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Performance & Growth

First Take Care of Customers

Service and selling are closely linked. Understanding how customers relate to your business, talking to and listening to customers is where it all starts.

Steven Viviers




The next step is treating customers as unique and special and making them partners in your business, where they can assist with service improvement and product development.

In our last article we discussed the art of ‘Upselling’ and introduced various tips and techniques successful entrepreneurs use to increase sales and stay ahead of the competition. This month we focus on developing a true customer focus.

It’s been ages since we’ve heard the plea “if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will” or that the customer is “king”. One-time CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, Jan Carlzon, declared a long time ago that “the only thing that counts is a satisfied customer.” In an industry struggling with high fuel prices and overcapacity this idea soon faded into obscurity, along with many airlines.

Walt Disney, the legendary entrepreneur and co-founder of Walt Disney Productions, said right at the outset, “Do what you do SO well that (customers) will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

The satisfaction index

Recent research indicates only 1 in 4 customers go home satisfied. Clearly we are paying lip service. The whole point about sales is that you want your customers to come back, and when they do, to bring their family and friends. The early entrepreneurs were lucky. When a customer had a bad experience she told just 10 people.

Nowadays, with the internet, and especially social media, customers tell 10 000 of their ‘friends’ and the whole world gets to know in milliseconds. Ask companies like Woolworths, South African Airways and Hyundai whose fortunes have risen and fallen on customer’s perceptions.

Only two types of customers?

If you’re a small business owner you may think there are only two types of customers – those that shop with you and those that shop with the opposition. We believe its helpful seeing customers in categories. These could be ‘new’, ‘fickle’, ‘loyal’ or ‘advocates’, price-sensitive, convenience, traditional or finer foods or ‘blue blood’, ‘cosmopolitans’  and ‘young influentials’. There is no end to the segmentation. Adapting your sales strategy to suit each group is key though.

For new customers, shopping for a particular price point or a special occasion, a warm welcome is essential. They may not represent a big proportion of your current sales, but they offer the greatest long term potential – so don’t ignore them. For loyal customers and especially customers who sing your praises building a formal, long-term relationship is the ultimate goal.

Talking works

In our experience nothing works better than talking to your customers. Some would say not merely talking, but listening. Hearing their voice above everyone else’s in your business. If you have physical premises (restaurant, shop or garage) you should be walking on the floor / forecourt daily and talking to your customers.

One of the ways to interact with customers, preferred by the big retailers, is Customer Focus Groups. A Focus Group is a group of customers carefully selected to give you feedback. It’s important they’re customers who have a vested interest in your business and who won’t hold anything back.

Focus Groups are not difficult to organise, requiring just some simple planning, sending out of invitations, hosting of customers in a safe environment (on or off-site) and engaging in conversation. Let customers talk openly about their shopping experience or ask them specific questions about your products and services (sales channels, pricing, promotions and new developments, in fact any area of the business you want feedback on). Focus Groups shouldn’t be once off events but an opportunity to build life time relationships with customers.

Next time you are on the shop floor, instead of avoiding difficult customers, as many salespeople do, ask your staff to point them out and then introduce yourself and your product offering or “value-proposition”.

Engaging your customers

By definition a “value proposition” is a promise of value to be delivered to a customer or the belief by a customer of value to be experienced. “Value”, in this context, is based on the benefits a customer receives from good or services in return for payment. Value propositions may apply to the entire business, or part of it, and may include customer accounts, various products or services offered for sale.

Audi’s introduction of the Quattro drive system in 1980 led to it becoming synonymous with high-performance vehicles. In terms of customer value Audi’s Quattro system set it apart from other competitors. Although other car manufacturers (BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar) also had all-wheel drive systems they were not as widely encountered and marketed as Audi’s.

Why is a value-proposition essential? The answer is simple. Your value proposition creates a strong differential between you and your competition. It improves the quality and focus of your selling. You’re able to increase sales in specific customer segments. Customers typically want to know “What’s in this for me?” and “Why buy from you?”

If you spend just one day understanding what customers want and clarifying your value proposition you will have improved your business.

Another key concept to understand is a customer’s “moments-of-truth”. These are points at which a customer interacts with your business and has an experience, good or bad. They may be many. Let’s use the example of a garage. Nowadays garages operate as “convenience centres” i.e. they sell petrol, diesel and other automotive-related products as well as groceries and / or fast foods and with added-value services like dry-cleaning, ATMs and car washes.

