Tag Archive: business advice


Annelie VisserAnnelie is the National Sales Manager for Sage VIP. She is responsible for growing the organisation’s market share in all segments, from small start-up businesses to large and corporate enterprises.  “Being part of a team that is innovative and successful is rewarding and the launch of new products makes my day to day work-life fulfilling and stimulating,” says Annelie.

 

Annelie believes the challenges she faces every day are not any different to those of her male counterparts.  “Things have definitely changed over the years and when you do good work it is about your output and not your gender.”

Her secret to a healthy work-life balance: If you love your job, it is possible to balance your responsibilities at work with your family duties.  It is all about priorities and staying focused. I always ensure that I spend quality time with my daughter when I get home and when she goes to bed, I will attend to work matters, if necessary. It also helps to have a good support structure, seeing that I am a single mother.

“To be employed gives women economic freedom that allows them to take charge of their own life and destiny, as well as making a difference in their workplace,” says Annelie.

Annelie’s advice to other women in a corporate environment:

If there is a conflict of opinion with a person or department within the organisation, try not to get over emotional and rather step out of the content, refocus on the issue at hand and always strive for common goals and purpose.

Sandra SwanepoelSandra is the Sales Director at Sage VIP and she is strategically involved in the management of the business as a whole.  She is responsible for business development of new markets by growing Sage VIP’s market share across all market segments.  “My career is jam-packed with many highlights, such as the launch of several innovative products and the growth of Sage VIP from a small family business to a business with 730 employees and a customer base of more than 26 000 customers.”

According to her, women in a corporate environment will always be faced with equality challenges. “However, we should recognise our differences and use it to rather build on the many talents and strengths woman indeed can offer in the workplace. This mind-set has helped me to never really experience the differences as challenges, but rather as opportunities to do things differently.”

Sandra’s secret to a healthy work-life balance: I believe in exercising daily and to also participate in various running and cycling events – small or big. This is something I treasure and it has had an amazing positive impact on my life because it ensured wonderful friends and relationships, something which has kept me well-balanced in my career.

Sandra’s advice to other women in a corporate environment:

·         Be confident and approachable

·         Never stop the learning process, be inquisitive about everything. Ensure you are up to date with business and technology issues by reading regularly

·         Surround yourself with strong, optimistic and positive individuals.

·         Always be true to yourself, no matter what

·         Work hard, always give your best and work as if the business is your own. You will then feel a sense of achievement

·         Be passionate about the company you work for. My passion has really given me an amazing career

Anja Hartman

Anja is the HR Director of Sage VIP and she is responsible for the Human Capital within the company with a specific focus on maintaining Sage VIP’s status as an employer of choice. “I love the feeling when I can help people reach their potential and in my role as head of HR, I have the privilege to see it happen regularly.”

“As women, we tend to take things personally at work, while we should rather aim at having a positive attitude and mind-set. I also rely on the principle of straight talk. One should rather deal with a tough conversation than try to avoid it. I have learnt in life to talk tentatively, makes a huge difference in ensuring that a message is positively received.”

Anja’s secret to a healthy work-life balance: Plan ahead, be prepared and organised. Allowing myself some me-time leisure also ensures I have enough stamina to face all my responsibilities at work. I believe that – ‘life is short, live it’ – one should aim to have balance in all areas of life – body, mind and spirit.

Anja’s advice to other women in a corporate environment:

·         Choose your attitude – It is irrelevant what you face, it is all about how you decide to think and react to the situation

·         Excellence is not a habit; it is a way of life – Do whatever you do to the best of your ability; be it doing homework with the kids or sitting in a meeting at work

·         Define your dreams and take responsibility for making it happen – I also believe in continuous learning, so ensure that you read and grow as a person

Karen Schmikl

Karen Schmikl

Karen is the Business Manager for Sage VIP’s online business. She is responsible for not only designing the software but also needs to manage its marketing, sales and support functions. “I have been part of the Sage VIP team for 12 years and during this time I have had the privilege to work in various departments, giving me exposure to different aspects of the business. My job is fulfilling, with various aspects keeping it interesting and challenging,” says Karen.

“Working in a corporate environment is challenging but you need to take responsibility for ensuring that you have knowledge, expertise and experience in your field of business. This makes it easier to show you can make a difference as a woman and it will also instil a culture of respect amongst fellow colleagues. However you will need patience and perseverance,” says Karen.

