Chris Donan works for AT&T Business as the VP of Business Sales. His job is to serve small, medium-sized businesses across the United States. He has the responsibility of leading and working alongside 1,300 solutions and technology specialists that work directly with small businesses. They also support their needs through the COVID-19 crisis. Small businesses are a golden thread across AT&T — they were a small business once too. AT&T small business is providing innovative and business-changing solutions. Keep reading to learn more.
I think that small business needs us now more than ever, and we need them. So finding ways to support in any way that we can is something that we’ve been focused on. To us, actions mean more than ads, which is why I’m joining you here at Survive and Thrive today. – Chris Donan
Serving Small Businesses
Well, the way that we’ve been thinking about this pandemic and really giving guidance to our technology specialists that serve small businesses is something that I borrowed from a partner of ours a couple of years ago. It’s all about now, next, and new.
Let’s break down what those three things mean.
When the pandemic hit and doors started to close, small businesses were asking questions about what to do and how to run their businesses.
Questions such as:
- How do I keep my doors open?
- How do I keep my employees working and on the payroll?
- Do I need to conserve cash?
- Do I have the opportunity to grow right now?
- How do I pivot my brick and mortar business now to something that is online or digital in a day or a week or a month?
These are the times that ATT&T small business solutions are here to support customers. A few things that they focused on in the “now” phase was pledging $1.2 million to small businesses to support a focus on distance learning. That was a number one priority as they reached out to local government education spaces.
Partnership with American Express
AT&T also entered into a partnership with American Express and 40 other businesses for Stand For Small. They’ve teamed up with 40 other businesses on offering tools and consulting to help small businesses.
“For us, it’s about collaboration and connections and what we can do to support them there.”
On the first responder side, AT&T has FirstNet, the only dedicated network for first responders where they have access to the best network available. Being connected has never been more important than it is right now, and first responders can feel confident on this network.
Then, there is a demand for mobile hotspots and mobile broadband. The ATT&T network has stood the test. They’ve been able to deliver and get those connections out to clients on the “now” phase.
There is also the AT&T fiber footprint, which has been performing well, to the say the least. ATT&T is known to have the largest fiber footprint in the United States. And this is critical. Just think about all the different webcasts businesses are putting together now. All of these are connections. They’re either connected over mobile or they’re connected over a terrestrial connection. It’s all the foundation of the technology and the network, which is so critical right now.
Chris’s team is coming off the tail end of the “now” phase where they saw the demand in state government, local government education, and then some verticals like healthcare, grocers, grocer’s supply, healthcare workers, and all types of first responders.
AT&T Small Business Opportunities
Many of the questions that Chris and his team get from clients as we all move into the next phase is:
- What’s working that I’m doing now that could work permanently?
- Is this going to give me an edge over my competition as a result of that?
- Should I invest to get ahead during this time?
These are big decisions to think about. So AT&T is having these conversations with small businesses.
Here are some examples of what that looks like:
Places of Worship
You can’t go to large congregations right now, no more than 10 people can congregate and you need to keep at least six feet apart. (This was the current case when this interview happened) So, you have to move to an online model. Also, think about the outreach that these places of worship have in their communities: How do you do it? Well, with technology.
Senior Living + Telehealth
When it comes to how business models change during a crisis, we can think about senior living and telehealth. Think about the senior living environment: One thing that you don’t want to have are strangers coming into the senior living community that don’t live there. So, many communities are making sure they provide iPads and other connected devices so the residents can communicate with family members and be able to be connected to the outside world. Chris feels that he also wants to enable small business customers to do that.
Then on the telehealth telemedicine side, many people, including seniors, don’t want to travel outside to get prescriptions or see doctors. “We think about perspective when working at AT&T and we always talk about how dial tone doesn’t cure cancer. We’re about as close as we can get to it right now. It’s been a service mission on the next side.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has made way for many more phishing scams and of denial service attacks. They’re all converged into one spot and you need to be able to protect your environment, especially as you move to more of an online model. AT&T’s network distributes those attacks when they work with clients that are worried about those types of environments.
The New Side to Working with SMBs
We’ve been hearing it a lot — this time in history presents a lot of opportunity for disruption. Disruption comes from this space. From entrepreneurs to emerging businesses to small businesses — this is where innovation comes from. And when it comes to small businesses, Chris thinks this is the place that we’re going to see the most growth come from.
“You’re going to see some amazing technological innovations that come out during this timeframe. It’s all going to come from here. It’s probably going to come from many of the people that are on the bridge right now.” – Chris Donan
Clayton Christianson was a Harvard business professor, a thought leader within business management, and sadly passed away in January. He coined the concept of disruptive innovation. His theory was that small and emerging companies that offer a better solution to the needs of their customers and their niche market will push older and established corporations to the side. This has actually happened many times, and it will happen in even greater frequency right now as things change. None of this can be accomplished without technology. Graveyards are full of firms that have ignored competitive threats that were underpinned by technology.
Credit: Jodi Hilton for The New York Times
AT&T was once a small business. Anybody who received a telegraph in the past scoffed at AT&T. “This is not going to work. AT&T is not a big company.” But, these things emerge over time. It’s the same concept of ship makers scoffing at steamboats. All disruption is tech-based, and technology solutions and people are the foundation of all of this. It is what innovation is built upon. Chris’s team’s purpose is to create connections. With each other, with what they need to thrive in their everyday lives, and with the stories and experiences that matter to consumers. “…focusing on this space, in particular, to build that innovation off of technology is really what my team focuses and thrives upon so we that can build up small businesses.”
“Through his research and teaching,” Professor Nohria wrote, “he fundamentally shaped the practice of business and influenced generations of students and scholars.” – The NYT
Chris is encouraging all entrepreneurs and leaders to think about your now, next, and new, whether it’s with AT&T small business or someone else across the globe. Trust those technology providers will help you innovate and disrupt. “I think that that’s something that’s critical for you. You will disrupt this economy.” Some of you may have been listening in on this interview!
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