As previously mentioned, when I was first approached with the possibility of becoming Chief Executive of babble (then IP Solutions), I was somewhat underwhelmed and in that initial conversation, there was one aspect of the role that was a potential deal killer for me: running a reseller.
Having grown a software business that grew to €100m of annual revenues through direct sales and acquisitions, but that had failed to build a meaningful reseller channel despite multiple attempts I had a jaded view of resellers and their ability to make real money. If I’m blunt, I had always believed that building technology was ‘where it’s at’. Technology being cool and resellers being uncool. I’m not alone in having held that view, and even today, outside of the investment community, telling someone that I lead a reseller can be a conversation killer. This despite the fact that the reseller market is big, very big.
According to the analysis, the Top 250 resellers in the UK grew collective revenues by a whopping 13.7 per cent to £16.1bn in their latest financial years on record, far outstripping growth in the wider IT market.
When you consider that Computacenter, the UK’s largest reseller, is forecasting 2018 revenues of £4bn, and yet I couldn’t find anyone in my business who knows the name of the Chief Executive then it’s clear that making money doesn’t make something sexy.
So, if it’s so uncool and unsexy then why does the industry exist at all?
This week we launched babble contact. It’s the UK’s first specialist reseller for cloud contact centre technology. It’s not a new market for us, and when I joined babble back in 2016 I was amazed to find that we were already the largest reseller of cloud contact centre technology in the UK. We counted customers like Oak Furniture Land, Which?, General Dynamics and Secret Escapes amongst our customers – but it was a success we seemed to have key well hidden and not a market we had ever consciously focused on – babble just happened to be pretty good at it.
It’s certainly an industry that is transforming, but I’ve worked in technology for long enough to know that every industry ‘transforms’ as technology is applied to it. However, the humble call centre, now transformed into a multi-channel contact centre, is really at the eye of a technology hurricane.
That’s because technology is creating possibilities to transform the customer experience in ways that were previously unimaginable.
- The potential to create a balanced ‘on-demand’ workforce of offshore, homeworkers and office-based workers – all able to act and work across multiple channels as one. Leaving no call unanswered, no engaged and a cost-effective model.
- The ability to simultaneously manage a stream of inbound live-chats and phone call whilst monitoring emails and the social media comments – enabling customers to deal with you in the channel of their choice – not just yours.
- The possibility to personalise the ‘customer experience’ so that an agent can answer “Hello, is that Sarah? It’s Steven, we spoke last time. How are you today and how was your holiday in Crete?” (assuming of course the agent is really called Steven, the customer is Sarah, you’re actually a travel firm)
And as innovators adopt this technology then what becomes possible soon becomes expected. After all, from a shopper’s perspective, if Company A knows who I am when I called, which shirt I last purchased, which I returned, and which shirt to suggest I purchase this time – then why can’t Company B do that? And I’ll vote with my feet.
These changes mean contact centre leaders are often finding themselves in a technology arms race. It’s why ‘customer experience’ is often called the new battleground for competitive advantage, because it can be and so it is.
However, delivering a competitor-beating customer experience throws-up a complex set of technology challenges. Many businesses have existing call-centre technology that is inflexible and unspectacular but heavily invested in; they want to add more capabilities, more channels and more integrations but they know that each addition creates complexity, risk and expense.
Add to that a new generation of smart sales people working for today’s innovative cloud vendors, all fluent in the nonsense of technology marketing-speak, and each claiming that their product is the answer to all woes. Soon you have an contact centre leader in constant fear of either missing the next big thing, or embracing it only to see their whole tech stack collapse like a pack of cards – and the need for an updated LinkedIn profile.
This is exactly the kind of environment where a good reseller should thrive. It creates an opportunity to add meaningful value above and beyond the value available from the original technology developer. It’s also why we are in a particularly strong position to launch babble contact. Why?
- Because contact centre leaders need long-term technology-agnostic partners, not one-trick ponies with a single solution who’ll readily ram a square peg into a round hole to close a deal. After all, did you really think that smart salesperson would just walk away when their ‘solution’ didn’t seem to match your problem?
- Because our customers’ need a partner who evaluates new technology every single day, continually looking for the next big thing and will see through the Marketing fog – and who only shares with them what will deliver value.
- Because they need someone who cares about their whole technology stack – not just their particular brick in it. After all, no single technology will deliver competitive edge, and so advantage must be gained by pulling it altogether to act as one. And when something goes wrong our customers don’t care whose brick brought the wall down as long as we work with them to get it back up again in the shortest possible time.
Ultimately, we’ve created babble contact because helping our customers win the customer experience battle requires a dedicated specialist and not someone for whom the contact centre technology buyer is just another type of prospect.
Let me be clear, this isn’t philanthropy, I believe there is a fantastic opportunity for babble to grow more quickly by addressing the specialist needs of the contact centre buyer and I think we are uniquely placed to win in that market. We may already be a market-leader but the opportunity is far bigger than babble’s current position. Our ambition is to become the technology partner of choice to the UK contact centre industry and that’s a big goal. It means building long-term partnerships with our customers, doing the technology scouting for them and making sure the integrated solution we help design delivers a competitor-beating customer experience.
My view is that in today’s increasingly complex world only a technology-agnostic reseller, aligned to the customer and not to the technology, can deliver. I understand that being a reseller may be something of a dirty-word for some, and whilst I appreciate it may not be sexy, it is absolutely what contact centre leaders need, and I’m officially excited.
* It’s always worth checking that a reseller isn’t in reality a one-trick pony in disguise. Most have no more genuine choice than the vendors they resell. Ask them what different contact centre platforms they’ve deployed across their customer base to identify whether their choice of platform is genuine.