The business landscape is constantly changing. Whether you are a small-scale marketing agency or an entrepreneur offering recruitment advice, it is clear that market conditions are different now to how they were even 18 months ago. Enterprises across all sectors are seeing their day-to-day operations completely revolutionised by the internet, technology in general and changing customer behaviour, and only those clued up enough to respond to these changes will be able to succeed.
As managing director of King of Servers, IT solutions is my industry, and it doesn’t take someone with my experience to know just how quickly this sector is evolving. Yes, these changes, and the increasing demand for tech products are excellent news, particularly as people are purchasing tech at a faster rate than ever before. But it’s no surprise that the large, global-scale corporations with endless resources are more likely to cash in than us smaller vendors who often lack the means and the connections to adapt our business models quickly enough.
However, at the end of 2016, I made the difficult decision to do just that – acknowledge the changing market and take a bold leap into the semi-unknown. We had long since sold servers through a fully functioning website, but I realised that in order to remain commercially viable in a changing sector, we needed to diversify our web-based model. We’re fortunate to have an experienced and knowledgeable sales team inhouse and decided to marry our ability to offer a consultancy-based sales approach with a drive towards more complex solutions including converged infrastructure (infrastructure that operates by grouping a number of IT products into a single computing package, for those of you out of the loop).
So, why is this significant? This change is indicative of the evolution of the hardware and IT landscape in general. Here, I will explain in great detail exactly how we adapted our small business to this market, as well as look to the future, while offering insight into why ignoring significant market trends could be detrimental to your business, regardless of sector.
A consultative approach
In 2012, when I established King of Servers, we operated on the premise of a very simple, yet incredibly effective business model: we sold IT hardware – such as servers, switches and network security – through our website. We set ourselves apart from similar ‘hardware resellers’ for one simple reason, we had the physical stock ready to ship when customers ordered it, unlike the vast majority of our competitors. This unique selling point, as well as our competitive pricing structure, meant we had a significant market advantage, which was reflected in the growth rate of the business.
However, there were some challenges along the way. Our low prices sparked suspicions from many of our prospective customers, who were cautious about buying from a small, virtually unknown brand. There were times when I stumbled across posts on tech forums from IT professionals who were questioning our authenticity. So, we knew we had to address these concerns with our messaging, and we carried out brand and trust building activities to ease concerns. We placed a large amount of focus on our brand building activities, sought out award nominations and gave prospective customers a direct insight into our business with behind-the-scenes videos that were featured on our website. Combined, these efforts helped us to gain the trust of our target demographic.
The next three years allowed us to build on this growing success, but in 2015, we noticed a change in the market. More and more resellers were setting up websites and advertising stock at competitive prices (although they did not necessarily have the physical stock). The market was becoming increasingly saturated, making it ever more difficult to stand out from the crowd. We’ve always prided ourselves on being a reseller with a difference, and this has long since been addressed in our messaging and marketing campaigns, but we needed to go one step further in order to compete. What’s more, a shift to the widespread adoption of virtualisation and convergence was also starting to take hold, meaning it wasn’t only large enterprises utilising this type of technology. Therefore, by mid-2015, I realised we needed to address these changes and adapt our business model.
A small business making big changes
We have now branched out into converged solutions, in addition to our core reseller offering, which has spelled big change for the type of customer service we need to provide. In the past, the customers we dealt with knew what they wanted to purchase, were happy to order via the website and were simply shopping around for the best price. Those looking for converged solutions, on the other hand, require a more hands-on, consultation-based sales approach. This type of technology is completely bespoke to the specific needs of the business, which means they simply cannot be advertised online with a ticket price.
The type of customer is different too. They may be unaware of the benefits of converged systems, or the cost benefit over time. So, it is up to us to explain this, listen to their needs and suggest a solution that will complement their operations. This has meant training our staff so they are able to offer comprehensive advice on the new products, and convey the benefits of convergence.
We have also altered how we handle and process orders that are made due to the longer lead times required by these built-to-order products. As a direct result, we have introduced a more comprehensive customer relationship management system that allows us to monitor and update their status more closely. To coincide with these, we have also had to make changes to our website to reflect the different purchasing method of converged solutions. The seemingly endless potential build combinations for just one of our new products, the Dell VRTX platform, makes it highly impractical to simply “add to basket”. The number of variables are plentiful, so we need to ensure the website reflects this.
To reflect the changes made to our core business model, we thought the term ‘reseller’ seemed outdated for the myriad of services we provide. Therefore, we thought it more appropriate to refer to ourselves as an ‘IT solutions provider’. We now engage with potential customers much earlier in the sales funnel to identify their circumstances, pain points and any objectives they are looking to fulfil. This gives us the information required to recommend a solution, and translate it into a kit list of products and services prior to the fulfilment phase.
Businesses take note
Our ability to alter our offering and sales approach to the changing market could not have taken place without an in-depth knowledge of our customers and the technology landscape in general. Therefore, I advise other small firms to ensure they have a similar knowledge of their own respective industries in order to do the same. Being a small business is often difficult, and there are a seemingly endless number of tasks to be completed and roles to fulfil, often with fewer staff to do so. However, across all industries, we have seen a shift in that smaller firms can now compete with global corporations on an even playing field, thanks to technology and the internet. It is up to small business owners to harness this potential, keep their ear to the ground and be flexible enough to react quickly when change is on the horizon. Those able to do this will not regret it.
Albie Attias is head of business development at progressive technology provider, Evaris.