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How to sustain business in challenging times – an interview with Andrew Bourne

An interesting interview with Andrew Bourne, Business Development Manager, Zoho Africa on ‘How to sustain business in challenging times’

Andrew shared his valuable insights on how businesses can equip themselves and how Zoho tools make it that much easier. 

Vanathy: Hey everybody good morning, welcome to the very first episode of Zoho Live! In this episode today we’re going to talk about, ‘How to sustain business during challenging times’ and we have Andrew Bourne here with us. Andrew is our Business Development Head for Zoho in South Africa. So welcome to Zoho Live Andrew!

Andrew: Thank you.

Vanathy: Andrew the first and foremost thought in every entrepreneurs head at this point is, ‘How do I keep up with my business to keep it afloat?‘ So, where would you like them to begin with.

Andrew: I think if I talk from South Africa’s point of view, need to first and foremost maybe if they need to seek financial assistance. So either it be bank finance or any of the government’s some support initiatives that have been opened up to them, potentially looking at the unemployment fund to assist with start salaries. And then I think the next most important thing is to lean up your business expenses, is to do cost optimization—have a look and see what cost can be cut and to look at complete technology solutions just to help the business run more efficiently.

Vanathy: With that thought in mind Andrew, what are some of the specific challenges facing business owners, especially on the lines of sales and business development, and what do you think what according to you are some of the best ways to address those challenges.

Andrew: I think going forward now, obviously technology is going to play a huge role and digital transformation has now been accelerated due to this COVID-19 crisis, and companies are going to have to look at tech solutions to allow their staff to work from home. So to look at like digital checklist to process mapping workflows, blueprints, and really looking for a cost-effective technology during this time where you know revenues are low, and you know the companies that will survive this crisis will be the ones that really lean up their expenses and look to the right types of technology to grow their business going forward.

Vanathy: And I also think that it is a common characteristic for businesses to turn their head towards marketing only when their sales go down. But it’s definitely not going to help to spam customers’ inbox in desperate hopes to get leads, you know. So tell us a bit about some of the marketing strategies that will resonate well with people at times like this.

Andrew: I think yeah you don’t want to be you know sending out you know text campaigns, it’s gonna be I mean it’s only going to be a brand more of a brand exposure exercise than lead generation. There’s going to be a lot of text email campaigns going out there, and I think any more campaigns on social media is more of a brand exclosure exercise and the lead generation exercise. The next step in the sales process is most important which is closing that deal and I think companies now need to focus on generating video content to educate their customers about what they’re selling their product or their services. They need to create presentations, digital presentations that they can easily send to customers, potential customers to get them to obviously buy into into the product. And I think another vitally important thing is testimonials. Customer testimonials—to get customer testimonials, get video testimonials, written testimonials, have a website, have a live chat on your website— Zoho’s SalesIQ is a great application to use for that. And to really offer a full tech support system so that when a customer is looking and evaluating your product or service they can go and they can Google and they can look at your website and they can see what other people, what their customer experience has been.

I guess the next thing is a lot of potential customers will go to social media where they ask friends about your product or your service, or they’ll ask which plumber should I use or which you know which kind of telephone system should I use, and that’s where customer experience is the most important—because you want their friends, you want their connections on social media to plant your business because they had such a good experience. So, it’s really important that you focus on your customer experience and as well as your staff experience because your staff experience will impact the customers experience, so you want to work on your company culture to make sure that your staff are very very happy and they are focused on making sure the customer experience is great ,and in the customer then in return then promote your brand to their friends when their friends reach out for recommendations.

Vanathy: Absolutely Andrew, I agree with you one hundred percent. Customer experience is a key area that everybody should focus on, which will ultimately result in customer retention. And I also like how you talked about the staff experience of a company reflecting in their customer experience. Those are such interesting points, and also Andrew I think a lot of businesses these days are transforming themselves to fit better in this situation in order to stay relevant, you know. So for example apps that use to deliver food apps we use to order food from are now delivering groceries, and apps that focus on physical fitness are now talking about mindfulness and mental health. Our own local drivers are partnering with communities nearby to run some errands for them. So according to you at what point should a business consider putting on their multiple hats in order to stay relevant.

Andrew: I think first and foremost a company must revisit their SWOT analysis and a SWOT analysis should be alarmed document, and companies should revisit it on a frequent basis to go and address their strengths, their weaknesses, and to your setting opportunities or threats, and also look at forecasting, I mean the fashion industry has been doing it for years where they forecast where is the fashion trend going. I think all businesses need to forecast where their industry is going, where are their opportunities. We’ve seen a lot of with some clothing manufacturers that are now manufacturing masks and obviously the companies that jumped onto that opportunity early enough have now and reaped the benefits of being first to market. And I think yeah it’s very important for companies to do a proper forecasting and to address those opportunities.

Vanathy: And what would be some of the tell tale signs Andrew. When exactly can a business know ‘This is it, now is the time to change’, instead of waiting for weeks in a row and sort of waiting for the clouds to clear.

Andrew: I think you want to test it out in bits and pieces, I mean if you look at the example of the say the video industry or the movie industry it went from a video store we rent your DVD, that we’ve done to the Apple Store where you could go and buy the DVDs and rent them on the Apple Store, and eventually then you get your Apple TV Plus and Netflix. So if you know a video store owner way back in the day if they had seen the future and they had got that opportunity and gone to market first ,they probably would have been in a better position to compete with where the industry is going. So I think it’s all about just assessing the industry and seeing and doing market research, and also addressing your staff and doing group conversations around the opportunities, and getting other people’s opinions really do help in making that decision as to when is the time right.

