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- Company: Smoke Customer Care Solutions
- Player: Andrew Cook
- Est: 2007
- Contact: +27 (0)11 462 9881
- Visit: www.smokeccs.com
What would it take to double your turnover? The answer to that question depends on where your business is in its growth cycle, and how focused you are on growth.
Smoke Customer Care Solutions doubled its turnover in 2012, and again in 2013. It’s still growing by at least 12% per month. But as founder Andrew Cook will tell you, it’s easy growing from R2 million to R4 million, and even from R4 million to R8 million. Where it gets trickier is taking a business from R8 million to R20 million and beyond.
So what’s his secret to success? A laser focus on growth, which follows a plan that was meticulously designed from launch.
1. Design a solution that customers want (and need)
Andrew Cook left a successful career at KPMG because he believed that South African companies either didn’t take customer service seriously, or they didn’t know what their customers thought of them.
He assembled a small team of developers who were able to put his vision into practice through simple-to-use electronic surveys that highlighted key performance indicators that businesses could act on.
“We created a customer platform that any company could use. It needed to be cost effective for the customer because our ultimate goal is to make the world more customer-centric – if a product is too expensive, it becomes a ‘nice to have’. We wanted to create a ‘must have’. Once it’s running, it proves itself.”
2. Spend on early development
Even though the business was bootstrapped, all revenue was poured back into development for the first two years. It meant the business didn’t show a profit, but it also meant that the product was getting better and better with each iteration, based on client feedback.
Today feedback can be given through 11 different channels, from SMS to email and phone surveys. The question Smoke’s engineers consistently ask themselves is: Is this the quickest, simplest way for customers to give our clients their feedback?
3. Give your market what it wants
“When we created the business model, it was focused on creating a user-friendly product (called Eyerys) that customers could literally plug and play. We wanted to sell licences, not man-hours, which meant we didn’t want to be consultants. A consulting model is extremely difficult to scale, and it’s much more expensive for clients.
“Eyerys collects an enormous amount of data and distils it into simple dashboards, reports and spreadsheets that our clients can then use to improve their customer service models. The problem is that many of them weren’t using the data.”
It was a key insight that Cook could have ignored. Instead he chose to pivot the business. “We had worked on the assumption that to save costs our clients would want to analyse the data themselves. When we actually evaluated this assumption, we realised that 60% didn’t want to do it – they wanted us to do it.
“The result was that either they weren’t using Eyerys to its full potential, or, in the case of many key clients, the account was costing us money. At the beginning, helping big clients analyse their data was a value add until they were able to do it themselves. We didn’t charge for the service, which meant we didn’t immediately realise how much time our brains were spending on ‘non-core’ work.”
Many businesses don’t track the time their employees spend on accounts, and the result is that key clients actually become a revenue drain rather than a revenue booster, with no one understanding why profits aren’t higher when business is so good.
“Because we track everything, we were able to show our clients that our consultants were spending up to 50 hours over six months working on their data, and that we could no longer shoulder that cost. Our clients were very happy to pay for the service – as long as they continued to get it.”
This meant a new decision for Cook, because it was taking the business towards a consulting model, which was not where he wanted to be. Until he evaluated all angles of the business model shift.
“In situations like these, three things can happen: The business owner can refuse to do something that’s not in the business model; he can take on anything that brings in revenue and lose focus; or he can carefully determine how many resources to give the new division, and find a way to make it work for the original business model.”
This is what Cook chose to do. “This will never be a big revenue generator for us, but we realised that it could be used as a pull factor for clients who want the product, but also want the analytical support to use the product effectively. Don’t ignore what your market wants, or you’ll lose business – but charge accordingly. At the end of the day, keep clients happy in a way that works for both of you.
4. Focus on sales
Eyerys has been recognised as a leading ‘Voice of the Customer’ solution. Years of pumping money into development has paid off, and while Cook will never cut down on development costs, even great products don’t sell themselves, which is why focus needs to be shifted to sales.
In addition, because the product’s development costs have already been paid for, the business’s margins grow exponentially as sales grow.
“We have a very specific sales model, which is to focus on channel partners rather than direct sales,” says Cook.
“Infrastructure companies speak to customer service reps and decision-makers, so it makes sense for them to recommend us when they’re fitting or maintaining enterprise infrastructure systems
“We could be seeing all the same companies and trying to close deals, but working through channel partners means we’re approaching clients through trusted service providers. It cuts out cold calling, and promotes good relationships.”
