New client innovations
I recently held a (virtual) round-table discussion with some of our Principals to discuss how clients are innovating for the post-COVID world.
Many of our clients are preparing for new opportunities as they expect rapid recovery in demand. Many also expect their competitors to suffer cash shortages, supply-chain disruption, and operational issues that will offer opportunities to seize market share.
Put simply, customers facing long waits, stock-outs or poor support will vote with their feet, and our clients are rightly looking to take advantage.
Let’s discuss what specific steps our clients our taking, and what our Principals had to say, and see if there are ideas for your own company.
How they’re getting ready
There are two specific areas in which Principals are helping clients:
- Creating new online routes to market
- Preparing internal operations for expansion.
These changes are challenging. Reorganisation and new projects are difficult during the best of times; the current background of uncertainty is a further complication. Many clients aim to complete these changes whilst also downsizing.
According to Freeman Clarke Principal Pete Taylor, ‘Three clients are preparing for growth by investing heavily in automation and integration, whilst making significant headcount reductions at the same time.’
Look before you leap
For many clients who were previously wholesalers, moving to online B2C raises critical challenges. They have to understand a new range of marketing, technical, and fulfilment issues; in addition, most companies now have to make delicate judgements about market positioning and how this would affect existing retail relationships.
Thus shifting to B2C isn’t always the smart move. One client working in household accessories modelled the impact of creating a direct-to-consumer online channel. The model helped them conclude two things: first that they would be cannibalising existing business; and second that the small shipment sizes and customer service overheads would slash their margins. They scrapped the B2C idea.
‘After a lot of discussion and analysis, we decided to focus on improving the B2B channel rather than taking a serious risk with the B2C channel,’ explained Freeman Clarke Principal Phil Tottie.
But if it looks good, leap away
For other wholesalers, shifting to B2C made commercial sense, and they launched new brands to take their products directly to consumers who now prefer to shop from home. Such businesses basically need to become online retailers, and we adapted their front end accordingly.
For example, one client used to provide health monitoring equipment to medical professionals. COVID, however, brought about a strong consumer desire for self-monitoring. Our client re-engineered the product and service to supply directly to the public.
‘The new approach is cheaper and better for all concerned,’ said Freeman Clarke Principal Alex Hudson. ‘It was always possible in theory, but we’ve taken the opportunity to make it happen.’
For clients in B2B supply chains, we saw a further opportunity to create online offerings for their existing business clients who ordered by email or phone. In many cases the websites were previously simply online brochures; it was time to create an actual portal for online ordering.
Of course all such changes create new challenges. But they offer the huge benefits of reduced processing costs, fewer errors, and tighter integration of delivery tracking and payment processing. They free up staff to focus on developing accounts rather than just taking routine orders.
Internal operations: Reporting is key
When our clients prepare for a significant increase in business, the first and most pressing concern is availability of up-to-date, accurate information for management.
‘The Directors simply need to know what’s going on so they can react quickly,’ says Pete Taylor, Principal, Freeman Clarke.
In these cases, the immediate focus is on streamlining data flows and automating reports. Of course this means looking upstream: we first have to ensure clear processes and accurate data management. But it’s necessary work that leads to better management.
Internal operations: Using the time wisely
In many sectors, our clients have seen a slowdown, but they expect business to bounce back quite quickly. So there has been a real drive to complete back-office projects, which, at normal times, would take a back seat.
It’s clear that some companies will struggle operationally or will suffer cash shortages. In such cases, we help our clients invest in new technology and enact process improvements to ensure their service remains outstanding—and that they will be ready for new opportunities when they emerge.
As ever, these improvements projects are difficult. But they are absolutely achievable when we have a clear vision of the business objectives:
‘Central to a particular project was to look again at the structure of the product list and bills of materials,’ Freeman Clarke Principal Dave Martin said. ‘By driving to the heart of the matter we were able to reduce the complexity by orders of magnitude.’
Important work at an important time
In some markets—for example, medical research and health equipment—there has been huge growth, and our clients have pivoted to engage with these opportunities. But the pressures on staff have sometimes been very great.
‘It’s been critical to keep facilities running smoothly in order that the drug research and development efforts can continue uninterrupted. It’s important commercially for the client, and these efforts are genuinely important to us all,’ said Dave Martin.
Clear winners and losers
In so many areas of the mid-market, we are seeing very clear winners and losers emerge. Of course, sectors like travel, are suffering major problems due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But most consumer and business demand is ready to resume as soon as restrictions allow.
Resumption of demand, however, doesn’t mean resumption of ‘business as usual.’ All the Principals in our discussion expressed a similar notion: Whether it’s B2B or B2C, consumers are very willing to switch to new buying channels, to new suppliers and to new products.
Thus ambitious companies looking to seize these opportunities must have a flexible, dependable infrastructure in place—and to know when an opportunity may not be best for your company.
Need help? Many CEOs engage Freeman Clarke because we take on uncomfortable changes and challenges with reassurance and guidance. Transformational change requires experienced and expert IT leadership.
Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.