Service providers are getting very interested in pitching to small-to-midsize businesses. That's a great idea - only partly because I run one. SMBs are often where the action is - we spearhead a surprising amount of technology innovation. So it's cool that carriers are marketing to us.

But along with the increased visibility of SMBs come misconceptions. For starters, take the definition itself. No vendor or carrier I've spoken with has the exact same definition of what comprises a ‘small’ business (let alone ‘midsize’). Are we talking about fewer than 500 employees? Fewer than 50? Or less than 5?

Marketing teams wage pitched battles over this issue. Here's a suggestion: Peg your definition to the presence (or absence) of a dedicated IT staffer. Companies that have one (or more) IT execs buy differently than those with none. Research shows that companies tend to hire dedicated IT folks at somewhere between 50 and 100 employees. So use that as your baseline, and then extend the definition as far upward (to 200, 250 or 500 employees) as makes sense to you.

About those other SMB misconceptions: another biggie is the notion that SMBs are somehow ‘business-lite’, or toy versions of real businesses - so SMB offerings can be ‘scaled down’ versions of what carriers provide to bigger companies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Businesses of every shape and size can have stringent requirements for service and support. We often need five-nines availability of our critical communications services, with detailed performance metrics. And we often require 24/7 support. So don't duplicate Google's lame SMB hosted messaging services that skimped on service and didn't offer 24/7 support.

Moreover, we're more distributed than many providers realise. In a recent Nemertes Research benchmark, we found that between 15 percent and 20 percent of SMBs have global operations. Finally, as I noted earlier, we tend to be aggressive innovators - small businesses are considerably more likely than larger ones to have an IT culture that's bleeding edge, meaning that we deploy technologies early in their life cycles and view them as competitive advantages.

Another SMB misconception: we're just overgrown consumers. Enterprises - even small ones - have requirements that are fundamentally different from those of consumers. At the recent Network World IT Roadmap trade show I pointed out that cool as it is, the iPhone isn't ready for enterprise deployments yet, because its feature set focuses predominantly on consumers. (The operative word is ‘yet’ - I believe that'll change within the year.)

So here's the deal. If you're handling IT at an SMB (by whatever definition), please drop me a line - gripes and kudos are most welcome. Or post your comments below in our forum. And push your vendors to respect your organisation's unique identity, neither a toy business nor an overgrown consumer. Finally, if you're a service provider selling to SMBs - don't patronise us. Don't confuse us with consumers. And get ready to grow with us.

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