Steve Nathan – Serial NZ Entrepreneur – CEO Business Marketing Interview 31

Steve talks about the process of exiting a software business after growing it into the largest payroll processing company in NZ, his switch from payroll software to running Salvare Winery and Winerax, why he created an experienced winemaking team around him, expanding the product offering broader than just wine and then his focus on delivering a warm, memorable cellar door experience.

We then cover his recent move back into the payroll space, his thoughts on the future of the payroll industry, why payroll productivity can improve business profitability, why his favourite business models are recurring revenue models, how he works in partnership with his wife when bringing new ideas to market, plus much much more.

Huge amount of business insight into the mind of an entrepreneur, including what his grandfather said to him that continues to drive him to execute on his ideas!

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Ryan: This is the Ryan Marketing Show and you’re listening to episode 31 of 100. Today, I’m joined by Steve Nathan from, well you’re from a lot of business’ Steve. You’re really more of a founder and entrepreneur of great ideas and I’m just looking through some of the notes here, you’ve founded and sold wine racks. Which is a clever selling business, you have more recently been the founder and owner of Salvare Winery, there’s Just Payslips which is your wife’s business but I’m sure you help out on as well and then prior to that you work involved with Comacc, a specialist payroll software company. With all these different things going, how do you know when to start and stop getting into a business?

Steve: It’s hard because I like researching, I like looking for ideas, I like things that are new and shiny and that’s part of my personality but then I have a good partner in my wife who ends to drag me back to reality on a fairly regular basis so we work together on everything we do so I don’t ever do anything on my own typically. So it’s a case of, we discuss things, we work out what we want to do and what fits with our life style and we just basically go for it. 

Ryan: Now a lot of people see different ideas out there in the market and think, man I should’ve done that or I wish I had thought of that, there’s a big difference between having a great idea and having an idea that can be a viable business. What are some of your internal rule set that you apply to great ideas?

Steve: The biggest one for me is can I do it and can I put the energy and time into it? I’ve got a family, obviously I want to have a life as well, but my over riding thought is, I have a very vivid memory of my grandfather. And my grandfather’s favourite saying was, I invented that years ago but I just never did it, and he was always like that, and he did come up with lots of really cool ideas but he never actually actioned anything so that’s always in the back of my mind is, I don’t want to get to 70 or 80 and say, I wish. So if I see something and I think we can do it, and we are in a position to be able to do it, then as I say, we’ll just go for it. If it gets me excited, I’m not into boring, and that may be a part of my personality, I’m not into boring things, I like things that are bright and shiny. That have got a bit of a cool factor to them and some people would say, payrolls not cool, but we made it cool at the time and we were able to do that and so I like that sort of excitement that comes with the.. I’m a hunter, not a farmer which is also part of an issue for my personality because really good at starting but it’s the keeping things going that becomes a challenge after time if we get bored with it then that becomes a challenge.


Ryan: So with that first business you were in involved with, or was that your first business? Comacc, the payroll software business, was that you?

Steve: Yeah in my first business I was on in on my own, I started that with my father back in 1992 ish, and I owned it for 16 years so that was a long time, you look at most people and their jobs don’t last that long in a job and a lot of business people don’t but we started it from scratch. Selling somebody else’s product and then eventually we evolved into doing our own products and it 2006 is when we exited and sold it. Well I exited and sold it to MYOB, I’d previously bought my father out of the business about three years earlier, so that started from nothing and built to being at that stage the largest payroll software provider in New Zealand. 

Ryan: How did you know that after 16 years that it was the right time to sell, did it take you years to sell it or was it an offer out of the blue?

Steve: No, there was two aspects, it was a offer out of the blue. It was the right time because I was tired, 16 years building a business. It wasn’t a small business, we had 60 staff, we had an office in Sydney, office in Auckland. We had, at that stage we were paying the equivalent of about 450,000 New Zealanders got paid through the Comacc payroll system. So it was a big software business, at that particular stage. So I was probably ready without knowing I was ready, but one day I got a phone call out of the blue form one of the management team at MYOB in Christchurch asking me to go out for a cup of coffee and generally competitors don’t ask you to go out for a cup of coffee for any other reason then that. The acquisition process was fairly quick, we moved relatively, it was probably within three and a half, four months, the deal was done. It was probably the most interesting business transaction I had ever done. It was myself, my wife, our family accountant and our family solicitor working, I shouldn’t say against but, negotiating with a team that was probably, six or eight accountants, half a dozen corporate lawyers, head office in Melbourne for MYOB so it was that sort of small family business versus the big corporate negotiation. It was fun, I enjoyed it because we didn’t need to sell. So negotiation at that point, when you’ve got nothing to lose because you don’t have to get out, you’re in a much stronger position whereas sometimes people will, they’re at the stage where they’ve got to sell. They’re forced to sell, but we were in the other way around. I was quite happy to walk away from the deal, at various stages.

