Kenneth Sun runs Flint Studio, a Johannesburg digital agency that caters to small and midsize South African business. His talk at the BigFive Summit in Cape Town offered a practical lesson in understanding the South African small business culture so that you can successfully navigate it.
He broke his talk down into six lessons for anyone working or planning to work with SMMEs in South Africa, which was just about everyone listening to his talk.
Lesson 1: Kill the Jargon
Don’t try to impress SMMEs with your technical knowledge by using a lot of technical terms that you think make you sound smart. That never works. It is far better to speak plainly and help the SMME understand what exactly it is you are selling.
“You need to break it down for them,” Ken said. “They need to know ‘What’s In It for me’.”
Lesson 2: Begin with the End in Mind
“Always start with ‘What does success look like?’,” Ken said. “Mapping out success for SMMEs really helps in delivering your product.”
Without clear agreement on what the objective of a project is, success is very unlikely.
“Just imagine going to a Johannesburg with the map of Cape Town loaded onto your device. In this case, speed and efficiency is not your friend. You merely get to the wrong destination faster.”
Lesson 3: Total Transparency
South African SMMEs need help and guidance but they are likely to be wary based on previous bad experiences. Transparency help establish trust.
“Most SA SMMEs have lost money or been ripped off before or have experienced terrible customer service at one point or another, they need guidance but first, trust needs to be built,” Ken said.
“You are not guaranteed to get a client in SA just because your product is better/ faster or more affordable. There is still uncertainty. Overcoming this uncertainty is a combination of what others have to say about your products – a genuine review from a previous client or a compelling case study with real numbers and KPIs.”
Lesson 4: Storytelling
Technology is daunting to small businesses, so it helps to ease into it with some analogies.
People remember stories, not arcane details of your technology.
One example Ken cites is comparing a website to a house.
“We suggest to customers all the time not to be lured into a redesign of a website which is just like repainting your house when all the plumbing is rusted and all the doors are jammed, just imagine the frustration of spending all that money repainting your house when you, in fact, need to upgrade the plumbing and fix the locks.
“In our world where most clients just see the visual part of a website, its difficult to convince them otherwise unless you have a story to share. “
Lesson 5: Local is Lekker
Working successfully in the South African local market requires being authentically local.
“Trying to slap a European Concept or US-based system into the SA market just won’t work. You need to do your homework in localising the content for the local market.” Ken said.
“You need to understand the SA market, the behaviour of the user base and the need for your product. Localisation is key for the SA market, everything from devices usage to internet access and user behaviours needs to be taken into account. Go in blind at your own risk.”
Lesson 6: Value vs. Pricing
Don’t assume that SMMEs only care about the price. They are attuned to value.
“SMMEs are very price-sensitive,” Ken said. “But if you can provide valuable insights and address their pain points, you do not need to race to the bottom in terms of your pricing strategy.”