From a customer’s perspective the “moment-of-truth” is the minute she decides to fill up her car (on the way to work or on returning home again), spotting tell-tale signage or perhaps an inviting looking forecourt, safe, secure parking as well as short queues at the pumps. Buying fuel is a ‘grudge’ purchase. Customers typically ask themselves: Will my experience be easy and quick? Is there someone helping with traffic control? Is the entrance to the shop accessible or is it blocked by a delivery van? Is the shop clean?

Are the aisles easy to shop and my favourite food product on display? (We’ll deal more thoroughly with layout and / or space issues in a future article). When I want to pay, will I have to queue? Is there a manager on duty if something goes wrong?

Let’s not forget we’re now in a convenience outlet, customers need to find a suitable place to park, fill up their car, choose tonight’s meal and then leave in under 12 minutes. We can learn a lot from TESCO, the UK’s market leader, with respect to convenience. Their standard for queues is not “3 minutes” or “5”, or one cashier for every three customers, as is typical in South Africa, but “one person behind another is a queue” then management take action.

They call up extra cashiers, put on packers, walk the queue talking to customers. Nowadays, service stations operate 24/7 and need to run efficiently even at 03h00 in the morning. But it’s not operational efficiency they want. It’s customer efficiency. Cutting back staff to the extent that customers requiring assistance can no longer find them on the shop floor is ludicrous.

Bettering experiences

If one understands a customer’s moments-of-truth and what they really need one can improve their experience of your business.

Hiring the right people in the first place is one of the keys to success. We believe hiring salespeople with the right values or “attitude” is vital. Values, unfortunately, are best taught by parents. As an entrepreneur your role is to hire people who already have a “can do” attitude.

You need to “hire the smile” as it were and then train these raw recruits in product knowledge and specific job-related processes and procedures. Keep recruitment interviews practical. Ask difficult questions and then role-play actual encounters with customers on the sales floor.

Product training should take the form of indoctrination – touching, tasting and experimenting with product as customers would. Your salespeople won’t be able to sell your products or services if they don’t know anything about them.

Good old-fashioned shopkeeping

Sales gurus the world over believe that the longer you’ve been in business the less you know about your customer. If you apply just one technique from this article, amongst the many, make it the one preferred by an old-fashioned shopkeeper we know. Write down everything the customer tells you in a small notebook and keep this in your top pocket. Refer to it constantly, implementing just one thing each day and encourage your staff to do likewise.

Steven B. Viviers is a partner of Customer1st, a change management consultancy operating in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. He has worked in retail most of his life with British Petroleum, Chesebrough-Ponds Co., Edgars Stores and Woolworths Ltd. He has consulted to various governmental and business organisations in South Africa, Namibia & Zimbabwe on the subject of Service Improvement. You can contact him at

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Performance & Growth

5 Lessons On Scaling Up Your Company From An EOY Winner

It takes a combination of grit, hard work and the right strategies to navigate the challenges of the scale up journey. What do some entrepreneurs do differently to make it to the top?

Louw Barnardt




Building a successful company is really hard. Even when you have made it through the start-up phase – product development, market fit, building a team, earning first traction – the process of scaling up remains a challenging road.

Louw Barnardt CA(SA), recently named the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year at the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® Awards, shared his five top lessons learnt from fast-growing clients and from their own journey of scaling up Outsourced CFO to twenty five full time professionals.

“There are many stumbling blocks that hinder exponential growth at the scale up phase. Successful start-up founders do not always have the right skill set and experience to build a business from five to fifty people or from twenty to two hundred.”

Louw and his team have taken the concept of an ‘Outsourced CFO’ – a go-to finance person for emerging companies – and built a very exciting business from it. “There are hundreds of lessons one learns on the journey of building a scale-up company. These five stand out among all of the biggest lessons learnt.

1. Invest in People

Doing business is all about people. In start-up phase, founders are able to manage almost everything. From the social media post to the invoicing to the recruitment – it all falls on you. One founder can manage this for a short while and a founder team for a bit longer, but somewhere between five and twenty people this changes. The founders can no longer make every call, have every meeting, answer every client query.

