Mark Robotham's Blog

Have Clarity = Get Results

Mark Robotham's Blog

Grow or Die – M&A the Answer to Export Success

Failure to get critical mass is burning out NZ exporters – adopt a M&A plan  

NZ business people have a great ability to create world-beating products and solutions, yet our track record of building long-term sustainable high growth businesses is poor, why?   We  are “failing to build companies of suitable critical mass to conquer international markets”. 

We are suffering  the curse of our own “DIY – control mentality”. This is getting in the way of our businesses attaining the critical mass required to master the real game on the global stage. The very stuff that helps us get started is getting in the way of long-term sustainability.  

Let’s take the example of a fertile niche industry like Baby products:  

  • The opportunity is prime – a market where globally people are having fewer children, later in life and spending more on the children. Given this backdrop you would think business would boom. But we have numerous small players operating in the baby market in NZ (turnovers sub $5M), all with great innovation selling single products to international distribution chains.  You can just imagine a Sunday night in Auckland Koru lounge; in there we have a bunch of eager solo operators selling non competing products all heading to the same market, talking to the same distributors.
  • These export road warriors are simply going to burn themselves out before they achieve success.


Typical day at the office for an exporter

In any other culture I would suggest that these small businesses collaborate. However kiwi business owners do not have the desire  to collaborate. Perhaps it is the fear losing control that gets in the way or the feeling that someone else will screw it up or perhaps just a plain overdose of “not invented here syndrome”.  

Another very evident cultural hang up is failure to talk to competitors or fellow industry players; learn to talk about your business without giving away the “secret sauce”.  

Looking ahead I believe that NZ has yet to feel the true impact of the global financial crisis. In order to turn our economy around we need to adopt a new game plan.  

My advice to business owners is to forget collaboration, adopt a new game plan of Merger and Acquisition (M&A). Use the leverage of the true commitment , that can only be gained by joint ownership. I often quote the bacon and eggs story: The hen is involved, the pigs committed!  

An M&A strategy is just as valid for small business as the corporate giants.  When doing these deals it’s important to focus on the long-term game and huge opportunity cost of not doing the deal. There are plenty of ways to structure deals without the need for cash now.  

Hunt down other aligned small businesses and explore the opportunities for complete integration of your businesses. The synergistic benefits of M&A for SME’s are numerous:  

  • Shared commitment – no longer the need to sweat the hard stuff alone as owners.
  • The volume to justify hiring of specialist skills in the business e.g. channel (distributor) management, Sales etc.
  • With a broader product offering the ability to increase averages sale price with resulting lower cost of sale

Yes the M&A process will take some effort. Do not forget the important process of post deal integration, it will need careful planning and support.  The bottom line is that overall your probability of success will improve along with a M&A strategy.


Free Business PlanTraining – Help

Lost on how to create a business plan –  no budget.

Well the Te Wānanga o Aotearoa provides FREE business training services around the country.
Turns out these training services are available for every one!

Check out these two courses that will get you started:

Also do not forget the NZTE business plan guide and templates on

Don’t Confuse Networking With Card Swapping

Networking Tips

Effective networking is one of the best ways to build your business yet so many people do it so wrong.

The number one failing by business people is the delusion that –  card swapping equals networking. Card swapping benefits two parties – the printing industry and the cleaners.


At your next networking event spot these people:

Homer Simpsons: Hanging out with their mates and eating and drinking.  – Just go to a bar
Stalkers: Hounding the most famous person in the room – they will not remember who you are in the morning
Date Hunters:
chatting up the pretty people – this works (this is how I found my beautiful wife) but not good for building business
Card Sharks: thrusting cards into everyone’s hand – measuring success by the number of cards they bring back to the office – too many people operate like this

So how should you approach a networking event?

Aim to meet 1- 3 new people:  The goal of attending any networking event should be to commence establishment of 1 to 3 new relationships. There are plenty of networking opportunities; you will not build an entire network in one event. A relationship is based on knowing people well enough so that when you call them in six months’ time, they will remember who you are.  This is never done with simply swapping cards and giving them your elevator pitch. Take your time and get to know them and their business. My goal when I attend a conference is to make one new real connection.

