When you’ve just started up a business, it all seems easy. You don’t have many staff to worry about, and managing workflows and who is doing what is relatively straightforward. When it comes to accounting, MYOB sometimes feels challenging, but ultimately, it’s manageable.
You might be outsourcing your warehousing, and expansion plans might be little more than developing a stronger presence in your home city.
By the time you’ve grown into an enterprise, however, with multiple offices and dozens of staff, nothing’s easy anymore. You’re acquiring other organisations, your growth projections have you reaching to offshore markets, and suddenly, you find yourself in need of a CRM, ERP and Business Intelligence – or BI – solution just to stay ahead.
An example is Trumps, an agriculture manufacturer that experienced a 70 per cent growth surge in one year, and whose growth plans included an expansion into New Zealand.
Trumps needed an ERP solution including financial, sales and warehousing management tools, as it had outgrown its accounting software and had previously relied on paper-based systems to track stock. When you’re manufacturing more than 500 product varieties, and have a warehouse that holds around 4000 pallets of food shipping almost 100 pallets a day, a paper-based system is really not good enough.
Or there’s the case of Parragon Publishing. Shipping 145,000 books a week on average, the publisher recently acquired children’s toy supplier, Funtastic. The problem was Parragon previously outsourced its warehousing, and the existing IT infrastructure wasn’t ready to manage the business requirements that came from nearly doubling in size.
On top of that, the company was rolling out EDI across its newly expanded company operations to obtain the electronic trading accreditation required by its major customers. So it needed a new supply chain management system, and had just 90 days to do it.
These cases highlight two things with regards to software business tools – there are a lot of different problems out there to resolve, and customers don’t necessarily have long to roll them out.
Solving problems Pronto Software was the vendor that supplied the end solutions to both customers.
“Industry experience is key,” Pronto Software marketing manager, Paul Goepfert, said. “There’s no point trying to sell a manufacturing solution if your expertise is retail – so you have to have the industry knowledge to be able to bring these tools to customers in a way that’s going to be positive to their business. “Customers rely on these partners to guide them on how to use it, while at the same time allowing their customers to focus on their core business.”
In the SME space – where the first tentative steps into applications such as ERP are made – a good partner will find a repeat customer.
SAP’s experience is such. One of the most renowned ERP vendors, around 75 per cent of the vendor’s customers are SMEs, and of those 85 per cent are serviced out of its channel business. The vendor claims those partners active in consultancy often find a customer that will then turn to them for later IT rollouts and additional functionality.
“One of our business partners in Melbourne, Clarity Consulting, ran a realisation with one of their potential customers,” SAP general manger of growth markets, Helen Masters, explained. “They ran through understanding the business problem, understanding how the customer could realise business benefits in putting in an SAP or ERP solution, and how they could identify issues in their current business approach by putting in a solution where they could pick up and put a value realisation against business benefits. “Since then, the customer has come back and purchased additional modules to the initial solution rolled out.” SAP customers are reasonably aware of what solution they want, Masters said. While a customer might need advice on picking the specific solution to implement, and advice on administration, she claimed the popularity of SAP’s SME website demonstrated customers were more aware of software solutions and how technology can assist in their business today.
But for Attaché software managing director, Michael Rich, partners needed to be actively explaining the benefits of a solution to prospective customers.
“It’s a highly technical discussion, which scares them off,” he said. “It needs to be put in plain English, and you really need to look at what they are trying to attempt to do, rather than sell them software – you need to get a feel for what customers are actually trying to achieve out of this.
“We’re seeing a move towards management wanting real-time data so they know how their business is going in real-time, and not rely on printed reports. Then it becomes a question of ‘well, what do you want to see in real-time’?”
The channel can’t simply wait for the occasional customer to put its hand up and ask for these things, Rich said. Partners need to be looking for customers that need solutions.
“When you actually talk to businesses about what they can do with a product, the general reaction is they sit there with their mouths open,” he said. Those partners that can waltz in with a magic wand approach and know what tools will deliver the biggest business benefits for the customer, are the ones positioned to profit.