4 minute read

Coping with the learning curve

Written by Mike Finn

“I find that I am unsubscribing from things I want to receive but I haven’t had time to read; even the top article.” Jonathan Gerson, founder and managing director of Dorset Software isn’t just making an observation.

Actually, he has a very interesting take on the subject. “Never before in history has there been such an explosion of technology. It has happened, is happening, so quickly that there hasn’t been much of a learning curve,” he explains.

 “Just consider how long it took from the creation of the wheel to the invention of the car. But we’ve gone from having mobiles to make calls to using them for practically everything. It’s as if, relatively speaking, an alien spacecraft landed and dropped off new technology with us.”

And he provides a telling analogy. “From the time that the wheel was invented, the way we travelled evolved fairly slowly; not just with the mode of transport, but with who could afford it. The rollout was slow. It’s not like that with technology. It’s accelerated so much faster than that and is so accessible to everyone. In some ways, it’s led to companies using it just because it’s there, not necessarily in the way that’s best for them or their customers.”

So how does business cut through it all? Not by trying to make unnecessary accommodations between ‘digital’ and ‘analogue’.

 “We’re doing it not by banning paper but rather we’re using digital communication in responsive and dynamic ways to improve on the paper form, rather than just replicating it,” Gerson says.

One of the ways the company does that is by creating an interactive proposal site for each client. This method lets them convey the information much more clearly than a printed version. And it also means that Dorset Software can continually improve by seeing and responding to how users behave on the site.

Since it was established more than thirty years ago, the company has maintained a 100% record of delivering IT consultancy, development, and management projects on time and to budget to private and public sector clients including Waitrose, NHS Litigation Authority, Penguin Random House Distribution, and the London Borough of Wandsworth.

According to Gerson, digital communication has to be customer-centric rather than company focused, but that in itself is a science now.

 “The problem is that it’s easy to blat information out to all and sundry seemingly all of the time. It is better to give customers the information they need, at the time they need it. “

“We have divided our business into six brands, each with its own digital presence, and we create specific information which is relevant. So prospects or customers can either be shown that information, or request it, when they want it.

“It makes the whole experience for the user much more useful, as well as giving us details of people who are genuinely interested in finding out more.

“If a website is so obsessed with selling, it will miss the point. The acid test is that the website should provide information quicker and with more clarity than any non-digital form of marketing. If the website can’t deliver that, then it’s counter-productive.

“The companies which are best at delivering that are able to detect who you are and lead you to the next step accordingly. The big thing for us is the call to action; we want those who are interested to talk to one of our account managers because we’re not selling a commodity at present.

For us, it is ultimately about making human contact, and to encourage that we have telephone and email symbols on the side of a page, a ‘call me’ box which comes up at appropriate moments, already populated with as much relevant material gleaned from the person’s time on our site.

“I think one problem is that companies don’t realise they shouldn’t go live until customer facing functionality is all in place, otherwise they’re only creating a grandiose electronic brochure.”

And he suggests a blended approach to communication post-sale. An account manager at Dorset Software will maintain regular contact with the client and with the help of the internet, will know when to call clients with a specific purpose.

“How much better for an account manager to phone to say they are pleased to see from the client’s website that they’re taking on a new service line and to ask if there is anything we can do to help,” Gerson suggests.

What is interesting is that Dorset Software treat a prospect as the customer of the sales department. “We’re not selling as such,” Gerson interjects, “but matching clients and our products and services. That’s because with the internet, the prospective customer is much more informed, so a sales person has to be an advisor now.

That means, for example, that instead of reading out a list of rates they have to be able to suggest a way of doing something which enables the perspective customer to see that they are gaining real value. Digitisation should free up the sales person to undertake what you could describe as a business concierge service.”

But while the prospective customer is now more informed when they get in touch for the first time, does it mean they are necessary so savvy about themselves?

“When we are in the position of being a potential customer we can all be slightly delusional or unrealistic,” laughs Gerson. “We can come to a supplier more informed about the service or product, but not necessarily the deployment and utilisation.”