Ahhh yes the SMB. That wild beast that roams the business landscape often looking very hungry and wondering where its next meal will come from if it comes at all. It has moments of brilliance when things click and there is plenty of attention showered upon it but when reality sets back in it returns to its survival mode which means it stays lean and mean just to get to its next kill.
Exaggerated? Maybe. But the idea of the SMB being an elusive entity especially for the likes of Google is simple truth. Maybe it’s because the definition of the SMB is something that needs to be changed. As was pointed out by Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land
Why are SMBs so important? Beyond the fact that they represent billions of additional dollars in potential ad revenues in the aggregate, more than 95 percent of businesses in the US qualify as “small businesses” (under 99 head count).
The overwhelming majority of SMB have fewer than four employees. These very small businesses have been extremely difficult for Google to reach efficiently “at scale.”
It’s the last point that everyone seems to gloss over because it is the most difficult to deal with and accept. You see, most SMB’s are microscopic as businesses. To classify a company with 90 employees in the same category as one with 4 employees is convenient but borderline stupid. With 90 people there are systems and processes and budgets. With 4 people there is doing whatever it takes to survive. That often means ignoring the very things a company like Google wants to supply to them through their “Business Builder” program.
The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend
Google plans to have its newest small-business service—which at one point it was calling Business Builder—up and running as early as July, said a person familiar with the matter.
The project combines several products and services aimed at small businesses under a single banner. It is based on a mix of internally developed software and recently acquired technologies that the company hopes eventually will bring in billions of dollars a year in new revenue.
This “Business Builder” is rumored to be a mix of Google+ Local, Adwords Express, Google Offers, Google Wallet, Punchd and a few more tossed in for good measure. I suggest you read the WSJ article is you are interested in getting mired in the details of how this all may play out for Google and its customers.
In the end though, these MB’s (I’ll try to coin a phrase here with Micro Businesses which would be those organizations with 4 or fewer employees) will be overwhelmed by the breadth of service and likely underwhelmed with the results because they won’t truly understand what they are doing or how it should work.
Maybe Google’s ultimate play here is to drive Google+ engagement through the SMB’s and MB’s. The one thing these type of folks may have the time for is working the Google+ Local angle. Many had already started to finally understand what Google Places was until that was essentially yanked out from underneath them to allow for the Google+ Local push from Mountain View.
Considering the sheer volume of people that are either involved in or interact with small businesses of all sizes this could actually be the thing that moves the Google+ adoption rate needle the most. Couple this effort with Facebook’s recent fall from grace as the social media machine it has been touted as (notice how many people are now saying it could turn into the new Yahoo in 5 or so years? Geesh.) and Google has real opportunity here.
The problem will always be the eclectic and virtually unclassifiable nature of the small business. The 4 employees (or more accurately associates) or less types of businesses are often not even the kind who are as concerned with the Internet as we believe they should be. Just thinking about the businesses closest to our office in North Carolina only one in four neighbors has expressed any desire to truly use the Internet based on the nature of their business AND their vision for their growth.
So we will wait for this next great attempt to hunt the wild SMB and MB. We will talk about all the features of Google’s new master plan to corner this elusive target and get all geeked out over the product. Then in three months we will wonder why the adoption rate of the full suite of services (aside from Google+ Local which could be a huge boon to Google overall) is not what we expected.
We will once again opine about how the small business doesn’t take to the self serve model then wonder how we reach these folks. I personally will marvel at Google’s arrogance as it tries to impose its technological will upon a group that simply isn’t prepared to play along yet. Because the reality here is that we are in a time period of anywhere from 15-20 years where the non-tech business owners will be aging out and it won’t be until several generations of people are brought up in the Internet Age that this kind of ‘stuff’ will be accepted as the norm.
Until that time though, Google will be busy trying to shove its model down the SMB’s throat and many who are resistant will cough it back up like a big hair ball.
OK, I’m done on that note. What do you think about the SMB and the Internet? How do you view the immediate future as compared to the distant one? Is there a difference? Can Google pull this off?