It’s critical to build a solid leadership team and then to equip them with enough autonomy and authority to run with the various portfolio’s within the company. Put a head of HR, head of sales, head of client engagements, head of operation and head of finance in place as soon as you can and keep investing in them – it’s the only way to scale out of start-up mode.

Related: The 4 Steps To Scaling Your Start-up To The Next Level

2. Manage Cash Flow

The finance function sits at the heart of every business. If the numbers don’t add up, everything comes to nothing quite fast. Founders need to make sure that they have a firm eye fixed on financials. New cloud systems enable entrepreneurs to have access to every detail of revenue, profitability, debtors and cash flow in real time.

That’s right – exact live financial information at your fingertips for decision-making. Foreseeing cash crunches ahead of time and actively being able to navigate to avoid them makes all the difference in the scale-up process. Growth eats cash, so be sure to manage yours on the way up.

3. Streamline and Automate

A start-up can afford to do what needs to be done in the moment. Scale-ups cannot. Automation of company processes is key to enable scale in various company functions.

Automate your sales process with a tool like Sales Force or HubSpot. Automate your marketing with a tool like Hootsuite. Automate your finance with a tool like Xero. Automate your company culture input with a tool like Hi5. Putting a good system in place and investing in the understanding and utilisation of all of its functions is a prerequisite for high growth.

4. Prioritise Strategy

As execution becomes a bigger and bigger part of your company, the strategy that directs that execution plays an ever-increasing role. The most successful management teams set and stick to good habits around strategy: Annual breakaways to direct long term strategy. Quarterly strategy days to cement key strategic priorities for the next 90 days and the likes.

It may seem counterintuitive to have your full management team out of action for so many full days of work, but putting the right strategy in place to execute is the real deep work required to scale.

Related: Infanta Foods’ Marisa da Silva On Why Scaling Is Tougher Than It Seems

5. Brand and Awareness is key

The value of owning a top brand and of being top of mind with all your stakeholders cannot be overstated. A stronger brand lifts the market’s perceived value of your offering. Continuously starting conversations and finding ways of reminding your networks and target market of who you are and what amazing things you are doing opens up ever-bigger opportunities that play a huge part in creating scale for our top entrepreneurs.

“Building a company is hard work. But if you do it smartly, the juice is worth the squeeze many times over. Make these five lessons your own to hack the scale up journey as you build the business of your dreams.”

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Performance & Growth

Use Growth To Help You Live Like A Hero

Often strengths become weaknesses as we progress through our business journey. If you want to remain the hero, you need to focus on growth.

Erik Kruger




“Do our heroes fall from grace? Sometimes.

However, what makes them a hero is that they fight and crawl their way back to the top. You aren’t a hero because you were once great. You are a hero because you continually strive to be great.”

I am a big Batman fan. The 2008 film, The Dark Knight, gave us an iconic line. In it Harvey Dent, who later becomes Two Face, says, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

It’s a cutting view of a fall from grace: How our heroes often become vilified through their actions or our perceptions of them.

But I would like to suggest a different context for this quote. As an entrepreneur, you must develop certain qualities and characteristics to become successful. The problem is that those same qualities and characteristics, once the tools that pushed you to success, can at a later stage become the stumbling blocks that prevent you from progress.

Growth beyond abilities

Here’s a quick example. You wake up one morning with a great idea. Soon after, your idea has been translated into action and your business is up and running. You find yourself jumping between different roles. Sales. Marketing. Accounting. Operations. All your time and energy gets funnelled into the business. You work late at night. Sure, it impacts your social life but at least you don’t have a family to worry about.

Related: 5 Fierce Ways To Become The Ultimate Entrepreneur

Then, growth. Things change. And your superpowers become weaknesses. You need to hire a team to help with the increasing demand on the business. But you struggle to let go. You want to hang on to your ability to control every aspect of the business. It’s how you have always done it. It’s what led you to success. However, the business requires you to change with it. To learn a new skill; finding the right team and trusting them with your dream.

You might then find yourself in a serious relationship or married. Perhaps even a kid. And the amount of time that you can dedicate to the business is impacted. You must find ways of staying productive at work while making time for your family and close relationships. Your previous ability to pull all-nighters becomes futile in the face of new expectations as you need to divide your time in a meaningful way.

What once was a strength now becomes a weakness, and this happens much faster than you might think. So, how do you prevent your superhero abilities from withering?

