NMBS Conference: Sharing synergies and tackling problems

Published:  23 June, 2012

SPAIN: "You can't achieve success on your own," said Olympic runner Roger Black, host of the NMBS Conference in Marbella. "You need like-minded people with the same hopes, ambitions and aspirations." His statement summed up the theme of conference 2012 where a 50:50 mix of merchants and suppliers eagerly networked and shared industry issues for three full business-oriented days.

Mr Black went on to introduce two 'think piece' sessions, one presented by Alistair Dryburgh, the chief executive of Akenhurst Consulting and author of Everything You Know About Business is Wrong and the other by Phil Crowshaw, management consultant and digital media specialist.

Mr Dryburgh approached business from a psychological stance. "People in business do strange things," he said. The caveman brain principle means we are still wired to associate familiarity with security." Business, he believes, should be viewed as a high stakes poker game "where you will get good, bad or indifferent hands and some people come out on top". Why?

"Because they know when to trust their own thought processes and that of their opponents," he said.

The advent of globalisation, he explained, meant we have more access to more markets and to sources of information than ever before."

Why do people find it so difficult to do things that are so obvious? "We are not equipped to deal with change."

"People fall into thinking traps," he said. 'Magical thinkers' believe that if you want it enough it will come to you or, for the more pragmatic, that it's a question of will: work hard enough and you will obtain it.

'Status quo bias' takes in the risk arising from doing something, even if we aren't good at assessing its severity or planning how to manage it. There is, of course, also a risk from not doing something.

'Isolation' is another trap when a situation is examined too narrowly. It could mean that you miss the bigger picture.

A further trap is 'general risk aversion'. In a poll conducted during the conference, Mr Dryburgh said builders' merchants were predominantly risk averse, although magical thinkers did come in at second place.

'Fundamental error attribution' can be summed up by the purchasing manager ordering four years' worth of stock, not because he was stupid and didn't understand the importance of cashflow, but because his objectives required him to do so. 

"Most of the time we run on autopilot, but sometimes you need to slow down," Mr Dryburgh stated. "Strategy is not a cut and dried process. Sometimes you must decide if it's right but at other times it's important to talk to other people."

Phil Crowshaw's presentation about selling online breezed along with some good advice for the novice. "It's about USP – unique selling points and what is different about your company. The phrase 'we give good customer service' is not a USP," he cautioned.

Insight, information, inspiration and innovation should all feature on a site. "The internet is a great leveller to create opportunities for your business that were unthinkable a few years ago," Mr Crowshaw said.

People's attention spans have shortened and need to be quickly refocused. "You can use the internet as a means of getting people to get to know you, like you, trust you and above all, buy from you. You have to make sure that your most wanted 'action' is made very clear on your site.

"Use content marketing to enable you to create and distribute relevant media to attract, acquire or engage a clearly defined target audience."

Mainstream social media, Mr Crowshaw pointed out, was also a useful tool. "Fifty per cent of all online traffic in the UK is currently on Facebook. Generation X and Y simply consider email too passé," he explained. Did you know, he added, that children in pre-school are learning on iPads rather than chalkboards? Ninety-three per cent of marketers use social media for their business and 75% of UK users will search the web on their mobile phones, even though 90% of websites do not display on mobile devices."

With a predicted one million smartphones to be in operation by 2013, it is time for merchants to get onboard with the technologies. "If you cannot do it alone, get help to tailor your site to met your aspirations," Mr Croshaw said.


Q: What are the steps required to get into social media?

A: Think about your objectives first. What are your reasons? Is it about customer service? Brands? Sales lead generation? Think about creativity and advertising. Most established businesses have more ideas than they can use. It's a matter of getting over the resistance of doing it rather than not having  ideas for it.

Q: Are people getting so engaged with social media that they don't have the time to think?

A: The challenge is dealing with all the information and then deciding how to make best use of it. The knowledge is out there, you simply have to prioritise the best way to use this media for your business. Some companies even choose to employ specialists in digital media to help them with this.

Q: I didn't understand social media, so I told my marketing department to just get on it and 'play'. That way, we could all start to understand what we're talking about.

A: The challenge is when the MD or FD starts to ask about return on investment. There is a time play, but you'll have to justify it.

Q: What is the best way to use QR codes?

A: These codes have a future, but I don't see people getting results anytime soon. It's early days and it might take off if there is something truly amazing at the end of it like, say, a discount of 50%. That would justify the individual's time to scan a code.

Q: Is Green Deal nothing more than a QR code?

A: The Green Deal responds to the very significant issue of energy-saving. I wouldn't dismiss it as a QR code. For the Deal to succeed, we may need to create pain, like introducing an additional cost to the council tax of those who do not comply. It will only work if there are penalties or if it becomes social law.

Sign Up

For the Builders' Merchants News enewsletter.

In the spotlight

We have vacancies all over the UK for those who work within the Building Supplies sector.