Ryan: So even though you didn’t have another, a second person to kind of trade off against, you had the opportunity to trade off against, I’m happy with this business, and keeping it and keeping it growing.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely and we knew that we had a successful cash rich business, it had good cash flow. The beauty of that particular business, and it’s my favourite business model, is the recurring revenue model and that was software companies are largely recurring revenue. We could of theoretically closed the doors and still turned over two million dollars a year in recurring revenue so when you’re in that position you know that you’ve got that behind you. So you don’t have to, as I say, go down a track that you’re forced down by somebody else. Yes the price negotiation, all that sort of stuff comes into a different part of the equation, but the decision to sell or not sell, and the hardest part of the selling decision for me was the team. Was knowing that I’d led and grown this business, and grown the team and most of our staff had worked for us for four, five, six, seven years. The thought of walking away from them was probably the hardest part of that decision, it wasn’t the financial side.


Ryan: And when you were going through that negotiation process over three, four months you say that your legal team and your accounting team was very much the family base versus those that were requiring you on the MYOB side of things, isn’t it still, in that negotiating that exit it’s still, you negotiating with one other person and everyone else falls in behind? Is there still that relationship building process, as you’re trying to exit?
Steve: You mean with the people that are purchasing?

Ryan: Yeah.

Steve: No it was very adversarial, I guess initially there was the, we’ll take you out for coffee and we’ll take you out for dinner and here’s all our team and you can meet the people who are going to take over your business, there is that aspect of it but there becomes a point where the legal side of it and the financial side of it becomes, to a degree adversarial. Yes, it’s a negotiation and yes you want a win win. They want to get as much as they can for as little as possible, we want to get as much as we can for as, giving away as little and the interesting part for me was the sell and purchase agreement was 150 pages thick.

Ryan: Wow.

Steve: And I read every single word of that document, multiple times, because I had my initial advisors but I didn’t have a big team, and there were times when I would go back to their tide and say right, what does this word mean? And the response was generally, don’t worry about it, we’d never enforce it. So then my response was fine, I’ll put a line through it. They would come back saying, no you can’t do that because it’s part of our legal requirement to be corp, and so it was that type of adversarial thing where, I was going to protect myself. I was going to protect my team, I was going to protect my family, and my clients at the end of the day because one thing I always did with Comacc is I published my cellphone number, on our website, on everything so every one of my clients, all 8,000 companies if they chose they could ring me. So they were still my clients and they were my babies, so that side of it was, I guess the challenging part of dealing with someone who has to dot i’s and cross t’s because they’re a public company and we’re a small business and we don’t have to dot the same i’s, we can be a little bit grey around the edges if you like in that negotiation. So that was the interesting part.

Ryan: So it’s more then just getting the best price, you had to make sure that your team and the culture that you created was going to be looked after once the business was sold.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely and whether we got the best price, who knows, but the reality is, you can’t look backwards. We got the best price at the time, we probably wouldn’t get that price today so you’d have to say we got the best price that we were going to get, and we got out which was the main thing. 

Ryan: What, once the money went into the bank on that day, and it becomes real. What did you then do next, did you have a plan of what was going to happen if it was sold or did you kind of put all that in the back of your mind until the event had happened?

Steve: I bought a set of golf clubs. With a view of, I’m going to semi retire and that lasted less than weeks, not even months before I was back looking for something else so basically the plan was that yes we would sell the business, originally they wanted me to exit slowly, so they wanted me to exit over a 12 month period. I said to them, that’s not going to happen because I would be their worst nightmare as an employee, because I know my personality, and again you’re giving someone your baby. It’s like your child, and watching them parent your child in a way that you wouldn’t parent them and I couldn’t cope, so the 12 months became three months, it became one month. It lasted one week and they asked me for my keys.

Ryan: One week, that’s it.

