In the five years since its foundation, Hove-based Focus 4U has established itself as a significant reseller of fixed line business. In the past two years it has also entered the mobile space, and has just been selected by O2 as one of 30 dealers to join its new Approved programme.
The business has built scale steadily. It has 21 staff, manages a customer base of around 3,000, and works with a network of 40 other resellers to offer broadband as well as fixed line services. It is currently billing over £240,000 of calls, £180,000 of line rental and around £20,000 of broadband on a monthly basis via fixed line providers Gamma, Opal Telecom, Cable and Wireless and BT Wholesale.
But despite its broader remit, and new scale, it has not changed its basic sales philosophy much since it was opened in May 2004 by sales director Chris Goodman (pictured, left) , managing director Ralph Gilbert and financial director Paul Tolhurst. It is still offering a portfolio of communications products – now covering fixed line, broadband and mobile; it still promises to save business customers of any size a significant sum on their costs; and it still goes about lead-chasing by cold calling customers and referrals.
And it claims its key result, its minimal customer churn, shows its customers are hooked on its offers, rates, billing platform and customer service.
Goodman suggests service like his company offers is hard to find. “It is absolutely key. A lot of companies have sales people who only sell; they seal the deal, tell the customer what they want to hear and then disappear forever,” he says.
“With us, the ‘salesperson’ is the only one the customer ever needs to deal with. They make the sale and they then manage the account through its lifetime. They are the account manager and the single point of contact for the customer. And that idea of service is echoed all across our business.”
The company’s trust in its own staff screening tests, in the management skills of the agents it takes on and in the validity of its service offer means, unusually, it does not request the customer signs a contract. Goodman calls the strategy “unique”. Instead, Focus 4U simply bills customers on a monthly basis and trusts its service provision will keep them loyal.
“The customer doesn’t think about the anniversary of the contract, because there isn’t one. Most importantly, the onus is on us to manage the account because we risk losing it if we don’t. All account managers review every customer every six months to ensure the customer is happy and getting the best value for their money,” explains Goodman.
He points out Focus 4U was the first telecoms business to triumph in the Sussex Business Awards in 20 years, when it took home the gong for ‘best small business 2008/9’ in November. Goodman says the knock-on from the award has been that new business has been more receptive to it, with some calling it up for a quotation out of the blue. “It has had a direct influence on how easily we have won certain business. It’s a major achievement and a benefit to the company,” he says.
New adventures in mobile
Focus Mobile, set up in January 2007, has also benefitted. Its three staff include mobile sales manager Keane Beaken (pictured, right), product manager Darren Gander and account manager Dan Taylor. Beaken and Gander joined from Brighton-based mobile B2B dealership Autocall, and the former reckons Focus 4U’s decision to bring in ready-experts in the field has helped.
“Some dealers introduce new products and services to sell, and give their existing staff training in it. It is always a disaster. With us, staff were brought in from the mobile industry when we started this division,” explains Beaken.
Goodman adds: “While customers have continuity with one account manager we have specialists in every area – mobile, fixed, broadband, web design, IT support.”
Focus Mobile connects Vodafone through Yes Telecom and O2 through Fone Logistics (which put it forward as one of 10 dealers for the Approved scheme, which affords partners certain reseller perks such as the Apple iPhone).
Focus 4U currently manages around 1,000 Vodafone connections and 2,500 O2 lines, with some business also on Orange and further scraps with 3 (both also connected via Fone Logistics). In total it bills around £120,000 per month. “The mobile part of the business has boomed, far beyond our expectations,” says Goodman, another Autocall graduate.
“We did 475 mobile connections last month – in the heyday at previous places I worked we probably did 400 connections across nine retail stores; and that was the absolute heyday. There aren’t many mobile dealers of this size, relatively small, putting this much business through.”
The expansion in to the mobile market has been a success to date, surprising even to the business itself. But Goodman admits to initial fears about the venture, with the declining market, but also because of its latent entry and the new commercial model being deployed by the market – ongoing revenue payments. Yes Telecom continues to give a chunk of upfront commission, although it is understood to be reviewing its remuneration package. However, O2’s 100 per cent ongoing revenue model, launched in October last year, has presented Focus 4U with uncertainties.
Focus 4U has worked with ongoing revenue since its fixed line business since day one, but it runs its own billing platform in that market and has clearer sight of the commercial package. It doesn’t control its mobile billing, and connects O2 on Fone Logistics’ adjustment of the O2 commercials. Yes Telecom is different because it essentially pays an upfront commission for Vodafone business still, plus a supplementary ongoing commission of around 10 per cent typically.
Yes Telecom’s current ongoing revenue payment is taken merely as a welcome bonus, and the customer offer is worked out from the upfront commission only. The model carries less risk of exposure to clawback than the O2 pay structure.
Beaken explains: “With O2, it’s the only thing you have. We rarely factor the ongoing revenue from Yes Telecom into a deal; it effectively becomes extra money. O2 is different.”
Goodman says: “With mobile, everyone is stuck in their ways. Customers want everything for nothing, they don’t want to pay for their handsets. So dealers have to carry out guesswork to establish how much money they are going to make over the period of the contract.”
Beaken adds: “There is an element of risk with O2. If the customer goes bust, you could be seriously out of pocket as that money is all going to be clawed back. You have to look at what the customer is spending, and you don’t know that for sure except on line rental. The first calculation is how much you know you will get, the rest is guess work. You have to work out the best and worst case scenarios. Generally speaking, we take a gamble and generally fall somewhere in the middle.”
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