For partnerships like this to work though, three key elements need to be in place. Cook and his team only approach telecoms companies with good reputations that they know and trust – adding your product to a business that isn’t delivering good customer service itself will hurt the brand; they understand that they need to always deliver great service so that their partners can trust them – after all, it’s their recommendation that’s making the sale; and a revenue share is crucial to make the partnership worthwhile.
“It means our margins are smaller on each sale, but the volumes are much higher.”
5. Hedge your bets
While business in South Africa is doing well and the brand is steadily gaining recognition, Cook’s main focus for growth is the international market.
“I spend a lot of time travelling overseas, visiting trade shows and conferences, and making connections with channel partners in the US and the UK. Because we’re a rand-based business, we’re extremely competitive, and this side of the business is growing daily.
“It’s a licence agreement deal, with no consulting work, so when the rand does well our local business strengthens, but when the rand is weak our international business does well. After all, growth is the name of the game.”
Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster
There is no denying the many ways in which Elon Musk is unique. There is also no denying the fact that you can learn something beneficial from him.
Elon Musk needs no introduction.
Let me start by saying I am a huge fan of Elon Musk and the energy he brings to the business world. His major companies include: Tesla, SpaceX, Boring Company, HyperLoop, Solar City, and Giga Factory.
All Musk companies have a major theme, vision and technology
These companies all have one major theme in common; they are set on pushing boundaries. In fact, this innovative concept has practically become synonymous with Musk’s name.
Combined with groundbreaking technology and a strong passion for improving life (both in and outside of Earth), Musk’s unique vision is one of the most valuable contributions in bringing humanity to the next level.
One his quotes has always stuck with me:
“If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.”
Musk, the most influential entrepreneur today
Musk is the most influential entrepreneur of our generation. His approach has inspired many others to try new things and to make a real difference in the world. So what is it about his formula that is so special?
Well, truth be told, it’s really not that complicated. The bulk of his strategy can be traced back to several key cornerstones.
Musk is committed to challenging convention
One of the traits that makes Elon Musk so influential is his keen eye for understanding human truth. In essence, human truth encapsulates the deeper meaning behind universally-accepted status quos. In other words, it is the common thoughts and feelings that unite us all.
Musk’s formula for innovation starts by identifying the what and the why of certain pain points in day-to-day life. One of his more recent ideas, from SpaceX towers, aims to change the very perception of air travel.
What is human truth?
The human truth of air travel is that most people do not genuinely enjoy spending hours on a cramped airplane. Travelers like to get to their destinations as quickly as humanly possible. Musk’s ambitious plan is to create a revolutionary rocket system that transports passengers from any one city to another in under an hour.
For instance, a flight from New York City to Los Angeles would take roughly 25 minutes. Perhaps the best part of the plan; tickets will cost as much as a typical economy-class ticket. If you haven’t seen the videos, definitely check out part one and two.
This is not Musk’s only idea (both past and present) to challenge convention. Throughout each idea, the driving force effectively finds inefficiencies and works to create solutions that have never been done before. In many cases with Musk’s ideas, have never even been fathomed.
Musk understand everyone involved is a vector
Recently, Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, got the opportunity to meet and converse with Musk at a dinner for legendary founders at Sequoia Capital. Like so many others, Shah wanted to know what Musk does to create a successful company. Shah asked him: “What’s your advice to build a great company that grows every day?”
Musk is a physics man, and his response reflected this fact perfectly. He told Shah to think of it in simple terms of getting a company from point A to point B. Each person within an operation is a vector that exerts energy to achieve this goal. Everyone has a quantity of both magnitude and direction.
A company’s progress is determined by the sum of all these vectors. If some vectors are exerting energy in one direction, while others are doing so in a different direction, the impact will be sub-optimal. For example, if an employee is exerting a force of 10 in one way, and another is exerting a force of 10 in the opposite, the total impact is zero.
For a company to achieve maximum impact, all vectors must be exerting energy in the same direction. In short, for a company to thrive, all parties must be consistently devoting their efforts to a common vision.
Firmly align team goals with customer needs
One of the biggest problems that plague many companies is a misalignment with internal team goals. When this is the case, misalignment with the customers’ needs is all but inevitable. Maintaining common goals within a company gets more and more complicated throughout growth; even more so when third-parties are introduced to the mix.
One of the basic human truths Musk factors into his business plans is that all people want a positive end-to-end customer experience. A stellar end-to-end customer experience involves outstanding products, sales strategies, and service options. Throughout each venture, Musk’s primary goal is to ensure these components happen.
