Over the past few years, trading conditions have been challenging for our clients and for ourselves, and while we’d like it to be different, there may still be some tough times to come as the fundamentals shift.
Cycles are normal in business and it’s important to have a strategy in place that helps yours to get through both the good times and the not-so-good times. We often see businesses look to bank finance to facilitate growth, and though the specific drivers may be different, borrowing money can provide essential working capital in leaner times.
It is essential to have a strategy for growth in place to ensure that the money is used in the best places and in the right way. It’s not enough to focus on a new office, new staff or diversifying outside of your bread and butter business.
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well
Difficult times are an opportunity to shine when the right elements are kept in sight. In my early years as an accountant and in recent years implementing software solutions for business problems, I’ve had the opportunity to sit and learn from very smart people about their successes – and their failures.
It’s a well-established anecdote that smart companies often do well when the economy slows down because they remain focused on the fundamentals such as cash flow, costs, margins, efficient product and services management and their staff.
How do they do it? By focusing on four key areas of business:
- Basic Strategy – You approach and understanding of your markets
- Customers – What do they need and want?
- Technology & Automation – How do you manage more for less with technology?
- Your team – Do you have the right people?
Let’s look at each one in turn.
1. Basic Strategy
Increasing revenue within your business is possible, however often difficult, during lean times. Deciding how you’ll grow and how you’ll adapt to market conditions is rooted in having clear strategies in place for your business.
A five-year growth plan is an effective starting point: what are the market opportunities? How can you rise to meet them? Do you need to partner to bolster your own service delivery? Do you have the right people in place to drive and manage growth?
These are fundamental questions that ensure your team is keeping the right things in focus to deliver the outcomes you expect, but equally it can help when something unexpected occurs, such as greater growth than anticipated or a sharp change in trading conditions. It is not enough to throw people and dollars at a problem.
What is your competition doing?
It’s important to know what your competition is up to, but it’s not an opportunity to obsess. If your focus is on being better and smarter, then your job is to look at each problem as an opportunity to deliver value to your clients. Your arch rival may come out with a product or service your clients desire, however your opportunity is to do it better, with greater value, better service, smarter solutions and targeted results for your customers.
Where do you play – and play best?
Diversification is often seen as a path to growth; however the challenge is to diversify enough without going way outside the lines of your existing business. For example, as a tile wholesaler, it makes sense to bring in complimentary products such as bathroom fittings or better wholesale offerings, but to take the leap to retailing bikes is a bridge too far.
The goal is to align with opportunities that increase your business revenue and foster effective partnerships.
Stagnation is the death knell for more than a few businesses who fail to innovate or evolve to meet or manage changing business conditions. Continuous improvement within your business is essential to keeping up with the times and ensuring your business remains competitive.
That said, any upsell or improvements need to deliver real value – both to the business and to your customers. Implementing a voice activated phone system in a small business could deliver a genuine improvement, however it could really annoy customers who are used to dealing with human beings when they call your business.
Look at automating where you can and delivering better customer services for greater return, whether it’s the ability to feedback on your business, implement new systems for your customers’ benefit or just to easily be able to connect with the business when things go wrong.
In other words: Be mindful of how your customers like to do business with you.
Be good at being you
No business can be all things to all people: invariably, something will suffer. Be the best at what your business delivers and don’t spread your precious resources too thin. Customers return to businesses that they have had good experiences with, so by staying on top of what your clients buy, the trends that are influencing their purchase decisions and above all, stay attuned to what your customers actually think and want from you. Act accordingly.
Good customer relationships are a critical place to focus on in challenging times, because it’s easier to keep satisfied customers than it is to acquire new ones in challenging trading conditions. So what should be the foundation of your strategy?
Deliver the ultimate service
Customer service excellence is one of the most likely reasons your customers will return and keep returning – and it’s the best place to outshine your competition. Technology is a key asset in delivering better service, particularly utilising an effective CRM, Workflow solutions and automation where it’s relevant.
Greentree’s ERP CRM, coupled with business process management, can ensure that your business captures new leads, opportunities, customer service issues and other process related workflows. Using a tool such as a CRM can maximise visibility of customer issues and needs, but it can also drive campaigns and programs that foster customer loyalty and retention.
Modelling the ideal customer
What makes a good customer for your business? Doing business is a partnership and it’s important that the relationship works for both your business and the customer. For example, if a client cannot see the value you provide or complains about the cost of your services constantly, then there’s a mismatch between their needs and your business.
If your CRM is up and running, it’s not difficult to dive into customer data and see who is delivering profit to your business, who could become more profitable with some effort, and whether they cost you more to keep them as clients than is necessary. Products such as Qlikview and Greentree ERP CRM provide instant information that can shift how you do business.
Be easy to do business with
Customers who value what do or see your business as a strategic partner will want to work closer and more frequently when there is a clear alignment. Building excellent business relationships is vital for a growing business and it pays to put investment into the right places.
Client processes is one area where it’s a no brainer to improve service delivery: Automating processes, service requests via the web, creating drip-feed campaigns or making engagement possible online (web, service desk, social media etc.) are straightforward ways of demonstrating that you are a trusted partner who can deliver economies of savings.
