The relationship between Big Business and Small Business


What happens when you place big and small business in a room, lock the door and tell them to sort out their issues?

We found out, and the answer shouldn’t really surprise you. But it might … like it did us.

Let’s face it, big and small business have more issues than the most dysfunctional reality-TV families we see on our screens. Thinking of them as siblings, however, is apt because they do actually belong to the family of commerce.

From this analogy spring all kinds of similarities like sibling rivalry, silly jealousies and an infuriating inability to work together. The question is, can businesses sort out their issues in the same way family disputes are resolved?

Wanting to try answer this, we were recently invited by Standard Bank’s Jayshree Naidoo to facilitate a discussion between large and small businesses. Invited were representatives from some of the biggest corporates in South Africa, employees of big banks and a good dose of entrepreneurs — from perky startups to growing and matured SMEs.

Our approach to trying to discover the source of unhappiness was for each side to bluntly state their frustrations. And, boy, did they!

For SMEs, one of the abiding annoyance is trying to slot into a large organisation’s supply chain. Add to this is the headache of completing complex and time-consuming forms and registrations: small businesses thrive on completing reams of paperwork, right?

And for the corporates: they love to gamble, right? Everyone knows they’re happy to stake their reputation on the promises of an unproven supplier.

Or maybe not.

Rather than these topics exploding into naked confrontation, we noticed a distinctly improved level of engagement and interest in trying to understand the problems.

Should we have been surprised that this platform we’d created for big and small business to vent their frustrations had resulted in such an amicable outcome?

Probably not. But it did highlight the reality that business remains about relationships between people first and companies second. Company A cannot be expected to care about the welfare of Company B. But Susan could care very deeply about the challenges that her supplier Thembiso is facing because his requests are not being prioritised.

This is a rather simplistic summarisation of the questions and complaints raised in our discussion. But it undoubtedly cuts to the source of the problem.

So as not to discard the valuable input we gathered that evening, we will be producing a follow-up post that shares the biggest issues both sides raised.

What should become quite evident when you see this is that all of those issues are solvable. And most are solvable simply through better communication and a greater understanding of the processes and pressures at either end of the big business/small business spectrum.

Our key take-aways from this therefore are:

  • Do take the time to learn about your client / supplier’s processes
  • Do try to understand the pressures your client / supplier operates under
  • Do try to guide your client / supplier on ways to improve or speed up procurement or service delivery
  • Do settle client / supplier nerves about the ability to deliver or receive payment on time
  • Do understand that communication and relationship building are beneficial to both parties.

These seem like really simple solutions to some of the biggest bugbears for big and small businesses when they interact. And that is because they really are. This is not rocket science.

It was with this in mind that Standard Bank Business recently launched a tool to allow businesses of all sizes to trade together. The SB Business Opportunity Platform is an online marketplace that helps businesses find potential partners, suppliers or clients in more than 57 countries.

The platform in itself will not magically solve the communication problems that organisations suffer, but it can help improve understanding between companies, and present previously unsighted opportunities.

It is the responsibility of over SME owner to invest time in removing blockages in his/her relationship with corporate clients. And those in corporate positions have a duty to try eliminate these hurdles without sacrificing corporate standards.

By York Zucchi and Johann Barnard

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