Vanathy: That’s good advice Andrew, thanks for sharing it with us. And one important thing I also wanted to talk to you about was, all set and done the strength and the resilience of a company ultimately depends on its employees. So what are some of the qualities that companies could benefit from their employees especially when they are working remotely.

Andrew: So the first and foremost is employees that are embracing technology and employees that are using their own initiative to improve the running of the business. I think that is just vital that you have employees that are focused on building the business and also employees that are willing to work in teams. And I think one thing that I’ve seen in many businesses was where they appoint one person as what they call the culture captain, someone who’s going to take the company culture and that company culture can be reassessed and improved. But to really champion yet that specific part of the business and make sure that all the other staff members are working together helping the business grow, I think it’s important that they use technology but just do like a coffee chat with your team, do fun exercises using video chat video conferencing, bring everyone together get their ideas and really try and kind of put a element of you know each staff member must help the company grow. And I think the most valuable of members will be the ones that put an initiative to put forward ideas and to really work hard at growing the business.

Vanathy: Amazing, Andrew we’ve been discussing some serious topic so far, so I want to sort of take a pause and switch gears to discussing about this whole remote work side of things. Your an athlete yourself who is quarantined, so how are you taking care of your physical wellness and your mental wellness, and if there are any remote work etiquette that has worked best for you in all these years, please do share it with our viewers.

Andrew: I think if I look at these kind of tips for remote working is to get used to video conferencing, to any try and deal with your suppliers or your stakeholders in your business and get them to use the video conferencing options that are out there. We have Zoho Meeting we also have internal communication with Zoho Cliq and it’s important to see someone’s expression on their face, you can judge their tone and it’s a lot better to have a video chat than to just have an audio chat, so I think embracing the video chat is one thing. As far as I would say a physical health, I’m a discovery member so I have to keep up with my points, so I make sure that I get my heart rate up—I do skipping, I’ve got some home exercise equipment that I use to kind of keep fit and healthy—and then you know just I think try and make sure that you have downtime working from home. Sometimes you can get really attached to your laptop and attached to your word but it’s best to make a block book in your schedule, another time that is downtime—you close your laptop, you take on a book or you play a card game, or you know a board game with a family member and I think it’s important to just have have a dedicated downtime.

Vanathy: Also one of the things we all were concerned with when we started to work remotely was, teams won’t function properly if they are not sitting next to each other, performance would go down and their productivity would go down and those kind of things, when in fact, the opposite has happened. A lot of industry leaders and leadership staff from different companies have in fact confirmed that the productivity of their employees and their teams have only spiked after this remote work revolution. So what are your thoughts on that and why do you think that is happening.

Andrew: I’ve heard from many many clients and customers that productivity has gone up. And I think we know we spent I mean being in lockdown we’re forced to focus on the tasks at hand, there is no distractions like maybe walking to I mean you could you know walk to the kitchen but there’s no other staff members you know distracting me there, or having to go out for lunch meeting. I think we spend a lot of time in some jobs, spend time on the road, and I think now with technology people are finding themselves way more productive because they’re having to focus at the task at hand and getting it done, and meeting is a click away or a phone call away and I think that’s what is making people a lot more productive

Vanathy: Oh yeah absolutely, I agree. And now that a lot of businesses are increasingly adopting to this remote work culture there are also concerns about what applications should I use, which technology should I go after—not just the communication and collaboration side of things, but also to choose applications that will help with their sales and customer relations and marketing side of things. So when a business goes out to choose it’s technology provider what are some of the things that they have to be mindful about.

Andrew: Okay so one thing I have found and I’ve spoken to many South African businesses and also businesses in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, and in Kenya—it’s important to try and get a complete technology solution and not to try and patch a whole bunch of different technologies together. If you can’t find one service provider that will you know provide you with many of the applications that you need, those applications will work more in sync than having to go and patch another service provider’s application to another and I think it’s also more cost effective that way. So I think Zoho obviously, you know we work for Zoho and we were passionate about the products, and I’m also a business owner and before I joined Zoho I run a business. So I saw the value in Zoho products and applications. And we implemented it now, we use their 20 applications of Zoho that we used in that business and those applications connect perfectly and allow us to be a lot more productive. So it’s important to attach your application together but really I think it’s since the applications from a technology quality point of view and also cost point of view.

Vanathy: Andrew I never knew you were a Zoho customer before you became an employee, that’s an interesting piece of information! Do you want to tell us more about that.

Andrew: Yes, I’ve been using Zoho for more than three years in my business and it allowed me to actually have staff work from home, so I was able to then reduce the the brick-and-mortar office space which was was obviously a big expense and also parking bays by another expense for a business, and parking bays sometimes don’t get used when you’ve got a big sales compliment. Parking bays are only used maybe on you know for a quarter of the day so we’ve decided to then take sales stuff and put them to work from home and we needed proper technology to do that ,but we also needed technology that we could customize for the South African market and that’s where Zoho came in. It was really cost cost-effective we could really customize and mold it to our business and our business needs, and yeah the experience was great and it still is. We’re still customers the business still runs, I’m just not involved, I’m full-time on Zoho now.

Vanathy: That is really amazing Andrew, thank you so much for your time and thanks for sharing such valuable insights with us.

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