How Supportive Investors Can Help Businesses Adapt to Pandemic Challenges

COVID-19 has forced many organisations to introduce new operating models that can scale and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

Content Guru, a specialist in cloud-based contact centre as a service (CCaaS) solutions, is at the forefront of a revolution in customer contact operations, helping organisations implement new systems for communicating with customers during the pandemic. Drawing on his company’s experience, Global Chief Executive Sean Taylor explains how a supportive partnership with an engaged investor can help a company build a solid foundation for growth, enabling it to scale successfully in international markets and turn growth challenges into opportunities.

COVID-19 has forced organisations to radically change how they function, underlining the importance of robust and scalable systems that enable businesses to adapt quickly.

As a global specialist in cloud-based contact centre as a service (CCaaS) solutions, we are operating in the eye of the current storm, helping organisations rapidly reconfigure customer contact operations. Demand for CCaaS solutions has risen sharply as traditional contact centres have struggled to cope with a surge in contact via both voice and digital channels.

Do your own due diligence on a potential investment partner – ask about their failures as well as successes and ask them to explain how they will add value and help you scale. Speak to their portfolio companies to find out what help they provided in challenging situations.

We have had to respond faster than ever – especially for clients running essential services such as NHS 111, the medical advice helpline which has been besieged by Covid-19 related calls, and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which has seen a surge in benefits enquiries and, at one point, had 10,000 callers in their queue.

The pandemic highlighted a widespread need for scalable, flexible and secure solutions to enable vital customer-facing functions not just to remain operational but to handle the exponential rise in calls, while also adhering to social distancing requirements for employees.

Our ability to scale up quickly to meet higher than anticipated demand stems in part from having a supportive investor – growth equity firm Scottish Equity Partners (SEP) – on board. SEP helped us lay solid foundations such as scalable systems to perform critical functions like financial reporting and management information, which are vitally important as a business grows internationally.

Having these in place helped us accelerate our response to customer needs in the face of the crisis. For example, we reduced the lead time to migrate clients from a centralised contact centre with myriad legacy IT systems to a cloud-hosted CCaaS solution to just four hours – without compromising service or security. That compares to an average lead time of between four and six weeks pre-pandemic.

Managing rapid growth

The global CCaaS market was growing strongly before COVID-19 struck: in 2019 Gartner forecast that CCaaS would be the preferred adoption strategy for 50% of contact centres by 2022. This now looks a very conservative estimate.

Managing a sharp rise in business may seem an enviable challenge, however, not every CCaaS business is equally well-placed to capitalise on growth opportunities.

Numerous pitfalls can trip up a company expanding globally, at what can seem like breakneck speed. Growth constraints may differ, from cash flow (a particularly acute issue currently) to people or skills issues, inadequate financial systems, lack of knowledge of local markets, or supply chain issues.

Cash is critical – especially as the economic crisis has resulted in extended payment terms and reduced liquidity. Some businesses are squeezing suppliers to alleviate cash flow problems – however, that can cause relationship problems for the future and should be managed carefully.

To scale successfully you need to be a well-capitalised company with a presence in key global markets, underpinned by robust processes and systems, and led by an experienced management team. A key determinant for successful and rapid scaling up is not just the financial support a company receives from its investor but also their ongoing strategic input.

Scaling partnership 

Ambitious companies need to plan for growth and weigh financing options carefully before entering what is likely to be a long-term relationship with an investor or lender.

Although we have been cash-generative since we founded the company, we decided to seek external funding to enable us to scale faster (few businesses complain of being over-capitalised). And in seeking investment it is advisable to look not just for growth equity but a partner that would add value in a strategic way and would be supportive in difficult, as well as good times. It’s important to find an investor that operates locally but is connected globally.

It’s time to focus on moving from surviving to thriving.

Do your own due diligence on a potential investment partner – ask about their failures as well as successes and ask them to explain how they will add value and help you scale. Speak to their portfolio companies to find out what help they provided in challenging situations.

Adding value

SEP has helped us particularly around scaling operations and reporting systems to ensure we are monitoring growth accurately. We are growing fast and, throughout the process of upgrading to a cloud-based financial reporting system that has improved efficiency within finance processes and given us faster access to detailed management information, our investor has been on hand to advise us. This has been critical as we continue to scale every team within the business and invest more in international entities.

When you are scaling you need a strong leadership team and board. That is another area that a well-connected investor can assist: in recruitment and introductions to executives and non-executives who are a good fit for the growth journey, both now and in coming years. Business founders should acknowledge that a leadership team needs to evolve as the company grows, adding new skill sets or experience.

Challenges and opportunities 

I like the Winston Churchill quote: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. The pandemic has created a difficult situation for many businesses, but we have had to adapt and cope with it. It’s time to focus on moving from surviving to thriving.

Being well-capitalised is essential, but scaling requires more than money. Bringing the right strategic investment partner on board can help ensure challenges become opportunities and keep you on a sustainable growth path that will build long-term value.

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