Secrets of Success: John Cheney, CEO of Workbooks

Disrupting a marketplace and becoming an enabler for SME growth – hats off to John Cheney …

Workbooks is a cloud-based SaaS CRM platform that helps growing companies run their business and engage more effectively with customers. They offer affordable solutions for SMEs. They have a price point that is typically 50-70% lower than other CRM providers like Salesforce or Microsoft, so they’re enabling businesses to scale in a realistic and manageable way.

John Cheney, CEO, talks to Business Matters and shares his story …

What made you start Workbooks? Did you want to rock the status quo, was it a challenge or a gap in the marketplace that you could fill?    

Before Workbooks, I founded a cloud-based email security business. As we grew, like many SMEs, we invested in various IT systems: we used Salesforce as our platform for sales, but then a separate platform for marketing automation, finance, customer services, and so on. Running a business using many different systems adds unnecessary complexity and is expensive. So, I saw an opportunity to develop a CRM and business applications platform primarily for mid-sized companies like ours.

The aim was to allow companies to build better businesses and remove the burden of managing multiple, siloed solutions. Along with traditional CRM, I wanted Workbooks to provide tools such as order processing and customer support that could join up the customer-facing side of the business and easily integrate with accounting systems.

So that was the vision: to create a business application platform for growing companies that couldn’t necessarily afford enterprise applications but needed more capability than simple and disjointed accounting, marketing, or sales tools.

What is Workbooks’ USP?

Aside from the CRM service, we also offer a Shared Success approach to new projects, which is a selling point unique to Workbooks. Many companies take a technology-first approach to choosing the right CRM, but that can be a fast track to failure. Instead, companies should start by identifying the business outcomes they want to achieve in order to identify functional goals.

Our Shared Success approach helps businesses define and prioritise their business outcomes, understand their requirements for CRM, and set clear expectations for implementing it. We invest in the success of our customers’ CRM projects in three ways:

  1. We help customers to understand what they need from CRM software to achieve their business goals with a co-funded workshop.
  2. We co-fund implementation to give customers a made-to-measure CRM for an off-the-shelf price.
  3. We offer a co-funded customer success programme so customers can future-proof their business processes with a CRM that grows with them.

What is the main problem you solve for your customers?

Our CRM platform helps SMEs grow revenue, enhance customer experience, reduce operational costs, and improve decision-making by joining up the entire business. Our core CRM services extend beyond sales, marketing, and customer services to include marketing automation, event management, order management and fulfilment, invoicing, and supplier management functionalities for SMEs. We work consultatively with businesses to deliver a CRM and workflow that addresses their unique challenges. In doing so, we’re proud to say we have been rated number one for customer satisfaction by G2 for the past six years.

What are your brand values?

Our customers’ success is our success – which starts with our customers as individuals. Our overarching approach is to focus on the people we work with, and how we can help them be better at what they do. Business success will follow.

Do your values define your decision making process?

When helping a customer with their CRM implementation, it’s very important to us that the individuals we’re working with understand it. We’re willing to invest the time into ensuring they are using the tools successfully, because we know, long term, if they’re successful, they’ll continue to invest in the Workbooks platform.

Is team culture integral to your business?

I think team culture needs to be integral to any business. We have our five company values on the wall at Workbooks HQ. The most important is ‘customer first’, which is about how we, as a business, make sure we deliver the outcomes our customers are expecting. The others are: ‘committed’, ‘creative’, ‘identify opportunities and problems’, and ‘competitive’ – we like to win! But all of these company values rely on us working well as a team.

If team culture is integral to your business, what do you do to go the extra mile to show your team you appreciate them?

We have a sixth unofficial company value, which is cake. It’s important to celebrate milestones together, whether that’s winning a big deal or a birthday. We also have quarterly ‘town halls’, where I’ll provide a business update to the entire company, and as part of that process, we recognise the achievements of key individuals. We call them our Workbooks heroes.

In terms of your messaging do you think you talk directly to your consumers in a clear fashion?

Being honest, talking directly to our prospects in a clear fashion isn’t always easy. We have a diverse customer base, and we need to communicate clearly to everyone, from manufacturing to professional services firms. We are working on it, but even then, each business will have slightly different needs. What’s most important is that we understand them.

What’s your take on inflation and interest rates – are you going to pass that on to your customers or let your margins take a hit and reward customer loyalty in these tougher times?

Many of our customers are already protected because they have signed a multi-year contract with us. The price of the product remains the same during that contract period, regardless of what goes on with our public list price.

More than 75% of our customers are on multi-year contracts, so there hasn’t been any price inflation in their Workbooks licenses. However, costs are always reassessed at renewal time, and pricing may need to be adapted to inflation.

How often do you assess the data you pull in and address your KPIs and why?

I have a set of dashboards displaying data from across the business that I look at every day. We use the data to continually review and assess our performance against KPIs. We look at top-line revenue, sales performance, customer satisfaction, customer health, customer retention rates, and then key financial metrics, like billings and cash flow.

We use this data to measure our budget performance. How are we doing against where we thought we were going to be? Do we have any customer-related issues that need resolving? This last one is a particularly important part of what we do with the data daily – we want to identify potential issues for customers as early as possible and understand the reasons for them.

Is tech playing a much larger part in your day-to-day running of your company?

We make incremental and continual improvements to our technology stack, and, like many businesses, we use some technologies like video conferencing tools far more than we used to. On the whole though, technology has always played an important part in the day-to-day running of our business.

What is your attitude to your competitors?

I am grateful to our competitors. I think they add real value to us. Our largest competitors, like Salesforce, have helped create the market we operate in, and it’s against them that we can differentiate our services.

It can be a lonely and pressured place to be as the lead decision maker of the business. What do you do to relax, recharge and hone your focus?

I like cooking, and I enjoy a glass of wine. Sometimes at the same time. Preferably at the same time, actually.

Do you believe in the 12 week work method or do you make much longer planning strategies? 

The short answer is yes, I believe in the 12 week work method. However, this is actually one of three things we do at Workbooks. At a high level, we have a three year business plan, which is more strategic; a 12 month financial plan, which is much more detailed and includes budgets and KPIs; and then a three month plan, which focuses on our more immediate objectives and what we are trying to deliver.

What is Workbooks’ eco strategy?

We are taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint where we can. For example, we partake in the Cycle to Work Scheme and are just about to introduce an electric car scheme. The electric car points are being installed at our offices as we speak. We are also looking at ways to run our business in a more environmentally friendly manner. For example, we are working with our suppliers to reduce the power consumption of our hardware.

What three things do you hope to have in place within the next 12 months?

International expansion is a key focus for us moving forward. In 2018, we opened an office in Connecticut to support our growth in North America, where we recently won our biggest contract to date. Within the next 12 months, we hope to grow our team in America by another five people.

We also have plans to open a third office, which will be in Europe, and we are looking to launch a new product to help our customers manage projects more effectively.

Cherry Martin

Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.
Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.