A new study shows small and midsized businesses value innovation over all other factors when it comes to choosing to work with outside IT firms, according to CompTIA.

The study, titled “Enabling SMBs with Technology,” surveyed 500 SMBs in the United States in December to discover the most likely reasons these businesses would contract outside IT firms.

CompTIA said 46 percent of SMBs look to outside firms to gather expertise and new opinions on solutions, and are more likely to switch IT firms if that company lacks innovative technology solutions.

More than 70 percent of companies surveyed said they had utilized an outside IT firm at least occasionally over the past 12 months, mainly for services such as repairs, troubleshooting, installation and integration.

“IT firms that want to maintain their relevance with SMB customers must move from the management of isolated technology pieces to management of the overall structure,” said Seth Robinson, senior director, Technology Analysis at CompTIA, in a statement. “By doing so they are better positioned to drive technology decisions that align with the customer’s business needs.”

Additionally, two-thirds of SMBs surveyed said they also hope to increase their annual technology budget, and nearly half said they would be inclined to increase their total budget if presented with innovative solutions for new business processes from IT firms. Currently, two-thirds of companies surveyed spend less than $100,000 a year on technology, with 29 percent spending less than $10,000.

For IT firms looking to draw attention from new SMB customers, CompTIA suggested they focus on several key areas of their businesses, including improved web design, cloud computing and analytics. IT firms who broaden their web presence beyond that of a standard website are likely to attract new customers, as well as those who work to develop their cloud service portfolios. Finally, putting an emphasis on data analytics is expected to help differentiate IT firms and could lead to renewed interest from SMBs looking to better understand their systems, according to the study.

“Through education, training, business credentialing and other tools, solution providers can improve their odds of success in a rapidly changing SMB landscape,” said Nancy Hammervik, senior vice president, Industry Relations at CompTIA.

By putting in the time and effort to differentiate themselves from the competition and invest in innovative solutions, CompTIA believes many IT firms can attract new business from SMB customers and cement themselves as experts in their chosen fields. However, these firms will need to work hard to prove themselves worthy of the hype, especially if everyone is competing for the same slice of the SMB pie.