Related: How To Market Like (Elon) Musk
Perhaps the best example is with his famous Tesla car. Many of the major car companies we know follow a common business model. While most have their own stores, a good portion of the sales aspect comes from third-party dealerships. Throughout this process, the unique brand values are being filtered through a number of different visions and mentalities. In turn, it becomes incredibly easy for core values to get lost in translation.
At Tesla, the authentic products are exclusively sold at their own stores. There are no outside dealerships involved to aid the sales cycle. Service options are available from branded Tesla centers. The Tesla computer system within the cars conducts all of its own updates and is equipped with technology to seamlessly guide users to the nearest Tesla charging stations.
If a user wants to sell their vehicle, they can do so through the Tesla website. At no point in the customer experience does the user need to branch out to any outside parties for assistance. When this is the case, keeping team goals aligned with customer needs is much easier and branded values do not run the risk of being muddled by external mindsets.
Elon Musk has already made a significant impact in improving the way we live. His superlative knowledge and dedication to the greater good is truly a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.
However, his core ideologies can be applied to virtually all business models. In 20, 50, or 100 years down the road, my hope is that more people catch on to his profound philosophies and continue to push human development to a brighter future.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
4 Ways To Make Your Business More Authentic And Successful
How to build an authentic presence that translates to your employees and customers.
My business (Sonic, but not the burger joint) is significantly smaller than most of its competitors, so being authentic is one of our strongest competitive edges. And this authenticity comes in many forms – it’s the people you hire, how well you stimulate engagement, and how you motivate your team. Being authentic in these aspects is not always easy, but as an entrepreneur, you learn that the best things never are.
But, how do you build an authentic business?
1. Hire nice people
Never underestimate the power of being nice. Hiring genuinely nice people has been an invaluable cornerstone of my entire business philosophy. If you hire nice people, they are kind to your customers, who reward you with their loyalty, and that cycle sustains itself. It seems simple, but I’m surprised by how often this idea falls by the wayside.
I know what you’re thinking: Well, duh! Because you always hire the best and the brightest, right? Right?!
Probably not. You’re strapped for time, you’re growing at a rate you had never imagined and you settle for Joe, the guy who came in for his interview with his shirt inside out. You can do better. Really take your time, hire an awesome HR team and empower your managers to help hire nice people – this will set the tone for your entire enterprise.
2. Motivate them
So, you’ve hired your nice people. You sent Joe packing and went with Amelia, who took a little longer to find but is a much better fit for your organisation – good for you. Now, how do you get all those nice people motivated to do their best work for your company? Their motivation will come directly from you, from your passion for the industry and the authentic way in which that needs to be communicated.
Remind yourself why you’re pursuing something in the first place at times when that thing is most challenging or your business’s deeper purpose seems murky.
For me, I’m motivated by the fact that Sonic really is fixing the internet in America by giving our customers a fair choice for their internet provider. I communicate this motive with employees at quarterly company meetings, I sit down with groups of new hires every few months to share Sonic’s story, I have lunch in the breakroom, and I never stop reminding everyone ‘why’ our work matters. I authentically care about what we are doing, and I share that over and over.
3. Engage them
Your vision for your organisation is meaningless unless you share it with the people you need to help you achieve it. They need to know what they are working toward other than just a paycheck.
- What is the end goal?
- What is the real purpose behind your mission, your business’s core values?
- And how are they contributing?
Sharing your vision will allow employees to be a part of something bigger, something more than ‘just another job’, which is much more powerful than a cool, new cappuccino machine. That vision will be the long-term drive of your organisation, and it will push your employees to do their best work. This can be a conversation in the hallway, the beginning of a presentation or a cake delivered to each employee. Whatever form it takes, be relentless.
4. Pay attention to the little things
You’ve hired the right people. They’re motivated and engaged. Now how do we keep them happy? First, focus on what key factors make your business special. For us, it’s a multitude of things, but one example is our ‘All Hands’ meetings. This is something we’ve done since the beginning and the impact remains huge.
It’s my opportunity to engage, motivate and reward the people of Sonic. We pass out awards for the month’s standout employees, we talk about the past and the future and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s real. It’s authentic. There is emotion, because I am so very proud of every one of the team.
And, it’s so important. Along with free pizza on Fridays and successful launch celebrations, these meetings bring us back together and remind everyone that they’re part of a team – an especially awesome team.