Prepare your Elevator pitch: Make sure the first 60 secs that comes out of your mouth describes something about how you solve problems for your customers – not a speech about you and your technology or craft. Get outside help on testing your elevator pitch – look at attending an GMC Power Pitching workshop

Qualify your audience: Make an assessment on people, if they are not for you and they thrust a card in your hand – put their card into a different pocket and dump their card ASAP. If there is something of interest, dig deeper and remember to ask about them.

Talk to competitors: NZ SME’s do not work well with competitors. Learn to talk about your business without giving away the ‘secret sauce’. Explore opportunities for mergers and acquisitions or just plain collaboration.

Post Event: Follow up with an email or call in the next day or so – not from the other side of the room or in the car park as it appears desperate!

Linkedin: is a powerful free networking tool. As well as providing an up to date database of your network, it more importantly gives you access to your network’s network. Start with a basic profile today if you do not already have one. The best uses of linkedin are: (i) reference checking new employees from your network, rather than those listed on the cv (ii) Getting introductions into businesses (iii) accessing potential employees, and (iv) participating in online interest group discussions. An interesting fact is in USA 80% of job placements are initiated via LinkedIn.

Groom and qualify your network: Take the time to groom and nurture your best contacts – use a contact schedule to make sure you stay on their radar – pass on links to relevant information to them.

Give and you shall receive: Relationships do not happen overnight, earn the trust and respect before asking favours.


KEA: Kiwi Expats Abroad is an international network of passionate Kiwi’s who live abroad that want to help NZ businesses grow international markets

Time for business to join the conversation

Reprint of Herald article 

Social networking sites such as Facebook give companies another arena to communicate with customers.

New Zealanders are enthusiastic social networkers – with more than 1.6 million signed up on Facebook alone – but marketing experts say local businesses are struggling to cash in on that enthusiasm. 

While most companies still have it placed in the too-hard basket, the social networking phenomena can be harnessed to improve the way businesses respond to customers and research their markets, says Richard Binhammer, a senior social media manager with computer maker Dell. 

Texas-based Binhammer was among a line-up of speakers at a Dell event in Sydney last month which included marketing experts from New Zealand and Australian companies, including Air New Zealand, that have spent money to tap local customer interest in social media. 

Binhammer echoed the views of his boss, Dell founder Michael Dell, who has driven the company’s social media strategy from the premise that businesses have no option but to listen to what customers are saying about them online. 

“These [social networking] conversations are going to occur whether you like it or not. Do you want to be part of that or not?” Michael Dell has said.

“My argument is you absolutely do. You can learn from them. You can improve your reaction time. And you can be a better company by listening and being involved in that conversation.” 

The case for “being involved” has been put bluntly by US author Erik Qualman who said: “The ROI [return on investment] of social media is that your business will still exist in five years.” 

Speakers at the Sydney event said social networking had the potential to be used as a means for turning staff loyalty – and employees’ enthusiasm for their jobs – into a marketing and market research tool. For that to happen, however, the strategy needed to be led by senior management within an organisation, they said. 

That approach was being taken at Air New Zealand, where one of chief executive Rob Fyfe’s goals has been to turn all the company’s staff into “brand ambassadors,” said Air NZ’s head of social media, Tom Bates. 

The airline has been among the most innovative and visible local business users of social networking sites. 

It has more than 29,000 followers of its main Facebook page and more than 20,000 users following two Twitter accounts: one focused on general interactions with customers and a second for its “Airpoints Fairy” identity, which gives away travel rewards. 

Last month the company launched a rewards programme on Foursquare, a start-up social networking site where members use GPS-enabled mobile devices to share their location with others in real-time. 

Logging into an Air NZ location gives Foursquare users the chance to win airpoints prizes. 

Bates said while it was too early to measure the success of the Foursquare initiative, it had been met with a positive response from users and had not involved any marketing spend. It had only been promoted by “word-of-mouth” and via the company’s other social media channels. 

Dell, a natural player on the social media stage because of its background as an online-only retailer, has been refining its strategies in this type of marketing since 2006. 

