Our industry is close-knit. People talk. And some beliefs stick. Let’s take outsourcing as a classic example of this. I’ve heard people say it means selling your business or owners losing control. It likely doesn’t help with stories of buying groups trying it and it didn’t work. Perhaps this is why many still hold onto the idea that outsourcing is not a good fit for our sector. But we’ve moved on since then. So, let’s dive into why those beliefs may need updating.
First, let’s do a bit of a clean-up and drop those perceptions into a bucket I’ll call ‘first generation’. It’s true in the first-gen model that many approaches didn’t work because they probably weren’t correctly built for our industry. On the bright side, our sector is always moving forward, learning and getting better. This is why another proposition, let’s call it ‘next-generation’, is an improved system – one designed around our specific needs and challenges.
Next-gen is so different to first-gen, where outsourcing is nothing close to an acquisition or taking over a company.
Instead, it is a simple equation: Real business efficiency + smart, easy tech + standout services = stickier, happier customers.
We have to address the elephant in the room and talk about control. So first off, what does that mean? Is it keeping the distribution network and your clients or choosing who the suppliers are?
In next-gen, your customers are absolutely your customers. Outsourcers understand the importance of retaining those direct relationships as they are what businesses are built on. There may also be other commitments you want to preserve, such as long-term employees who carry out a variety of roles, from driving vans to bookkeeping. Loyalty is crucial.
Being in control of your company means unlocking those efficiencies – in essence, finding out how to make the existing model work much harder. This includes real-time data, data-based decisioning, proper margins, benchmarked pricing, putting an end to ‘last price’ pricing, identifying which customers to upsell certain products to and working out which are profitable, which aren’t, and what to do about it. It’s wrapping your arms around it all.
Unlocking effectiveness in this way is a far cry from the first-gen concept of efficiency, with a dealer handing over their business to a buying group, keeping the same tech, and with no fundamental shift in how the company operates. Why would that work? How do you reasonably hope to run it the same way?
So, what do proven, actionable efficiencies in next-gen look like? Well, it’s real-time data highlighting upselling opportunities to the existing customer base, gap analysis pointing to the 60% of clients who don’t even buy computer accessories from you, and insights providing the confidence to price at a level customers will bear and a margin you deserve.
Made-to-measure, future-proofed tech
Back to the equation again. When outsourcing, the new world supports next-gen technology that is going places, just like you want the business to. It isn’t about surviving, it is about thriving. Now and in the future.
When we consider the technology principally serving our industry, it has often been designed for another sector with workarounds. Not only has this created a hodgepodge of outdated and newish systems, but they may or may not talk to each other depending on how they were set up.
The result? An ecosystem of different platforms which are exceedingly hard to import or export data from. In this scenario, technology has rarely made a notable contribution to making a company run more efficiently and, as a time bandit, even acts as a barrier to investing in hard work and effort with customers.
The new world? A proven, single platform, perhaps best thought of as a portal for resellers offering a personalised tech set-up across all aspects of their business. This involves everything from the management of full orders and quotations, corporate accounts and personalised catalogues to multiple payment options, approval workflows, a branded website and much more.
Free up customer-facing time
An extraordinary amount of time is expended on services, and the good news is next-gen outsourcing can reasonably challenge the idea of doing it all yourself. Who doesn’t require or need expert help? Why wouldn’t you want to step away from the mundane, the stuff that is essential but takes away your time and doesn’t add customer value?
I mean stuff like monthly invoicing, the chasing of late payments and sending regular emails. Furthermore, comprehensive outsourcing provides access to customer services teams – there to help you make the most of your sales intelligence, set up marketing campaigns and generally be an extension of your in-house team as and when you need them.
Tthe right nurturing
How do you trust the results? Next-gen outsourcing has been around for a while and there are stories to prove it works. The proof is in the happy customer, the sticky customer, and the profitable customer.
Outsourcing today is an altogether different proposition from what was first experienced by the business supplies sector. It not only encompasses great technology and services and satisfied clientele, but it’s also about flexibility. Your business, your way. Dealers are 100% in control. In challenging times, smart businesses will take a fresh look at future options.
Mark Heath is Managing Director at Office Power