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Dystopian worlds and telcos' B2B marketers share an unexpected characteristic: an obsession with numbers. Consider how communication service providers (CSPs) reach out to their smaller business customers: for most, this is done by grouping them into number of employees – less than 10, 50, 250, or 500.

This approach is not so different – and equally dehumanizing – as the one used in cult TV series The Prisoner, which features a closed village where everyone is designated only by a number. Famously, the hero Number 6 shouts: "I am not a number, I am a free man," and in their own way, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also getting vocal about such shabby treatment.

Lack of customer intimacy is consistently a top complaint lodged against CSPs – ranking much higher than value for money – among the 5,000 SMEs that Ovum has surveyed worldwide. They want guided support from a service provider that understands their business processes and knows which they're trying to improve.

In a recent global review of CSPs' SME portfolios, Ovum found that barely one in five bothered to humanize their offers to any substantive degree. Instead, service portfolios might be split into generic micro-, small-, or medium-sized company silos which blithely assume that SMEs (many without internal IT support whatsoever) have the knowledge to triage themselves correctly.

This is lazy marketing and there is no excuse for it, especially given the effort that is lavished on understanding and appealing to consumers. In the data-savvy age of the augmented customer, CSPs must also apply serious attention to the people working in 99% of the world's businesses.

In practice, serving the augmented SME involves a similar approach: a focus on delivering content, convenience, and comfort, meeting needs, and adding value to day-to-day operations. Notably, this demands a deeper level of understanding about who is in the organization, and how to appeal to them personally.

Persona-based marketing must now play a powerful role in telcos' B2B strategy, particularly in targeting SMEs. This involves building a composite picture of a group of customers, usually encompassing their values, aspirations, and fears, as well as typical socio-economic characteristics.

The sheer number of personas among SoHos and SMEs can be bewildering (freelancer, franchisee, and family business owner, to name a few), but Ovum has a methodology to triage them, and match them to the appropriate value proposition.

What's certain is that default use of company size to determine commercial opportunity cannot anticipate digital need adequately, nor technology adoption rates. Unless CSPs change their number-based approach, they will be as deluded as George Orwell's Big Brother about 2 plus 2 making 5.

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