Mid-markets characteristically run their businesses with a tight rein – sometimes with low margins and little tolerance for surprises – especially technical ones. For these smaller-budgeting companies, technology just has to work. And there are more small companies in the world than those of any other size (a few years ago, the average size of a French company was 19 employees).
We see the mid-market as two different markets, because their technology acquisition patterns change as they grow from what is characteristically called SMB (small and medium business) organizations to what we refer to as mid-market enterprises—companies, usually peaking around $850 million in annual revenue. And in selecting technologies to run their businesses, they cannot afford to make a mistake. The software they chose just has to work and work as promised.
Backing Up to Go Forward
Recognizing that its commitments to its mid-market customers may have initially exceeded its ability to deliver “as promised,” Chicago-based SilkRoad, a provider of core HR and integrated talent management applications, is going back to the drawing board. At last week’s user conference in Chicago, attended by around 500 users, the new executive team discussed its plan for the next year as one centered on a “back to the basic of product excellence.”
As a fairly young company entering the talent management market, in the last few years, SilkRoad added functions horizontally, complementing its flagship Red Carpet, an onboarding product with the other expected applications in an integrated talent management suite. Then they added Heartbeat, a Core HR application, again targeted at mid-market users. But the quality across the product set was uneven, with few applications possessing the functional completeness and scalability of Red Carpet. Getting new products out the door superseded the attention to customer support and service, as witnessed by the complaints analysts heard at this user conference. Performance issues, bugs, and failure to work as advertised plagued these users. One attendee stated “We cringed when a new release came out—something would always break.”
The new executive team led by John Shackleton understands its challenge—and its opportunity. The plans for the next year include the complete re-architecting of Heartbeat, the core HR product, accompanying, they promise, a palatable upgrade and migration plan for its current customers. Integration between its disparate talent-related applications is also on the agenda for the year ahead.
The re-architecting of the SilkRoadHR product and working integration of the various modules will likely make customers happy—but the primary message at the conference that will resonate was their plan to address service and support. New automated call-back to service callers will likely go far with the customers who have been hanging on the phone awaiting customer support.
It is not uncommon for young software companies to outsell their capacity to provide the support and services their mid-market customers require, but it is unfortunate when it happens. Human capital management solution providers are increasingly recognizing the value of excellent service and support. A happy customer is one of the best marketers a company can have; and companies are wise to take the step back to address both the products and the service their customers need.
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 The Small and Middle Market Enterprise: Addressing Today’s Business Issues Through Technology. Katherine Jones. Aberdeen Group. (April 2003)
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