For a company that has seen sales hit $100 million within the past 10 years, it is remarkable to learn that Thomas Duryea Consulting didn't employ a single sales man for its first five years.
Its founders, four computer science graduates, set up a pure consulting business that poured their engineering skills into desktop automation projects for the enterprise.
The decision to put engineering at the centre of the company's operations, and the success of strong referrals and constant networking, produced its own sales momentum, says co-founder and CEO Andrew Thomas.
When Thomas Duryea hired a sales force in 2005, the effects were dramatic.
"The final step for us was building out the sales front. We then drove the business from $3 million to $30 million in the space of two years," Thomas says.
Today Thomas Duryea is valued by its customers and vendors for its ability to assemble projects that match deep feature sets to complex business challenges. Vendor systems engineers are a common sight in the Richmond, Victoria offices testing combinations with the integrator's own engineers.
And the customers keep coming back. Last June the federal tax stimulus spurred the company to post its biggest month, comprising more than 20 percent of the financial year's revenue.
It's a story that must be a warm tonic to any reseller who has gone into business for the love of IT. Many resellers are born geeks not salesmen, but often the need to sell overcomes a reseller's passion for building technology solutions.
So what are the lessons for today's four-man bands of professionals looking to emulate the industry's leaders? How do you sell IT without a sales team?
Start with the engineering
Starting off as a pure-play consultancy had its advantages. The fact that fulfilment was handled by another supplier meant the fledgling business was free to recommend without the need to navigate alliances with vendors.
Another bonus was that the four engineers focused on desktop automation, an area at the time clouded by smoke and mirrors, says Thomas. Their computer science backgrounds meant they could deliver true automation and not just sell it.
The third strategy was starting high and aiming higher. The list of its foundation clients makes for a remarkable read; Kodak, Cadbury-Schweppes, larger councils and government. The consultancy refreshed Cadbury-Schweppes' Wintel environment across 13 countries with a full review of the standard operating environment.
Their choice of technology defined the market as desktop automation was an approach only achievable by enterprise. The early focus on a technology segment and market meant the integrator could employ its dozen staff on high calibre, separate engagements. (Now it has up to 100 projects running at a time.)
Thomas made it a goal to push up the calibre of the client and solution. This aided his word-of-mouth marketing strategy.
"Very early on I worked very hard on building a relationship base and through that, networking and actively seeking referral," says Thomas. "It was essentially growth by referral and relationships."
The business is still driven by relationships, with vendors, clients and staff. Nothing is more important, he says. The second core value is technical excellence.
These two values reinforced each other to define its modus operandi. When VMware emerged as a pioneer in virtualisation, Thomas Duryea was quick to recognise the potential but cautious in taking it to market.
"Instead of bringing on 10 sales guys, marketing the hell out of it and then trying to deliver it, we began in very niche areas delivering very solid solutions in partnership with VMware and EMC and then NetApp," says Thomas. "That was what helped the vendors and clients trust us more."
It then developed a strong sales force. Its role was to build relationships and communicate the integrator's success stories. Vendors were happy to lend support because they knew the integrator would not sell or promise more than their products could deliver.
"The vendors trusted that if we were involved we would get to an engineering solution," says Thomas.
When Thomas Duryea hires a salesman he sits down with solutions architects for a deep dive into each of the technology sets that drive company strategy and solution design. The salesman is then supported by those practices during the sales cycle and makes visits to customers as part of a team. He draws on his colleagues' knowledge to win the respect of his client as a trusted adviser.
"Our sales guys are out there to build relationships and our architects are out there to deliver solutions," says Thomas.
"You don't see a sales guy going out and trying to sell tin or move product. We expect [sales staff] to understand the value proposition, no bones about it, and we want them to drive a technical sale, but he's always backed up by architects and consultants."
The reputation for delivering technical solutions attracts experienced salesmen who are protective of their client relationships and look to the security of a company that will regularly deliver, Thomas says.
"They are coming to us because we can deliver on their promises. It's incredibly important for these guys who have worked for years to build these relationships. Once he's burned that relationship essentially that's it for him with that customer. They come on board because they can stand behind the solution they are selling."