Vendasta’s CEO Brendan King on the way SMBs buy technology is brokenBy Domenica Martinello
If time is such a precious resource for small business owners, why isn’t more of it spent on high-value, high-impact work?
A survey of small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) shows that SMBs spend an average of 120 working days per year on administrative tasks (CPA). For perspective, that’s roughly 48% of the working year dedicated to non-core activities.
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Brendan King, CEO of Vendasta, not only thinks this is a major problem for local businesses—he thinks the situation is becoming even more challenging. Taking other factors into account, it’s likely that SMBs today are only spending about “33% of the time practicing their craft,” King says. “The rest of the time they’re trying to make the business work.”
So how can SMBs flip the script and redirect their efforts towards meaningful, high-value work? And how can digital marketing providers become the local experts and guides responsible for getting them there?
The challenge lies in making technology easy, accessible, and affordable.
Keep reading to explore how King insights on democratizing technology for SMBs and what’s next for Vendasta’s vision.
Firsthand experiences as a local business owner
Speak to King for only a few minutes and his passion for small businesses shines through. In fact, one of the first statements in the ‘About’ section on his LinkedIn page decries how local businesses “are getting Starbucked, Amazoned, and Walmarted.”
It may come as no surprise that King used to be a small business owner himself, as well as an entrepreneur selling to small businesses.
Early wins, early lessons
“My first business [in the late 80s] was a clothing store I started in school, selling colorful shorts from the factory my dad worked at,” King reminisces. “We sold to all the university clubs—it was a hit!”
And with a name like ‘Son of a Beach,’ how could it not be?
Though the store’s success was short lived, King credits the experience for teaching him essential business lessons at a young age:
- You’re never too young (or too old) to be an entrepreneur
- Embrace and learn from the inevitability of failure
- Always keep going
From local business owner to SMB champion
And keep going he did.
In the 90s, King founded (and later sold) two computer retail operations, Delron Computers and CompuSmart. But he didn't just sell tech. He immersed himself in the unique challenges faced by his primary clientele—small and medium-sized local businesses. The stories and struggles he encountered impacted King’s holistic understanding of SMB pain points.
Fast-forward to the 2000s, and King entered the software space with Point2 Realty Solutions, which he helped grow to a global network of over 165,000 agents and brokers in 85 countries.
Whether it’s vibrant shorts, cutting-edge computers, or dynamic real estate solutions, the through line connecting King's ventures up to the present as the CEO of Vendasta remains a deep commitment to local businesses.
The core purpose of Vendasta, according to King, is to democratize technology for these businesses by making it:
How is the way SMBs buy technology broken?
The question, to King, is related to Vendasta’s aforementioned core purpose. In order to level the playing field, technology implementation needs to check these three boxes—easy, accessible, affordable. And it often doesn’t, putting SMBs at a disadvantage.
Lacking time, money, and expertise, local businesses are often struggling to find and implement technology on their own in an increasingly fragmented tech landscape.
“The big guys can hire entire teams whose sole purpose is implementing technology to make big companies more efficient. What you can do for SMBs is democratize that same technology by making it easy, accessible, and affordable by partnering with a technology provider that streamlines it through one system of record.”
Other tell-tale signs that the way SMBs buy technology is broken?
- Spending inordinate amounts of time trying to get operations running smoothly instead of growing business
- Finding it impossible to keep up with (nevermind stay ahead of) changes to the industry
- Most things are still accomplished manually and are impossible to scale
- Business owners seek help for their tech needs but get stuck dealing with several different service providers
This last part is crucial. Vendor clutter leads to inefficiencies, miscommunications, and misalignment, often setting SMBs back further.
In King’s mind, when something goes wrong, an SMB should know exactly who to talk to. When something goes right, they should know how to replicate it. Sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done.
“That’s why we're trying to build an ecosystem where a small business can deal with one trusted expert, and that expert works in tandem with vendors,” King continues. “Our system is the system of record for all communications and data, making it easy for small businesses to keep everything streamlined.”
With this vision, Vendasta’s goal of democratizing technology for SMBs goes hand in hand with empowering the trusted experts (also referred to as Vendasta’s channel partners) to offer a comprehensive range of technology solutions.
Obstacles that hinder meaningful tech adoption
So if the DIY approach is impossible to scale, and bringing in outside help often leads to confusion and communication overload, why don’t SMBs simply work with one digital expert that works in tandem with vendors to deliver a high-quality solution?
The main obstacle is the widespread fragmentation of software, services, and trusted experts.
“There are so many options now,” King says. He breaks down the challenge in three ways.
1. Business owners don’t know where to turn.
Trust is paramount, but sometimes word-of-mouth can lead to dead ends and wasted time.
A small business’s trusted accountant is not necessarily going to know how to point them in the direction of a best-in-class digital marketing expert, for example.
2. The market is oversaturated.
With so many options, it’s tough for SMBs to know who to trust or what they truly need. Decision paralysis can put businesses behind on innovations and trends.
3. There’s more fragmentation than ever.
Even if SMBs do manage to find the help they need, that individual might be focused in a particular niche or vertical. Whether it’s ecommerce, advertising, or content marketing, once the SMB inevitably has more problems to solve, it might mean adding a new provider into the mix.
And starting the whole time-consuming process over again.
Tactics for local experts bridging the technology gap
There is much to be gained by becoming the trusted expert that fixes the broken process for SMBs and unifies it into a cohesive whole. “Vendors come through you [as the channel partner], white-labeled under your brand, for an easy, accessible, affordable experience for SMB clients,” King says.
