Driving the SMB focus


John Lincoln, Senior Vice President, Small & Medium Business (SMB), discusses how Etisalat is committed to delivering greater value offers to all its SMB customers allowing them to run their businesses smoothly, build relationships and provide them long-term benefits.

Elaborate on the SMB Business focus at Etisalat?

We truly believe that Small and Medium Business (SMB) is an important segment for the country as it accounts for around 60% GDP of the UAE and employs around 90 % of the workforce. In the past few years, we have a dedicated unit for the SMB line of business.

Typically, SMBs have been laggards in IT and we see a huge opportunity in driving their adoption of ICT and Digital services. If they digitalize their business, they will realize significant improvement in productivity benefits and profitability.

We have been blessed to have the largest number of SMB customers in the UAE at about 300,000. They come in all sizes and requirements. We take the top Tier 1 SMB customers and they are managed by our own internal direct sales force. Their requirements are complex. Our internal direct sales force are based across the emirates. The next Tier 2 customers are also managed  and have dedicated Account Managers for them. Instead of doing it by ourselves, we have  8 premium business partners that have been selected on the basis of their capabilities as well understanding of the IT and telecom markets. Between them, there are roughly about 250 account managers to manage these Tier 2 accounts.

For the rest of our SMB customer base, we use a pure acquisition model via our channel partners, and we have about 500 sales people that go door to door. Along with that, we have a Business Retail organization that is into dedicated selling of SMB products and services and driving visibility of these products. In addition, we have a dedicated team of agents for outbound sales. All together, these make up our comprehensive SMB go to market. Etisalat is the only telco in the region where about 45,000 of its 300,000 SMB customer base are managed by dedicated account managers.

Elaborate on your current set of partners. Would you be adding more partners?

The premium business partner model was launched in January this year prior to which we had only the acquisition partner model. Our current premium business partners are companies typically with several lines of businesses with an adequately sized workforce for sales, support etc. there is a VP to manage the SMB premium business partner sales force; he has a team who manage and support these partners. The P&L of each partner is known to us; how they are hired and the compensation to be paid to them- we insist on these terms for an optimal structure which we are best placed because of the expertise we have had.

While the number of partners is sufficient for the moment, we will look at adding more partners as the penetration of the market increases and the trend towards digitalization of businesses increases, to reach out to companies that are IT laggards in terms of adoption of such solutions. As we go about educating SMBs  the need to digitalize their business, more skills would be required. We will bring in more partners and are starting our formal ICT and digital partnership program. We will be happy to talk to more companies that are interested in serving the SMB market. They can take advantage of the fact that we already have an installed base of 300,000 SMB customers and are looking at various ways of enhancing our value propositions to our  customers.

We are looking for new partners for the ICT and digital line of business because the capabilities of many of our partners are in Telco and fixed solutions and while they are coming to speed with the new ICT and digital services capabilities, it is also important to bring in the experts from the ICT domain.

What are the major requirements that you see from SMB customers that you are ideally placed to offer?

As I see it, SMBs typically have three kinds of needs. The first is their concern for value for money services that will offer predictability and transparency with a fixed outgoing amount per month.  Since, cash is a constraint for most businesses, they want to free up their cash and focus on investment. So they want every capital cost moved to the OPEX model.

The second need of SMBs is convenience; they don’t want to different vendors for different products and want to focus on their business. In short, they would prefer a one-stop shop for solutions.

The third aspect is that SMBs want the complexity of IT taken away. They want someone to manage that. This is a universal need for SMBs. They may not typically have an in-house IT manager to fix the complexities while the larger ones may have and yet it would be a challenge to manage the IT side, which is easily achieved by getting someone like us to manage their IT services.


What are the additional services you offer for SMBs?

Today, we offer broadband service which gives you different symmetric and asymmetric speeds with dynamic IP; there is another product IDA (Internet Dedicated Access) with multiple speeds that customers require. There are specific requirements from customer for both speeds to be symmetric –uplink and downlink have to be equal. Their requirements are more complex usage compared to simpler broadband usage at home.

We have a product which is called IDA Plus under which we manage the customer’s Internet connectivity end to end including the router. This service offers static IP addresses to enable you to host your own corporate email and web servers. We monitor the connectivity 24 by 7 from our NOC (Network Operations Center).

We recently launched ‘Business in a Box’ for SMB customers. For SMBs, the cost of installing a PBX and then going after the AMC for it is tedious. Then there is depreciation of the PBX. So we are offering an all-in-onesolution which includes high-speed Internet, advanced telephony, zero upfront business devices, office applications and end-to-end security.  All the voice connections are managed and monitored by us. For every extension line a customer takes, we manage three of the customer’s devices. We also offer applications support. It is a very comprehensive offering finally a box that ticks all the boxes for SMBs!

We are also going to offer other managed services soon one of which is managed security service which will include email security, web security, IPS etc or a combined Unified Threat Management solution. We are also going to soon look at offering virtual computing, with storage, backup options. There is an end to end services possibility for managing from computing to storage, security etc, which is why we are looking at partners with enhanced ICT expertise.


What is your outlook about adoption of ITC and digital in SMB?

I am quite bullish about this. We have hardly scratched the surface; only around 100,000 of the 300,000 SMB customers have business-grade fixed broadband services. Maybe some are on mobile Internet. Possibly only around 15 % of them have proper websites for their businesses.

Data will continue to explode which will increase the complexities. Most of these companies haven’t invested in new tools including CRM to manage sales or mobile device management which is a critical requirement in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) era. Smaller companies are at bigger risk than some of the larger ones. In the long run, such investments will bear profitable growth for their businesses.

The UAE government is also investing in making the country an attractive hub for SMB companies. Digitalization technologies that enable better connectivity and access will be quite critical in achieving these objectives.

How do you view your advantages in the Managed service segment?

For pure core telecom services, we have only one competitor but for IT services, the competition is wide. There are many providers of managed services. But the question is who is best placed to offer these services starting from voice and internet access. To offer capex to opex options in the SMB segment, you need to make significant investments and take significant risk and we are best placed as an end to end provider. Our strategy is to offer much more for a little bit more to our SMB customers. So the focus is on adding more services and value.