Smoke CCS started as a small customer service business. Today, it’s aiming to corner the international market. Here’s how founder Andrew Cook is doing it.
When Andrew Cook left a successful career at KPMG in 2007 to launch Smoke Customer Care Solutions, it was because he believed that South African companies either didn’t take customer service seriously, or they simply didn’t know what their customers thought of them.
He wanted to change all that, and to do so, he assembled a small team of developers who were able to put his vision into practice through simple-to-use electronic surveys that highlighted key performance indicators that businesses could then act upon.
The next few years were spent on development – the business operation was kept lean, and all focus went into creating and fine-tuning a world-class product (known as Eyerys).
Today, Smoke CSS boasts some of South Africa’s biggest blue-chip companies as clients, and Eyerys has been recognised as a leading ‘Voice of the Customer’ solution. Years of pumping money into development has paid off.
But in order for the business to really grow, focus now needs to shift from development to sales. Smoke CCS doubled its turnover in 2012, and again in 2013.
It’s still growing by at least 12% per month. But as Cook will tell you, it’s easy growing from R2 million to R4 million, and even from R4 million to R8 million. Where it gets trickier is taking a business from R8 million to R20 million and beyond.
“What’s great about tech is that once a product’s development costs have already been paid for, the business’s margins grow exponentially as sales grow,” says Cook. But in order for that to happen, sales must grow.
A focus on sales
“We have a very specific sales model, which is to focus on channel partners rather than direct sales,” says Cook.
“Telecoms companies speak to customer service representatives and decision makers, so it makes sense for them to recommend us when they’re fitting or maintaining PABX systems.
"We could be seeing all the same companies and trying to close deals, but working through channel partners means we’re approaching clients through service providers they already trust, and it cuts out cold calling.”
For partnerships like this to work though, three key elements need to be in place:
- Cook and his team only approach telecoms companies with good reputations who they know and trust – adding your product to a business that isn’t delivering good customer service itself will hurt the brand
- They understand that they need to always deliver great service so that their partners can trust them – after all, it’s their recommendation that’s making the sale
- A revenue share model is crucial to make the partnership worthwhile, which means Smoke CCS’s margins are smaller on each sale, but the volumes are significantly higher.
While business in South Africa is doing well and the brand is steadily gaining recognition, Cook’s main focus for growth is the international market.
“I spend a lot of time travelling overseas and visiting trade shows and conferences, making connections with channel partners in the US and the UK,” he says.
“For example, our product can be plugged into any telephony platform as an OEM product, and it’s a value add to clients. Because we’re a rand-based business, we’re extremely competitive, and this side of the business is growing daily.
"It’s strictly a license agreement deal, with no consulting work, and it means that when the rand does well our local business does well, but when the rand is weak our international business does well.”
With a multi-tier strategy in place, growth really is the name of the game for Smoke CCS.