Hills Is Going Back to Basics
David Lenz brings Hills broad experience in sales, distribution and marketing and he combines formidable focus with unhesitating honesty. Lenz says Hills got some things wrong in the past and he’s on a mission to set the business to rights.
GENERALLY speaking, straight talk from senior management can be hard to come by but there’s plenty of it from Hills’ David Lenz, who is in the process of re-booting the Hills’ culture through a process of key appointments and re-engagement with customers and vendors. Lenz isn’t afraid to point out Hills needs to reinvent itself as a more powerful, more passionate version of what it used to be.
JA: There have been a number of changes to the management team at Hills, could you tell us about those?
DL: Key people are being moved into different roles as we get back to basics and re-engage with our customers. You’ll notice some of these people have been with the company a long time, from the Pacific Communications and DAS days, and they have received these appointments because they are incredibly passionate about serving their customers. My role is to give them space to add passion to the business. These are proper appointments in real roles that make sense to our customers.
JA: Do you see a lack of engagement as an issue in the past for Hills?
DL: There was so much change inside the business that it was difficult to establish clarity with customers and vendors about where we were going. For me, it has been a matter of looking inside the organisation and recognising that we have a huge amount of talent that needs empowering.
As part of the process I’ve gone around all the branches across Australia and New Zealand. The feedback I’ve had is that the team has plenty of talent but how are we organised? What are we trying to do?
So I am focusing on core areas in which Hills focuses, for instance Hills does a lot of industry development but it was being done in different states, so we’ve created a co-ordinated team headed up by Scott Myles, as national industry development manager. Paul Gregory, Tony Dabbs and Peter Pearce are also now back into industry development roles.
When I looked at the state-based businesses I started wondering how we are integrating with our national accounts – I’ve just announced the appointment of Dan Fletcher as sales manager for national accounts and we are going to start driving a coordinated, consistent national model for engagement with national players. From here on there will be consistency around engagement, around who the managers are in each state, with more collaborative activity around that as well.
The other part for us that was important was looking at the delineation between the trade centres, territories and the accounts. Basically if you look at us today, we are focused around industry development, national accounts, key state accounts, territory accounts and inside sales. This gives us a complete coverage model for all our customers – that’s a key thing I’ve been involved with.
As part of this we’ve created a very strong inside sales team in NSW that is headed up by Alf Hughes that has bought together a lot of key people, and we’ve expanded it, there are just on 15 people in that area and they allow us to do inbound customer service activity for the market, NSW and moving into a national market – proving the connection with our customers.
We also have key people leading our trade centres in each of the states – Owen Rogers in NSW as well as the NSW territory business and we have created individual roles around the country that drive that trade centre activity. Again, this is part of getting back to some of the things we did really well as a company, driving those a lot more actively.
I guess you could say it’s about re-organising the talent and putting the right people in the right roles, as well as making some key appointments where we needed to – Bill Babagiannakis has taken on the role of driving key account engagements in NSW, while Nigel Bond who was looking after Vic and Tas has picked up sales functions for WA. We are looking to use our best people in the best way, as well to giving clarity around what we are doing.
JA: People buy from people in every industry but even more so in the security industry – how vital do you think that person to person connection is?
DL: Hills is a distributor and we need to do the basics really well – how we notify customers about order deliveries, how we handle stock and inventory so there’s a lot of work going on in those areas. But in general terms we need to provide some clarity around the market, to improve and facilitate that engagement between the great people we have and our customers.
In terms of your point, part of the changes we are making is pushing our passionate people back out where they belong, engaging with customers. I think the key thing for me was identifying people who had a key role to play and were prepared to add value, and we are seeing there are many such people throughout the organisation.
I think we’ve got a good platform for going forward and driving growth. How do you enhance growth by improving the customer service capability? That’s a work in progress – we are not sitting there saying we are A Grade in all areas. But we have a lot of projects going on in the background to help us to continue to evolve and develop the business. The news from me is that the team is engaged and our customers will see the benefits in the coming months.
JA: When it comes to staff, are all the adjustments made?
DL: All the changes are in place and I’ll think you’ll see improvements in the business over the next 6 months, the way we engage with the marketplace and the team is excited – they are focused on going in the same direction and desire to be part of the change.
JA: You come from the distribution side – Ingram Micro most recently – as well as having a deep background in sales and marketing. How do you feel about the distribution side of the Hills business? Is there some polishing to do there?
DL: I’m focusing on the core distribution functions – a lot of that is customer service and comes down to engagement with customers, resellers and venders. The key thing in any distribution business is to have clarity around your go-to-market so customers and vendors understand what you are doing. That drives a focus on the right engagement model we should pursue to achieve success.
While the fundamentals of distribution business don’t change no matter what industry you are in, with the electronic security industry one thing I have noticed is the value-add component. There is a deep value-add in this industry, through re-development, design, implementation, knowledge of industry verticals and real strength in product knowledge.
That’s a difference and a key strength and you need to show that to the market – to give clients access to that strength. Many distributors claim to value-add but Hills really does do everything from support services to level 3 software development for exclusive vendors. We need to provide the core structure to allow that capability to get to the market.
JA: Do you have a mission, a place you want to take the Hills business?
DL: I’d like Hills to be considered the number 1 value-added distributor in the market segments we operate in, to be a leader in the space. My mission is to ensure the business gets all the basics right so that in 12 months’ time people really enjoy the engagement with Hills and have the same type of experience they had when engaging with Hills in the past.
JA: Is there anything specific you’d like to say to small installers and integrators?
DL: I think what we’d like to say to them is that we acknowledge that we made some errors around our ranging in our trade centres and we are putting the right people in charge of those areas to make sure we have the right product and the right stock to help you meet the demands of your projects. Expect you experience at the trade centres to improve. Also, expect to see tradie nights and re-engagement across the country with technology demonstrations. We have demo facilities being deployed in every state so there are some great capabilities in all of our offices. Also expect to see much more communication from our inside sales team.
JA: Training – will that be part of the reengagement process?
DL: Training is a key area and with the new demo centres we are going to be doing a lot more of it. Lidcombe will be operational in August, WA at the same time, we are finishing up Notting Hill and Port Melbourne and I think people will be stunned by the capability of those centres – these are all new developments. You’ve going to be able to go in and see product and technology, or take your customers in for demonstrations of the latest and greatest, all supported by experts from Hills.
JA: What does the immediate future hold for Hills, what can customers and the market expect?
DL: The market can expect us to become a stronger version of what we used to be. I think we got some things wrong in the recent past and the things we are doing to rectify those things make a lot of sense to people. Those changes are about driving engagement with vendors and customers and getting back to doing all the things the man in the van used to experience.
The passion our customers have around Hills is great. We ran a 48-hour fire sale at Lidcombe recently and it stopped the traffic – there were people everywhere, it was just unbelievable. In all of this, the lesson for Hills is that we need to listen, and the message to our customers is that we’re listening – we’ve heard your feedback, we are acting on it. We are prepared to make changes to improve our engagement and you will see a difference.
David Lenz with John Adams