Big Business Interview: Robert Craven

Big Business Interview Robert Craven

In an age where everyone seems to be obsessed with Twitter and Facebook it could be considered risky to dismiss social media but that doesn’t seem to bother Robert Craven. Business reporter, Liza-Jane Gillespie, talks with the guru about the importance of having a conversation.

In his own words he ‘fell’ into helping businesses about 30 years ago but when the likes of Richard Branson hang on his every word, business owners would be foolish not to sit up and listen to what he has to say.

Abandoning a future in accountancy Mr Craven spent his early 20s running a cafe, restaurant and eventually a recording studio. It was only when he got bored with all of those that he started helping other business owners – by this time he was just 26.

Accepting that he was probably out his depth Mr Craven attended the Warwick School of Business where after getting a degree, pupil became teacher and he started working with wannabe entrepreneurs.

However, in 2000 his career changed direction when he was approached by Virgin to write a series of business guides and it was the success of these books, which included the best-sellers Customer is King and Kick Start Your Business, that led to his public speaking.

A recession, the rise of the internet, the growth of social media and the collapse of several high profile corporate giants has led to a rush of so-called experts.

Business breakfasts and networking events are now full of speakers claiming to be Twitter experts, Linkedin experts, online experts, marketing experts. Book shops have entire sections dedicated to how to make a profit, how to grow your business, how to beat the recession but Mr Craven remains resolute in his conviction that there is no such thing as a quick fix.

“I think that the business support industry has changed. Entrepreneurship, self-employment have become sexy and more and more people are in the market place as special advisers.

“What has changed is the speed of everything around us. It is like one of those music videos when you are walking down a street and everything’s rushing by. There’s a kind of myopic attitude about being in business, in the same way everyone thinks they are an above average driver, everyone thinks they can be a multi-millionaire but the statistics are against them.

“There’s a lot of snake oil salesmen out there, a lot of get rich quick, silver bullet ideas but we all know, deep down, that quick fix is a nonsense. It’s like dieting, the majority know the only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. In business 99 out of 100 people will have to do the hard work and long hours.”

According to Mr Craven business owners usually face three problems;

  1. they don’t know where their business is going,
  2. they don’t know how to sell their product and
  3. they struggle to engage.

He also argues that many businesses have stopped focusing on their product and have become too distracted by social media.

“We need to get away from our smartphones and go back to old school conversations – we’ve got really lazy. We have a database of 20,000 people and think we can just send them an email but it doesn’t register. What does register is going for a coffee, having lunch – eye balling people.”

He added: “The idea that content is king is social media gobbledegook talk because it’s actually about engagement, it’s about me having something interesting to say and you finding it interesting. It’s about engaging. People confuse social media with selling but it’s not selling, its general awareness building.

“The way people buy has fundamentally changed. We now get ten times more information about a possible purchase but we buy much more quickly. Your digital footprint is really important – it’s going back to word-of-mouth.”

Robert Craven explains why too many businesses suffer from five-year-old-itis.

They keep on running an out-dated business model based on five-year-old assumptions about who their customers are, what they want and what they are prepared to pay for what.

Many have recently suffered the ultimate indignity from keeping their heads planted in the sand: Comet, Blockbuster, Woolworths.

But even if your name is not on the casualty list then the world looks pretty tough. Here is the transcript of two identical conversations I’ve had , one with a global brand name giant, and then with a Bath-based small business:

  • “We were known to be the best… we were unique…But now the competition has caught up with us.”
  • “The competition is starting to overtake us.”
  • “Retail is no longer where the battle is fought….”
  • “Everyone checks us out on the web and social media before they even think of actually talking to us…”
  • “The power of the independent intermediary, opinion gatherer or testimonial rules the roost.”
  • “People have always talked…But now they can reach so many people.”
  • “You can now buy an almost identical product but at a fraction of our price.”

It is getting tougher out there for most businesses. Customers are smarter and better-informed and less loyal than they had been. They no longer need to, and in fact they don’t believe you.

So, what is to be done?

Join the queue heading for oblivion by competing on price? As Michael Porter says, “Competing on price is a mug’s game unless you can afford to go cheaper than the competition.”

What the outside world is telling us is:

  1. Don’t believe your five-year-old model.
  2. Recognise that the internet is not just a phase that only applies to youth brands.
  3. Brands that deliver on quality can still do very nicely.

Sticking to the old model is what has driven so many businesses into the ground.

When 54% of people have more online interaction than offline interaction, then it is time to wake up and smell the coffee. – Tweet This!

The new landscape of business battles will take place on two fronts:

One, your digital footprint is more important than ever: people will evaluate you based on your offering, how you look and how you appear to behave online.

Two, your ability to exceed customer expectations in the service that you deliver will become increasingly more important.