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Case Studies

Beyond Outsourcing: Suzanne Ravenall

A former secretary breaks new ground with a pioneering outsourcing company

Juliet Pitman



Suzanne Ravenall of Beyond Outsourcing

Suzanne Ravenall, founder and CEO of Beyond Outsourcing, is living proof that tenacity and hunger can pave the way to success. Relating a story of one of her earliest interview experiences, she says:

“I was working as a secretary at the time but managed, after applying for about 50 or 60 different sales jobs, to get an interview for one. Unfortunately I broke my leg the week before but somehow managed to get to London and hobble up I don’t know how many flights of stairs to arrive at the interview sweating like crazy. When they asked us to introduce ourselves, everyone stood up and said they were a sales consultant or an area sales manager and I stood up and said ‘I’m a secretary’. I realised I was hopelessly under-qualified but I stayed because I wanted to take away great learning experiences from the process.”

Ravenall made it to the second round, however, and if she had any self-doubts she certainly didn’t show them. When asked if she had any questions about the job she didn’t miss a beat. “I just asked them how much they were going to pay me,” she smiles.

Living up to early potential

No doubt what the interviewers saw that day when they offered her the job as area sales manager for the world’s largest ferry company was the promise of almost unlimited potential, and whatever their expectations, Ravenall’s ballsy determination to be something better must have far exceeded them.

She grabbed every opportunity that the job offered.“I just wanted to learn, learn, learn and I moved my way around the organisation, trying to get into as many disciplines asI could. I preyed on lazy people and would offer to help them with whatever task they had to do.

Then I’d take it home and read a book about it and have a million goes at it before I eventually got it right, and then take it back to them the next day. Of course when you do things like that, people ask for more help so I got exposure to all parts of the business. I basically used it as a university programme,” she explains.

Spotting the opportunity

After only six months in the organisation, Ravenall was promoted to trainer, a position that somewhat bemused her. “I thought that was really interesting. Here I was, with a secretarial qualification and I was being asked to train highly qualified graduates to do a job,” she relates.

The thought planted a seed that eventually grew into a business idea. “The more I researched it the more I realised that people who go to university learn a whole lot of great theoretical things, but they never learn how to do.

Everyone was going on about how we needed to attract MBA graduates but I realised that if the business continued to bring in only thinkers and not doers, it was going to end up with an execution problem. And I knew that technology was only going to speed things up, creating greater competition and increased pressure to get the job done. I got really excited about it because I realised there was a massive gap in the market,” she continues.

When she moved on to a field marketing position in a different company, she got her first taste of outsourcing and a couple more pieces of her idea fell into place.

“Outsourcing was relatively new at the time. Companies’ expectations of what the sector could deliver were really quite low and outsourcing companies responded to these low expectations, merely hiring and paying their outsourced staff and leaving the management and training to clients. I realised there was an opportunity to take the model to another level, to partner with clients strategically and for outsourcing companies to take on a lot more responsibility, “ she says.

Making the move

This is precisely what she did when she started IDCS, the company that was to later become Beyond Outsourcing. “When I came to South Africa it was on contract. I had been involved in the cellular industry in the UK so I conducted some research on it while I was over here,”Ravenall relates of her move to local shores.

“The contract was with one of the large cellular companies at the time and it presented an opportunity to start the business I had in mind, so I just grabbed it. I was only supposed to be here for eight months and I certainly wasn’t supposed to start a company!” she continues, adding, “I just fell in love with South Africa and people’s progressive thinking, their willingness to try new things.”

Breaking new ground

The business would come to rely on attracting clients with this outlook that Ravenall calls ‘early adopters’. “It was a real challenge early on because what I wanted to implement was probably seven years ahead of its time. People thought I was nuts – that things were never going to get so bad that their businesses would have an execution problem.

They told me I was seeing something that didn’t exist and that would never happen,” she says of the early market conditions in which the company needed to survive.

