BellSouth, Beyond the Phone Lines

Most small businesses consider their local phone company to be vendor, not a business advisor. But one phone company is been working to change this perception. Already this year BellSouth has aggressively expanded its small business portfolio to include wireless networking for small offices and on-demand computing capabilities through a partnership with IBM.

Now, BellSouth has teamed up with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to underscore its commitment to small businesses. BellSouth distributed a new guidebook that addresses critical small business issues at the celebration of the SBA’s 50th Anniversary held in Washington, D.C. this week.

David Scobey, president of BellSouth Small Business, said the company understands the challenges that small businesses face in the current market and it is committed to providing small business with the tools they need to succeed.

“In addition to offering communications solutions, we believe the booklet will help generate strategies and processes among business owners that will lead to additional prosperity for our customers,” Scobey said. “When a small business startup survives, it grows. And when a small service grows it needs more communication services. If we’ve already established a trusted relationship, we’ll see our business grow, too.”

BellSouth’s guidebook is one way it’s reaching out to small businesses. The 32-page booklet titled Surviving and Thriving in Today’s Economy, is a collection of articles that address a range of small business topics. This includes insightful articles written by seven nationally known small-business experts including, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Hector Barreto, Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the popular Guerilla Marketing series of books, and Laura Berman Fortgang, president of InterCoach, a full-service small-business coaching, among others.

Another way that BellSouth acts as an advisor to small businesses is through the investment it makes in building a qualified sales team. Scobey said that BellSouth is simply doing what it takes to provide small businesses with the communications solutions they need.

“We spend 16- to 18-weeks training representatives for the commercial side of our business,” Scobey said. “That’s one of the things that separate from the competition, our commitment to customer service.”

And competition for BellSouth is stiff. There are hundreds of interexchange carriers operating in BellSouth’s footprint, as well as a few staunch competitive local exchange carriers and Internet service providers that also target small businesses. But rivals haven’t stopped BellSouth from growing. It currently serves more than 900,000 small business customers in a nine-state service area.

BellSouth Small Business Services offers a full range of voice, data and Internet services for small businesses. Scobey said that two hotspots of activity in telecommunication services for small businesses are digital subscriber line (DSL) access and virtual private networking (VPN).

“Fast Access DSL is really going strong now because small businesses are seeing the benefits of shopping online for supplies as well as connecting with their customers over the Internet,” Scobey said. “We’ve also seen healthy demand for VPN services. Small businesses are seeing the value in connecting offices or stores in different locations. They’re starting to use technologies that make them look more and more like large corporate networks, only on a scale that’s more affordable.”

Scobey said affordability is another key to BellSouth’s small business strategy, but it’s not as important as listening to its small-business customers.

“I spend a lot of time listening to small business owners, learning about what they need,” Scobey said. “That way we can provide them with the services they want at reasonable prices. We take the time to understand their cash flow and provide solutions that fit their working capital.”

By combining the easily executable suggestions contained in the newly published booklet, a little entrepreneurial spirit, and cutting-edge communications technologies Scobey said small businesses can thrive in this challenging economic environment. After all, if small businesses are confident they can succeed by providing a unique service and adding unique value for their customers, so can BellSouth.

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