The Press, August 2012

As the grand old man of New Zealand’s hi-tech sector, Christchurch-based Tait Communications is known for numerous innovations in its 42-year history. Increasingly though it is inventiveness outside the research lab that Tait should be known for, and what other Kiwi tech companies should emulate.

Founded by the late great New Zealander Sir Angus Tait in 1969, the provider of radio communications equipment has grown to become a firm employing 900 people across the 10 countries in which it has offices, 650 of them located in Christchurch. Exporting about 95 per cent of its products, Tait turned over more than $180 million in the 2011 year, according to media reports about the trust-owned company.

Ingenuity in the way it sells radio communications equipment and software is a fascinating part of the modern Tait story. Which is good, given that my knowledge of radio technology could easily be put on the chip of a Tait P25 radio.

That is not to say Tait isn’t developing new ideas and products – it spends 14 per cent of annual revenue on research and development, double the Kiwi company average. But from an outside perspective it does seem Tait has made a real shift in the way the company takes products to international markets.

In 2007 (thanks to the magic of the “Wayback Machine” which archives snapshots of websites), the Tait website said it was “a leading provider of advanced voice and data radio communications solutions for mobile organisations throughout the world”.

Today, the description is a “global leader in designing, delivering and managing innovative communication solutions that help utilities and public safety organisations to keep the lights on and communities safe”.

Fundamentally Tait has become a company helping utilities and public safety (ie police, fire, rescue) organisations serve their communities with better communication, rather than a radio company selling to anyone who wants one.

Tait is one of New Zealand’s biggest technology companies, but is growing by targeting a smaller market.

By focusing on a few selected markets, it is easier to build brand awareness in those sectors, target them with sales activity and develop and deliver solutions that suit those customers and deliver good outcomes for them.

It means Tait can be the best in its niches, really listening to customers and delivering unique solutions to their problems.

This specialisation is the only way Tait can viably compete against the likes of industry giant Motorola Solutions, with 23,000 employees and annual revenues of US$8.2 billion (NZ$10b) in 2011. Trying to compete head-on across too many sectors would be difficult against a company of such size and depth.

This is innovative because many Kiwi technology companies don’t focus to this degree. They understand the benefit of focus, but lack the conviction to pursue it, even though the reality of selling a product to several different industries across several different countries is the equivalent of selling six different products.

Tait’s focus has been supported by some good fundamentals in the way it sells its products.

First has been the adoption of an internationally recognised sales methodology. This might sound boring, but it is a basic discipline more Kiwi tech exporters could adopt.

Having a standard method of selling makes it easier to plan your sales activity, ensures everyone in your company can clearly understand where in a sales cycle you are, and have more confidence when prospects might turn into actual revenue. It makes selling a whole-company effort, rather than simply throwing products over to the sales team to ‘‘dispose of’’.

Second is Tait’s use of ‘‘inbound marketing’’, attracting potential customers to their website with useful content like whitepapers, and then nurturing them online towards becoming a sales lead.

The advantage of focusing on distinct market segments is that they can provide tailored content that is compelling eg. “Managing Encryption: a guide for public safety decision makers.” Well, compelling for the CIO of a public safety agency at least.

So how can you become a Tait-like innovator? Focusing on a market is one of the hardest marketing decisions you’ll make, but it is focus that makes things happen.

There are three fundamentals to consider:

1. What customer need are you fulfilling, ie what is the contribution you are making to their business? Tait went from being a seller of radio communications equipment to a solver of public safety communication needs.

2. Of these areas of market need, which are the most attractive? In terms of size, location, competitiveness and barriers to entry.

3. Finally, for which markets is your organisation best positioned ie skills, your sales channels, what reference sites you have in this market?

Ultimately, you can never be certain you have the ‘‘perfect’’ market to focus on, but simply having some focus helps concentrate your resources and build intensity in your sales and marketing. It’s this concentrated power that is helping a venerable company like Tait into a new era of innovation and growth.

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