By Sarah Shields, Executive director, direct and channel sales, Dell
Graham Blaney was working in IT outsourcing when he realised his talent for getting the best deal out of complex purchases. However, it was only when he started helping friends and family to purchase items such as cars and kitchens that he turned his skill into a business and set up Buying Butler. The company takes the legwork out of important or complex purchasing decisions making it easier for everyone to find and buy the right product for them.
I caught up with Blaney to find out more about Buying Butler and how he plans to help customers make better buying decisions.
Sarah Shields: What inspired the creation of Buying Butler?
Graham Blaney: I had been using my experience in procuring and contracting large IT outsourcing contracts to help with my own complex purchases. For example when I decided to purchase a car I sent an automated email to manufacturers asking them to answer specific questions and used the same approach to contact dealers to find the car with the best specifications and the most suitable finance option for me. This proved hugely successful and I found both the best car and the best deal for me. The idea for the business started to grow from there.
Friends and family started asking me to help them find various items, from kitchens, to cars and even specialist extractor fans. The key was to find the best options available, so they didn’t have to trawl through multiple websites, brochures or sales rooms and repeatedly ask the same questions. I realized a lot of people were having these types of problems and wanted to find a way to make it easier. That’s when I finally had the ‘light bulb’ moment and decided to take the risk and build a business.
Shields: What does Buying Butler offer that fills a gap in the market?
Blaney: We call ourselves a concierge buying service. We’re here to help the people who don’t have all the necessary information available to them to make an informed purchase decision for more complex purchasing such as buying a car and don’t have the time to do all the research required. We give the customer all the information they need, presented clearly, concisely and in layman’s terms so that they can buy with the confidence of an expert.
Shields: What have you found to be the best method to growing your customer-base and why?
Blaney: When we ran our first pilot we contacted 150 users. We thought we’d have to do that every week to generate enough leads, but we only ever contacted that first group. From that we got 39 leads and 37 sales, which proved the initial business model was on the right track. From our analysis of who bought through us, we saw our service resonated particularly well with busy professionals who were cash rich and time poor. This became our target market.
One of our initial leads was a gentleman looking to buy a 4×4, trading in a Porsche. We advised him to wait, as it was the wrong time in the year to trade in and expensive to purchase a 4×4. Because we had showed him that we had his best interest at heart, we got four referrals.
Another customer was looking for a personal lease on a car. Based on information our system generates we suggested he would be better getting a business lease, which would save him a considerable amount of money. After having that one conversation with him, we got seven referrals. It demonstrated how people respond when you put their best interest first.
Shields: Your strategy for growing a customer base through employee benefits sounds like a great idea. Can you explain how it works and what led you to it?
Blaney: Initially our strategy was to create a business-to-consumer (B2C) offering, and we were selected for the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program. However, the Microsoft team saw we had plans for a small channel using a white-label offering for companies and suggested this become our major focus. They even agreed to be one of our beta pilot customers. This change has been really successful and we now have a very healthy pipeline of companies who want to use our service when we launch the production version next year.
When we have our next set of products available – car finance and insurance – we’re planning to white label them to the benefits providers who see a lot of value in our service, creating another channel partner.
Shields: What’s been your biggest challenge to date?
Blaney: Our major challenge was redirecting out focus from B2C to B2B. We had to re-design our system to meet B2B customers’ needs – a massive undertaking! When you deliver a service via a B2B channel, everything has to be robust and resilient, building in the right security, support, policy adherence, and active directory integration.
Shields: What are your future plans for Buying Butler?
Blaney: Our immediate focus is to stay in beta, using feedback from our users, companies and suppliers to fine-tune the service. The next goal is to open the service up to support other categories that customers are requesting including car finance products, plus an extension of our employee dashboard. We’re also planning to deliver the service in other geographies. With these changes we will address the pain points many of our customers have when making these types of purchases.
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