Keeping these activities happening even with a company’s exponential growth is huge. They are the defining aspects of your entire enterprise and the core of the organisation’s authenticity. Keep what separates you from the competition; compete with them not by emulating them, but by doing the opposite: doing what makes your business genuine and unique. Your customers will recognise it and so will the people who work for you. I assure you it will make all the difference.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
17 Most Important Performance Management Decisions Leaders Will Need To Make
Is your organisation geared to handle its own growth strategies? Are you sure?
Roadmap to success
The 17 most important performance management decisions you need to make as a leadership team to build a high-growth organisation. Understand what they are, make them, and your business will thrive.
If you’re awesome, you’ll succeed. If you succeed, you’ll grow. As you grow, the scale will change everything and, then, you won’t be awesome anymore — unless you change a lot of what made you awesome in the first place. This is known as the scale up paradox. In a nutshell, what got you here, won’t get you there! The ability to recognise this and change yourself and your business is what separates great businesses from brands that have faded into obscurity.
Knowing what to change, when to change and how to change is the very essence of scaling up.
Take as an example the way we manage performance. A start-up can run everything on ‘check-ins’. Through frequent check-ins you can zero in on who’s doing what, by when and how. You can keep on top of how things are going and whether you need a course correction. The check-in system is awesome. Until it’s not.
Because you can’t run everything on check-ins when there are 30 people around. The ‘check-in’ system basically means that you are the system. You, the founders, keep everything together. This means you’re the bottleneck. Your personal bandwidth is the ultimate ceiling on your growth. And that is bad news for your health — and your business.
If you’re awesome, and you succeed, and grow, it won’t be long until you can’t sleep because of the many loose threads in your brain: Tasks you need to assign headspace to, projects and people you’re not ‘on top of’, discussions to be had that you can’t get to.
So, to get some sleep, you’ll be forced to take delegation to another level. This is not simply a question of giving away tasks or projects; it means giving away responsibility for entire parts of the business. That’s scary. But if you have great people, it’s also liberating.
Now you’re sleeping again. For a while. Because if your people are awesome, you’ll succeed, and you’ll grow, and pretty soon the balls will be dropping again. You’ll realise that what you assumed people were doing, they’re not doing, just because they assumed they should be doing other things. And you’ll long for the days of the ‘check-in’ system when you could be on top of everything through enough ‘check-ins’. But there’s no going back now. You’re too big. You simply can’t check-in with everyone when you’re at or beyond the 30-person mark.
Maybe you’re having a conversation with someone at that point, and they tell you about OKR: Objectives and Key Results. Now there’s a system you can hang your keys on! A rhythm to align on key priorities and targets every two or four weeks (or every month or quarter, if you’re a bit more mature).
Liberation! Suddenly you can be on top of everything without the check-in overwhelm. It’s a thing of beauty, really. Until it’s not.
Because if you’re awesome, and you succeed, and you grow, the day will come when those balls will once again drop. And it won’t be because the senior team aren’t doing what you agreed when you set your quarterly OKRs. It will be because the business is too complex now for OKRs. OKRs still rely on a lot of manual alignment through collaboration and regular ‘check-ins’ at the operating level. Even simpler than that, the balls are dropping because, suddenly, there are a whole lot of new people issues you have never had to deal with before at this level:
- Accountability vacuums: A rising tendency for important things to fall into ‘no man’s land’ with nobody accountable for them
- Major differences in contribution: A rising number of people in cruise mode while the rest of the team do all the work
- Performance politics: Lots of high performers are unhappy because people aren’t being treated fairly. Slackers are getting good reviews and rewards just because their managers are lenient; high performers, on the other hand, are getting the same as them because their team has higher standards
- Compensation politics: People aren’t satisfied that bonuses and increase decisions are being made fairly
- High Performance Culture slide: All of this is causing relational friction and culture issues that are impacting performance.
So, right now, there’s way too much going on for OKRs and ‘check-ins’ to work. Things need more alignment and coordination than you’re going to get through your team interactions. You need a new way of aligning the different parts of the business without falling into ‘check-in overwhelm’.
You need a performance architecture with more processes and systems that maintain alignment across teams. Big words. Corporate words, which we know entrepreneurs tend to dislike. But let’s understand them.
Basically what they mean is that, around about this time, performance management needs a major upgrade. Why? And how should you do performance management? Isn’t it an awful relic of industrial-age corporate management, which is why so many top employers are moving to something new?
True enough. The dilemma is that a lot of the new age buzz about liberating talent to thrive without backward-looking performance reviews don’t work in most contexts; most often, it will break things even more than a frustrating, antiquated performance management system would.
