A competitive edge

Technology can make all the difference to your business, and any size or type of company can reap big benefits from making the right choices. Businesses are always looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage, and even small businesses want to be as productive as a big business, says Robert Carter, vice president of commercial sales, South Division, Comcast.

“You can be perceived by the public as having the same goods and the same competitive capability as a large business,” Carter says. “Working with the right technology provider can help give you the tools you need to compete.”

Smart Business spoke with Carter about how to identify your technology needs and how to work with a vendor not just as a provider but also as a partner.

How do you identify which technology tools you need to run your company more effectively and efficiently?

Businesses are looking for a competitive advantage to meet their own internal financial needs, but more important, they’re looking for the technology that will allow them to take their business to the next level. Whether it is in the voice arena, the data arena or the video area, as a CEO, you need to make sure that you’re providing your products and services in the most competitive and effective way that you possibly can so that you can compete.

Can business owners assess their technology needs on their own?

Technology is evolving so dramatically that most small business owners are better served specializing in the area that their business is operating. As a result, most don’t necessarily have the technology expertise that they would need to go out and make good decisions about voice services or data services. If you consult with a vendor, you’ll be better able to assess how to use technology in running your business.

How do you find the right vendor to partner with?

You need to ask the right questions and understand what type of technology a vendor is offering. Does it have the ability to grow with your business? Is it flexible? Can it meet your ongoing needs today and your growth needs down the road? Does it allow you to present your business in the proper format? If you are using Web advertising, will you have sufficient bandwidth to allow access to your information?

The bottom line is that the technology should be transparent to you and, more important, it should be transparent to your customers. As a business owner, you don’t want to have to worry about not having enough bandwidth to send large data files.

You need to ask potential vendors the tough questions about what goods and services they are providing and what their structure is. You need to do some comparative shopping. Bring in more than one vendor if you’re looking for the right deal and take into consideration that there might be other providers out there that can offer your dial-tone services or video services.

Don’t just take the first bid that comes in, and remember that the best choice is not always the traditional provider.

With technology evolving so rapidly, how can a business owner keep up?

It goes back to making sure you have the right provider who can provide you with a suite of services. As technology grows, it is your vendor’s responsibility to keep up with that technology and pass it on to its customers so you don’t have to track that yourself. You shouldn’t have to call your vendor to say you just read about some new technology, and ask if that’s something that it provides. It’s the job of your vendor as your partner to worry about your technology so that you can focus your time and talent on your own business.

Don’t be afraid to ask vendors to bundle their services, and ask what kinds of discounts you can get. Technology providers are all eagerly trying to figure out how to better packages services in a way that makes them attractive for small and medium-sized businesses.

How often should you evaluate your technology needs?

At least several times a year, you should look at whether your technology is still meeting your needs. Are customers complaining about access? You don’t want to hear, ‘I tried to call you and got a busy signal,’ ‘I went on your Web page and it was really slow,’ or, ‘I’m having a hard time placing an order.’

You need to pay attention to that, and if you see any red flags, you need to step it up even quicker. But at least every three to six months, you should ask, ‘Is my technology working for me as it’s structured? Do I need additional business lines? Do I need to increase my high-speed services?’ Don’t be afraid to call your vendor and work to make changes to ensure that your technology is continuing to meet your needs.

Robert Carter is vice president of commercial sales, South Division, Comcast. Reach him at [email protected] or (678) 385-5189.