Steve: Pretty much yeah. It was just because I could see, although they made various promises in the negotiation, I could see that that wasn’t always going to be the reality going forth because they will make decisions based on their business model which is understandable, they own it they can do what they like with it. They spent the money so I then wanted to think about what we could do next and I had no idea, in the negotiation process we had purchased a house here in Hawke’s Bay, so with our original plan was before we even got into the negotiation was that I was going to commute between Auckland and Hawke’s Bay and run Comacc from down here. So we bought this house in Mareakakaho which we were renovating at the stage in which the negotiation happened and in that period was when we got approached. 


Ryan: So your next stage after that was Salvare Winery.

Steve: Yep.

Ryan: A very different type of business.

Steve: Totally. 

Ryan: Less about software and technology and much more about customer experience and tourism and dealing with all of the variables that mother nature throws at a winery. Did you ever feel that you were out of your depth in that part, was it very steep learning curve or were there lots of things that you could bring with you from Comacc that applied to the wine making business.

Steve: From a wine perspective I always felt out of my depth and we did it for eight years, and that was always, I think if you’re in the wine industry it’s in your blood. Like I know people in the wine industry, and they’ve grown up, they’ve trained in it and they’ve come out of school and gone straight into it so it is in their nature. My nature is sales and marketing, so I didn’t look at it as a wine business I looked at it as a marketing opportunity and that’s the way we built Salvare is we built a brand around Salvare, we built an experience, we built the customer side of things. The wine was a by product of that, the fact that I had a friendship with Elise Montgomery, who’s been in the wine industry for a long time, she was head wine maker of Vidal’s for a long time and she agreed to come and make our wine for us and then I used her experience, her husband Simon Nash who’s an MW. I used his experience from the wine and the wine industry side of things, for the culture I bought expertise in, because I knew nothing about grapes, nothing about growing grapes, nothing about making wine. I learned a lot, I still have vivid memories about the first time I did a group wine tasting at a wine club at Takapau, and half the room were wine makers, and I was up there flying blind completely which was fine but I’m in sales I have to know how to bluff my way through some of these things. I looked at it as, how could we take this product, and it was a product to me, and market it and create an experience for the people who were visiting it because to me, customer service, selling, that whole side of it is what really gets my juices going. Creating something for a customer.

Ryan: And how did you make Salvare stand out in a region where, you know, we’ve got 80, 90 plus wineries here, Salvare wasn’t a, it’s not a massive winery. It’s like one of the big big labels so how did you make sure that you were a must do on that tourist trail?

Steve: I think partly our location helped, the fact that we bought the vineyard in Ngatarawa Road, when I built the cellar door, traditionally cellar doors are placed at the back of vineyards so that you had a nice drive down through the vines and it’s all very romantic, I placed the building physically as close to the road as I was legally entitled to. Because, no one was going to come to us if they didn’t know who we were, but lots of people would be driving past, and if they saw something different they knew they hadn’t seen before, even the style. We built a shed, and the style of the shed, the way we built that, I use a lot of social media and still do, so I was very, it was very important to me that we got the name out there. So not paid media, we did a little bit of paid media but most of it was around other things like Twitter, Facebook, online social media, things that we’ve done. We did a lot of events but what really built the business was our reputation, is that when people came to us they got a different experience, and we did, not research as such but we visited other wineries.

And I’m not critisizing anyone else’s business model but what we found with a lot of them was that they were cold experiences. They were impersonal experiences, and we wanted to create an experience that we would enjoy and some the experiences that we had, even on places like Waiheke. In Auckland we did wine tastings on Waiheke and Kumeu, just to get a sense of what it felt like, and a lot of cases, you would walk up to a counter, someone who either didn’t know or didn’t care what they were pouring, would pour something in a glass for you, you taste a wine, you’d ask a question and they’d say, no idea. I’m just the counter jockey here, and we didn’t want that so our experience was that we, 99 percent of the time we didn’t do a standing tasting. We did a seated tasting where people sat at one of our tables, we actually went through every wine individually, we told them the story. How the Salvare name came about, the background of the business, because people buy experiences. They don’t buy products. Because reality is, as you say, they could buy wine from 80 other wineries in Hawke’s Bay and do we have the best wine in Hawke’s Bay? Well yeah we’d think so but, the reality is probably not. We have good wine, but it wasn’t necessarily the best so, people wanted to take home that experience. So that in three months time, they’re sitting around dinner table with some friends, they pour a glass of Salvare wine and they can talk about the crazy bald guy that did the wine tasting for them out in the vineyard and the dog, Zoe, that was there and all the other things that come with that experience and that’s what we try to build. 

