Dovetailing technical expertise with sales and marketing skills
The challenge for many small companies is putting themselves in the shop window
The Irish software programming and consultancy industry is busy.
Every other sector in the Irish economy needs to find new ways to make their business run better and more smoothly through technology. Increased automation, streamlining and enabling customers to do things for themselves online are not just strategies to keep ahead of the game. They also lead to significant savings in the long run through reduced labour costs.
Software consultant Dovetail Technologies is part of the MBA Association of Ireland (MBAAI) mentorship programme and this year celebrates 10 years in business. Things are going better than ever but it hasn’t all been rosy for the company.
Directors Trevor Jobling and Martin Wallace are very proficient technicians but lack skills on the sales and marketing side.
This is a problem for many other computer programmers like them despite the abundant amount of work available.
“We both started working in RTÉ over a decade ago, and then left to set up our first company,” says Trevor Jobling. “In 2002 the dot com bubble burst and this first start-up went bust.
“Then we set up Dovetail. There have been ups and downs over the last few years but we’ve been fortunate to have a fairly constant supply of work. Myself and Martin are extremely good technically, but not so good at the sales, PR and growth side of things.”
Despite this marketing weakness, Dovetail recently landed the biggest contract of its history with IKEA, by a chance meeting on the side of Lugnaquilla mountain in Wicklow.
“I was hillwalking and I happened to meet this guy who also owned his own business in a similar sector,” says Jobling. “We stayed in touch and three years later, he contacted me. IKEA had come to him with a project he knew he couldn’t do on his own and needed our niche expertise in programming.”
Dovetail is now developing software for customer terminals for all IKEA stores in the UK and Ireland.
This project will keep them busy for the next three years and IKEA has now asked them to get involved in a number of other projects.
Advocating hanging out on mountains in Wicklow as a networking strategy, the story highlights a significant point about the importance of getting your company’s message out there.
“The challenge for many small technically-driven companies is putting themselves in the shop window, making people aware of them,” explains Robert Cooper, president of the MBA Association of Ireland (MBAII) and mentor to Dovetail.
“Trevor and Martin are excellent technicians with a solid business that gets lots of repeat custom but they’ve always had issues with sales and marketing.
“They’ve already had some major contracts, including a large project with the Luas, but even with the great news about IKEA they need to think about how to leverage the business with this client into the market place, and figure out what they can do for other companies on the back of this contract.”
Cooper believes it’s always good for small companies to collaborate with others. Various strengths are brought together and they can sell their broader skill set more easily to potential clients.
“Collaboration is brilliant for small businesses,” he says. “If you can get the right overlap of skills, like Dovetail did in the case of the IKEA contract, you’re onto a winner. Increased collaboration and networking is key for these guys.
“Ultimately they’re technicians so they need help in other areas if they want the company to grow from four or five staff to 30 or 40 staff in the next 10 years of their existence.”
Some small companies suffer from internal blindness and a tendency to be over protective of their baby.
This, in Cooper’s view has not been the case for Dovetail who are willing to learn. “Their business is important to them but they have been open to admitting to weakness in some aspects of their business model. This is key.
“Very often programmers and software developers are introverted people who like to stay behind their computer. You may be the greatest programmer in the world and good at the closed, internal side to business but if you’re not shouting about it from the sides of mountains, you won’t get anywhere.”