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Exclusive Q&A: Verizon says digital innovation key to SMB success

Aparna Khurjekar
Aparna Khurjekar, chief revenue officer of business markets (SMB) and SaaS (Connect/BlueJeans), Verizon

Verizon is focusing on digitalization as a strategy for small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) to stay competitive.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Aparna Khurjekar, chief revenue officer of business markets (SMB) and SaaS (Connect/BlueJeans) at Verizon, about how her core SMB customers can leverage digital solutions across the enterprise to attract customers and convert sales. Khrujekar also touched on how SMBs can maximize their holiday performance with smart technology deployments.

How are SMBs effectively engaging consumers?
The technology divide is really what has distinguished SMBs who have flourished from those who have floundered coming out of COVID-19. Given the current economic tightening of the belt, there has been a slowdown of customers walking into stores and sales are declining. The way that successful SMBs are making up for that is through digitalization.

[Read more: Verizon technology keeps small businesses competitive]

Can you give some specific examples of how digitalization works for SMBs?
SMBs are leaning into digital across what I call the four C's: connectivity, communication, cloud, and cybersecurity. Connectivity is about connecting your people with your things; and it’s now all about mobility, which is all about 5g, better speeds, and better coverage. It’s also about bringing connectivity into locations – such as work from home remote locations - with a much higher bandwidth solution than is available via fixed wireless access.

Communication is where SMBs are making sure they can engage in collaboration, connecting with their customers and being able to bring in their calls to anybody in a distributed way. From there, SMBs are taking the right level of routing and extending communication into customer service and customer care, including digital assistants.

As SMBs are moving into cloud, they're bringing in SaaS solution software to reach out to their customers and perform demand generation. SMBs use the cloud to bring customers onto their e-commerce sites and do the right kind of marketing, as well as sell to them. And for customer service, lots of SaaS solutions are available.

Finally, cybersecurity is becoming a huge deal for SMBs, given the amount of malware viruses, password theft, account takeover, spam and phishing they are seeing.

What do you see as the main trends for SMBs trying to maximize post-Black Friday holiday sales?
About half of consumers are expecting to spend less money on holiday purchases. Because of that, SMBs will have to differentiate themselves by leveraging digital to reach out, bring those customers in, and make sure then that they're willing to close them either digitally or in the store as they bring in that traffic. Pretty much all the data indicates that customers are coming back to brick-and-mortar in a big way, probably faster than people thought.

What SMBs should also do as they're shoring up for the December season is start to think about next year. And Verizon does believe that inventory issues and inflation are going to continue through next year. The best way to solve for those issues is to equip yourself with hardware of the right kind, with software of the right kind on top of it. We recommend to SMBs that they make sure that they are future-proofing their businesses by upgrading and moving into a digitally differentiated solution set.

[Read more: Small- and midsized businesses embrace ‘future-proof’ technology]

How can a smaller retailer create a more digitally connected store environment?
Verizon recommends that every individual brick-and-mortar retailer, regardless of size, needs to ensure it is bringing in the right level of reliable connectivity into its stores, and then ensuring that it thinks through its strategy very clearly.

This includes answering questions such as how are you connecting the different devices connecting your different locations? How are you making sure that you have the right level of collaboration tools so that customers can reach you from wherever they are? Can you support a distributed workforce? How are you making sure that you are bringing in the right kinds of cloud solutions, and then cybersecurity solutions?

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