John Lincoln, SVP- SMB at Etisalat is bullish about the potential of Etisalat’s SMB unit considering SMBs account for more than 60% of the country’s GDP and most of them are laggards when it comes to going digital.
Ahead of a big exciting launch from Etisalat’s SMB unit possibly in the fourth quarter of 2017, CommsMEA caught up with John Lincoln, senior vice president - small and medium businesses (SMB) at Etisalat.
Lincoln is very optimistic about the potential of SMB business not just for Etisalat, but for telcos in general. The fact that SMBs make a major contribution to the GDP and employ more than 90% of the people makes it obvious that their growth directly reflects in profits for the service providers as well. While the market has created an inevitable demand for digital transformation, SMBs are still lagging behind in the journey. That creates a huge marketplace for Etisalat’s SMB unit to operate in and generate profitability, while accelerating the digital journeys of its customers.
Though the year 2016 was quite a bumpy one for most businesses in the region, Etisalat’s SMB unit had some successful projects taking shape. Lincoln says the most successful one was the introduction of ‘Business in a Box’. He adds that though the service hasn’t hit a critical mass yet, the customers’ confidence in Etisalat as a credible ICT provider in the market has definitely gone several notches up. He further mentions that the majority of the customers who had signed contracts for Etisalat’s Business Quick Start proposition also have been renewing their contracts.
Moreover, Etisalat had launched a dedicated call centre for SMB customers in late 2014, which after scaling up in 2015, finally matured in 2016. As yet another achievement of the unit in 2016, Lincoln highlights the zero upfront campaign which was targeted at increasing market awareness of proportions beyond traditional telco services for the SMB segment.
It was not long back when there used to be no such provision of dedicated units for SMB customers. The market has come a long way since then. Differentiation is now a necessity and Etisalat has kept that in mind while devising various attractive value propositions for the SMB segment. “For the last few years, one of the key mantras we have is that all of our propositions have to meet their needs,” says Lincoln, before elaborating on the various needs of SMB customers.
SMBs fundamentally have three needs: value for money, convenience and simplicity. Value for money has got two components- one is transparency and predictability without any sticker shock; and the other component is OPEX model instead of a CAPEX one. Lincoln says that for any of its propositions, Etisalat makes sure the SMB customers get to pay on a monthly basis instead of an upfront capital expenditure.
As far as convenience is concerned, SMBs prefer to get all their needs from a one-stop-shop rather than having to deal with too many vendors. Last but not the least, SMBs prefer to keep things simple, so the service provider needs to make sure it takes care of all the complexities, leaving the customer to focus entirely on its business. Lincoln says, Etisalat team makes sure all these requirements are strictly met while designing any value proposition for the SMBs.
The unit has a wide portfolio of offerings for various needs of the SMB customers. In terms of popularity, Lincoln says that for SOHO customers, mobile service might be the most popular one. The next level of customers usually go for the Business Quick Start, while larger customers with multiple branches prefer to go for IDA and other managed services.
It’s obvious to be sceptical about the positioning of telcos as ICT providers in an ecosystem that has traditional ICT players. Is it a level playing field? Lincoln says while things might be quite different in a developed market scenario, the SMB customers in the UAE market have been quite receptive to the telco’s ICT offerings and managed services. Though a perception gap can’t be entirely ruled out, and telcos might still have a long way to go in delivering the various expectations of their customers, things have definitely changed for the better. He hints at an upcoming exciting development (tentatively expected in Q4, 2017) which will be targeted mostly at new businesses in the region.
Going forward, Etisalat aims to digitise a major chunk of the SMBs in the country and ramp up their digital transformation. “70-80% of the SMBs in the market are laggards. Only 15-20% of the companies have gone online. That means there is a huge opportunity to digitise the SMBs. And digitisation implies there’s a level of education and awareness that needs to happen,” Lincoln says.
He further explains how Etisalat is aiming to shift most of the SMBs’ operations to the cloud. The SMB unit offers various kinds of services atop connectivity services. These range from devices, storage, computing to security, backup and SaaS. “What’s good for the SMBs is good for the UAE and is good for us. Our tagline is ‘Your business grows with us”- and it’s not an empty line. We, at the SMB unit, really believe this and work to not just make profits but also make the SMBs more productive, efficient and profitable,” Lincoln adds.
However, the path is not going to be easy for sure. There’s a huge gap, in terms of market education. Customers are so used to the set ways that it’s going to be tough trying to overcome that. However, once that barrier is tackled, digitisation pace will pick up really fast. The other challenge is related to reorientation of the workforce from traditional services to digital services. And then, not to forget, the need for the right set of partners. Lincoln stresses that the SMB unit is always looking forward to discussions with potential partners.
When asked to rate Etisalat’s SMB unit on a scale of one to ten, Lincoln is confident that the unit scores really high. He reasons saying it’s a dedicated SMB unit, with its own call centre and profit expectations, hence making it a very purposeful and productive endeavour. He adds that the sale of services beyond connectivity to SMBs definitely has a big potential for telcos. He explains how dealing with SMBs as opposed to dealing with consumers is far more productive since in the former scenario, the service provider actually gets a share of the wallet and grows with the SMB’s growth.
Lincoln is hopeful about the potential of the UAE market when it comes to attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs due to its interesting positioning in terms of geography, and commerce. That added to the huge playing field provided by SMBs’ digitisation means the unit has a busy pipeline in years to come. He is a strong advocate of the cloud strategy for the times to come.
“Everything needs to be taken to the cloud. It’s secure, redundant, gives scalability, and flexibility, without a big step function in capex,” Lincoln says.