The Missing DM Business Link: Long Term Vision?

24 July 2017

With thanks to DM Collaborators we reproduce a recent interview conducted at the AIIM Forum, with our SVP, International Markets, John Symon, 
What’s the Boss Equity view on the DM market as it stands today, John?

I can’t remember a time of greater change, and I have been in this sector since the early days of microfilm, so that’s saying something. The user experience has changed so much, from mobile to cloud to consumer IT – everything has altered radically from even, say, how it was just 5 years ago. Content has broadened and changed too. For example, we’re starting to see demand for the capture, process and analysis of both audio and video. However, the business problems actually haven’t changed – organisations still face the same challenges they always have in terms of making the most out of their information and data assets. Viewed on that perspective, this is still fundamentally an Information Management market.

That’s why I’m a bit sceptical about TLAs (three letter acronyms) and what the sector calls itself. I am not sure there’s a huge amount of value in rebranding DM or ECM as “Content Services”, or whatever else the analysts come up with. The rapidity of technological change actually makes that debate a bit confusing, in my view.

So what should DM companies be doing instead, if not rebranding what they do, John?

What a lot of business owners and DM company leaders in this sector often get wrong is some key business fundamentals. They should focus more about differentiating their company, defining their USP, rather than simply following the competition. Look at building scalability and replicability into the solutions being offered to give the business real legs and the ability to solve specific business challenges. Find the right niche and try to dominate it.

Why do you say that?

90% of technology companies never get to 20 or 30 M ($,euro,£) turnover. To be honest, 80% never get to much more than 1 million.

What’s your point there?

Many software tech firms are very poor at looking at the long term and the bigger picture, figuring out how to achieve the greatest value and impact for what they do. There’s too much focus on technical issues, features and functions, and not enough on building stickiness, customer loyalty and ways to build for long-term growth and success. The building blocks aren’t there to become huge brands – you just have to look at the average DM firm’s website; not attractive enough, not compelling enough. This is your front door to a much broader international pool of prospective customers. Adopting new, innovative digital marketing techniques can dramatically increase sales, generating a consistent pipeline of qualified leads.

What’s the way to turn this round then, and build for that long-term growth?
What I am talking about is more fundamental – it’s why you started your business in the first place and what you want out of it at the end? Look at ways to build value in other areas than just the technology itself, to accelerate growth. Gain a greater understanding the competitive landscape and identify where the real opportunities lie. This is what needs to be the centre of your activity, not worrying about what the analysts are saying the software should be called. Users don’t care about that anyway, they care about their issues and if you can help resolve them.

So this is about M&A, what Boss Equity does?

Yes, there is currently a lot of M&A activity in this sector, which surprises some people as they think all DM related M&A’s have happened, but that’s only been at the high end – the bigger vendors. A lot of smaller, midsize, players are now talking to us, from new start-ups to long established vendors seeking to get a return for many years of their sweat equity. While the DM market has consolidated at the top end, there is increasing convergence with other technologies such as CRM and other customer communication related technologies. Historically, DM technologies addressed mainly back office processes & functions. In recent years this has dramatically shifted to include more front office (customer facing) sets of solutions. The result has broadened the scope and opportunities for increased M&A activity.

Summing up, John, what is your message to the dmcollaborators readership?

My message is simple: work on clearly articulating your business value proposition based on market demand. Think about scalability and replicability. Don’t try to go too broad, too early, but rather address specific business problems in a market where you are the most likely to succeed.

Above all establish what the end goal is for the business. Ensure there is alignment of vision and objectives for both the key stakeholders and employees. This requires having an exit strategy to be put in place, early in the lifecycle of the business. Given the current market landscape, the window of opportunity to succeed has been dramatically shortened. Sudden market shifts in buyer behaviour and the impact of disruptive technologies can quickly wipe out the value of many software tech companies.

It is all about unlocking the equity value in the business to accelerate growth and “priming” the business for a successful exit. Like most things in life, timing is everything!

Very useful stuff, John – thanks for the advice!

John Symon is SVP International Markets at Boss Equity, a company that specialises in mergers and exit strategy planning for tech sector SMEs.

John has over 35 years of sales & marketing experience in the Information Management sector, developing new business for hardware, software & service vendors in the USA, Europe, UK, Latin America & Asia Pacific regions.

While SVP AIIM International he assisted with the establishment of the DLM (Document Lifecycle Management) Forum, an EU supported initiative for archivists and administrators in the public sector across Europe. He has also owned and operated a specialist scanning service business, and is an AIIM Fellow. At Boss Equity he is active in all M&A research & projects, and international business development.

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