Why Do We Build Collaborative Partnerships?
I always wondered why people teaching business studies at collages weren’t making use of their knowledge & building business empires. I have the greatest respect for teachers but business is one of those subjects that is tricky to teach to someone unless there is some fundamental born-with talent inside them.
I recall interviewing a chap who had been charged with running a new satellite operation of a specialist car hire place, with three other people. Quizzing him about his day to day operations he said, “one day I delivered a Ferrari to a customer, came back & had to unblock the loo.” That told me there & then that he’d make a good leader. No airs & graces about delivering a supercar but equally no big deal about doing a (for want of a better word) shitty job either. He did what had to be done to ensure the running of the company. Fixing a blockage was unlikely to be in his contract of employment yet nevertheless he got on with it. (Yes he was successful in the role)
This is something that a business school could never teach. That is not a criticism, merely demonstrable that there are so many unusual, often unprecedented situations arise that would be impossible to predict or attempt to create a course that covers the plethora of situations you face running a company.
It’s OK not to know everything. Sometimes bosses are expected to know everything. Truthful answer is we don’t, but the trick is to recognise that there is plenty we’re yet to understand. The answers will be out there, perhaps in colleagues, maybe on the internet, sometimes with consultants.
Strengths & Weaknesses
I would also ask, why learn everything? Yes have a sound basic knowledge across the board, but a company owner cannot be expected know everything about everything. This is where the art of delegation comes in. A good leader will be aware of his weaknesses & delegate to a co-worker or out-source to someone. Everyone has weaknesses & there’s nothing wrong in admitting to them, in fact life becomes a lot simpler if we accept that some things we’re not great at.
A friend of mine failed her accountancy exams some 6 times. It did make me wonder firstly was she naturally cut out to become an accountant, whether it was in her blood. Secondly what happened at exam 3? Surely failing twice would be the catalyst to do tonnes of extra revising for the third exam.
Being deficient in an aspect of business is common amongst great leaders & you’ll hear the phrase “Hire your weaknesses”. In other words either put someone in place to help your blindspots or work damn hard to understand the subject & become expert in it. Problem with the latter point is that generally your weaker subjects can be perceived as boring. If this is the case, leave it to someone else. Only aim to get involved with stuff that excites you. Business or otherwise. If you’re excited about something, perhaps an innovative product or unusual solution, that’s half the battle. The passion will keep your brain active long past 5pm.
As an example, Justine & I struggle with the minutia of accounts. We like totals; what’s coming in, what’s going out, what’s the forecast, that kind of thing. Assigning sales invoice to a particular code on Xero is not really our thing. Fortunately we have a great team of accountants around us to help. They pick out the important details, use software to double & triple check data, deal with accounting queries and all sorts of other details.
We also outsource to a trusted chartered accountant who has partnered with us for over twenty years. This guru translates the mass of data into salient points & management information that is a lot more palatable for us. Some of us like details, some prefer conclusions. Like folding your arms left over right or right over left, neither is wrong, simply different.
The Revolution Extension
In the early days of Revolution Four Justine & I used to target start-ups. It seemed a logical place to begin as we offered most of the services & products a new company would need to get off the ground.
We quickly discovered that there was a wide range of start-ups. We were aiming for say two or three founders who’d come up with a great idea or solution to a problem, had a reasonable direction & knowledge base, who needed us to become their marketing and / or tech department. At the other end of the scale were people who’d quit their job, a couple of years in, often in the hair or beauty trades, after deciding they could do a better job than their boss.
One of the latter examples came to us with a simple & common issue, she had a great product & had been selling a bit after a couple of months. She wanted to grow so needed more people to hear about her products, so they could potentially convert to customers. After getting to know her & understand her offerings, we discovered that there was a specific demographic that bought from her.
It was clear that some targeted advertising on the likes of Facebook would be ideal for her & we’d seen similar companies do very well taking this approach. Immediately she rejected this idea stating that she’d already tried Facebook adverts. We were a little taken aback until she explained that she’d already advertised on the social media platform for two weeks, spending £2 the first week & £3 on week two. She achieved no results so concluded that Facebook was a waste of time. The best campaign in the world, will not get far on a £3 per week budget. Imagine asking a magazine how much £3 would buy (about two to three words in Cheshire Life, perhaps four in Wirral Life) Barely enough for a website or phone number. We’re pretty innovative but do need a bit of budget to work our magic. You must speculate to accumulate.
