Good enough is big enough

Good enough is big enough – from Iain Maclean, The MCSA Group’s Scotland Manager – June 2013

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I seem to recall it wasn’t that long ago that one of the ‘big’ high street banks spent a lot of money on an advertising campaign that preached the virtues of size. Hollywood stars such as Anthony Hopkins and Samuel L Jackson starred in them. For big fees no doubt. Do you know the one I’m referring to? The one that got too fat and greedy and whose latest CEO seems to have talked of little else but ridding the bank of bad behaviours.

Now don’t get me wrong. I recognise that size has its advantages. The bigger you are the more likely people are to have heard of you. And there is a certain comfort factor that comes with being ‘looked after’ by an organisation of stature and scale. These associations I can understand. What I will confess has frustrated me, during my business development career in services, (or perhaps a challenge which I have always relished?) is the common misconception that the price to pay for changing to a supplier of ‘lesser stature’ will inevitably be a reduction in quality.  I beg to differ!

In my experience, the prevailing culture in many IT procurement situations is that ‘Biggest is Best’. So, when given the opportunity of competing in a ‘REAL’ level-playing-field against a client’s existing ‘larger stature’ suppliers, it is refreshing to be able to demonstrate that an SME can not only match current quality standards, but beat them.

Allow me to illustrate. Shortly after having displaced the ‘de-facto’ global No 1 supplier from a national public service maintenance contract, I had to address the client’s first monthly contract service review meeting which was attended by a ‘multitude’ of extremely concerned departmental systems managers and contract stakeholders. There was a real sense of trepidation on the part of the assembled audience; indeed an expectation that the ‘money-saving’ decision to change to a comparatively unknown entity for such a critical support requirement would inevitably result in a significant reduction in service quality. These fears were unfounded. With no small measure of satisfaction, I distributed a set of service performance stats which demonstrated a 100% delivery against the contractual SLA. As the months rolled on and we continued to sustain 100% contract performance, it was gratifying to note how the number of attendees at subsequent review meetings markedly diminished.

I am regularly asked by prospective clients, what can the SME supplier offer that makes the difference? My response is that we basically have to ‘try harder’ to retain our business. We simply cannot afford to entertain that most negative of tendencies: complacency. Furthermore, our services are underpinned by levels of flexibility, responsiveness and empowerment which derive from a less ‘hierarchical’ management structure. Couple this with the fact that where you have ownership and senior management who are technically focussed, then the total ethos and culture of the organisation is built around delivering technical excellence to the customer.

The benefit of establishing such a reputation for technical excellence is a higher profile and brand awareness within the market place and this can manifest itself in both increased opportunity and as a ‘leveller’ when competing against the ‘bigger players’.

I recall attending a pre-tender supplier briefing session in advance of one of the most highly subscribed IT Framework service procurements of recent years. As I looked around the packed auditorium surrounded by the global giants and heavyweights of the IT industry, I remember saying to myself “what on earth am I doing here” (or words to that effect!)…what chance will an SME have of making the frame against such distinguished opposition? Once again fears were misplaced. The SME prevailed and is currently the leading supplier on the Framework Winners league table, having consistently demonstrated best quality and value across a whole range of high profile IT projects.

Another of our ‘Blue Chip’ clients, justified his choice of dealing with a local SME in marked defiance of his global procurement preferred supplier strategy, thus: “until the global supplier gets their act together and comes close to the quality and cost effective service of the local supplier, we will continue to do what is best for our business…and there’s a nice calendar thrown in as well”!

In other words, when you are good enough you are already big enough.

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