Although she firmly believed these perceptions were incorrect, Ravenall was smart enough to sell companies something they could understand and relate to. “What we did early on was to sell people field marketing services – it was what they understood.  But while we were doing that, we worked on building products, or toolkits, that would meet what I knew the future demands would be. These toolkits needed to be generic enough for implementation in any business in any industry. The idea was to develop them and sell them to the market as and when it became receptive to them,”she explains.

The ‘build it and they will come’ approach was certainly a risky one, but it paid off in the end. “Over time, the market did change in the way I believed it would and when it was ready, we re-branded what we did and launched the toolkits we had already developed to clients,”says Ravenall.

Following one direction

Unlike many start-ups which grow organically, Beyond Outsourcing’s growth path was therefore mapped out from day one and Ravenall believes that part of the reason the business is so successful is that she was always 100% clear about the direction it needed to be facing.

“In the early days, we weren’t hectic about making lots of money and we didn’t do a big sales push. We thought of ourselves as manufacturers – we were building something that was a first of its kind and we had to do it slowly. At that time sales probably made up 10% of the business’s focus and toolkit building 90%.

But when market conditions were right, we turned the business and sales became 90% of our focus. At the same time, we importantly kept a foot in product development, but it took 10% of our energy. So we always knew exactly where we needed to focus and where our money was going to be invested. We were never unsure of our direction,” she explains.

Overcoming challenges

As any business owner knows, however, having a clear strategic direction does not prevent unforeseen challenges and Beyond Outsourcing has had its fair share. Although the business started with a contract in hand, finance presented an early hurdle.

Because Ravenall had started a business on a temporary work permit, none of the banks would open an account for the company. “I went to every single bank and in the end a guy from FNB in Athlone agreed to help us. I don’t think he was supposed to because we were up in Jo’burg but he believed in me and took a chance on us,” she relates. This didn’t solve all her problems.

“A loan I expected to be granted fell through and I was sitting with a whole lot of furniture I had bought and no way of paying for it,” she recalls. “Our first year was one of the coldest winters in Johannesburg and we were sitting in a freezing office with no heat, wrapped up in jackets, interviewing people at metal tables covered with pink tablecloths and telling them this was going to be the greatest company ever. I’m sure half of them were sitting there thinking ‘Yeah, right!’” she laughs.

By pouring every bit of capital back into the business, Ravenall was able to overcome the challenges of finance and get the business to a point where it could fund its own growth. “Every business has hard knocks but you just have to find creative ways of getting around them,”she says philosophically.

Meeting changing demands

The hard knocks eventually gave way to an easier course of growth and Beyond Outsourcing evolved to meet the changing demands of its clients, moving from a strictly traditional outsourcing model to one that helps improve the performance of companies. “We’re in a market space today where the outsourcing relationship has changed dramatically.

We realised that businesses are no longer simply looking for a standard outsourcing relationship which is based on monies paid for contract deliverables. They want a partnership. Corporate organisations are looking for a transformational relationship and as such we have become a performance-improvement company,”says Ravenall, explaining how the business draws on its early-developed toolkits to help companies recognise and fill their performance gaps.

She adds,“We’re very operationally based and we use the tools to implement best practices and standardised processes in different areas of a client’s business. As we are going through that process, we also implement training, operations execution and change management.”

Finding the right model

About the business model, Ravenall explains:

“Businesses also don’t want to be left in a situation where the outsourcing company can pull out and leave them stranded, so we prefer to work on a joint venture-type model. We move certain business processes into a JV company which we build with the client. In this way, they can be assured that we as the outsourcing company are invested for the long-haul in the success of their business, which we work on together with them. It’s a model based on joint risk and reward and it works.”

Expanding into new areas

The obstacles the business faces today are different but no less challenging. Many of them still derive from the fact that Beyond Outsourcing is forever forging ahead into new territories. For instance, Ravenall believes that a great deal of work still remains to be done in building more mature supplier-client relationships.

