SME market offers huge rewards - if you get the offer right

AT: Why now - operators have been talking about ways to serve the small and medium enterprise (SME) market better for years‾

CR: We did research in January which showed us that SMEs should expect a lot more than they are getting now. In June we launched the COLT Experience, which is how we are going to meet that expectation. Too often they have been offered a cut-down version of what services multinationals use, which are just not suited to them.

AT: How much is this market worth in Europe‾

CR: Estimates vary between €34 billion and €70 billion per annum, depending on how SME is defined - we define it as up to 1,000 seats within one country - and which services are included. SME is also the fastest growing telecom sector in Europe, growing at over 5% a year, and the Medium element of SME is growing the fastest of all, at up to 6%.

AT: As research from Analysys Mason* shows, SME spend on broadband access will peak in Western Europe in 2009, so operators need to find new sources of revenue to get extra revenue from broadband customers. Where will it come from‾

CR: Providing services to SMEs is not just about boxes and pieces of kit. It's about customer service and advice, people and support. Our customers are very concerned about security and back-up, and network optimisation, as well as managing messaging to deter spam and so on.

Many service providers simply advocate increased bandwidth when email is running slowly, but this doesn't necessarily fix the problem. The answer is more complex, about usage policy, processes and how and when to add more bandwidth.

AT: What are you doing that's different‾

CR: To meet these needs we've defined three operating principles - Collaborate More, Create More, Care More - each of which has specific, packaged elements within it - our research indicates that's what customers want. To offer maximum flexibility, they can also invent their own, a la carte bundles from the many elements we have created as part of the COLT Experience.
For example, Collaborate More means we've put our 300 to 400 professional services at the disposal of our SME customers to advise them about the things that matter to them, but don't necessarily know how to address.

We've also put service level agreements into plain language and paid a great deal of attention to how we communicate with these customers. They can also now make moves, adds and changes through COLT online, as well as check orders, bills and so on.

AT: Where are you offering these services to SMEs‾

CR: In all 13 of our European markets, but France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK account for 84% of the SME market in Europe. We have some 50,000 SME customers already, ranging from 20 to 1,000 staff. Their needs and country markets vary greatly. We meet these local needs in many cases - about 60% - through partners such as resellers, VARs, system integrators and agents.


AT: How do the markets differ‾

CR: Italy is an SME-orientated economy, but they tend to be very small and there are few multinationals. By contrast in  the UK our sweet spot is in larger SMEs of between 500 and 1,000 people, most of which are concentrated in London. In Germany, SMEs are not located within the larger cities, but dispersed throughout the country. Also German SMEs typically have offices in other European countries. In France, SMEs tend to be clustered in Paris, while in Spain they are mainly in Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid.

AT: Why haven't you got a mobile element in your offering‾ Surely in terms of security and spend it's one of the biggest challenges‾

CR: A fully integrated mobile element will be introduced next year, but I can't give more detail at the moment.

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