Binhammer said Dell’s social media endeavours have included its “Swarm” programme which encourages members to join its network by promoting discounts on the company’s products which grow as the membership count increases. 

On Twitter, the company is turning over several million dollars selling end-of-line stock and special offers through its Dell Outlet account which has more than 1.5 million followers. 

Binhammer said corporate social media required a “glasshouse philosophy” or a transparency which in Dell’s case encourages the company’s employees to use one Twitter account for both work and personal use. (His account name is RichardAtDell). 

The benefit to businesses of this approach was that “people buy from people,” he said. Online shoppers, for example, were increasingly relying on referrals from people they knew, or at least interacted with online through shared communities of interest, rather than making purchasing decisions based on search engine results. 

Mike Hickinbotham, a senior social media adviser at Australian telecommunication company Telstra, told the Sydney event a key aspect of making use of social networking for businesses was ensuring all staff behaved in an appropriate manner online. 

To help achieve this, Telstra had implemented a basic training programme in public relations which was given to all the company’s staff. 

Telstra had also instituted simple social media guidelines rather than develop a detailed policy. Staff were asked to be clear about who they were representing when engaging online, to take responsibility for ensuring that any references to Telstra were accurate and did not breach confidentiality agreements, and that they showed respect for individuals and online communities. 


New Zealand businesses have been slow to embrace social networking but globally more than 300,000 companies have a presence on Facebook, a third of them small businesses. 

Here are some tips for a successful social media strategy for businesses.
* Review your company’s work culture and brand values. Ensure they are clear and appropriate before launching them online.
* Start by assessing what is being said about the business online. It’s like going to a dinner party with new friends: observe first then participate in conversation.
* Decide how social networking can specifically assist your business. Identify potential social media projects and the staff who will participate in them.
* Test your strategy and be prepared to adapt it quickly if required.
* No business is immune from criticism on social networks. Even technology-product darling Apple has been stung recently by a popular “I hate Apple” Facebook page. 

Mark Robotham is an Auckland-based business consultant. He travelled to Sydney as a guest of Dell.

Better IT solutions to meet real needs of SME’s

IT Departments Holding SME’s Hostage!

As I sit in another Koru lounge at the end of a business day, I take a tally how many people are carrying more than one cell phone – typically the i-phone and the corporate issue device.

A classic case of a hostage situation in progress!

Some where in the drive for efficiency and cost effectiveness the purpose to service the business got lost.

Last week I meet an employee of an organisation in a sales- account management role, she was walking around with a hand bag full of gadgets. Because of antiquated IT policies she has separate devices for home, work and in frustration she admits most of the time it gets to hard so she leaves them all at home.

The conversation goes like this …

“I know I could have a mobile office on my i-phone… but our IT Department will not support it”  “I am out of the office and I cannot access my email or calendar”

CEO’s take stock of your internal departments, structures and processes and work out who is being best served, and do you “actually” have good value for money.  Times are tough, platforms have changed it could be time to do a review of the service providers and products you are using.

Both traditional business server and in cloud solutions have gone through a radical price shift in recent years.  The obvious options to review are Microsoft’s in house small business server (we did one of these implementations’ for less than $7000 2 years ago), Google apps, or other hosted in cloud solutions that easily work offering remote desktop and smart phone (i-phone) interfaces.

Hosted in cloud solutions are the trend and offer great savings. As an example this week a fellow exhibitor at Bizzone is offering a full IT service Exchange Server in cloud, file storage with SharePoint, VOIP desktop phone service including help desk support for $65 per month per user.  

The key is to challenge everything that appears a pain to you as a user. IT teams have evolved into this beast that will always offer the highest possible secure and dependable option. The issue is all of these come with ease of use and price point trade-offs. Be sure and check that you have a solution that fits your needs and price point. Eg do we really need password changes every other week, do we really need that level of firewall –security protection.

Likewise  re-assess the shared use (home /work) policies and work out whether there is an easy compromise.

The lost productivity and frustration of your current systems may be causing irreparable damage to your best employees.  Hey you will more than likely also end up saving money to boot.