“Business transformation outsourcing is still new in South Africa and we need to change the way we view how suppliers and clients interact. In the rest of the world, people are talking about strategic partnerships and alliances and the way they go about working together is consequently different. In South Africa we need to adopt more of this approach whereby suppliers and clients work together on a joint balanced scorecard, making  joint efforts and taking joint decisions,” she explains.

But, in spite of the fact that business transformation is new to South Africa, the company continues to break new ground. As Ravenall elaborates, “We believe the market is going to change again and we are busy setting ourselves up locally and internationally to licence our toolkits.

We’re putting them together in a multi-media package that we can sell to organisations. The idea is to train people in the tools and either let them get on with the implementation, or as first prize, go back ourselves once every quarter to do an audit on their progress.”

The model meets a new demand. “A lot of companies want to transform but some like to do things internally. The toolkits we have developed will allow them to do so,” she explains. Describing herself as passionate about entrepreneurship, Ravenall continues that the business now also offers a lower cost model to meet the demands of SMBs.

“The challenges facing entrepreneurs today are the same as they have always been and we help them to outsource non-core processes so that they can get on with building and running their business,” she says.

Continuous learning

In speaking of entrepreneurs, she turns her attention to the mistakes she has made along the way and she’s as philosophicalas ever. “I was reading a fascinating article the other day about what makes people fantastic, and it’s not genes – it’s something called deliberate practice.

This is not practice in the usual sense of doing the same thing over and over again. It’s rather about doing something with a specific goal in mind, then reflecting on the outcome and adjusting how you do things to get closer to that goal.

Sure it takes four times longer than practicing in the usual way but you can’t get away from the fact that to be successful requires hard work.

“In business, this translates to having the ability to make a mistake, reflect on why you did and then adjust your behaviour so that you don’t make the same mistake again. In this way you get ever closer to perfection. Success all starts with what society calls mistakes. So if you ask me what mistakes I have made in my career, I think my answer would be that I do make mistakes. But I reflect on them and constantly try to find better ways of doing things. That’s what makes the difference in success.You can never stop learning.”

Tips for would-be entrepreneurs

  • Stop thinking of yourself as a person and start thinking of yourself as a product. Look at who your ‘competitors’ are and start to offer what they aren’t.
  • Have an excellent plan. Know what you are going to do, what you want to offer the market place and how it’s going to be better than what other people are providing.
  • Execute this plan vigorously. Keep going back to it.
  • Think through every single eventuality and devise a ‘scenario plan’ so that you have contingency back-up in case things don’t play out the way you imagined they would.Be tenacious. In the beginning there probably isn’t a week that goes by in which most entrepreneurs don’t think of throwing in the towel. Have in your head the mantra ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up.”
  • Never stop learning. Constantly look for new and better ways of doing things.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Case Studies

Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

CEO Howard Schultz reveals how Starbucks does it.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Howard Schultz
  • Company: Starbucks
  • Market cap: $85 bn
  • Established: 1971 (Schultz purchased the brand in 1987)
  • Website:

When Howard Schultz was raising money for his first coffee shop called Il Giornale (later to be renamed Starbucks) he was finding it hard to land investors. The reason was simple: Schultz was trying to create a coffee culture where none existed.

The idea that the man on the street would pay a premium price for a cup of Italian coffee with a name he couldn’t pronounce seemed nothing short of preposterous. But that wasn’t the only reason people weren’t willing to buy into his idea. Schultz, you see, refused to talk like a proper capitalist. He kept emphasising the fact that he wanted ‘to do good’.

Related: How tashas Built A Recession Proof Business

Schultz recounted the trouble he had finding investors during a recent visit to South Africa for the local launch of Starbucks. He spoke at a Q&A session hosted by the Wits Business School.

“My wife was eight months pregnant at the time,” says Schultz. “Her father actually sat me down and said: ‘My daughter is pregnant, and she’s working. You have a hobby. You need to get a job.”’

But, as is so typical of entrepreneurs, Schultz persevered and eventually got the funding he needed.

“The first time someone gave me $100 000, I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls.

