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No small differences

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The way most technology companies market to small businesses is to translate their product offerings into terms that they think will appeal. This usually entails "dumbing down" the product by trimming it back to proportions they assume will better match the scale of small-business needs. In reality, it is an attempt to infuse irrelevant products with relevance; taking products that were designed with big businesses in mind and force-fitting them into the small-business market.

For all of the promises of simplicity, heretofore undreamed-of efficiencies and new business realities, the average small-business owner is too often left wondering what they are actually being asked to buy. The value of the products is generally obscured by layers of focus-grouped messages that do little to tell them why they actually need the product.

Technology companies are going to have to work a little harder if they expect to succeed in the small-business market. To sell to small businesses, these companies need to start thinking like small businesses and start building products that address the particular issues facing small businesses.

A good place to start would be to correct five common misconceptions:

1) The Lilliputian Misconception: Small businesses are just like big businesses, only smaller. The truth is that small businesses are attitudinally, behaviorally and culturally different from big businesses.

2) The Mom and Pop Misconception: Small businesses are just like consumers. The truth is that most small-business people identify themselves as entrepreneurs. They are serious and committed businesspeople whose needs are not the same as those of a consumer.

3) The Motivations Misconception: Small businesses are driven by a single-minded growth impulse. The truth is that many small-business owners are not driven by dreams of becoming the next Google. For many entrepreneurs, the appeal of being independent has more to do with quality of life, quality of work and job satisfaction. These motivators are often at odds with growth.

4) The Algernon Misconception: Small businesses think less strategically than big businesses. The truth is that most small-business people are extremely savvy, particularly regarding the impact of decisions on their success. While they take a more practical approach to many decisions, they are highly sensitive to results.

5) The Technology Lite Misconception: Technology has less impact on small businesses than big businesses. The truth is that small-business owners are embracing the massive impact that technology can have on their businesses. In fact, new technologies are creating entrepreneurial opportunities.

Mike Megalli is a partner at Group1066. He can be reached at megalli@group1066.com .

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