Partnering Not Supplying
It didn’t take us long to realise that the former, slightly bigger start-ups, were a much better fit for us. We worked better at a bit more advanced level. For example there was a company making merchandise for students. They recognised that if they employed graphic designers & marketers they would be crazy busy for the months when students start or return to uni but then twiddling their thumbs for the rest of the year. Enter Revolution Four. We sent two of our team to London to get under the company’s skin; find out how they worked, what their ethos was, so we could blend seamlessly into their organisation. Not just a supplier, a collaborative partner.
Likewise they were able to have the might of a marketing team at their disposal, for a couple of months of the year, at a fraction of the price of employing similar staff. They could simply dip in & out as they needed us. An added bonus for them was their access to a wider skill set than simply employing a marketer or graphic designer; techies, web developers, social media specialists, not to mention myself & Justine. We are happy to jump in to help with all those unlisted things; delivering Ferraris or unblocking loos!
One of the only similarities we saw between the two ends of the start-up scale was that they both took a similar amount of time to get to know & understand, both their products & the culture of the company. We honestly put our heart & soul into everyone we work with, so we realised that if we were going to put that much effort in then we were better suited to the bigger contracts. We loved the mutual benefits that came from being an extension of their company. Having a wide range of assets at our disposal allowed us fairly simply & often quite cheaply to get the job done where others would be waiting on subcontractors or techies to complete a project. Doing the lot in house gave us a massive advantage. We became pretty good at collaboration & partnering with companies. If we weren’t 100% sure that we could do something brilliantly, we recognised it & spoke up. We drew in help from other staff or subcontracted in specialists. The quality of what we provide has no compromise; must be brilliant. At the very least!
Getting Under The Skin
Our first international company really exemplified this & justified our reasoning. We were invited to a large industrial estate to meet the marketing team of a well-established manufacturer exporting its specialists goods throughout the world. They realised that they were a little behind the times in their utilisation of the internet. They brought us in to talk to them about a marketing strategy. After meeting with them, researching about them & their market place, opportunities, weaknesses, etc all due diligence type stuff, we presented to them & won the contract.
Typically at this stage Justine & I would spend a little more time with the clients and then start diminishing our role as our specialists take over, eventually getting to a stage where our involvement would be overseeing the projects, ensuring everything ran smoothly & everyone was pulling in the same direction.
This client invited us to a tour of their factory & offices. Sad possibly, but I love stuff like that (I’m also a sucker for commercial kitchens), so dragged Justine with me, dressed up in hi-viz jackets & started looking at some big impressive machinery. It was here that we saw the wood for the trees. In a small, unremarkable office sat a lovely lady who was the epitome of why it is essential to talk to anyone & everyone in a company.
This lovely lady was responsible for sending out samples; customers could call up or visit their website, fill in some basic details and she would ensure that they received the samples they required.
With two systems for collecting data, phone & web form, we asked whether she added the callers data onto whatever CRM system they used for the website. Shockingly she didn’t record either. Two sources of red hot leads. People who’d made the effort to get a sample. People who were clear users of the product (this wasn’t a frivolous, fun type product). She hadn’t been told to collect their data, merely organise samples being sent out.
They simply hoped or assumed that following their test of the sample they would buy from them. Not only did they not collect potential customers details, they wouldn’t know how many of those tried the samples & wanted to buy thereafter, their conversion rate.
Worse still if people had tried samples and didn’t want to buy, they need to understand their reasons. It’s always been my belief that you learn more from negative reviews than from positive. Say the majority didn’t go on to purchase because the cost was prohibitive, then they could have potentially addresses that with perhaps special offers, discounts on quiet days. If quality was an issue then this would be valuable feedback for the manufacturing teams. If we’d have gone straight for increasing traffic to the website, then this would only serve to exacerbate this issue.
Work Smart & Think Different
It was straight forward & low cost to put in CRM (client relationship manager) software to automatically collect the data from the samplers. From that point onwards, the data could be used to track conversions, understand objections to buying, re-market to them. A simple solution with a huge & immediate return on investment.
We uncovered a few other processes that, with a relatively little effort and in most cases not very expensive, made more of an instant impact on their business than the fanciest TV advertising campaign could. Delighted to say we’re still working well alongside them today.
This foray into deep-seated partnering with a company, it’s owners & key staff solidified our mantra of working smart was the way forward. Growing a business isn’t just a case of throwing cash at marketing, it’s looking at each individual process & action that happens from the first customer enquiry through the entire chain and beyond.