According to Karen, the corporate environment is very much driven by a male energy and usually emotions do not have a place in the work environment. “It remains a challenge to stay in touch with your female energy, while managing yourself in your work space. It is not all about being emotional, but rather about tapping into your intuition and making that work.”

Her secret to a healthy work-life balance: It should be as important for you to ‘achieve’ at home, as it is at work. I always ask myself what my kids and husband would say about me if they had to give me an annual performance review. Ensure you have a healthy outlet to stress. You are one person doing different things. The balance is found within yourself – everything that is important to you needs attention. Work is very much part of one’s life, you cannot see it as something separate, so it should form a healthy part of your life.

Karen believes in doing a job that you love and can do well. “Money is important, we need it to survive, but what we do for our money is our choice, so make it a good choice.”

Karen’s advice to other women in a corporate environment:

·         Always remember what your values are and use that as a basis for how you work

·         Look for recognition within yourself – decide what is important for you, what you want to achieve and how you are going to measure it. It can make you miserable waiting for external recognition

·         Be fair, be honest and be true to yourself

·         Always respect other people, and yourself

By Steven Cohen, managing director, Sage Pastel Accounting

Steven Cohen

Steven Cohen

To succeed in business, exceptional service is essential. Everyone says they do it but I question its true impact, particularly when I consider that everything is automated these days. In the world of electronic communications, everyone auto-signs their emails with a warm and fuzzy salutation, your birthday is recorded in a customer relationship management (CRM) system that triggers a congratulatory SMS on the appropriate date and it’s seldom that you get to talk to a real person at a call centre anymore. The result of the, so-called benefits of technology is a techno-void between a company and its customers.

The Extraordinary Customer Experience

Sage, the global parent of Sage Pastel Accounting has launched a new Extraordinary Customer Experience initiative which will benefit its 4 million clients globally. The programme’s key objective is to build real relationships with customers using an old-fashioned method; people.

Initially I was cynical about the advantages such a plan would bring to the business. Our local contact centre is manned by real people and it’s considered one of the best – it wins local and international awards all the time and is currently a regional finalist in three categories of the highly regarded Contact Centre World Awards run by ContactCentreWorld.com.

However, our new service initiative requires more than just people to offer extraordinary customer service; it’s their attitude and approach to the customer that is so crucial. In addition to the programme’s need for passion, accountability, collaboration and being enterprising when dealing with customers, I am drawn to its requirements for creating working conditions that encourage people to succeed!

It’s all about attitude

As a business leader, I’ve always said that it’s important to stimulate the thinking of those around you. This can only be applied if you understand that attitude and not just aptitude is essential when employing at any level in the organisation. I like to see the interview process as a gate that only lets exceptional people in – and it’s part of my management ethos to pay more for a good person. So, I think I am on the correct path to getting the customer service experience right but now the hard work really begins.

For the Extraordinary Customer Experience to become a reality we need to change the way we think about customer service. I want us to own every customer experience and not simply sell stuff to people because we have targets to meet. We need to build real relationships with all of our clients and recognise that a new client or a satisfied contact centre customer is not just another successful transaction. In addition it’s important to define what we are delivering to our customers in relation to what our customers think they are getting – a disconnect at this point is the difference between exceptional or deficient service.

By Christophe Letellier, CEO of Sage ERP X3

Christophe Letellier

Christophe Letellier

Choosing an ERP system is one of the most strategic decisions for mid-market companies and their CEOs face a significant dilemma. Should I choose a system for today, or for how my company may look in five to ten years? Should I go for a full system or start small with a limited number of functions? Should I try to cover 100-percent of my needs or only aim for a fraction of them? Do I have to cover all my requirements with one single ERP system? Should I go for a comprehensive, full function system requiring a 12-18 month implementation, or for a simpler system with fewer functions that could be implemented in weeks? What balance will get me the best return on my investment?

I could go on and on with questions that are all relevant, but instead I would suggest reversing the thought process.  Rather than trying to solve all your outstanding issues with a new system, which will usually replace something that you are currently using, I would suggest thinking about how to improve what you already have. All of us would like to aim for the best in terms of ERP software, but in doing so we often ignore the ‘better’ solution.

The value of an ERP system lies in its integration across a company and the data gathered when using it. Start with a modern solution that is well integrated and covers 80-85-percent of an organisation’s functional needs. The last mile is by far the most costly and often the one that has the most problematic ROI.

