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Managing If Amazon had stuck to books, it would be a different company

Shift IT Solutions Inc. changed its strategy from offering an à la carte approach, to offering all-encompassing IT services. Though the company now has fewer clients, revenue grew.

When Dave Mason and Andrew Carey founded Shift IT Solutions Inc. in 2009, their goal was simple: to provide à la carte IT services to small companies.

However, they quickly discovered that there were two major flaws with that strategy.

“[We] found in the marketplace that smaller companies are tight on cash and that, most importantly, when you give people in our industry an à la carte menu of services, they don’t necessarily pick the ones that they should,” Mr. Mason says.

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So, with the company barely three years old, the pair decided to change things up. Rather than going after the smallest businesses, they targeted what Mr. Mason describes as “the middle of the middle,” companies in the 30-70-employee range, although they do have one client with about 225 people.

The other switch they made was to do away with the à la carte approach, and simply offer all-encompassing IT services. As a result, Shift now operates in only four areas: complete IT management, data backup and recovery, network security and a help-desk service.

Mr. Mason acknowledges that, while he occasionally gets some pushback on price because the services that Shift now sells are more expensive than the à la carte menu offered by some of its competitors, the company set out to educate customers about what it believes to be the advantages of the all-encompassing approach.

“We became Shift IT for so many reasons where we’re trying to shift the mindset of the customer from how to buy this service,” he says. “IT isn’t a line item cost like your office cleaning, it’s a productivity tool that empowers your business.”

The pivot paid off almost instantly for the company. Though the company now has fewer clients, revenues soared, with a 454-per-cent spike in the first couple of years following the switch, according to the company, though that has now levelled off somewhat. It has also grown to 11 employees.

“We had substantial revenue growth and we’ve kind of planed off in the last few years,” Mr. Mason says. “[We’re] growing, [about] a 10-per-cent revenue growth per year or thereabouts.”

As the founders of Shift IT Solutions discovered, targeting the right audience for a product or service can be a tricky proposition at the outset, particularly if a company is trying to guess what customers want.

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One way to counteract that is to engage with customers in order to gain the kind of feedback that allows a company to modify its product or services, according to one expert.

Accenture's Daniel Marquez: 'Have the abilities in place, not just to try and anticipate what your customers are thinking but to actually tap into them directly and engage with your customers to hear their direct feedback and then use that.'

Accenture

“You want to place a fairly confident bet at the outset but that ability to then learn and pivot is even more important than your first position,” says Daniel Marquez, senior manager, technology strategy at Accenture in Toronto.

“Have the abilities in place, not just to try and anticipate what your customers are thinking but to actually tap into them directly and engage with your customers to hear their direct feedback and then use that.”

Those interactions could take place through loyalty programs or on various social media channels, but given how swiftly new social media platforms can launch and gain traction, it is important for companies that want to go that route to stay flexible and open to new things.

Accenture's Nicholas Bayley: 'I talk a lot with companies I serve about being resilient and just being flexible because the way you are communicating across multiple channels is going to change, guaranteed, within six months.'

Accenture

“We see so many new social media outlets for business every day so just being aware and being able to adapt" to when customers move to different channels or platforms is important, says Nicholas Bayley, managing director, strategy at Accenture in Canada.

“I talk a lot with companies I serve about being resilient and just being flexible because the way you are communicating across multiple channels is going to change, guaranteed, within six months.”

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As Mr. Marquez explains, business leaders should have a clear view of what they are expecting from their investment when they pursue new opportunities and have a clear understanding of when they intend to take a pause to test the amount of progress that they have or haven’t made and how effective their strategy has been. That way they can figure out if a business pivot is necessary.

This can be a fine line, though, as being overly rigid with this approach can see companies throw in the towel where staying the course a little longer might bring success. However, the inverse is also true, where being too forgiving in a self-assessment can see capital thrown away on a lost cause, he adds.

But the rewards are certainly there for companies that can listen to their customers and change their product or service as a result.

“There’s a lot of big success stories of organizations that started offering something and because they were able to learn and listen to their customers, they were able to make these wide pivots and focus on where the real value is,” he says. “If Amazon had always said, well, we’re a book store online forever, they never would have become what they are today.”

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