View from the top: At your service

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:

How does a software reseller differentiate itself? Service, service and service, as Phil Read of Man & Machine tells Paul Fanning.

The role of a software reseller may seem obvious, but, according to Phil Read, managing director at Man & Machine, this is far from the truth.
The idea that it is simply a case of selling someone else's products is one that the Oxfordshire-based reseller has always sought to disprove.

Man and Machine specialises in the supply of CAD solutions to Manufacturers, Engineers, Architects, and Product Designers. Established in 1989, Man and Machine is part of a pan-European group, operating in 9 countries, with over 750 staff (150 or whom are engineers).

As one of only four UK Platinum Partners for Autodesk – and the largest such company in Europe – Man & Machine is in a prime position to offer its customers solutions to real business problems. Says Read: "Essentially, we are a specialist in the provision of digital design and data management services. We construct technology solutions to help customers solve their business critical challenges."

Read is honest about the nature of the business and what differentiates Man & Machine from its competitors. "We're a services-based organisation," he says. "You have to build your brand reputation on good customer service. I don't really have a differentiator from a technological point of view. After all, there are lots of companies selling Autodesk software for example."

It sounds simple, but Man & Machine clearly has a winning formula. The group turns over €100m (compared to around €25m by its nearest competitor, claims Read). It has over 500,000 installed CAD seats and has acquired 134 brand new customers in the last year in the UK alone. Revenue growth is70% year-on-year, which Read describes as "doing very well in a market that is at best flat".

So what does Man & Machine's commitment to customer service actually mean in practice? What form does it take? Read points to the way in which the company becomes involved with its potential customers to find the right solution.

"What wetend to do is visit the customer, talk through their requirements and come up with a proposed solution that could range from 2-3 days to 2-3 months in deployment, depending on the complexity of the need. We adopt a very disciplined approach which includes a planning and discovery phase, that ensures we have clearly understood the customer need."

The entire process typically comprises five phases: Planning; Design; Implementation; Operation and Optimisation. This latter stage, says Read, is crucial and ongoing. He says: "There is nothing worse than selling someone a solution, then walking off without giving the customer the means to periodically improve their infrastructure. With any IT solution, if you move on three years from the initial deployment, there is always a need to optimise and improve things. Long term relationships and customer care are a foundational layer in our success."

Finding the correct solution for a customer naturally involves acquiring a strong understanding of their business. According to Read, this involves a lot of customer education. He says: "50-60% of the time customers think they know what they need – and they do to an extent.

However, they often don't necessarily understand what solutions are available. What they know is that they've got a business problem that needs to be solved. But it's difficult – if you don't provide these solutions day-in, day-out, you can't know what that optimum solution is or what the latest innovations are. That's where our expertise comes in"

Experience counts for a great deal in these situations and here, believes Read, Man & Machine really scores. He says: "We're able to ask the right questions to allow us to uncover the route of the client's problem and provide the right solution.. So the problem might be that they need to open another shift to meet project timescales or that they can't get the design work done in time for example... We've seen those problems before and are able to respond accordingly with innovative ideas."

Another key factor in Man & Machine's success, claims Read, is training and customer education.

Man and Machine offers a range of Autodesk Accredited 2D and 3D CAD Training courses. The courses range from basic essentials training through to advanced concepts and modelling for designers, as well as courses in data management solutions, such as Autodesk® Vault for engineers and IT professionals.

Says Read: "We have one of the best training academies and facilities in the industry and have just launched the latest Man and Machine Training Academy Brochure which gives some idea of our commitment to this.

"One of the biggest issues our customers will have is that they've bought software they don't make best use of because they haven't invested in training that they need or the training they have received has been inappropriate or badly delivered. We fill that gap. One area in which there is still a need for education is in the value of 3D modelling software over 2D. "There's a broad assumption that this is a saturated market, says Read, "But we have moved a lot of customers from 2D to 3D, maybe 20-30% of our customer base in total.

Products like AutoCAD 2D are still common place in many industries. They are using it because that's what they have always done. Our job is to help them understand the productivity benefits that can be gained from moving to a 3D environment. Speed of design, visualisation and digital prototyping can bring tremendous advantages in customer efficiency and deliver real cost savings."

That said, of course, Read is aware that 3D modelling is not always the right solution, saying: "In some markets – sheet metal work, for instance – you're going to find that 2D is quite common and in all fairness, 2D may be the right solution if what you're doing is fairly simple."

While proud of its status as a Platinum Partner for Autodesk, Read is keen to point out that this is far from being the only string to Man & Machine's bow. A number of our engineers are software developers and in fact 38% of our revenues derive from the development and provision of non-Autodesk software solutions."

Ultimately, however, everything from Man & Machine comes down to good customer service and, in summing this up, Read says: "The reason you would call Man and Machine is that we're not interested in selling you a product, we're interested in providing a solution to your business problems and giving you the tools to do it at the optimum service level.

"The DNA of our business is providing good customer service. And if that's what customers are looking for, then we're the right company to talk to."

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