Why look for perfection when 85-percent would help you make a giant leap in efficiency?  Go with as standard a system as you can to start with. Implementation will be significantly reduced, both in terms of cost (three to five times cheaper) and duration (up to ten times faster, in a matter of weeks). A properly integrated system will immediately make your processes more fluid, improve cross-functional collaboration, reduce operating costs; and most importantly, help you understand what you really need for the next step.

I encourage you to have a look at what our customer, Omega Refrigeration, did. They chose to go standard and not only did the company’s ERP system go live in just 44 days, but it started to see benefits just a few weeks after the implementation. Very soon after deployment, Omega Refrigeration was able to plan the expansion of the system.

One of the biggest mistakes often made is attempting to replicate existing business processes within a new system. It implies significant tweaks in the ERP system through customisation. On top of making life miserable for future upgrades, it also changes the way an ERP solution behaves, severely curbing the benefit that is derived from all the best practices that has led to the development of the built-in processes. Performance can also be dramatically reduced and future evolutions will be more difficult to leverage.

Implementing a new ERP system is a great opportunity to re-think processes. We love to think we are different, and guess what, it’s true! But being different doesn’t mean we are totally unique. Step back and try to honestly define what makes you better and more competitive than your competition.  This is what counts at the end of the day, and you will probably end up with two or perhaps three processes that are really distinctive. At most five percent of your system will recognise this difference, not 50-percent.

This past April, I had the privilege of visiting the Marussia F1 Team in Banbury, England, one of Sage ERP X3’s customers.  I spoke to Kevin Lee, their Operations Manager, and he lives by an expression that I often use, ‘walk before you run’. He applies this principle to everything he does to improve the team’s competitiveness in Formula 1.

Lee enacted this principle when he implemented his new ERP system and succeeded:

  • Implementation time – Eight weeks
  • Number of specific developments to address F1 needs – Zero

Go for standard solutions and after a period of usage, say 9 to 12 months, you will be able to make informed decisions on where to channel your investment to differentiate yourself in the market.  Once that is done, make sure you have as many people as possible using your ERP system.  ERP software is not a specialist play and it is certainly not only for accountants or plant managers. Everyone, one way or another, should use the system, starting with you. This is important because your ERP system will be your decision-making tool and based on the collected data, you will run reports, analysis or even simulations.

These activities will really add value if your database truly represents your business. To get there you need to ensure everyone contributes to it – the experienced and the non-technical alike. You can even open your system to those outside of your own organisation who also contribute to your business. Your customers, your partners and your suppliers can definitely enrich your data set, which will help you make better decisions.

Integration is key.  Integration means encouraging people in different functions to work together. This will open up a new field of efficiency through collaboration. ERP software will help you organise the social nature of your business and support a better, more natural and organised way of collaborating for greater efficiency, better problem solving, but also to promote innovation.

Before running like Usain Bolt, make sure you can walk.

Five tips to choosing the right ERP system:

  1. ‘Start small’ with a standard solution across your company
  2. Progress quickly within a few weeks,
  3. Learn through experience
  4. Encourage usage across and outside your organisation
  5. Make informed decisions for additional investments that will make you more competitive.

By Anja Hartman, HR Director for Softline VIP, part of the Sage Group Plc.

Anja Hartman-Weitz

Anja Hartman-Weitz

People are at the top of the agenda in many a company with the war for talent intensifying in many business sectors.  It is therefore crucial for the Human Resources (HR) department to recognise the value that it brings in terms of helping the business to compete in finding the right talent.

The future of HR however depends on its business presence.  You need to have the mindset of a business role-player first and then an HR professional to understand the contribution that HR can make to the bigger picture.  It boils down to how well you really know your business and who your clients are, may it be employees, line managers, Exco members, external clients or even investors.  Ask yourself the following questions, to establish whether you understand your business:

  • What are the top three priorities and concerns of your business leaders?
  • Who is your biggest client and why do they use your service or product?
  • Which product/service is the most profitable, and why?
  • What emerging technology trends can influence your business?
  • What socio-economic or political trends might be disruptive to your industry?
  • What is the company’s operating margin?
  • What was the revenue and profit for the previous financial year?

If you are familiar with the needs of the business, your HR practices will reflect that knowledge. The answers to the above questions can help the HR practitioner to achieve business objectives through informed HR desicions.

There are many ways in which HR practices can support business performance.  The principles and philosophies that you implement as an HR professional affect the workplace, the value chain, the company’s value proposition as well as the technology that the company uses.  The people represent the company’s image and its ability to adequately deliver its service or product and it is ultimately your responsibility to shape that image and to align it with the business needs.