A company owner may ask, why can’t my C-suite, directors or managers do all this stuff. The simple answer is that it often takes an outsider firstly to spot the issues or solutions (which are often hidden in plain sight) Employed staff, even at exec level are typically unlikely to be genuinely independent & struggle not to give biased direction. It’s not normally in their nature to bring in other experts and specialists to bolster the gaps in their knowledge; doesn’t bother us as it’s not about ego, but achieving the best results for the company.
We found one particular company whose Quality Assurance director preferred to have her team kept very busy correcting mistakes that we discovered could have easily been cut off at the source. Her problem with increasing the quality upstream is that it dramatically reduced the quantity of work for her team & thus affected her KPIs. OK not great for her team’s prospects but taking an overview of the company, they ran quicker, more efficiently & didn’t need as many people reworking their employee’s work. Again another example of how a change in process that cost almost nothing, can pay huge dividends in profitability.
After Sales / Onboarding
Many people forget looking after clients beyond the sale. It’s so important to keep in touch with customers after the sale to ensure that they’re happy with what they’ve purchased, perhaps understand how it works fully, introduce members of the team, offer hints & tips for getting the most out of what they’ve bought; ‘onboarding’. Each product or service is different & should be handled differently.
As an example, let’s say we sell a company a website. We hand it over, talk through how to login, change stuff, add content, etc. If we’ve done our jobs properly, they’re going to be delighted; it looks good, works well, lots of key words & phrases, runs fast. A couple of weeks or so later we check in with them; at least half of the clients ask us to just go over how to do something. We’ve already told them but often it’s not until someone goes to do something that the original instructions are forgotten. Can you remember everything your driving instructor told you? It is a British idiosyncrasy that we love answering questions but hate asking.
The important thing is to make clients feel comfortable about asking questions. They’re not as familiar with your product as you are, so no question is out of bounds. Technical jargon may make complete sense to you but can be daunting for a client. It’s worth putting some of the more common questions online, a FAQ page (frequently asked questions) or use a chatbot to cover them. Some social media platforms including Facebook have a simple chat system for automatically responding to repeat questions. These can be quite handy but don’t fully rely on them over human interaction.
For less complicated products, a simple follow up call or message often goes a long way, although we do bear in mind that not everyone wants to be pestered after a purchase. Independent reviews are a brilliant way of getting genuine feedback, good or bad. We also consider it good practice to reply to the good reviews, not just the bad.
Looking after your customers after they have bought is an important part of being a partner & not just a supplier. It builds trust, understanding & hopefully a long term mutually beneficial relationship. It gives us a real proud feeling to know that so many of our clients are still with us today.
Non Executive Directors
Over the years we’ve been privileged to work with some great companies and it is no small delight to be able to help them thrive. Sometimes just making little suggestions that make big differences, often giving business owners or teams an eye-opening perspective, occasionally discovering golden nuggets within the company, always making a positive difference.
We both felt that this was a passion that we want to pursue. When we’ve received reviews for our work, one common denominator is the way Justine & I work as a team. We are close-nit, talk work & ideas 24/7 & we’re best friends outside work. Over the years, we’ve been through the good, such as seeing businesses achieve their goals, expand, open new branches or shops, create some astonishing products. There’s also been bad, such as helping companies who are in trouble with damage limitation, crisis strategies and sometimes the best way is to go into administration (you can’t win them all). We celebrate the good, learn from the bad; fortunately the former far outweighs the latter.
This thought process led to us becoming non executive directors. We have a unique way of looking at how a company runs, its processes & workflows. With such a wide range of associated companies and network of professionals, what we don’t know, we can quickly source experts & specialists to help. We thrive off the freedom of being independent to the company; it allows us to give an unbiased opinion based on our oversight along with objective criticism. We love solving challenges & problems drawing on our rich history of weird & wonderful problems we’ve had to overcome. Most of all we love achieving clear targets, in fact we actually love smashing them. It’s an incredible feeling when you can see tangible results. Boardroom champagne tastes better celebrating success.
2020 was a highly unusual year with lockdowns & tiers affecting the entire country, with this year starting off just as challenging. This has put the creative machine to the test; we’ve had to come up with some highly unusual ideas, some damage limitation for some, others we’ve had to move quickly to help them adapt to the pandemic.
As the end nears we start to see the world with a different view. There has been a tremendous shake up to society, communities & businesses. Out of chaos there is opportunity and we feel that our bird’s eye view in needed now more than ever. We’re currently open for discussions with businesses who we feel we can make a real difference to. If you’d like an initial chat, (or Zoom) please contact us here.