Extending an Olive branch to customers

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After a gap of six years, Mobile News revisits Olive Communications at its plush new HQ and finds it in rude health, as one of the UK’s fastest-growing indirect dealer partners. Michael Garwood reports

B2B dealer Olive Communications has come a long way from the firm Mobile News first visited in 2007. Back then the company occupied a modest office situated down the road from Carphone Warehouse HQ in Acton.

Its primary business focus at the time was almost exclusively T-Mobile – but a surprise termination left some to think at the time that its days were numbered.

Not so. Having switched allegiances to Vodafone – and more recently partnering with O2 – Olive is now one of the fastest growing indirect dealer partners in the UK, and having acquired fellow Platinum Wish Communications as Mobile News went to print, has a base in excess of 110,000 connections.

Today, the firm is housed down the M4 in High Wycombe, occupying a plush, modern and spacious office.

The move was prompted by a mix of practicality, given the firm’s substantial rise in staff numbers (which we’ll come to), and the need to create the right impression for clients.

Olive MD Martin Flick explains as we walk through the firm’s impressive products and services demonstration suite:

“We have big customers and some big aspirations so it’s right we have a decent office that’s presentable, that you can bring customers to. It’s fit for purpose.

“It’s part of the process of becoming more professional, more developed as an organisation and building some scale.

“The culture we are instilling in our staff is that we want to obsess about customer satisfaction. We want to be very professional in our approach and the environment you work in is an important part of that – which is one of the reasons we moved into this office.”

New direction

Flick joined Olive in December, having left Azzurri, a firm with an £120 million turnover and 750 staff, after eight years. He replaced Olive owner Mark Geraghty, who has taken on a more “back-seat” position as group manager. Flick has also become an equity partner in the business.

Flick explains the lure of Olive stemmed from a long friendship between the two, with Geraghty once a salesman at Flick’s previous firm Axxent Voice and Data, which was sold to Azzurri in 2004.

“Mark worked for me in this business, and was one of our sales guys working for me. He then left me just before we sold and set up on his own. We have remained friends ever since and then he asked me to come back as an equity partner in December,” he says.

“We started discussing going into business together as he wanted to take the step from being an owner-managed smaller business, like a lot of the indirect businesses are, to becoming a full-on enterprise grade organisation.

“Mark had taken Olive to a point where they had grown phenomenally and built a great team and customer base. They wanted to take it to the next level and broaden their expertise in the management team, which is why I joined.”

Acquisitions and familiar faces

As Mobile News went to press, confirmed acquisition numbers for Olive stood at nine in the past two years, accounting for almost 70,000 connections (45,000 from Wish), the majority of which are on Vodafone.

During this time, staff numbers at Olive have rocketed – through a mix of retaining those at the businesses acquired, but also as a result of a change in management strategy.

By the end of 2012, staff numbers had gone from 15 to 65. Since Flick arrived, numbers have tipped 80, including familiar faces from his previous business ventures. These include Paul Butler, co-founder of Axxent Voice and Data with Flick in 1997, who arrived as commercial director, and Gráinne Gormley, who joined in April from Azzurri as head of corporate sales, having spent seven years as a business development manager.

“Since I started, we’ve brought in 20 or more people – and that will continue to rise as part of our growth plans,” he says.

Restructure

Part of Flick’s remit was to enhance the firm’s credentials in the market – boosting its portfolio and focusing beyond just  mobile. And while Olive has in recent months placed a keen eye on the corporate end – and has a healthy number of corporate accounts on its books – it remains true to its heritage, acquiring and supporting those in the SME space.

To do this, Flick has reorganised the business, effectively segregating the two bases and enabling dedicated staff to focus on each.

Smaller customers are now managed from a desk-based team in Olive’s Hatfield office, which ensures all enquiries are dealt with, while conducting quarterly reviews for each customers.

The larger customers are typically managed by a field-based team – each visiting and managing customers’ accounts on a more personal basis.

Flick explains: “Olive was once very focused on the low end but that’s changed quite a lot, because we are now equally focused on all ends of the market and we think we can cover both really well.

“The requirements from customers are often very similar but the approach differs greatly, which is why we have segregated our base into two segments.

“Our desk-based team in Hatfield is tasked specifically with managing our smaller customers and obsesses about customer satisfaction. We have some really good, loyal customers in that space, with good spend and a high dependency on their device.

“That team is managed entirely independently of our corporate team, which manages the larger customers from a field-based perspective. We have a really solid account development plan – each of our customers has a specific number of customers they are managing and there is a very structured way in which they are managed.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 548 (September 23, 2013).

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