I was invited to an event. It happens. The invitation was from Fujitsu UK & Ireland to attend its Executive Discussion Evening – an exclusive event (I only do exclusive…) of around 100 senior business leaders gathered to discuss, on this occasion, ‘The Collaboration Nation’.
In the interest of understanding and achieving greater collaboration between large and small businesses, Fujitsu had prepared research on the opinions of large corporates and SMEs towards each other, and investigated the barriers to and opportunities for improved collaborative business for the greater good of mankind... etc.
It was fascinating. And I’m never fascinated. I maintain a healthy disregard for anything and everything ‘large corporate’ and I spit my porridge at the mere mention of the word, ‘Smee’. I’ve made it my life’s work to ensure that opportunities for collaboration are restricted to Birddog’s carefully chosen clients. Early formative experiences left me in little doubt that big and small businesses were never intended to mix.
I’d like to report that all that’s changed, that I have been completely wrong and that salvation is at hand. I’d like to report that, but clearly it would be complete bollocks. Large and small business-to-business collaboration is still as far apart as it ever was.
The guest speakers, however, seemed to have a genuine grasp of the issues small businesses face and are as well placed as anyone to influence change. It’s interesting because most large corporates remain wholly oblivious to the needs of small business and the impact of daily survival on their willingness or ability to participate in any extended or protracted large B2B ‘collaboration’.
John Cridland, Director General of the CBI spoke passionately about the inappropriate ‘SME’ classification – “Small business is NOT the same as medium business”. He railed against the divisive political trend of small and large business tribalism – one party claiming to be the party of small business and another champions of large business. Holy shit, I thought in a moment of erudite clarity, he might even have a clue.
Dale Murray spoke from the perspective of entrepreneurs. As someone who had led a small business through its growing pains and successfully sold it, she knew the points of pain. The crippling effect of strategic late payment strategies on small business. The value of creativity and ideas that small businesses have but are rarely able to realize. The obsession of large business to manage risk out of small business collaborations when, to the small business, every day is a risk.
It was frightening. Dale held up a mirror that reflected my business to business marketing experiences of large scale collaborations - “Small businesses are contrarian value creators.” So the issues are known. SMEs have limited resources to engage in collaboration and large corporates have little understanding of how to connect with small businesses in the first place.
I made the point to my hosts after the formal presentations. The event was staged by a big business. The invited guests were all from other big businesses including the public sector. But the subject was SME collaboration. The only small business in the room of over 100 people, was me. I know because I checked the list. I was the token 1% minority.
From an internet marketing perspective, a Twitter hashtag had been announced at the start of the event. I checked the stream in the course of the presentations and a massive 3 people contributed to the online conversation. Two people from Fujitsu, and me. So I received more, instant engagement with other small businesses than the event did, because I was using a social channel to ‘collaborate’.
It strikes me that if big business really wants to collaborate with small business, they should adapt their marketing strategies to talk to the small businesses, instead of just talking to each other. Maybe throw caution to the wind for a change and open up social conversations. Yeah, go crazy.
What did I take away? Well, it was a fascinating insight for me into the thinking of big business and their paralyzing obsession with ‘risk’. A great event, well organized, well run, well attended. Did it solve the challenges between big and small business collaboration? Not even close. But there’s always hope.