Since those early days (the shop opened in the mid-1980s), Starbucks has grown rather prodigiously. Consider the following: By the late 1980s there were 11 Starbucks stores that employed about 100 people. A few years later, in 1992, the company went public with a market cap of $270 million. Today, it has around 24 000 stores in more than 70 countries. And its market cap? A cool $85 billion.

While growth is good, it has a tendency to birth a ravenous monster that is impossible to satiate.

“We have to add $2,5 billion in revenue every year for the next five years just to maintain our current growth rate and satisfy Wall Street,” says Schultz. “And to do this, we will need to add 80 000 employees over the next 12 months. Essentially, we’re launching a new massive company every year.”

Yet, despite this, Starbucks manages to maintain its unique culture. Just as when Starbucks was a far smaller operation, it is known for stores manned by high-energy individuals who have a clear love for the brand. How has the brand managed this? Schultz attributes it to the following seven core principles.


1. Partners not employees

Howard Schultz’s father worked as a truck driver, delivering and picking up cloth diapers in the days before Pampers. When he slipped and seriously injured himself, he was summarily retrenched. Schultz wanted to create a very different company.

One of the reasons he didn’t adopt a franchise model was that he wanted to be able to offer each employee at least some stake in Starbucks.

When the company went public, each employee became entitled to a portion of their annual salary in the form of stock options. That is still the case today, which is why Starbucks employees are called ‘partners’.

“Success is best when it’s shared,” says Schultz. “At Starbucks, we always ask: What’s in it for our people? Starbucks is accused of being great at marketing, but it spends very little on marketing. It’s all about the experience we offer in the stores.

Managers and leaders must do everything to exceed the expectations of our people so that they can exceed the expectations of our customers.

Related: Howard Blake Stays Hungry With His Innovation Strategy

2. Regular interaction

The management of Starbucks does everything in its power to engage with employees regularly.

“We travel extensively, and the amount of face-time management has with employees across the globe is really unusual for a company of Starbucks’s size,” says Schultz.

Schultz himself, for instance, sat down with each and every new Starbucks employee in South Africa during his recent visit.

Starbucks also has what it calls ‘Town Hall Meetings’ all over the world, during which management interacts with employees in an open and informal manner.

“We tell employees that they are free to speak up during these meetings without fear of retribution. We want honest opinions,” says Schultz.


3. Respecting (and cherishing) employees

Howard Schultz is a humanist at heart, and this is reflected in the culture of the company that he created.

“The universal language of Starbucks is a deep sense of humanity,” says Schultz. “Building a company is a lot like raising children. You are imprinting a company with a culture and a set of values. Now, if a child falls, what do you do? You pick it up and comfort it. You don’t scold it. You need to take the same approach in business.”

4. Protecting the culture

Being tolerant of failure, however, does not mean the same thing as indulging bad behaviour. In fact, Starbucks is fiercely protective of its culture, and it doesn’t tolerate bad behaviour.

“We teach employees that they have a voice, and that they should speak up when they see someone doing something wrong. You can’t enable bad behaviour because it will erode a company’s culture.”

Related: Don’t Let Expansion Ruin A Great Company Culture

5. Spending money on employees

According to Schultz, the management teams of most large companies would be horrified to discover the amount of time and money spent on Starbucks employees.

“We have been very innovative with technology, and we have created a massive digital eco-system. Interestingly, though, we spent as much time and money focusing on the things that were employee-facing as the ones that were customer-facing.”


6. Rewarding the right things

Schultz famously stepped away from the role of Starbucks CEO for around five years, and during that time the culture of the company quickly deteriorated.

“The company lost its way. The people who were managing the company — who were all good people — were measuring and rewarding the wrong things. Things such as profit and stock price became the focus. In any business, you need to continuously ask: What is our core purpose for being? Otherwise you lose your way.”

Schultz believes that his big mistake was not selecting a successor from within the culture. When he eventually retires, he intends to choose someone from within the operation who is in touch with the culture of the brand.

7. Being human

The film Fight Club famously depicted Starbucks as the epitome of the faceless corporation taking over the globe, but the company is actually quite unique in its willingness to speak out and engage with people on a social (and even political) level.

