In the latest of our ‘Meet the 2022 SMA Shortlisters’ series, CRN talks to Katie Sloan (pictured), marketing director at Core Technology Systems, to talk about its impressive growth, how the pandemic has shaped its working patterns and staying close to partners and customers. The firm is shortlisted for five SMA awards this year: Best New Business Win, Best Marketing Campaign, Best Sales Team, The Over and Above Award, and Best Company to Work For (sub £100m turnover)
How has your business evolved over the past year? Has the pandemic changed how you plan for the future and how you view and execute sales and marketing strategies?
The last couple of years have highlighted the need for businesses to be ready to adapt to whatever obstacles the market throws at them, at any time. At Core, we've had to adapt too, but we've been really proud of the speed in which we've been able to produce new go-to-market propositions, such as our Core Smart Services, that help customers to have the technology and IT support they need to be adaptable, productive, and efficient, without the high or unexpected costs.
Our marketing strategy has been a bit more experimental in 2022 as we took the temperature of the market post-pandemic, assessing whether our customers and prospects were keen on getting back to face-to-face events, whether traditional marketing activities might have more success, and whether the audience was fatigued from virtual events and remote communication. This has helped us adapt our strategy to optimise automated lead generation whilst nurturing our customer and partner relationships, and this has resulted in revenues that have broken 31-year Core Sales records in 2022, with 95 per cent of our 2021 year-end revenue achieved already by June 2022 and 30 per cent projected growth by the end of the year.
With many firms insisting staff return to the office for at least part of the week since the pandemic ended, how is your company operating in 2022? Is it a mix of homeworking and office working, or fully office based?
Even prior to the pandemic, Core operated on a largely remote working model, with approximately 75 per cent working from home in the UK and Poland. Post pandemic, we have around 85-90 per cent working from home most of the week, and we have relocated our office to a shared workspace building in London which is more energy efficient and sustainable. Our employees have the flexibility to be in the office, network, have face-to-face meetings, or have the flexible option to work remotely using Microsoft Teams and the Microsoft 365 suite of apps. Like Core, we encourage our customers to adopt the model that best suits their business requirements, and we call this Smart Working. Adopting this model has helped to reduce our travel and further improve our carbon footprint.
What is more of a hybrid model at the moment, is the mix of in-person and Teams meetings with customers and partners, as we adapt to what they are most comfortable with. With other disruptions like transport strikes and the cost of living and travel going up, we are still seeing a lot of customers preferring Teams meetings to face-to-face.
How do you keep your staff motivated? Do you have any special incentives/schemes that they take part in?
We've found that our Smart Working model is assisting with improvements to health and wellbeing and talent acquisition and retention in a challenging market for employees looking to hire more people. The benefits that come with Smart Working have helped us to move the focus from only bigger salaries, to enjoying more work and development opportunities, and creating sustainable work life balance.
We have a very positive culture at Core, with employees' values aligned to our company values resulting in a lot of motivation to achieve a common goal. We are very customer-centric, and doing what we can to solve customer problems and transform businesses through technology is deeply rooted in our culture.
During the pandemic, we wanted to keep the team connected so we hosted virtual social events including murder mysteries, virtual escape rooms, comedians, and quizzes, and now that we can return to the office, we are hosting a face-to-face social event every month in London, and a quarterly company-wide activity and social event such as darts at Flight Club, Junkyard Golf and bowling.
We also host "Friday Shout Outs" on Teams, where we provide recognition to those who have demonstrated company values or done something significant, and we all cheer each other on. We have training opportunities and feedback channels, and this helps address any ongoing challenges including how we can help motivate individuals as well as teams.
How have you managed to stay close to your partners and customers over the past year?
We have a great relationship with our customers and partners, including our very close relationship with Microsoft. We've had regular feedback sessions with our partners and work with them on co-hosted webinars and joint propositions. We've started having some face-to-face meetings and events with our partners and customers again, and it's wonderful to get their open feedback and develop relationships in person. Part of adapting our sales and marketing strategy to create the Core LE&P program (Lean, Engage & Plan) involved providing the opportunity to better connect with our customers through educational and informative events, engaging discovery workshops and collaborative deployment planning.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for the channel in the past year, in your opinion?
The channel has not only had to navigate challenges as a result of the pandemic, war in Ukraine, supply chain issues, increased cyber security threats, and transport strikes in the last 12 months, but also had to adapt to unpredictable and changing customer behaviour and budget priorities as a result of these impacts.
More recently, channel businesses are facing rising resource costs with higher salary expectations from candidates being approached for more opportunities since hybrid and remote working have removed previous geographical barriers. This means that it's more important than ever for businesses to be an attractive hiring company and offer more than just a competitive salary to be able to maintain competitive pricing for customers.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
We are most looking forward to continued growth and success with our existing customers, as well as continued new business growth. As we engage with more businesses, we continue to develop our propositions to respond to market needs with smart, innovative solutions and services. We're also on a strategic acquisition path, and look forward to hopefully announcing an acquisition in the coming months that will expand our geographic footprint and capability. We're also keen to further develop and launch our sustainability and charitable initiative strategies later this year.