#SFSNYC: How Local Tech Companies Can Reach Scale in the SMB Ecosystem

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Left to right, Faith Murphy, SMB Partner Development, Yahoo; Jonathan Cherins, EVP Small Business & Partner, Yext; Michelle Roberts Green, Director of Local Sales Ops, Weather Channel; and Rick Robinson, SVP, Urgently, speak on the “New Paths to Scale in the SMB Ecosystem” panel at Street Fight Summit NYC, the premier event for hyperlocal content, commerce, marketing, and technology professions, held at Three Sixty Gallery in New York City, October 25, 2016.

Creating new technology for the SMB space is one thing; trying to achieve any sort of scale is something entirely different. Companies either need to bring on a large sales force to go door to door or they need to partner with one of the much larger companies in the space.

At Street Fight Summit 2016, Rick Robinson, SVP at Urgently, Jonathan Cherins, EVP of Small Business & Partner at Yext, Michelle Roberts Green, Director of Local Sales Ops at the Weather Channel, and Faith Murphy, SMB Partner Development at Yahoo were in agreement that a focus both on direct-to-SMB as well as partnership was a smart approach to take.

However, determining which to focus on requires a deep understanding of the business and resources.

Murphy walked through a checklist of questions to ask, which help determine which approach to take: “What are we trying to achieve? What’s the primary goal? What’s the technology? What’s the timeframe? Is it immediate or can we wait and build it in house first? That’s the defining factor there.”

But the conversation primarily focused on finding partners, working with them, and ensuring that the relationship stays strong.

“To really get to the entire SMB market is just not scalable,” said Cherins. “We keep the SMB sales and service model active. We can test new products there and then we can roll it out to partners and to our other direct channels.”

For Yahoo, the focus isn’t on an either-or approach, but rather how their partnerships can actually augment the sales team. “We look at our partners as an extension of the office sales team,” said Murphy. “At the end of the day, for SMBs, there are a lot of options. It makes most sense to work with one partner that can offer them all solutions.”

Like any relationship, the early days are full of opportunity and excitement, but as time goes on, things can grow a little stale. The panel talked about how to ensure that the relationship stays strong so the partner and their businesses can be successful.

They agreed that a lot of partner success does stem from the first few weeks from the first meetings to onboarding to the contract sign. But from there, it’s accepting that there are a million different services and offerings that these partners are being bombarded with on a regular basis. To ensure that the partner continues selling what you have to offer, it’s about being constantly in their mind.

“They [partner] have a dedicated partner manager to reach out to. But it’s one of a thousand things that they can sell. They want to make sure they’re a one-stop shop for their local clients. We know we need more marketing materials, webinars, and case studies. We visit every partner once a year because we know that face time is so important,” said Green, on ways that the Weather Channel tries to ensure its partners continue to work with them.

While focusing on direct sales or building partnerships are both viable options, the focus needs to be on relationship management. If that’s not a priority, there are numerous other options for these SMBs and partners to spend their money on.

Jacob Donnelly is a Street Fight contributor. Photo by Shana Wittenwyler.