How forward-thinking leaders profit from breakthrough innovations

In this interview series Richard Richie, Managing Partner of Alcon Maddox, gets some of London’s most forward-thinking tech leaders to spill the beans on what is making their companies so successful and what innovations the future has in store.

This week Rober Taracido Ruiz, Country Manager (UK & Ireland) of Treatwell, explains how he has been able to triple productivity in under 12 months, with the same headcount. How competing with both Marketplace and SaaS business models at the same time has allowed them to innovate quicker, and how being obsessive about data helps clear bottlenecks in a sales process. 

RR: Rober, tell us a bit about what Treatwell is or does.

RTR: Treatwell was actually founded in Amsterdam around 10 years ago and is now the market leading booking platform or marketplace for hair and beauty appointments in Europe, present in 13 countries. It’s been a journey getting here, with a lot of M&A activity along the way, during which the competitive landscape changed quite dramatically.

To give you some context, the first wave of competition was originally marketplace and digital led. It was basically transactional and trading B2C customers to B2B partners. The second wave we have right now is software led. It's SaaS tools, copying the model that Salesforce developed 20 years ago.

It's very interesting because we’re competing with two business models. On the one side you have software, which we recognise as being super important because this helps you control the churn, then on the other side is the marketplace which helps you drive your revenues.

Treatwell therefore stands to gain from having a very dominant market position. We have around 20% of online transactions in the UK right now. We are also deploying the SaaS part of the business in order to give enhanced features and service to all those salons and adapt to their needs.

RR: Now, tell me about your biggest successes to date that are worth shouting about, under the frame of breakthrough innovations.

RTR: Well, that has to be almost tripling the productivity of the sales team in under a year, with the same headcount. I'm using the same playbook that I learned and used at WeWork or Groupon. It's an innovation and it's not. Put simply, it's just trying to strip down all the fluff and focus on the essentials of relational sales.

Our ability to achieve this has come about due to three things. Firstly, we’ve been ruthless with our sales tech stack. There are so many different tools that are accessible to sales teams these days and we're in a much better position than when I started my sales career 25 years ago. Right now, you might have Salesforce, Looker, Outreach, Gong, so many different platforms that I think we have over complicated things. We’ve therefore striped down the tech stack to the bare fundamentals. You need to have a CRM and then you need to have a contract management platform and that's it. It’s enough trying to manage the CRM towards the maximum point of efficiency, not creating roadblocks.

So many times in the sales process we create unnecessary layers of administrative tasks, often because we are not utilising the software in the right way. We're still thinking about utilising the software or the sales cycle in a transactional manner. Meaning we're still thinking like in the times of Henry Ford, when he started building cars, part after part after part. We don't think about things in a relational way. We have an acquisition part, we have an onboarding part, and then we have a retention part. These are different relationships, and we need to design the sales cycle in a way that actually enhances each one of those relational buckets and not in a continuum.

This mindset shift alone helps you improve the productivity significantly. An example would be us needing to get a partner ready in 10 days as opposed to 45 days. It's just basically stripping down all the noise on the process and all the bureaucratic aspects.

As leaders, we need to use everything that is happening right now in terms of tools, but also, we need to be ruthless on not just acquiring the tools, but thinking about how we utilise the tools in a way that is very data driven and very efficient.

Secondly, rather than feature selling, we’re instead being, through data, very targeted and segmented on the buying personas and use cases for each one of them. This has worked very well for us.

Then thirdly, is pipeline management. It is fundamental because it allows you to operate at scale. To be effective here you need to be super data led because you need to know your conversion rates so you can calculate the velocity. Sales velocity is fundamental in our industry because when I enhance productivity, small fractional changes actually increase the velocity a lot.

RR: What's been the best advice you've been given over the years when it comes to breakthrough innovations?

RTR: Be obsessive, innovation never rests. This is especially important when you want aggressive growth with extremely stretched targets. You need to be obsessive about the details and the marginal improvements every single day around those topics that we mentioned before because you're setting a new operating rhythm. You're setting a new paradigm. What yesterday was impossible, today is the new normal.

Tomorrow we’ll need to stretch again to the next one. This never ends. Obsessively trying to understand what the limits are, obliterating those limits and ensuring everybody is incentivised and motivated to keep moving forward. That is how you innovate. Innovation is not a game of being static. You need to be very data driven and very clear on process management.

RR: And if we flip that question on its head, if someone were starting down this path, perhaps taking on a position like yours as a Country Manager, what would be the advice you would give to them? 

RTR: Listen, listen, listen, to the teams and listen to the customers.

In our case, I test the app a lot. I just went with my son on a double date to a hair salon, booked through Treatwell of course. They know me at the salon, and we were talking about the service, the issues that they have, and the things that we need to improve.

Meanwhile, we're having the haircut. I think talking with your customers is vital. It's very easy to fall back in your chair at head office and not go visit your partners sometimes. They're grumpy or they're not happy, or they give you tough love. But you need to meet them where they are. You need to understand what's going on.

You need to shadow your team also. I don't have an office. I sit in the middle of the sales floor. Sales one side and After Sales on the other, so I can be listening to both of them.

RR: Nice. Okay. So, I'm curious, what does the next level of success look like at Treatwell?

RTR: It's exactly what we're talking about, innovation. As it stands, we are the longest surviving platform. Right now, we're the clear leader in Europe, with probably 30-40% more salons than our main competitor, which is a hybrid British-American platform. From a revenue perspective, probably we do two times what they do. It would be easy to be comfortable right now, but actually we only have 10% of the salons and practitioners available in the UK. In the whole of Europe there's 1 million practitioners.

We're just scratching the surface. Our biggest competitor right now is pen and paper still. It's not the platforms. It's just bringing people on the journey through digitisation. Our sales speech and our positioning is just summarising it in three clear messages. One, you're going to increase your revenues with us in the marketplace and increase customer retention. Two, you're going to control your costs because our SaaS offering will help you narrow down inefficiencies. The third one, you're going to be part of a community. We have a team of community managers that are working on training, licensing, and supporting the community. This is a very vocal and artistic community that is craving support, as with HMRC tax returns or TikTok campaigns for example, they are not experts.

So next, in terms of success, by the end of Q2 next year, we need to be doing double what we do right now with more or less the same headcount. We're going to do some tactical hiring. We're going to still grow a little bit in some areas, but we can do two times the productivity leveraging better CRM and better technical solutions. Then from there, the aim is to have sleeker operations, reach out to more customers and be more present.