Ryan: And I think you’ve succeeded in that, I remember coming back from London and looking through social media to see what wineries were around, and I did think you were one of the big wineries because you created this perception at least online that you were one of the top ones because you were always coming up with something new. And then that didn’t disappoint when you went to the winery because, you see this big red door and you know, oh that’s the place. And very few places, at least at that time, you’d get to sit down with an owner on a table, and chew the fat, and the wine kind of just, was the lubricant for that conversation. 

Steve: Yeah, absolutely, and we also browned out spirits because again for, the fact with when you’ve got a wine or cellar door you’re out in the sticks, generally you’re not in a city location, so people have got to make an effort to come to you so you want to keep them. And there’s an old adage in retail, the longer you keep someone in your premise the more chance they’ll put their hand in their pocket, and that was always my attitude is if we got them to sit down, they would stay longer and they have more chance to enjoy that experience, but what we also discovered was that if you only sell wine, which is fine, only a certain number of people are going to buy wine. If there’s nothing else to buy, there are people want to spend money, but it may not be on wine. It may not be on a lot of wine, so that’s why we extended into other products, we created a food range. So we were the only cellar door for a long time, that you could do an olive oil tasting and you could do a dukka tasting and we made mustard with wine and we made vinigrettes with wine. So we extended our brand through our other products and probably 30 percent of our turn over was through food products.

Ryan: Interesting and I guess that helps when you’ve got those food producers recommending, go to Salvare cause’ you can taste the rest of this as well as some wine. 

Steve: Yeap, and we were making our own products, we were selling other people’s products on the same sort of basis. Everything was under the Salvare brand, so someone would go to the cupboard and pull our their jar of Salvare mustard, whether it was wine or mustard, I don’t care, at the end of the day if you’re making a margin on a product, you’re making a margin. Again, it’s that part of the conversation where people would talk about our product, we would do recipes around the products to try and extend how do you serve a particular product and we made unique things like we made a product called dukka butter which is the first time anyone had ever turned dukka which is a dry, dipping mix into a moist mix that you could spread and it was like, hot and spicy peanut butter basically. That again, we got a lot of people talking about it, we’ve got a guy in Dunedin that buys ten or fifteen jars a time and he buys it about every six weeks. I don’t know what the hell he does with it but, so again it was that sort of trying to broaden the scope of what we were offering. We went down the track of wine cocktails, now there a lot of people in the wine industry that looked at us and thought we were absolutely bloody mad because you don’t freeze wine. We sold masses of frappe – the wine cocktail mix. 

Ryan: Was Frappe Vino wasn’t it?

Steve: Yeah, that’s right. So again on the same basis of there are people who turn up who don’t know a lot about wine, a lot of people especially in the cellar door, especially around Bridge Park, we get a lot of hens parties. That sort of groups who are not really into their wine, just out for a good time. So you give them something else which is a little bit different, a little bit out there, and we’d get people turning up saying, oh you’re the guys who do the frozen stuff. Again, if they walked out with a packet of that, and they bought a bottle of wine to go with it, it was a win-win. 

Ryan: And you’ve also got this Winerax product here, when did that come on board and how did you have enough time to fit that in as well as the winery and everything else that goes with running a cellar door?

Steve: It came on board fairly early and it was an interesting exercise in that one, we bought Salvare, we were going to set up the Salvare brand, and the cellar door and I was sitting in a motel in Martinborough with my wife on a cold and wet Sunday morning, reading the Herald and in the business’ for sale section there was an ad and all it said was, injection moulding business for sale. And I don’t know why but I actually phoned the number. 

Ryan: So something peaked your curiosity just in that ad.

Steve: Yeah, and it didn’t mention wine racks, it didn’t mention any – nothing. And I still don’t know to this day why I made the phone call.

Ryan: You’d already purchased Salvare at that stage?

