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The Answer Company: ‘Empathy and agility are the keys to resilience’

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The Answer Co Staff

In our Your Story series, we speak to business owners about the challenges they’re facing and the steps they’re taking to overcome them. Shawn Ostheimer, President of The Answer Company, shares how their focus on support and agility has been the answer to sustaining through coronavirus.

In our 25 years of ERP and technology consulting, this isn’t our first crisis to manage. Y2K slowed us down, and the 2008 financial crisis was significantly challenging for us. Coronavirus is a different monster, but we leveraged our past experiences to remain available to support our clients.

While the current environment has certainly been unpredictable, there is always going to be a degree of uncertainty with managing a business. Successful companies understand uncertainty as a concept, and that to be successful in the long term, they need to be agile. So, we’re focused on how The Answer Company is going to be agile and continue to execute on our vision statement around propelling customers forward.

Even so, it is also essential for us to be empathetic to the business challenges of today. While our past experiences serve as a guide, we know today’s circumstances are a unique opportunity to help companies like never before.

Focus on selling less, supporting more

First, we wanted to ensure we could maintain our full staff, so we participated in the government wage subsidy program to cover our payroll. Once we secured that, we pivoted our strategy in two ways:

  • For our existing client base, we doubled down on our support efforts in helping them to find opportunities for businesses to thrive as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic. The wage subsidy has allowed us to pass down our savings and offer free services to help our clients with projects to be more productive.
  • For new business, we pulled back on selling. We think at this time when many companies are struggling for survival, receiving a sales email or call is the last thing people need. We’re focused on providing everyone with resources to help them navigate through the uncertainty of COVID-19—from how to access government funding to remote workforce policy guidelines and security training.

The Answer Company Team

We have a diverse client base across many industries that are adjusting to this new normal. One of the things we’ve learned from the previous financial crisis was that client support is crucial at a time like this.

Utilize digital tools to remain competitive

Remote working is new for many organizations. The swiftness of the pandemic left many scrambling to adjust. The Answer Company has offices across Canada and has fostered a work from home culture for many years. Having that as part of our culture has helped us to support our clients as they make the transition.

Generally, clients who were in the middle of a buying cycle with us fell into two categories: they were significantly impacted by the coronavirus and weren’t prepared to move forward on projects, or coronavirus accelerated their plan out of necessity or because the bandwidth became available. For example, COVID-19 has driven a lot of online activity given the social distancing orders.

Millions of consumers have developed new online buying habits and behaviors that aren’t likely to change soon due to health and safety fears.

Companies are coming to us for help to either beef up their online presence, or to develop one. They can prioritize moving forward with this type of project now as having an e-commerce system that integrates into the back office is critical.

From cybersecurity to IT infrastructure and data back-up, businesses need to adjust to digital working quickly. For example, something as simple as collecting a check signature is complicated now without electronic payment capability. Business resilience lies within a company’s ability to respond quickly by adapting more modern tools to remain competitive and operate more efficiently.

Use data insights to manage cash flow

We advise our clients to take advantage of their ERP systems to identify and mitigate risks associated with the pandemic—especially as it relates to cash flow management. We recommend initially focusing on the balance sheet to identify where cash is tied up. For example, are you sending out invoices on time? An electronic data interchange (EDI) platform can reduce the order-to-cash cycle time by more than 20%. You can also identify delinquent accounts and implement a collections campaign.

We also recommend increasing your payment options. Some organizations have trouble making payments because there isn’t an option outside of going to an office to issue a check. Organizations with Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) or that accept credit card payments receive payments earlier, which improves cash flow.

For businesses with inventory, reporting and analysis tools can help you determine which products are most profitable and which add little to the bottom line. You can also quickly identify goods with a high turnover versus those that aren’t selling. This type of insight allows you to reduce spend by optimizing your mix and inventory levels.

My top three takeaways

Here’s what’s worked best for our business.

  1. Ask if deferrals and payment options are available. If you want to upgrade your business management system but don’t have the money, as you research provider options, ask if any payment assistance is available during the pandemic.
  2. Look beyond the day-to-day tasks. There are countless options for technology solutions to help your business. Many will streamline your BAU processes. The most valuable options are the ones that provide insights and intelligence to keep you informed about your business health and make better decisions with fewer resources.
  3. Focus on the business issues. It can be easy to get distracted by the bells and whistles that software offers, even if you have a tight budget. We advise our clients to define their business issues clearly, including the root cause, and find cost-effective solutions that can be implemented as efficiently as possible with minimal overhead. This ensures you can onboard the solution and its benefits quickly.

Shawn Ostheimer spoke with Sage Advice’s Ashley Hindsman

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