The broader HR mandate far exceeds the mere administration of HR technology and policies alone.  The focus has shifted towards the management of talent which includes recruitment, training and development, performance management, talent assessment and succession planning.  As far as the organisation is concerned, HR practices will shape the business structure, rewards, internal communication and process design.

It is crucial that the organisation’s HR strategy underscores that of the business.  HR goals need to be consistent with that of the company’s and need to be designed to make the business strategy happen.  Likewise, HR also needs buy-in from management to mobilise its strategy.

It is therefore necessary to focus on building relationships of trust.  To make an impact in the business the HR professional needs to be confident, have a commercial point of view, be able to speak candidly and influence others. A positive investment in their own personal growth will help any HR professional in this regard.

The key elements to focus on are to create a business presence, to learn the language of your business and to continue with an HR mindset. The ultimate goal is to empower your people and to focus on business results as these are lifelines that keep your business alive.

Most BI thought leadership articles these days include a fairly significant section on mobile data consumption, and how trends are heading in this direction. The predictions from analysts suggest that by 2013, as much as 33% of business intelligence functionality will be consumed via handheld devices.

This inherently sets out to challenge the thinking of traditional BI vendors in terms of how their solutions become relevant in the mobile space. It can be tempting to re-invent the wheel in an effort to lead the charge with something really cool, something that demo’s well, without carefully thinking about what device the majority of customers are likely to use, and how they will consume or interact with the data on this device, and of course, what makes practical sense to add value to their day to day operations and decision making.

Vendors need to understand their customers’ needs implicitly before investing in a mobility strategy so that the right type of information is staged for a particular device, and that the right device is used for that purpose, otherwise it just becomes another useless trend/fad that doesn’t really serve its purpose.

Another key consideration is whether to create an interactive proprietary app that is native to a specific device, or to stage static data to the cloud that can be consumed agnostically on a wide variety of mobile devices. In most cases the former provides a richer user experience, but is this practical in light of how fast the mobile device market is moving?

One could argue, at this stage of the game,  that 80% of consumer needs are satisfied by staging static data via the cloud because it is so much more than what they are accustomed to getting anyway. The reason I say this is that in my experience in providing BI solutions to SMB customers over the last decade, I have seen that sophistication sells, but very seldom does it get implemented to the same degree. Sad but true.

By Charles Pittaway, Managing Director of Softline Netcash

Charles Pittaway

Charles Pittaway

There’s a story about the owner of a fancy private art gallery in London, who was once asked why he went to the trouble of treating even the scruffiest student who walked through his doors with the same courtesy as a rich and well-known buyer.  “You never know who they’re going to marry,” he replied. “Or who they’re going to be.”

There are plenty of consultants out there who will give you exactly the opposite advice about customer service today. 20% of your customers account for 80% of your revenue, they will say.  Treat that 20% like gold: offer them special deals, ask their opinions, remember their birthdays and pamper them with golf days.  The other 80%? Do as little as you can get away with and hope they go away.

This is not really an exaggeration. Here’s a professor of management at Rice University in the US, approvingly describing what happens at a large bank:  “Though customer satisfaction is important, the goal is to increase customer and corporate profitability… First Union estimates that its ‘Einstein’ system will add at least $100 million to its annual revenue. About half of that will come from extra fees and other revenue from unprofitable customers, while the rest will flow from pampering preferred customers who might otherwise leave the bank.”  The rich pay less, and the rest pay more, in other words.

I suspect most people reading this article have experienced being on the wrong end of this calculation.  Whether it’s a bank, a cellphone company or a restaurant, we’ve all been overlooked in favour of someone with a bigger (apparent) bank balance.  “We’re only interested in your money,” these businesses are telling us. “The more money you have to give us, the more attention we will pay you.”

This is not a classy way to treat people. Even worse, it’s not good business. Customer X may not be worth much today, but you have no idea who her friends and family are.  She could be the one who refers your biggest client of the year. And then again, where might Customer X herself be in five years’ time?  And when she finally makes that big deal, who is she going to take her business to – the people who saw her potential from the start, or the ones who only started paying attention when she had cash?

At First Union Bank, customer profiles are flagged red, yellow or green so service representatives know how well to treat them. At Netcash, we’ve made sure our service staff have no way of telling how big a client is – we want every client to be the most important one we have.

I’m with the gallery owner. If you care even the slightest bit about serving your customers well, you will treat every one with exactly the same care and respect. It shouldn’t matter how much money they’re worth to you today.