By T.C. Doyle
MNJ Technologies, a $125 million-plus channel company, is back in growth mode after several years of floundering. A switch to cloud services, accompanied by an overhaul to its go-to-market strategy, culture and technology portfolio, is a big reason why.
Here is the story of MNJ Technologies, a self-funded and founder-owned business, and what lessons its transformation can teach you.
In the aftermath of the dot-com economic meltdown, MNJ Technologies opened its doors in 2002. Founders Paul and Sue Kozak set out to be “a full-service technology solutions provider with a reputation for knowledgeable sales representatives and solution architects, as well as outstanding logistical capabilities.” Paul Kozak, a 14-year veteran of CDW who rose to the rank of executive vice president of operations before leaving, knew a thing or two about scaling a business.
For much of the decade that followed, MNJ Technologies, based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, thrived reselling products from HP, Cisco, NEC and others. By 2012, the company had grown into a $100 million-plus company catering to small and medium-size companies in the greater Chicagoland area.
Beginning around 2013-2014, however, sales growth began to slow. Over the next three years, they stagnated as customers began looking more closely at cloud services sold on a monthly basis. Soon, they began diverting their IT spending from capital-intensive investments to more flexible monthly contracts that drew from operating expenses. The shift, MNJ COO Paul Kozak says, caught the company off guard.
After some soul searching, MNJ realized it didn’t have the right customer relationships, salespeople, business model or market insights needed to pivot in a timely manner. The company, which prided itself on customer intimacy and employee-friendly policies such as “free-lunch Wednesdays,” found itself losing influence with customers and alienating the affections of longtime employees.
The more that MNJ talked with its customers about their plans to shift to cloud and digital services, the more the solution provider realized that customers did not have a good handle on where their data would reside, how they would protect it, which applications they would choose and who would help them with their digital transformations. Kozak and his partner, company president Sue Kozak, saw an opportunity emerge before their eyes. As the picture became clearer, so too did challenges that went along with it.
“I recognized that we needed new capabilities, new players to work with and new ways to sell ourselves,” says Kozak.
To jump-start the transformation, MNJ hired new talent, including Ben Niernberg, a onetime Canon copier salesman who was working as an executive vice president in charge of operations and business development at a title company. Though he didn’t know much about MNJ Technologies or cloud services, he did know a lot about turnaround transformations. After interviewing with the Kozaks, MNJ brought him in as senior vice president of operations and sales in April 2017.
When Niernberg arrived at MNJ, he found what he says was a “great company foundation” that wasn’t evolving with the rapidly changing times. “[MNJ] was struggling on making that transition from what the traditional VAR model used to be into what customers were saying what they wanted,” says Niernberg.
Not long after arriving, Niernberg recognized that MNJ needed to retrain its technicians and acquire new capabilities and insights. More to the point, MNJ needed the skills necessary to …
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