- Player: Damian Michael
- Company: Innovo Networks
- Launched: 2013
- Visit: www.innovonet.co.za
When Damian Michael launched his boutique telecoms service provider, Innovo Networks in July 2013, he had a clear goal in mind: To offer managed ICT services to the South African market at a better price than the industry’s incumbents, while delivering excellent service at the same time.
His target was corporates and the public sector, a lucrative market for SMEs, provided you understand – and can play by – the rules of the game.
What’s the first step to securing corporate clients?
Corporates only do work with registered vendors, so step one is registering as a vendor. You will find their process and the documentation required on their database.
You need to fill in everything, and provide all the required documentation, including tax clearance certificates, your B-BBEE status, director IDs, shareholder agreements and your health and safety compliance.
Understand that these are all mandatory. Let’s use health and safety as an example. Corporates are putting themselves at risk when they deal with SMEs.
If a technician falls down and breaks their leg, who’s liable? The corporate. SMEs need to understand compliance, and how corporate entities work. These are non-negotiables.
What happens once you’re registered? Is there any way to stand out from other SMEs looking to do business with the same companies?
I believe it’s essential to actively pursue clients. It’s not up to the corporate to send you quotes, tenders or even work. You need to pursue them. Corporates will load you onto their databases, but the onus is on you to build the relationship. Communicate specials to particular procurement managers – you’ll find their names when you register. Make contact, build relationships.
Any advice on how to build those relationships?
Pop into their offices; introduce yourself to the various department heads. Understand they’re very busy, so respect their time, but also understand that the more you stand out and they know you, the higher your chances of doing business with them.
It’s particularly important to give a gift to the gatekeeper. A gift opens doors; they’ll remember you, whether it’s a box of chocolates, pen or roses, people love getting gifts. Take them out to lunch – just don’t forget the gatekeeper.
Once your foot is in the door, how do you ensure repeat business?
This is entirely dependent on how well you deliver. Corporate policies state that they must always obtain three quotes. You quote on their requirements, and they choose the best product at the best price.
Often, entry into the organisation is price dependant, however, exceptional service will lead to follow-up work, and your next quote standing out from the crowd.
Pay careful attention to what distinguishes you. Stand out. Serve the organisation. Understand the organisation. What are their values? Are you delivering to those values?
How do you handle long payment terms from corporate clients?
Cash flow for SMEs, especially SMEs that are bootstrapped, is tight. Corporates often pay in 30, 60 or even 90 days. That’s their policy. But, if they pay within 14 days they get extra BEE points. Let them know that. If they get enterprise development points working with you, make that clear as well.
What led you to launching Innovo Networks?
I had a corporate ICT background. I spent two years at Vodacom in sales and marketing, followed by eight years at MTN. I then joined Neotel in 2009, and that’s where I got a taste for entrepreneurship.
We were building the organisation from scratch: A customer-base, acquisitions, policies, procedures and rolling out a new network. We were competing with large incumbents, so we needed to be fast, flexible and entrepreneurial.
By 2013 I was ready to create my own brand. I wanted to provide managed ICT services, including communications, connectivity, cloud and carrier services, at a better price to the incumbents.
I had good relationships in the ICT sector, excellent IP, and saw how much opportunity there was in the market, which is on a huge growth curve.
Creating Innovo Networks was a natural progression, and with my background in corporates, I understand the rules of the game.