Steve: Yeah, we owned the vineyard at that stage. And I rang up and it was through broker in Auckland, I got hold of this guy on a cellphone, I said, okay what is this? He said, oh it’s actually a modular wine rack, and I sort of looked around the room and thought okay, where are the cameras because this feels like a set up, this just feels wrong to me. So a couple of days later I jumped on a plane, flew to Auckland, had a quick look online what the product was, met with Brenda Barnes who was the wife of the guy that originally invented the wine rack product. He unfortunately passed away just after he launched it, and acquired it a couple weeks later and I thought well, it’s another good add on to what we’re doing. It’s, contextually it’s in the industry, my original intention was to grow that into an export product and because it is modular, it’s unique to New Zealand in it’s design, but what happened in the end was that Salvare just took over. It just sucked all my time and I couldn’t give any time or energy to this other, Winerax just became a cool little online product that we sell online. We also sold it through the cellar door so it’s another good add on product when someone buys a case of wine, they buy a wine rack to go with it, and it’s a good win win again. It was something that, it is such a cool product, it’s a fabulous product, the guy who invented it was very innovative, he used to own Devon Outdoor furnitures I had a lot of experience with manufacturing. So it was just something that worked, and it just ticked along, because Salavare, when you own a cellar door and you’re working in that cellar door, especially in summer it’s a seven day a week business so for at least six months of the year, you’re working seven days. So other add on business’ tend to just trundle along on their own. 

Ryan: And I guess the challenge for you at that point is you, as an entrepreneur you couldn’t really go out and spot these other opportunities because you had one massive opportunity in Salvare, now you’re moving away from that winery side back to your roots on the software, technology side of things. How is that process going for you?


Steve: It’s interesting because again I said earlier about the wine industry has to be in your blood and unfortunately for me, I think payroll is in my blood and it’s something I’m passionate about, always have been, so now that we’re moving out of Salvare I’m looking at what else I can do. Again, one of the issues is I like recurring revenue model products, so software is a good recurring revenue. Whereas wine and commodity type products are harder to get that recurring revenue, it’s hard to convince people to drink more and more wine, some people think they can but in reality, you can’t get that repetitive sale where as with soft ware and technology, if you’re getting an annual licence fee or even my wife Bev’s business Just Payslips. It’s a prime example of a recurring revenue model.

Ryan: And that’s the stationery, just the stationery…

Steve: Basically we sell pieces of paper where people print their pay slips on, and people often go, are you mad? Why would someone buy that? But she’s got a regular group of clients and it’s a growing business where once a month, or once every three months, they’ll ring up and they’ll buy, 10,000 pay slips, and in three months time they’ll ring up and buy another 10,000 payslips. And once you’ve got them locked in, you give them good service, you give them good quality products, they will keep coming back. Payroll people don’t want to change suppliers, so it’s a great product for a recurring revenue model.

Ryan: I guess that’s the good side is that consumerable that you have to keep on purchasing, you know, just looking across the room here it’s, you’ve got them stacked high and I’m sure those will just keep on ticking over coming in, coming out. 

Steve: Absolutely, and we do a couple different variations of them, depending on whether people want to put them through different types of printers but basically it is a piece of A4 paper with glue around the edges. It’s a product that, people are saying oh but people don’t need payslips anymore, the reality is there are still a lot of blue collar workers out there who need a piece of paper in their hand every week to prove that they’ve been paid. Whether the money’s in the bank or not, they want the bit of paper, and while that’s the case, and I think online and cloud and all that sort of stuff and emailing, it’s a growing part of the industry but I think the paperless office is been a myth for 50 years. It still is a myth so I think that will keep growing on a recurring basis. 

Ryan: So as you’re now moving back into the software side and, it’s a very different market place from nearly ten years ago it’s very much cloud hosted annuity, you probably have a lot of time to be able to research where it’s going to go in the future, paint that vision. Where is payroll in the future and how do you want to play a part in that? 

Steve: The clouds an interesting space because payroll people live and die on trust, and there’s still a trust issue with the cloud. There are still people who we talk to on a daily basis and say, no I don’t want my payroll system in the cloud, who will then turn around and use their internet banking system. So they don’t trust the cloud for payroll but they do trust it for their banking, which is crazy, but that’s the case and I recently spoke at a couple of conferences. So in the conference there was 100 people, of those 100 payroll managers, of companies of all shapes and sizes, there was less then five percent who were currently running their payrolls in the cloud. 

Ryan: Is that right?

Steve: 95 percent of them were still using PC based solutions.

Ryan: In the own office or PC based by a supplier? 

