by Christine Wong

In this crazy, weird, wired world of 24/7 virtual connectivity, Pamela Bailey still makes face-to-face house calls to SMBs.

Christine Wong

In the most memorable one to date, she paid a visit to a shipping yard office in Singapore, realizing the manager’s “office” was actually a shipping container perched rather precariously on stilts out in the ocean.  

“It was raining really heavily,” Bailey recalls. “I was a little bit concerned about the stilts falling apart and me falling out of the shipping container. But it was a great experience!”  

All part of her Edmonton-based job as experience design manager at Intuit Canada. That basically means she travels the globe knocking on doors (including the rickety one on the shipping container) to see, firsthand, how SMBs use Intuit products.

 “We go and watch a small business owner in their business itself to observe how they interact with our software,” Bailey explains, “and get insights into how they think and feel, and how they experience their business.”  

Some of Bailey’s job involves gathering customer feedback via phone, email and lab-based sessions where users come into Intuit to kick the tires on software prototypes. But the real magic for her is in watching how SMB owners and staff use technology while running their businesses. And that kind of observation involves an intimate, personal interaction you still can’t replicate online, she says, remembering one particular SMB owner in the UK.  

“When we went to see him in his office, what stood out for me, looking at him using our software, (is that) he was legally blind. How he was able to leverage and use the interface really struck a chord for us, for opportunities to be considering for the future. And to be thinking about ongoing accessibility and just the perseverance that comes through from an individual standpoint.”  

Other insight comes by way of what Bailey calls the subtle nuances of how SMBs interact with their own customers. For example, she visited a Toronto hair salon and learned how the owner uses Google Calendar (and yes, that’s a non-Intuit tool) to organize her time. Even more valuable, Bailey says, is what she learned about the importance of customer loyalty for SMBs. 

“About a half an hour into our conversation (the salon owner’s) first client showed up so we were able to sit back and see how she interacted with her customer and learn how important the customer is, and building that relationship. The customer commented how far she had driven to that salon because she just loved the business owner and how she did her hair.”  

Bailey isn’t just paying lip service to SMBs; some of these up close and personal interactions do result in actual changes to Intuit products. Bailey points out that multiple-view snapshots of customer, company and payment screens were added to QuickBooks 2012 after numerous SMBs complained about having to switch between main screen views during transactions.  

“(We look at) where people position the most important information because that helps us understand in our software where (we) should be placing information that’s most relevant,” she says.  

A throwback to a time before the Web simultaneously expanded our world yet made it so much smaller, Bailey says through all her globetrotting, she’s gleaned a lot about what makes SMBs tick. 

“Their passion is absolutely contagious,” she says. “(I’ve learned) how deeply they impact our economy and how they’re the backbone of our society in a lot of cases, just contributing to their community and making their community a better place.” 

With so many SMBs spread so far and wide apart — not just geographically but in every sense imaginable — it’s a big, unwieldy, mindboggling task to seek such direct input from them. But it doesn’t have to be.  

Vocus Inc., a Maryland-based maker of marketing and PR cloud software, just christened serial entrepreneur Peter Shankman in the brand new role of VP and small business evangelist. Shankman probably won’t log the air miles that Bailey does, but he’s been tapped to help Vocus develop new SMB products and cater to SMBs through blogs, webinars, speaking engagements and live chats, with a particular focus on helping them harness social media in their businesses.  

With SMBs making up an estimated 80 to 90 per cent of all businesses in Canada and 96 per cent in the U.S., doesn’t it just make good (business) sense to seek out their opinions, listen to their concerns and cater to their needs?  

Trawling for SMB input doesn’t have to involve visiting a shipping container propped up on stilts. But as far as Pamela Bailey is concerned, it’s pretty cool when it does.  

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