3. Technology & Automation
The rapid rise of digital as a solution for business engagement is challenging Australian businesses to adopt, adapt and evolve their business technology. In leaner times, it can be the difference a successful business needs to rise above competition.
Making sense of data
Finding signals among the noise of business data is something many Australian businesses struggle with, despite often adopting Big Data as a strategy driver.
Data in and of itself is just that: billions of zeros and ones in code. It’s knowing how to draw out critical insight, sentiment, trends, patterns and other signals that provide management with the capability to make decisions that are right for the business.
Kinetic works with each client to really pull out the nuggets from their data streams, lakes and ponds. Visualising, filtering and collecting the correct data in the first place are just some of the methods that enable a business to see if its core processes function as they should.
For example, imagine walking into your business and knowing from the get go what the position of the business is, for example:
- Its cash position
- How many orders are in the pipeline
- Is order fulfilment keeping up or slipping?
- How many returns have been made because of poor products or poor vendor service?
- Which products are selling and which are stagnant?
- Are we in the cash position we need to be?
Just having easy access to and the ability to understand this information can make a massive impact on decision making within the business.
Use software to manage workflow, authorisation and escalation
With the business software we have today, there is no excuse for processes not being executed as they should be. Workflow, workflow desktops, approvals, alerts and business process management all are key components of ensuring that the businesses can run with minimal human error or forgetfulness when things get busy. Customers appreciate efficiency, but often don’t notice until things start going awry.
Getting processes right comes down to matching the need to the way you want to work with your client. Working with a tool like Greentree means you can design the processes that suit your business whilst having a robust framework to manage them.
Your processes can be built to match how you want to work with your customers. Products like Greentree have a great suite of these tools.
Documentation: Centralise, Structure and Access
We have all been in the situation where we need a document, but can’t get our hands on it efficiently. Who hasn’t needed the document, contract, support documentation and other types of ‘content’ for a project, only to find it’s not on the server or easy to find.
Scanning documents, pictures and CAD drawings and attaching them with appropriate permissions ensures people in your organisation have access to all important documents anytime and anywhere.
Do your clients pay on time?
Cash, as they say, is king. Without it, your business can’t function, much less grow, and in tough times, many companies find themselves writing off bad debts. Don’t let that be you.
The accounts receivable department needs to be able to see data in real-time, so that if a customer doesn’t pay on time , they can act. Whether it’s pursuing the payment of an invoice, escalating the issue to senior management or stopping supply, managing cash flow is essential to ensuring that a business can ride out a downturn.
Having good relationships, again, is critical. Proper relationships with customers allows your business to be aware of a customer’s circumstances, enabling you to help if you can, whilst managing minimal risk to the business.
Improved CRM transparency helps keep everyone on the same page and often some of your best customers end up the ones you have helped through an issue.
Customers are precious – show them a little love.
In one of our previous blogs, we discussed the benefits of having the correct levels of inventory for your business to satisfy the order book without holding excess stock. Inventory is cash that you can’t access and there is nothing worse than customers having to wait for backorders of products they purchase on a regular basis.
Ensure your sales team is hungry
If your sales team is occupying an office desk on a regular basis rather than being mobile, then they are difficult to justify. Sales teams should be hungry and looking for new business, both from existing clients and new business.
Times have changed. Your staff can be mobile if they have the right tools and you can maintain visibility if you do. Watch this video to find out how Greentree4 can provide your sales team with functionality on the road they need here
Tech that grows with you
Scalability and technology that can grow as the business does is a key ingredient to success. A scalable ERP solution is essential as your business adapts and grows. It should enable you to tailor the workflow and processes relevant to your business both in terms of functionality, changes to regulatory issues, changes to processes and many other operational requirements of a growing business.
The economy is shifting significantly, so any tools you take on board should be adaptable and ‘figure-out-able’ for future needs.
4) Your team
The right people for the job
Temperament, personality and that elusive ‘cultural fit’ are important traits within any business. Having the right people in the right roles is essential, thought it can be enormously challenging to get them.
Get it wrong and you risk damaging your business reputation. Get it right, and you’ll get happy customers.
How can they excel?
Owning a role, having a clear career path and finding ways to advance your team are key elements of keeping your people happy and likely to stay within your organisation. These are also important elements that customers see, experience or engage with when doing business.
Long-term employees within a business are often viewed by customers as important relationships: employees who understand the client’s needs, can anticipate them or salve them are key signals about your business.
Encourage hard work but allow for play
Being professional does not stop business from being fun. A culture of fun generates enthusiasm for work and a happy culture in dealing with customers. Your team’s enthusiasm will be infectious to you customers. It’s important to recognise and reward success for the soft skills within your team.
Warm wishes as the festive season arrives.
Kinetic wish you all the best for 2016 and would be happy to talk to anyone that would like to discuss how they could achieve growth in difficult markets.
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Scott Graham is one of the Directors of Kinetic Information Systems. He started his career in the UK as an accountant in practice and then industry. Scott has been in the software industry for over 18 years in the UK and over the past six years down under. You can connect with Scott via his LinkedIn profile linkedin.com/in/scottgrahamkinetic