As a 40-year old business, Brisbane-based Computer Merchants has witnessed and bore the brunt of the technology industry’s ebbs and flows.
Managing director Norm Jefferies explained that during the first 20 years, the company experienced very little change to the ways it operated.
Day-to-day activities were simple: clients requested what they needed, and Computer Merchants delivered.
“It was very point-focused,” Jefferies said. “In the next 20 years, we moved from that to more solutions-type selling, then services… and we saw all this change happening, and it was happening really fast.”
In 2014, there were three main factors that really struck the business – commoditisation, the economy and the cloud, Jefferies said. And it was at this point, Jefferies recognised the need to double down on its own digital business transformation.
“All those three things led to our sales declining, profits declining and we could see the writing on the wall for our business. We understood that if we didn’t change our business model, we were going to go out of business,” Jefferies explained. “From a commoditisation point of view, things that were selling for $100,000 a few years back, were down to $30,000 and we had to sell almost three times as much.
“The fear of hardship and the fear of becoming irrelevant - that’s what caused us to double down on our transformation.”
In recognising this need to shift, the company began developing a digital platform to help track customer assets and orders, with Jefferies pointing towards three core areas - revenue; improving customer experience and market share; and focus on being more efficient.
“Since , we’ve grown our business by more than 80 per cent, and last year, we grew revenue by well over 20 per cent,” he said. “Roughly two-thirds of that growth came from marketing initiatives where we used our digital platform to help us.”
Jefferies said it also began focusing on order quantities and stopped focusing on deal size, resulting in doubling the amount of transactions than two years ago, and more than doubling the rate of transactions per customer.
“It was really tough for our sales team to transition from deal size to order quantity - but that meant that we focused on the experience and not on the deal value,” he said.
Underpinning the customer experience within its digital platform is a mobile app where customers can view their order, renewals, status of their environment and see what’s under maintenance and warranty.
As for Computer Merchants ,the digital platform displays a variety of dashboards and metrics that staff can access, serving up a detailed overview of each customer, their product mix and IT environment - what products they have, serial number, order status, when it’s coming up for renewal, who was maintaining it and allows for direct communication with the customer if an issue arises within their IT environment thanks to a system health function, based on machine learning.
Vendors can also tap into the platform and are provided with a similar view into customer’s order status, value of the deal, when it was validated and track the customer’s progress.
The platform uses artificial intelligence to determine customer satisfaction and filters through customer emails that require immediate action. It also contains a trending piece that picks out the 10 most popular words filtering through, giving Computer Merchants insight into topics that customers are asking about whether its security, servers, storage, cloud, and so on.
As the company continuously adds new features to the platform, Jefferies said the next step was looking into the use of certain dashboards to see the quantity of orders coming through the business on a monthly basis, which involved pre-sales; their worth and what part of the sales cycle they’re at.
“We can see what business is doing well for them and what individuals are working on along with our more generic KPIs,” he said.
“We want to give them real time feeds on sales, commissions, etc. Next thing is we’ll give them is individual KPIs, understanding of their business and predictive analysis - so rather having them predict what their win rates are - we’re going to use AI to do that for us and we’ve done a lot of testing on it already.
“We like to be visible with the business on what we’re working on. Staff can see what’s coming this quarter and next, and if we give our staff a great user experience, we know they’re happy and if we can reduce any repetitive work, it makes a better client experience.”
All of Computer Merchants’ 70-strong staff have also undergone a design thinking course.
“We’re using design thinking and understanding the user’s problems - what they’re feeling, thinking, saying and doing. The more data we can collect and integrate - tie it into an email or a customer opportunity - we start to build a lot of knowledge,” he said.
“What we’ve learnt is that being transparent is the most important thing. If we can share our data with our people and our customers, they can call us if they see any issues, and we can build better relationships with our clients,” he said. “It also makes our people more efficient and we’re committed to consistent change, so we roll out one change every day on the platform.”
The digital platform has attracted a lot of attention from other businesses in various corners of the market such as the banking industry and pharmaceuticals keen to tap into understanding how the platform and its AI engine can work within their field and sections of their business. The Federal Government has also shown interest in the platform and its potential for overseas expansion.
"I’m trying to make the business as efficient as possible because I think that will make us better in the long run. It’s a desire to be lean and efficient, and anything we can do to help our customers," Jefferies said.