It will come as a surprise to many that I had no intention of becoming a Zoho partner when I first came across Zoho. Quite the opposite in fact, I was simply looking for a tool to help me do my job.
The first time I came across Zoho I was living in Wiltshire, Southern England, working for a company based in Bangor, North Wales (six hours away), but head quartered in Tel Aviv and the director I reported into was also based in Israel. Try collaborating and keeping each other up to date in that scenario!
Zoho was simple. Oded, my Director, turned it on one day and told me to start using it. I needed no training – as a long term IT sales and marketing professional I liked it immediately. Though perhaps not the, “You haven’t done these items on your to do list” messages that I kept getting from Oded! I had used MS Dynamics and Salesforce in previous jobs so I just got Zoho immediately.
Fast forward one year and I was working on my own – this time for a Swedish company using an antiquated client server-based CRM system that only spoke Swedish and I needed something quick, easy and that would easily stay up to date whether I was on my iPhone or Windows 7 PC while flying around the motorway network in the UK. The Outlook, Exchange and Excel approach to sales management simply wasn’t cutting it and I needed something fast – so I went back to Zoho. A few months later I was hiring my first employee, switching on Zoho Mail because hosted MS Exchange was simply too pricey and within days I was so inspired that I was trying to become a Zoho partner. The problem was that Zoho didn’t really have a partner programme and certainly didn’t have a channel partner programme outside of the USA, and I didn’t have the time to pursue them – I had a day job after all.
A source of inspiration
But as my ambitions grew from being a self-employed sales director to running my own business, I really felt as inspired as the days when I first sold Apple Macs back in the late 1980s. So I became more insistent. Finally I got hold of Ian Wenig and nagged him about becoming a partner until he said yes!Now we have a team of 5 in the UK and 15 in India – of which 5 are full time on Zoho – and more than 150 Zoho clients. And we are growing as fast as I dare, bearing in mind it’s all from revenue at the moment.
But running a cloud-based business is hard. I’d grown up in the corporate world selling systems that my clients always budgeted for on a Capex basis with 3–5 year capital acquisition cycles. Minimum order values of in excess of £250,000. In the cloud world we are talking Opex (operational expenditure) where flexibility and rapid deployment are key and order values are one tenth the size but crucially on a recurring basis. It’s a total U turn.
i-Dynamics customers want the flexibility of a pay-as-you-go model and the agility that can only be achieved when the infrastructure and licensing is available on demand. Furthermore, we don’t have complete control when trying to customise the system to a client’s requirements and, in the early days, we certainly hit a few brick walls well into a project delivery schedule.
Customers just want reliable systems that work for them
From a customer perspective, line of business users (such as sales-, marketing- and customer service directors) no longer want or need to know about the pieces and parts that make their systems work; they just want those systems to keep on working. Immediate answers and being able to speak to someone on the end of a phone, i.e. customer service and excellent support, have become the true deliverables that we need to meet and market our differentiators. That plus our ability to tightly integrate with their current systems to deliver end-to-end process control and visibility. The cloud has enforced a consultative sales approach on us, and protecting our client relationships and on-going services is crucial to our profitability and long term viability.
So many people have said to me ‘white label, white label’ and I say, ‘Rubbish, no one ever white labelled Microsoft in the 80s!’ The only secret here is a passion for what you do and believe in and then building add-ons, whether they are services-based or plug-ins that address a functionality gap. Short sharp, plug and play or plug and replace. Everything we do is expendable and that tends to focus the mind.
In my opinion, cloud computing offers cloud value-added resellers or solution providers a sustainable and profitable business model with strong recurring revenue from service and training engagements. There are, and will be, plenty of opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell to companies looking to broaden the footprint of their cloud-based solutions. For i-Dynamics the future is clearly in the cloud and that cloud is branded Zoho.