“We are very outspoken as a company. We feel that we live in a time where the rules of engagement have changed. What I mean by this is that we need to do more for the communities that we serve. The question we ask ourselves is: What is the role of a for-profit public company? Looking at this question has resulted in us taking on social issues such as same-sex marriage, gay rights, gun control and racism.”

For example, Starbucks recently unveiled its first store in Ferguson, Missouri (which has been plagued by racial unrest) as part of a plan to support efforts to rebuild and revitalise communities.

Read next: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Company Culture Like Google’s

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Case Studies

How Merchant Capital And Retroviral Were Built To Sell

Entrepreneur chats to Dov Girnun of Merchant Capital and Mike Sharman of Retroviral. We explore why their companies attracted funders, and how the relationship can be used to grow their businesses.

Nadine Todd



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The Tech Based Business

Know your business’s numbers inside out, and don’t try to bluff your way through any questions that relate to numbers.


Vital Stats

  • Player: Dov Girnun
  • Company: Merchant Capital
  • What they do: Lending solutions for SMEs
  • Est: 2013
  • Investor: Rand Merchant Investment Holdings
  • Shareholding: 25%
  • Visit:

Less than two years into his business, Dov Girnun attracted the attention of Rand Merchant Investment Holdings (RMIH), a financial services investment company that includes the founders of FirstRand, Laurie Diepenaar, Paul Harris and GT Ferreira. These are no small industry players. On an investment level, they’re the funders who backed Adrian Gore when he launched Discovery and Willem Roos when he started OUTsurance.

How had Girnun found himself in the position to pitch to investors at this level? Months earlier, RMIH had launched a fintech incubator called Alpha Code. The idea was to find pre-revenue start-ups that would be the next game-changers. Their research brought them to Merchant Capital.

“We didn’t exactly fit their mandate because we were already operational and profitable,” says Girnun, “but they still really loved the business. They’d been researching the fintech space, and had recognised the potential in SME lending, which is our focus. They really wanted to invest, but at the time I was unsure if I wanted to dilute my shares further.”

Girnun already had an investor, the Capricorn Group, whose investments include Hollard, Nandos and Clientèle, and until this point he’d been careful to maintain his shareholding. His relationship with Capricorn was excellent, as the investment team added huge strategic value to the business over and above capital, and so he hadn’t been actively seeking additional funding.

And then a new opportunity presented itself. “We realised we have golden data on the SME space. How could we cross-sell to our base and monetise that data? We started chatting to RMIH, who were aligned to our thinking.

“Once I realised the value RMIH could add to our business, my whole perspective shifted. Here was an investor that could potentially help me to build a billion dollar business. I’d be diluting shares, but building a much bigger pie.”

Related: Funding Growth with Dov Girnun

The price of equity

Girnun is referring to the investment lesson that equity is cheap early on, and very expensive later, when a funder holds more shares of your business than you do. If you look for funding later, your valuation is higher, you’ve got a proven track record, and the same amount of money secures fewer shares. Sell too early, and the exact opposite happens.

This had always been Girnun’s view, but an understanding of how far the business could potentially go with RMIH’s backing was changing his mind.

There was just one challenge. While RMIH’s investment team loved Merchant Capital’s business model, investments need to be signed off by the board, which meant Girnun and his co-founder Daniel Moritz, needed to pitch to them in person, so that they could see their energy, passion and vision for Merchant Capital.

Serious, seasoned investors don’t make this easy. They need to see your passion, and how well you understand your business. They’re not there to make the experience easy.

“Even though I knew they were interested in my business, I still found the experience extremely daunting. There were very few introductions, handshakes or jokes. I was expected to launch into my pitch, and I knew that even though I had been given 20 minutes, the first two minutes would be the deciding factor. If I didn’t grab their attention in that time frame, they wouldn’t be investing in me and my business.”

Tapping into investor concerns

“I had just returned from the Endeavour international selection panel in San Francisco, and I think this played a major role in the success of my pitch,” says Girnun.