The reality is that performance management is much more complex than an annual review and, furthermore, is definitely not a ‘one-size fits all’ approach.
If you’re scaling up and keen to build a scalable performance management system that works in your context (and at the same time reinforces your greatest culture assets), here are 17 of the most important performance management decisions you will need to make as a leadership team.
Performance management intent: What is the main goal of our performance management system? Accountability for performance, coaching for development and improved performance, or both? Harvard Business Review says this is a 70-year old debate. Don’t assume your other leaders see this the same way you do.
Individual appraisals: Do we believe that focusing on individual appraisals would result in better — or worse — business performance? Does it adversely affect team work and a ‘looking beyond my scorecard’ mentality?
Standardisation: Given that various parts of the business are so different, should we be doing the same thing across the business? How do we do performance management differently (if we even should) in areas as different as engineering, sales and customer service?
Target setting processes: Should targets be set from the top down, bottom up, or some combination of the two?
Nature of targets: Should performance targets be activity targets, behaviour targets, intermediate outcome targets (closest to ultimate outcome, that are fully within control) or ultimate outcome targets (even if not within our control)?
Bonuses: Should we link rewards to personal performance ratings? Some say that you should just pay really well and bake everything into a fixed bonus, or into basic compensation, and fire the non-performers. Which works best?
Bonus pool formula: Which proportion of an individual’s bonus should be determined by either individual contribution versus the performance of their team or division, or the business as a whole?
Long-term incentives: What percentage of variable incentive remuneration (VIR) should be long term, and which should be deferred to future years/long term (LTIR)?
Increases: How should performance ratings affect salary increases?
Formal or informal feedback: What is the right balance between formal appraisal and informal continuous feedback?
Feedback sources: Are there objective measures? If not, who gives input to the appraisal? If there are multiple parties, how are their inputs weighted? Is a line manager’s feedback more important than multiple, non-line individuals or ‘bosses’?
Performance appraisal scale: How do we summarise individual performance assessments?
Appraisal frequency: How often do we appraise performance and give feedback? Would this be per assignment or based on time, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually or annually?
Bonuses versus career investment and opportunity: How do we decide which individuals to prioritise for investment in growth and promotions? How do we balance bonuses versus investment in learning, development and promotions?
Dealing with high performance that doesn’t produce results: What do we do when people perform well, but don’t deliver the business results due to issues outside their control?
Performance management roles: Who does what in the performance management process? What belongs to HR? What belongs to line managers?
Performance management software: When do we move from Excel (or similar) to software products that streamline this process? What are the best packages for our business? (Small Improvements and Engagedly are our top recommendations).
Walter Penfold, MD Everlytic
- Fire faster. Bad performers are toxic for the culture. Use the three-month probation period brutally. The culture impact of firing fast is much superior to that of firing slow.
- Attune to sentiment. Many poor performers are great at upward management. They can look like performers to you, but people around them know the truth. Stay attuned to, and respond to grumblings.
- Give immediate, direct feedback on any performance issues. This should never wait for a formal performance review. We do a formal 360-review once a year.
- Keep it super simple to start — we definitely over-complicated it.
- Centre on weekly one-on-one meetings. Then performance management becomes the way you work, not a chat between strangers once a quarter.
Stuart Townsend, Edge Growth
Be realistic. Our training budgets are not realistic enough to enable people to build the competencies we need them to have to deliver the outcomes we expect.
Brad Magrath, Co-founder, Zoona
- Invest in growing your managers. We over-estimated the ability of young, inexperienced managers to have honest candid constructive conversations. If they suck at having good performance management discussions, the whole system breaks down.
- Non-performers weren’t scored as non-performers, leading to ugly train smashes down the line.
- Bad managers give good ratings to bad performers.
- Invest in creating role clarity. Performance management didn’t work well initially because we lacked role clarity and agreed metrics.
- Focus on behaviours, not just outputs.
- Ensure managers are deliberate around context of feedback: Is it coaching, is it performance, is it brainstorming? Be clear on why the conversation is happening so the message is not mixed.
- Get huge buy in from the beginning — we didn’t do enough of this. Then people don’t actually do appraisals well and the whole system breaks down again.
- What you measure is what you get — A-players like the idea of being performance measured objectively. Make sure the metrics are totally objective and have integrity.
The ability to recognise that what got you here won’t get you there is the first step towards building a high-impact, significant business.
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