Steve: Either in their own office or through a supplier. So I think the cloud will grow but it will be a long time before it can grow in volume. So for the bigger employers, the bigger companies running the big systems in the cloud, it can be problematic just from the scope of the software, using it through a browser and all those sorts of things. Small or medium, so the xero target market, that sort of area, yes it will grow but for me I think payroll is such a specialist area. A lot of accounting software companies over a couple of years have gone out of doing payroll, because it’s too hard. Legislation changes, you look at the New Zealand situation, legislation changes at least twice a year. So if you’ve got an accounting package and your adding a payroll to it, you probably don’t ever have to update your accounting package very often, so PC based, that’s easy but of course once you’ve got payroll and you’ve got to send an update so that’s where the cloud will take over is that updating and always on sort of scenario. I think it will be probably another five years before that gets on and what will seem more in the near term is the peripheral add on products, so how do you capture your time, how do you process your time. How do you deliver the information? That’s where I see the cloud being, the cloud is a great tool for capturing and delivering information. 

Ryan: So more the visibility, the dashboard, that type of presence in management.

Steve: Yeah, how does the employee fill in their time sheet? Do you still fill in a piece of paper that nobody can read and nobody can add up or do you use a mobile phone, or browser or a tablet or a time clcok. So capturing the information, analysing the information. If I’ve got a timesheet, I’ve got to sit down and work out that you work from 8.15 to 4.25, what does that look like in reality? It was interesting talking at this conference, that the number of who’s employees still fill in time sheets and what you’ll find is when somebody fills in a timesheet is that they are the most accurate employee in the world, because they’ll always write down that they arrived on time, and they’ll always write down that they went home on time, and nobody’s that accurate in reality. So I think that’s where it will be, so it’ll be the capture and it then will be the delivery of information. So employee portals, where the employee can go online and look at their leave balances and put in a leave request. They can change their roster.

Ryan: So this type of software could be a massive time saver for anyone who has a large number of employees or particular seasonal employees or anyone where you’ve got to manage that staff in stop time.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. So if you think about, especially someone in Hawke’s Bay, if you’re running a gang of horticulture workers. How do you capture their time?

Ryan: Yeah and I guess that’s the part where, if you’re passionate about wine making you’re not going to be passionate about the pieces of paper to keep track of people’s time. 

Steve: Years ago we developed a system, when we had Comacc which was actually sold originally to Nobilos where you could job cost in a vineyard so as the guys where working you could track which vineyard they were working in, which rows they were working in. Whether they were pruning, leaf plucking, harvesting, whatever, so you could track physical process but using a portable time clock so basically it was like a pen. And they could clock in and out with this, it was called a data pen.

Ryan: Interesting. 

Steve: So I think that’s where again, the more you speed up and make more accurate the data capture process, then the more time the payroll office has got to manage the payroll.

Ryan: Well I think what’s fascinated me about that is you’re moving, the foundation is payroll but it’s actually about managing profitability because one of the biggest costs in any statement of financial performance is going to be people. So if you can more accurately define that, then you can forecast your costs in a better way.

Steve: Absolutely, and what you also build is you’re empowering your employees, cause’ employees want to trust that their pay is right.

Ryan: Right, yeah.

Steve: And if they’re responsible for capturing the information, they’ve got a bigger stake in the game. Where as if they’re trusting somebody else to work out the time sheet or work out their time and then key it into a payroll system, there’s an opportunity for error and if you look at the scenario with a payroll where you’re improving accuracy and that capture, if you are only one percent inaccurate. So if you could say that I’m 99 percent accurate all year, all the time, that’s fine but what’s that one percent of your Payroll cost? Most business’ it’s huge. So there’s a potential if you can fix that one percent, then you’ll save money and there are costs obviously all the way down the track not only the paying of the staff, but the effect of that job costing or the processing they’re doing, what their performance is looking like, you know the reality of theoretical performance versus actual performance and that’s where I see the change is going to come.


Ryan: Interesting, interesting. So you obviously feel very much at home in the payroll side of things and the wine is obviously been fun and it’s given you an opportunity to kind of segway away and spend some time doing something separate once you exited the business you used to have. One common thread with any successful entrepreneur is their love of selling so I guess it’s going to be really interesting to see where you go next and how you apply your sales expertise to growing whatever you do next.