“One of my judges, a hugely successful venture capitalist from Sillicon Valley, really explained the significance of the elevator pitch to me. Imagine you’ve gotten into an elevator with the CEO of Goldman Sachs, he said. If you’re lucky, you’ve got seven floors to get them interested enough in your business to want your card, and maybe even a meeting. They can’t possibly learn everything about your business there and then — they just need enough for their interest to be piqued.

“Because you don’t know how much time you have, or who you’ll be talking to and what their area of expertise is, you can’t just learn a pitch off by heart, and you certainly shouldn’t have a power point deck that you rely on. Both are very bad ideas. Instead, you need to know your business so well, inside and out, that you can tailor your pitch to the person you’re talking to, based on what they care about.

“Because of this piece of advice, I was able to tailor the first two minutes of my pitch to the RMIH board and what they care about. If I grabbed their attention, I’d be able to hold it for the next 20 minutes, which actually ended up being close on two hours. If I hadn’t, we would have politely shaken hands after 20 minutes (if not earlier), and been on our way.”

It’s a simple, but incredibly important lesson: Know your business’s numbers inside out, and don’t try to bluff your way through any questions that relate to numbers.

“You have to know your unit economics — are you able to distill the essence of your business economics on the back of a napkin? You need to know the high level stuff and the minute details, and they all have to be at your fingertips. If they aren’t, you have no business trying to sell your company or attract investors.”

Related: Bootstrapping Is Much More Fun Than Investors

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Case Studies

How AutoTrader Anticipated Change

AutoTrader South Africa is an online behemoth, boasting more than three million visitors each month. Not that long ago, though, the brand faced the very real possibility of extinction.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: George Mienie
  • Company: AutoTrader South Africa
  • Established: 1992
  • Visit:

Key learnings

  • Trends are out there to be identified. Being caught unprepared is unacceptable.
  • Change needs to be tracked through the use of a measurable KPI.
  • Don’t be afraid to act pre-emptively.
  • Do research. Know your customer.
  • Create an unprecedented user experience.

By the mid-2000s, it was becoming clear that the world was changing. The internet was going mainstream, placing massive pressure on industries that only a few years earlier had seemed untouchable.

The print industry in particular was coming under threat, with readers moving to the internet for information. Things didn’t change overnight, though. The general decline in readership was steady but quite slow.

Like a frog sitting in a slowly-heated pot of water, it was all too easy to ignore the evidence. AutoTrader South Africa, however, was not willing to accept death by attrition.

Related: Fake It ‘Til You Make It: How These 10 Entrepreneurs Did Just That

Measuring change


“When it comes to the digital realm, you can never complain that some development impacted you unexpectedly. The writing is always on the wall, provided you’re taking notice,” says AutoTrader CEO George Mienie.

Long before the global shift to digital mediums started to affect AutoTrader in a real way, the company began to prepare for the inevitable.

“We knew it was coming. The shift to digital was already starting in places such as the US and Europe,” says Mienie.

“We also knew that we needed to measure this shift in a reliable way. When it comes to managing difficult change, you need a KPI that you can reliably measure.”

Comparing unique users of a website to the circulation of the magazine wasn’t reliable enough, since it was impossible to truly know how many people had used any given copy as a reference when shopping for a vehicle. Some other KPI was needed.

“We settled on leads to dealers. We wanted to track how many people had actually contacted vehicle dealers thanks to the magazine, versus how many had contacted a dealer because of the website,” says Mienie.

Finding a KPI

Tracking website leads and comparing them to magazine leads sounds like a simple idea, until you actually start to think about it. If it’s hard to know how many people used a single copy of AutoTrader as a reference, how do you figure out how many leads the mag has generated? It was a conundrum.

Tracking leads on the website would be easier, provided you were willing to harm the user-friendliness of the site. AutoTrader wasn’t willing to do this.

“We could track website leads by forcing every user to fill in some kind of form before gaining access to a dealer’s details, but we weren’t willing to do this,” says Mienie.

