A conversation with Ron Books, ECi Software Solutions
Ron Books, CEO at ECi Software Solutions, was the thirty-second employee hired at ECi in 1999 when it was a startup with almost no revenue. Since then, his background in sales and in-depth industry knowledge has been integral in helping the company become a global enterprise that does north of $200M in annual revenue.
A big part of what fueled ECi’s growth was acquisitions, including the September 2018 acquisition of Vineyardsoft Corporation — ECi’s fourth company and sixth product acquired since Q1 2017. Ron took time recently to speak with Software Business Growth about this acquisition, processes for onboarding new employees, and more.
Q: What are the differences between acquiring a product and acquiring a company?
Books: We make that distinction because in some instances the companies we acquire bring more than one product to the ECi family (such as Exact U.S., which brought Macola, JobBOSS, and Max) and expanding our software capabilities is a primary goal when embarking on an acquisition. Closing out 2018, we acquired seven companies and nine products since Q1 2017, with the most recent ones being Lasso Data Systems and Print Audit in December 2018.
Q: What do you look for when considering a company/product the right fit for your business?
Books: We are laser focused on a creating a viable, long-term strategy for our business and at the core of that is identifying ways to consistently increase value for our customers in their vertical markets. Acquisitions are a key component of that and allow us to expand our capabilities and reach for small to midsized businesses (SMBs) in the manufacturing, building and construction, field service, and distribution industries. We take a three-pronged approach when evaluating a new acquisition, looking for value-add solutions that will create new efficiencies and deliver new functionalities to our existing user base; opportunities to expand our global ERP market share in the industries we’re already serving; and the ability to enter an adjacent — or brand new — industry, all while ensuring our customers are the primary focus.
Aside from product capabilities we’re also looking for new talent when considering an acquisition. A large portion of our employee base — and even our executive team — is made up of individuals who came to ECi through an acquisition. We take pride in being not only the software provider for entrepreneurs, but also a home for them to take their businesses and their careers to the next phase.
Q: Vineyardsoft has a reseller network of more than 100 partners. How did you ensure those partners are on board with this acquisition?
Books: With every acquisition, we work closely with the acquired company to create a detailed communications strategy — including FAQs, letters, and more — to ensure everyone involved in the company — from employees, to customers and partners — understands what has taken place and how it will impact their daily lives. Since bringing Vineyardsoft on, we’ve worked to integrate its OEMs and resellers into our existing partner base so they can successfully contribute to our overall go-to-market channel strategy and be armed with both software and expertise to thrive.
Q: What is ECi doing to ensure Vineyardsoft’s employees are successfully integrated in to the company?
Books: In addition to providing written communication that clearly outlines the details of the acquisition, we also make it a point to travel to the acquired company’s headquarters to deliver presentations to new employees that both introduce them to ECi and get them excited about joining our company. Culture is at the forefront of everything we do, and with every acquisition we make it a point to ensure our new employees are being integrated into that culture as quickly as possible. This initiative is spearheaded by our Senior Vice President of Human Resources (HR), Andrew Pryor. Working closely with myself and our President and COO Trevor Gruenewald, Andrew has created a process that ensures employees are prioritized throughout every acquisition and are onboarded as quickly as possible.
Q: ECi now has employees all over the world. How do you ensure your distributed teams stay connected and your culture and values translate when people are not under the same roof?
Books: As our ECi culture champion, Andrew has mastered creating an inclusive and engaging working environment for our entire organization which operates in North America, the U.K., the Netherlands, and Australia. In the last few years, Andrew has not only helped guide our organization through eight different acquisitions, but also has created award-winning culture, perks, and benefits programs. Our Reward and Recognition Program, which is called HIGH5, allows employees to recognize one another worldwide for their contributions to the company, giving coworkers who aren’t in the same office the chance to give each other feedback. ECi also issues weekly Employee Engagement Surveys to gauge how employees feel about their work environment. It’s important to us to make sure our employees have a positive perception of their workplace, and this survey helps us identify any issues that they’re facing early on.
Q: What are some of the most challenging aspects of acquisitions and what are you doing to overcome them?
Books: If not handled correctly, communication can present enormous challenges in an acquisition. It’s critical everyone involved understands the strategy of the acquisition and what it means; otherwise, you run the risk of the whole thing derailing if employees are being relayed the wrong information and then passing that on to their customers. Not only could this jeopardize the short-term success of the acquisition, it also sets the businesses up for more challenges in the long term when trying to integrate the new employees, customers, partners, etc.
We really try to be as transparent as possible across the board, both during and after the acquisition is finalized. This is done through our joint communication strategy with the acquired company, but also in the weeks that follow as we onboard our new employees and introduce ourselves to customers. We make acquisitions because we see benefits for both our companies and our customers — and it’s important that we communicate those benefits to get everyone as excited about them as we are.
Q: What other advice do you have for other software companies that are considering an acquisition?
Books: Just because you want to buy something, doesn’t mean you can — or you should. Think critically before embarking on an acquisition by asking yourself: How will this help my business and help my customers? If that answer isn’t clear, you may want to reconsider.
Second, ensure your core values and culture remain present throughout an entire acquisition. Prioritize new employees by making them feel welcomed and excited about joining your company. Take time to visit them in person and show you are committed to their success.
Last, work hand in hand with the acquiring company to finetune the communications strategy. Create a plan that will instill confidence in every stakeholder involved in the acquisition and be as transparent as possible.