who gets compensated for the time and expertise to recommend the best product for the client and implement the cheapest possible solution that saves everyone money. So what if it has a watermark?
If I am going to channel a horrible, inhumane vendor, I would say its the customers fault. They refused to support my product, I do not have unlimited funds so screw this, I am going to make software that people want to pay for.
But since I am both a vendor and a VAR in this space, I am going to try to explain a compromise here. The compromise is that for the most part VARs are not good businessmen (if they were, 99% of this space wouldn’t be one employee and a cat/dog plus spouse on part time basis), that vendors do not have the level of funds required to properly market and target the kinds of VARs that can make them profitable in this segment.
But blame never really accomplishes much because the ultimate loser in the entire equation is the SMB customer.
Why this even matters….
This matters because it explains why things are so bad in SMB IT, why there are so few solutions specifically created for this space and most importantly – why your vendors are trying to go around you and direct to your customer. The reason is, SMB VARs have no loyalty to the vendor. One bad release and you’re through. One cheaper reasonable alternative and you’re out the door. The product that made a ton of money for years was replaced in 2005 and you’ve got nothing good to say about them – they suck but you haven’t tried them since. Hey, those are the breaks.
But it’s not entirely the VARs fault. The reason VARs have so little loyalty is because the vendors have a split second attention span when it comes to VAR demands, needs and complaints. Everything is brushed aside, will be fixed in the next version, we’re trying to address the issue – all while the people you’ve formed relationships with keep on getting promoted to bigger and better jobs. The SMB VAR apathy is well earned.
We all know this, both the VARs and the software publishers, so how do we change? How do we do better? How do we improve?
From a vendor to another vendor, avoid the SMB community like a plague. Advertise, but do not buy the ring just yet.
From a VAR to a VAR, buy the products that serve your customers the best. Likewise, do not look for a marriage.
Over time, vendors will be able to look at their balance sheets, find the good, smart people in the VAR game and find a way to get their advice and help them grow. VARs will tell one another, recommendations will make the product successful far more than advertising, sponsorships and talking about how the great the product will be.
Now, what do we do with the other 90% of the market, both solution providers and software publishers? That in fact is the death of the SBSC
The Death of The SBSC
Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community, is in my opinion, the greatest gift to the SMB sector any software publisher has ever provided. Global presence, local involvement, sales assistance, marketing collateral, free training, free priority support, free presentations, free trucks, tshirts, swag and more all for the people who choose to ask.
But what happens to this wonderful SBSC community if the actual community shows no support for it? What happens to those telePAMs that everyone loves to hate? What happens to all the trucks if you aren’t relying on them? What happens to the licensing models, promotions and incentives if you don’t take advantage of them? What happens with PAMs, PCMs, PALs and other resources as they go unappreciated and underutilized?
What happens when after years of trying Microsoft suddenly realizes that the 90% of the SBSC community will never really turn into a business, but is only in this as an immaterial participant that is perpetually on the sidelines of going from their basement to the corner office?
What happens when Microsoft realizes that the only function of the SBSC is to help find those 10% of VARs that actually make it up the certification and business process enough to extend big time resources to and make a true partner – not just a target to throw tshirts and pens at?
What happens when Microsoft kills the SBSC as we know it today and just makes it an entry point into the Microsoft partner program where those who run a VAR business separate themselves from people who like taking money for playing with computers?
That is the day the SBSC dies. Who will we blame then? Will we be able to beat down Dave Overton for drowning little kittens in a lake? Will we blame Eric Ligman for the bass in his voice that blew out our speakers? Will we blame Steve Ballmer for not jumping around yelling “SMB VARS. SMB VARS. SMB VARS.”
I know it is a delicious fantasy to hold on to the image of software publishers with billions of dollars of marketing and not an ounce of fiscal responsibility. I know its easy to call out the idiot VARs for their lack of commitment. I know its very easy to pin one pile against the other, all while everyone sits around and protects their turf.
But I will share something with you folks, something that I hope sticks with you because you’ve read this long post and at least you care. The big, ugly, fundamental truth no matter which pile you are in is that we look for hungry, ambitious people that are not afraid of hard work. Those are the guys and gals that make it. Those are the partners that you want, be it a vendor or a VAR. Successful people tend to hang out around other successful people because they find motivation in the people that work for where they are, they learn from them and most importantly – they see the person that values hard work and show a bit of faith that they would work just as hard for me.
The rest is riffraff, and if you’re in it that’s your own damn fault – and the blame for that is very easy to place.