The Relentless Marketer




By Bill Robinson

Get the word out about your business. Read marketing guru Bill Robinson's new column, debuting today.

The idea that an entrepreneur would actually give customers what they wanted -- and only what they wanted -- sounds a bit naìve these days. Aren't street-smart business people supposed to see "selling ice to the Eskimos" as one of life's peak experiences --- and cultivate that attitude in their salesforce with the same enthusiasm as, say, a genetic engineer trying to develop the perfect head of broccoli?

Richard Austin would tell you no. As the founder and managing director of the British firm Evesham Micros ( he's taken the opposite approach since he founded the firm in 1983 -- and it has helped him create an enterprise with more than 500 employees in 12 offices across the U.K. and $200 million in annual sales.

Like many a fledgling entrepreneur, Austin started out with a simple vision. "I wanted to run a small company and generate a generous income for my family," he says. But he knew that to achieve that goal, he'd have to give them a reason to care about Evesham Micros' success and to stick with him while the company grew.

Austin cultivated this loyalty over the years by giving his employees the opportunity to move up within the company's ranks, rather than forcing them to go elsewhere to get promoted. "I'm just a small businessman, who really doesn't have the leadership skills I want," he acknowledges, "but I do recognize the need to develop and seek out internal leadership. We have a lot of 'homegrown' talent and we don't do much headhunting, if any." Result: Even his first hire is still with the company, 16 years later.

Cultivating employees for the long term gives Austin a huge competitive advantage. When customers come into a store, they're likely to find the same salesperson who has been helping them for years -- someone who knows what their needs are and doesn't waste time trying to "cross sell" or "upsell" them gadgets they'll regret buying later. And because the company has chosen to limit the inventory in its retail stores, it's relatively easy for his sales team to stay up to date "They are not selling ten different brands of PCs, only Evesham PCs," he says. Because they're able to give knowledgeable advice, customers keep coming back.

There are plenty of sophisticated computer tracking systems to help retailers boost their sales. But as Austin realized early, none of them can compete with the power of loyal employees who put the customer first. Too bad more entrepreneurs don't run their businesses like he does.