Colin Walker made his debut in the workforce as a salesman of automotive parts. Not a glamorous role, he admits, but one that instilled in him a grassroots understanding of the business of selling. These days he thanks his humble beginnings for setting the seed that led to a heady career in sales . . . but not before a stint in boot camp.
Walker accepted a position in Australia's National Service and trained as a platoon commander in a division that has put hairs on the chests of many Australian luminaries.
"The army taught me that you have to be organised and you have to be able to multi-program," says Walker. "From a coaching point of view, it's taught me that annual staff assessments are too long between drinks. You must continually assess the performance levels of your staff. If a job goes off the rails, it needs a coach to come along and get the individual back on track."
Walker left the National Service with a tremendous respect for the virtue of collective achievement and promptly secured his first IT job over a game of cricket with mates. It was a sales role at Burroughs, selling very basic calculators. "Not the kind you slip in your pocket."
In his work, Walker sought to pull inspiration from all quarters to truly determine the tools of a good salesman. "When I was working [at Burroughs] there was a guy who did exceedingly better than any of the other sales guys," says Walker. "One day he was absent and I had to sit in for him. When I looked in his log book, which recorded all the cold calls he'd made the previous day, they were double that of the other salesmen. It taught me that the key to success is persistence and hard work."
After a stint at Siemens Nixdorf selling credit union systems, Walker took a job at Megabus, a software and IT specialist to the tyre and automotive industry, and discovered his calling.
"After a while I realised I could do a better job working for myself," he says. "And so I did."
In 1989, Renown Data Systems was born; a company that developed, implemented, hosted, managed and supported software based around Sage's accounting software and tailored it to the automotive industry.
The first three years were difficult for Renown, says Walker, as the economy had just slumped into the "recession we had to have". At one stage, and much to the chagrin of his wife, he was forced to sell the family home to keep the business alive.
But he did. Today, Renown has positioned itself as a total service vendor, providing e-business solutions for a variety of mid-market verticals, from air conditioning and refrigeration service companies to fruit markets.
Most recently, the company found success in the retail industry and is just completing a point-of-sale and back-office solution for a photographic retail chain, for which it is also hosting a Sage accounting finance solution on a 24x7 basis.
"It's important to establish your business around a product that is highly adaptable," Walker says, explaining why he chose Sage as Renown's core product. "If you want to penetrate a variety of vertical markets it's an absolutely necessity. We decided to target several verticals as a means of survival against the big players who can survive on tiny margins."
Walker has remained a fan of the sales hunt and cold calling. Renown contacts around 35 potential new customers each week in selected vertical markets and hosts Sage and Great Plains user group meetings twice a year to glean feedback.
"We started telemarketing to drum up new business after the GST and Y2K, which were key contributors to our growth. We knew we had to concentrate on finding sales instead of just sitting by the phone and waiting for it to ring."
So what do customers want? "They want us to keep them abreast of where the industry is today," he says. "They are looking for us to give them guidance."
Looking to the future, Walker is positive. "Our plans for the future involve slow and steady growth, ensuring the happiness of our staff and keeping abreast of industry changes," he says. Sage software will continue to be the core of Renown's business accounting software, which targets the low end of the market, an arena with a great deal of potential, according to Walker.
"My advice to other channel companies starting out is to have a vision - have a strategic plan and you should succeed. When you shoot from the hip and don't plan anything, that's when you fall over."