Truth in reflection

Everything we do starts from knowing. You would be surprised to know how much of your behaviour is driven by subconscious programming that you grew over the years.

Since this behaviour becomes a part of your identity it becomes almost impossible to see how it affects the way you interact with the world and those around you.

So, the only way to really create a new set of behaviours is to pause the auto-play function. And for this to happen you need self-awareness and reflection. You do this by creating time for meditation, journaling, and spending time with a coach or mentor.

Perpetual Evolution

In my experience, entrepreneurs are pretty good at learning new things. Especially in the early days. So, as your business grows, you need to grow with it. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs get left behind. It’s much more ideal if your growth drives business growth than the other way around.

I am not going to harp on about this because I think there are more than enough resources that can help you to evolve your thinking, and they aren’t hard to find, in fact you are holding such a resource in your hands right now.

Related: Want To Achieve Greatness? Be 1% Better

People Are Mirrors Too

The people around you are pretty good at holding a mirror up to you. They aren’t always aware that they are doing so. They hold up the mirror by reacting to you in a certain way and by speaking to and about you in a certain way.

If you are paying attention, then you will pick up on the clues that they leave behind. You will be able to read between the lines and hear their cries for support, encouragement, and trust. But of course, what you are seeing is not a reflection of them but rather a reflection of you.

What part of your identity is robbing people of support? What have you done that created a culture of mistrust?

It all comes back to you and the way you have been conditioned and how you are, in turn, conditioning those around you.

You can stay the hero

That’s why you can’t give up. Heroes don’t give up. — Kiera Cass


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Performance & Growth

The Secret To Growth For SMEs May Be Found In An Audit

Despite the cost vs benefit argument and the burden that obtaining an audit places on the company, the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages.






An audit is an inspection of your business accounts, including accounting systems documents and invoices. The goal of an audit is to determine if the financial statements are representing an accurate view of the company. However, not all businesses need to be audited. In the case of companies, the Companies Act (“the Act”) clearly stipulates which companies require an audit and the requirements are confined more to larger companies.

These requirements exclude a large number of small companies, which contribute 98% to the South African economy and they deliver approximately 28% of jobs in the country (Business Tech; 2018). Small companies are excluded because there is generally no distinction between ownership and management, so the audit objective of giving assurance to the owners becomes less important. Where the owners are not the managers but the company is still small, the Act provides a less onerous “Independent Review” option.

However, some smaller companies still benefit from an audit process as opposed to a review.  Keeping in mind the cost vs benefit counter argument, recent publications in The Accountant (2018) and by Roberge (2017) explain some of the major benefits are as follows:

An audit:

  • Assists in obtaining funding from investors and banks – Providing these parties with audited financials will provide them with certainty and comfort that investors will get a return on their investments and more certainty that the loans will be repaid.
  • Identifies problems and weaknesses within the company’s accounting system where the system might not be tracking certain transactions correctly.
  • Uncovers fraud – This includes instances where employees or management are stealing inventory or other assets from the company. An auditor may be able to identify discrepancies and assist the company in implementing systems that will eliminate these problems in future.
  • Identify poor accounting practices – It is hard to see these issues unless you can view the overall picture, which is possible with an audit.
  • Improves tax planning – An external audit can assist in ensuring that you are ready for tax season and that you are leveraging tax write-offs and benefits as much as possible. By having proper records and planning, taxes are less stressful and easier to file.
  • Strengthens the credibility of the company’s financial records – This is important if you are planning to sell the business in a couple of years time. When you have documented information that demonstrates the success and progress of your company over multiple years, then it will be easier to prove the financial security of the business and make it more appealing to buyers.
  • Provides a clear understanding of the financial situation of your company – A good audit will ensure that your accounting records give you a precise picture of everything that is occurring within your business so you can make accurate judgements about the financial situation of your company.
  • Educates business owners by emphasising the importance of accounting information in business – Auditors may provide business owners with information on current accounting issues, educational seminars to improve their companies’ accounting process, and other “added value” services.

Despite the cost vs benefit argument and the burden that obtaining an audit places on the company, the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages. Therefore small companies should carefully consider the above points and, if appropriate, volunteer to be audited.  This will not only assist them as they grow, it will also yield other welcome unexpected benefits.

Read next: My Business Is Growing… What Now?

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