“Today, the average user spends a phenomenal amount of time on our site. A typical visit lasts 12 minutes, and we believe this is because our site is easy to use. While KPIs are important, they shouldn’t come at the expense of the user. Everything should be done to make the experience for the client or user as pleasant as possible.

“With this in mind, we give our software engineers a lot of freedom. They don’t need to seek permission to improve the site. If they’ve been working on something that they think will improve the website, they can run with it. You never want bureaucracy to stand in the way of improvement.”

Related: 11 SA Entrepreneurs on What They’ve Learnt About Managing Staff

An innovative solution


In order to effectively measure leads from both AutoTrader magazine and the website, the company came up with a very elegant solution called Call Tracker.

The solution was so elegant and transparent that even regular consumers of AutoTrader probably wouldn’t have noticed its existence.

How does it work? The number that you find for any given dealer in the AutoTrader magazine or on the website was not the same as the regular number of that dealer, although, the number was dedicated to a dealer.

Instead, it is a technology that redirected the call through the company to the dealer. Thus, giving AutoTrader the ability to measure leads via phone to the dealer, which was the most-used way in which consumers got in touch with dealers in those years.

Importantly, the company regularly placed a different number for specific dealers on the website and in the magazine, meaning AutoTrader could track exactly which platform a lead was generated from, and give the dealers useful insights into his/her dealership’s response.

AutoTrader had in essence created a reliable but simple KPI, using sophisticated technology at the time, that could be used to track consumers’ migration from print to digital.

The watershed

As mentioned, the migration of users was fairly slow. AutoTrader had started monitoring the trend in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the website took over from the magazine as the core focus of the business.

In the mid-2000s, the company had printed around 230 000 magazines each month, and managed to sell 55% of those on a regular basis.

Today, it sells about 30 000 magazines a month. However, as magazine sales have declined, the number of visitors to the website has skyrocketed, with more than three million visitors to the website every month, opening more than 40 million pages.

Related: 5 Wrongheaded Attitudes Stunting Your Growth As An Entrepreneur

New competition

The migration of AutoTrader magazine advertisers (sellers) and consumers (buyers) to the website wasn’t guaranteed. Getting buyers and sellers of the magazine to embrace the AutoTrader website required hard work.

“As a magazine, we had a big advantage: Potential competitors were faced with very high barriers to entry. We had the capability to compile a 600-page magazine, print it and distribute it weekly. Any new competitor would have found it hard to match us,” says Mienie. “The internet, however, obliterated those barriers. Suddenly it was much easier to compete with AutoTrader.”

AutoTrader wasn’t afraid to pre-empt the digital shift. “You need to be willing to eat yourself. One of the things we did was to place the website prominently in the magazine, knowing that it would eat into sales. We had to take a short-term hit, but we knew that we would benefit from it in the long term.” The company also placed a huge emphasis on the user experience.

“You need to be the best,” says Mienie. “You need to lead the charge and be first to market with every new development. You also need to know and respect your consumer and dealer. We believe in creating a site that is easy to use and offers more content than you’ll find anywhere else. We also make it a priority to know the consumer’s car-buying journey and car sellers’ needs.

“But, the game is changing again, fewer and fewer consumers are using the phone, and to an even lesser degree email, to get in touch with dealers. Our research over the last year shows that more than 52% of car-buying consumers don’t phone or email a car dealer, but simply take the address and visit the dealer directly.

“When it comes to managing great change within a company, research is incredibly important. But just doing research isn’t enough you need to use it effectively. The temptation exists to hog research because you don’t want competitors to get hold of it. That doesn’t work. We know exactly how much time the average consumer spends studying vehicles before buying a new car. We also know how much of that time is spent online (15 hours), and how much is spent in the physical world visiting dealers (14 hours), and this trend is shifting rapidly toward less time in the physical world and more time searching online, which means the consumer has pretty much made his choice before he leaves his screen. We give that info to our salespeople, who in turn give it to our clients (car sellers). Information needs to be disseminated.”

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