Yet shifting a local business’s perspective can be tricky. How do you deepen relationships and get clients to rely on their tech providers as trusted experts rather than salespeople or vendors?
1. “Fall in love with your clients’ problems”
King suggests that building a strong relationship with clients involves empathy, genuine care, and above all, curiosity about their problems. In other words, a people-first approach—even as a technology provider.
“You need to fall in love with your clients’ problems first and foremost,” King says. “Then be curious, agile, and driven about solving them.”
Channel partners that focus on solving customer problems rather than just pushing their own solutions will avoid the common pitfall of over-emphasizing the technology and losing sight of the bigger picture.
“It’s like trying to tighten a screw by using a hammer,” King continues. “A technology-first approach can actually hinder progress rather than accelerate it.”
- Develop a deep understanding and empathy for your clients' challenges
- Embrace a people-first approach when providing tech solutions
- Focus on problem-solving over product-selling
- Be agile in addressing client issues
2. “The customer’s not always right”
Here’s another analogy. If you’re changing a light bulb, you don't necessarily need a tool—just a clear understanding of what needs to be done.
From King’s experience, clients aren’t always right about what they need (and that’s okay!). “Your role as their guide is to listen, assess, and diagnose situations to uncover the real root of their problems,” King says.
If you don’t, you risk making the situation worse.
“When I had my retail computer store and was selling to small businesses, customers would come in and say, ‘I need an accounting package,’” King recounts. But by asking follow-up questions to better understand the customer’s problem, he’d discover that the real issue was that they had no processes in place to implement the accounting software.
Simply adding more technology on top of a separate underlying problem will only make things worse. It’s the recipe for a quick win and immediate sale that will cut the client relationship short in the long run.
- Be curious and informed to get to the root cause of customer problems
- Don’t simply apply more technology to underlying issues
- Build trust and grow client relationships
- Become the go-to expert
- Solve more problems
3. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”
SMBs can be all over the charts when it comes to how comfortable they are with technology. So how can local experts serve businesses with varying degrees of tech savviness? King has the elephant idiom at the ready. “Trying to implement 10 new tech solutions all at once would be overwhelming for most,” regardless of their savvines, he adds.
Prioritization is also essential. “To go back to ‘one bite at a time,’” King says, “I would start small and solve the biggest problem first, then earn the trust of the customer.”
- Avoid overwhelming SMBs with too many tech solutions at once
- Focus on solving the biggest problem first for a most impact
- Slow and steady builds trust
- Demonstrate value
4. “Democratizing technology with AI”
AI is more than a technological buzzword—it's an undercurrent shaping the future of work. But it’s not some new phenomenon. “Though it’s been around a long time, we’re experiencing a paradigm shift [with AI],” King explains. Why now?
Because AI has been made easy, accessible, and affordable.
This newfound accessibility can be traced back to initiatives like those from OpenAI, which released their large language model, ChatGPT, for free testing to the general public. No longer the domain of data scientists and machine learning engineers, AI has been thrust into the mainstream, becoming an accessible tool to accelerate business outputs.
And when it comes to business, AI is already helping reduce the cognitive load in tasks like research, draft creation, and image selection. “Something that took six hours, now takes a fraction of the time. AI can do the research, summarize the data, and local experts can help businesses put it into action,” King says.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
By analyzing large volumes of data, AI can provide personalized insights and recommendations, enhancing overall business operations. This means local experts can offer clients previously unimaginable services, driving better results and deeper understanding.
In particular, King points to Vendasta's Jasper AI tool as a beacon for the future—a tool already streamlining content creation with its seamless integration of AI.
With this forward-thinking approach, King paints a compelling picture of how AI will empower local experts to craft more effective strategies and deliver transformative solutions.
- AI will enable more effective strategies and transformative solutions
- Personalized insights from AI will revolutionize client interactions
- AI already reduces cognitive load and streamlines tasks
- Leveraging AI can expand your service offering
Bringing Vendasta’s vision to life
When asked about the future, King’s trajectory for Vendasta is clear: expand horizons, delve into new domains, and create a holistic solution for small businesses.
"At Vendasta, we are not confined to the MarTech and AdTech space," King says. "We've been broadening our horizons to encompass more of what a small business needs. Our ultimate goal is to provide everything that an SMB requires to run its operations effectively."
This expansive approach involves moving downstream to cater to more nuanced needs. From building out Vendasta’s CRM with the acquisition of Yesware to integrating Broadly's consumer engagement tools, the King is determined to cover every aspect of an SMB's operation.
Thinking outside the box with business-in-a-box
The future vision for Vendasta is an all-inclusive 'business-in-a-box' platform. But what does that really mean?
“A place where an SMB can log in and completely run their business,” King says. But it's not just about equipping businesses with tools; it's about establishing a robust channel network that aids in providing these services.
"Small businesses might not be comfortable buying accounting software from a media company, but they might trust their website agency," King explains. "We're seeing a convergence where agencies initially focused on marketing are now offering managed services like internet and website hosting and even e-commerce."
Vendasta’s mission is to be the first name that comes to mind when local experts think about implementing technology and providing services for the SMB clients. There’s a crucial bridge that needs to be built to help SMBs cross the chasm between their needs and the technology solutions that fulfill them. And King is enthusiastic about fixing that bridge.
As a big believer in Conway's Law—that an organization inevitably designs systems that mirror its own structure—King ensures his day-to-day activities and the meetings he attends echo the company's structure.
It's not just about envisioning the future but about living it, every single day.
Looking to learn more about running a successful business from the experts at Vendasta?
This article is part of Voices of Vendasta, where our top performers and internal thought leaders come together to contribute their expertise, helping you to better support the local businesses you serve.
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