Sprint Caters to SMBs, Focuses on Products, Services

Sprint has announced the formation of a new Small Business specialty team within its Business Markets Group to sharpen the company’s focus on the small business market. As part of that effort, Sprint plans to dedicate resources, customize products and develop special offers specifically for small business owners. Sprint’s announcement coincides with a new study that shows how integral mobile communication technology has become to entrepreneurs.

That study, conducted by Decision Analyst on behalf of Egnyte, an on-demand file-server provider, indicates that accessing business data 24/7 from a mobile phone is the number one factor in a small business’s mobile business strategy. Sixty-four percent of respondents reported that they had been in situations on the road where it was critical that they have access to their data stored on a server back at the office.

Of those surveyed, 74 percent stated that accessing and sharing file-server data via their smartphone would lead to better business decisions, and nearly one-quarter of small business owners stated that they use their smartphone more than their computer to conduct business.

Egnyte recently introduced new interfaces that give small business customers secure access to all their business files via their Blackberry or Android-powered smartphones.

Sprint intends for its new initiative to dovetails with such trends, helping IT-challenged business owners select and implement the right products and services for them.

“In our research, it became apparent that there was a segment of business customers that felt we were not specifically addressing their needs in terms of how information is presented and how services are bundled,” explained Tom Shaughnessy, managing director of the small business team at Sprint. “So we looked at where we could do better, and not just from a rate-plan perspective.”

Shaughnessy pointed to the burgeoning collection of wireless and Internet services Sprint offers — including 3G, wireless broadband, 4G and My-Fi personal hot-spot — as ideal platforms to help small businesses increase productivity and enhance the way the work.

“Our ultimate goal is to take Sprint’s portfolio and make it more accessible,” he said. “We want to help them uncover ways to use our technology to solve business problems.”

For example, the new high-speed 4G (for “fourth generation”) wireless data service delivers more speed and greater bandwidth than previous data services. This opens up new opportunities for businesses, such as letting them forgo a wired cable or DSL broadband connection. It also makes it possible to perform tasks that weren’t practical with slower wireless platforms, such as the capability for doctors to securely share X-rays or for architects to send blueprints wirelessly.

While Sprint only recently announced the formation of the Small Business specialty team, Shaughnessy noted that several of the initiatives have been public for a while. For example, Sprint has partnered with MSN to deliver the Business on Main Web site — a community-driven site that offers tools, content, forums, social networking and more —specifically geared toward small business entrepreneurs.

Sprint also offers it own small-business sub-site where companies with one to 99 employees can find products and services tailored to them, without wading through the consumer-oriented offerings.

Also earlier this year, Sprint launched the “Ready Now for Business” program at all its retail stores. “We closed the stores and trained all retail associates on the needs of small business customers,” said Shaughnessy. “We want customers to be able to walk out of the store not just with a phone, but with their e-mail and other services already set up, so there’s no guesswork on their part.”

Another initiative currently in the trial stage in some areas is special hours for small business customers. These Sprint stores open at 7 a.m. (instead of the typical 9 a.m.) so those customers don’t have to burn valuable business-day time. Sprint is also trying an appointment model in some stores, where business customers can make an appointment with a small-business specialist rather than waiting in line.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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