Steve: I think the key to selling is you have to like people, and the side of Salvare that I really enjoyed was working the cellar door. The vineyard side of it and the wine making, that was production and like I said again, I’m a hunter not a farmer, by nature so being able to do the dog and pony show in the cellar door, putting on an act, and in some cases it is an act but also it’s an act that’s inherit in my personality and so selling is in my blood as well. I’ve been a salesman since I left school in various forms and I’ve sold everything from car parts to accounting services to payroll to wine, and now back I guess to payroll so I enjoy that people aspect of it. Whatever I do next, it won’t be running admin and finance for a business. It’ll be front of house and I learn so much about hospitality and retail doing the Salvare thing, because my background with tech is yes it’s selling but it’s B to B. Where as B to C is a very different market and there are so many business where you walk into them and think why are you here, why are you in this industry, why do you run this because you look so bored, so tired, you can’t give good service and that’s all I want is that smile, it’s the acknowledgement and that side of it is what I learn from doing Salvare I guess that’s how we built our reputation is giving that service. So the next stage will still be, as much as my wife doesn’t want me to be the primary sales person because it’s obviously time consuming stuff, it’s what I enjoy, I get a buzz out of it.

Ryan: It’s part of who you are.

Steve: Yeah, it is. It’s my personality.

Ryan: For someone just getting into sales or wanting to learn what that process is, what advice would you have for them?

Steve: Depends on, I guess what you’re selling, people say salesmen are born and not trained, I don’t believe that. You can train a sales person.

Ryan: Yeah, I agree.

Steve: You can train them on process but they have to have intent, you have to want to do it. If it’s just a job, then it will come across as just a job and I have again another vivid memory of a sales experience many many many years ago when we had Comacc, and I was doing a presentation to the financial controller and I can still visualise the guys face, and his payroll person. It was a car dealership in Auckland, and I was about 15 minutes into my presentation and the guy stopped me and said, Steve can I just stop you for a minute? I said yeah, sure. And he said, have you got this presentation on audio, back in the old days with audio feed, he said have you got this on audio tape? I said, no why? He said, because I could just listen to an audio tape, I don’t need you in the room. And what he was talking about was my presentation style, I was just doing it by rote. I wasn’t present, I didn’t have my personality and I wasn’t engaging him. There’s a term I used to use with my sales team which was product vomit, and basically you just walk in and go blargh and you just tell the customer everything you know about yourself and how good you are and it’s not about you, it’s about them. So your language has to be about, “you” language. It’s the whole, what’s in it for me scenario so I think someone getting into sales, be in the game. Be engaged, love what you do, understand your product, one of the things with payroll systems is you can’t bluff an accountant that you know what you’re doing because they’ll pick you in a heartbeat. So know your product.

Ryan: I like that term, product vomit, because I think that’s what any sales person where he has to revert back to if they haven’t done their research about who are they going to see, why are they seeing them, and what is that person going to want to know and then what questions do you have to ask to elicit the right information to fit where your products going to actually be of interest to that person.

Steve: Yeah, and what prompted me, my early trading was in the spin model which was a Huthwaites spin sales model which was about situation, problem, implication and need and it’s about, you can’t tell a customer what problem you’re solving if you don’t know what the problem is that you’re solving. So it’s a case of finding out why they’re looking, what are they looking for, so when you do do your presentation to them, as you say, it’s doing the research and I’m trying to get this with the team I’m working out with Crystal Payroll at the moment is don’t just do a demo. They can just do it themselves, you actually spend 15 minutes asking the right questions, asking if you could change anything in your current process what would it be? If there are three things you’d fix, what are those three things you would fix? Those sort of questions because then when you come to do your presentation, you say, oh when we were talking earlier, you said x, here’s how you solve x. Because what you want is, in a lot of cases, you’re selling to not the person who makes the decision, you’re selling to someone in a hierarch or structure and they’ve got to go to somebody else and justify the spend. So if you do the right process by understanding their problems, showing them the solution, then when they go to the MD and say okay, it’s going to cost this much, and these are the problems these guys are going to fix for us, they are your sales advocate when you’re not sitting in the room. 

Ryan: Your internal champion.

Steve: Yeap, and you’ve got to have that, and so as I say, if you’re not engaged in the process, then it will be a rote demonstration and that doesn’t work.

Ryan: I think that’s great for anyone listening in the sale side of thing, that’s great feedback. I know the spin model and it’s just a simple easy one to keep off the top of your head. So you’re consulting for now for Crystal and who knows what in the future?

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. Staying in the tech space in some form and try and stay focused on one thing at a time. 

Ryan: We’ll have to loop back in maybe 50 interviews or so, once I’ve got a few more under my belt, and see what’s happening in your space.

Steve: Yep, happy to do it.

Ryan: Thanks for your time Steve.

Steve: You’re welcome.