Small businesses are easy to picture: a mom ‘n pop retailer, for instance, or a scrappy startup. Large enterprises are easy, too: smart workers in business-casual garb striding around in an chic office tower. But mid-market firms? They’re harder to pin down, in part because of disagreement of how to define them. One group, the National Center for the Middle Market, defines the mid-market as being firms with annual revenues between $10 million and $1 billion. According to that group, there would be almost 200,000 such firms in the U.S. alone.

For our purpose, which is looking at how companies operate, employee size may be a better metric. We’ll go with Forrester Research’s definition of a midsized firm, which includes firms with between 1,000 and 5,000 employees. According to Census data (2008), there are 7,415 firms of that size in the United States. While their numbers are few (comprising just 0.13% of the nearly 6 million businesses in the U.S.) their influence is disproportionately large. Midsize firms on Inc. Magazine’s Top 5000 list range from fast-growing tech firms such as daily deal provider LivingSocial (12,333% revenue growth between 2010-12, 15th on Inc.’s list) and business cloud vendor Workday to $7.4 million-a-year construction worker agency CCS Construction Staffing to $4.5 billion-a-year food redistributor, Dot Foods.

Nevertheless, midsize firms get overlooked, both by the general public, as well as tech vendors, who try to throw barely-above-consumer-grade solutions or over-engineered enterprise ones at them, with predictably poor results. That’s too bad. Having graduated from the struggles of startup-hood and not yet weighed down by the gravity that afflicts bigger companies, many mid-market firms enjoy explosive growth. During the last recession, mid-market firms were the only group adding substantial jobs, leading The Economist magazine to call them “the unsung heroes of economic growth.”

As future large enterprises, they can make ideal customers. At Avaya, we’ve been investing in solutions tailored specifically at midsize firms. Avaya IP Office 9.0, the latest version of our popular UC solution for SMBs, has been upgraded to handle up to 2,000 employees in multiple offices and be run on VMware server virtualization for maximum efficiency.

Avaya Video Collaboration for IP Office brings enterprise-grade video conferencing to small and medium-sized companies. While Avaya Outbound Contact Express delivers a near-contact-center-in-a-box solution for midsized companies.

In focusing on the mid-market, we’ve also learned a few things about what they prefer, which I thought I would share:

1) When it comes to UC, midsize firms are ahead of the curve. 40% of midsize firms in North America and Europe have deployed or are piloting unified communications, versus 29% of all firms, according to Forrester.

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2) Midsize firms tend to roll out UC on a smaller scale. Less than a quarter (24%) of midsize firms deploy UC on a global basis, compared to 32% of all firms. 45% of midsize firms roll out UC at a divisional level or below, compared with 40% of all companies, according to Forrester.

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3) Better team collaboration, improved project management and faster resolution of problems are the biggest benefits of UC. 90%, 87% and 84% of midsize firms, respectively, were satisfied with their gains here, according to Forrester. The next most important benefits, in order, for midsize firms were faster decisionmaking (81%), better business relationships with partners and suppliers (80%), improved customer experience (79%) and better user experience from social media collaboration (72%).

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4) Ignorant employees are the biggest problem with UC deployments. 37% of midsize firms cited employees unaware of productivity-enhancing UC features as an issue. Second was the lack of employees actually on UC yet. Third was an inability to measure the benefits of UC. These problems, however, are not unique to midsize firms.

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5) The smallest problem with midsize UC deployments is unprepared business units. That was cited just 11% of the time. Tied at second-least important problems were implementation problems and un-integrated technologies, at 17%.