Leadership | 03.25.20
Vogueboard Has Been a Springboard to Success for Amadou T. Agne
Amadou T. Agne is the founder of Vogueboard Inc, a Maryland-based technology company offering B2B Sales Management solutions for the flooring industry. Since he earned his Master’s of Engineering degree from Cornell University 18 years ago, Agne has been working in the construction industry, including with commercial flooring subcontractor companies.
Dealing first-hand with supply chain management, he observed manual core processes and vast inefficiencies in transactions between suppliers and buyers of building materials. He found the construction industry itself to be lagging behind other industries in adopting new technologies, especially in the B2B area. Vogueboard Inc. was launched to address this essential need to digitize the building materials industry. Vogueboard delivers a secure digital storefront for suppliers and buyers to connect, engage, and transact.
NAFCD: What makes Vogueboard stand out in the marketplace? What are your one or two biggest selling points?
AMADOU AGNE: Let’s say you have a good sales team. They’re doing their best. But you know — and they know — they’re spending too much time on paperwork and not enough time with customers. According to Hubspot research, salespeople spend as little as one third of their time on selling. The other two thirds is spent on writing emails (21%), entering data (17%), scheduling calls (12%), and internal meetings (12%).
Also, your staff usually has to work with several stand-alone software programs and manually fill out multiple forms, which leads to human errors. They check their paper notes for details on the customer and call up Customer Service teams for information about their previous orders. And the software they’re using isn’t set up for teams, so it’s hard to see what others are doing and track results.
NAFCD: And that’s where Vogueboard comes in?
AA: Vogueboard is the first in the market that offers the convenience of having all the necessary data in one platform, which integrates B2B Sales Automation, eCommerce, online Marketplace, CRM, and Networking. The platform can be easily integrated with any ERP or accounting system, therefore eliminating the need for manual data entry or exporting/importing.
Our second major distinction is that unlike older on-premise software with remote access, Vogueboard is a truly cloud-based SaaS product with a modern mobile-friendly interface. Vogueboard’s SaaS technology eliminates the need to download and oversee an inconvenient hardware installation. Our users have instant access to the tools needed to attract new customers, develop relationships, and digitize the entire B2B sales process for a completely paperless transaction experience.
An additional bonus is that we don’t charge any upfront or monthly subscription fee. The sellers pay only a small transaction fee when they make profits. This aligns our interests with our customers.
NAFCD: How can your software help NAFCD’s member-readers build better businesses?
AA: Our platform’s major application is building a better business by increasing efficiency, cutting costs, and increasing sales. It can be helpful not only to floor covering distributors, but to all NAFCD members, including manufacturers, retailers, contractors and industry professionals. Our software equips sales teams with all the necessary tools to receive electronic account applications; generate and send digital product catalogs, standard or job-specific pricing, and transaction documents in one click; and make it easier for buyers to place orders and complete the transaction.
It’s surprising that even some medium-sized companies still don’t have a CRM system in place, using instead some accounting software or Excel to keep records of the leads and customers. Our free CRM system allows NAFCD members to have a 360-degree view on customers and apply marketing automation tools. The comprehensive KPI dashboard enables management to track the sales pipeline and read real-time data analytics.
Manufacturers and distributors enjoy our convenient product catalog management and job-specific pricing, electronic order processing, invoicing, and shipping notifications. Distributors can access multiple vendor catalogs and create customized catalogs for their brands, which makes it easy to implement private labeling and drop shipping. Suppliers and vendors can use the online Marketplace as a free virtual showroom to display products, quickly liquidate old inventory through an online dealer, as well as increase brand awareness and product exposure to architects and designers. Architects and designers, in turn, are attracted to our platform because they can access products from different vendors in one place, create a free digital product library, and order free product samples.
NAFCD: Are there any unique market trends in the geographical markets Vogueboard services?
AA: Currently, we target only U.S. and Canadian markets. The major disruptive trends that we see in these two markets are increasing online and omni-channel sales, shortening time to market for new materials that are entering the market at a rapid pace, intensified competition from eCommerce giants like Amazon or Grainger, and the increasing presence of international suppliers. Actually, we launched our platform to leverage the above-mentioned trends, aiming to help all industry players successfully deal with imminent disruptions and new challenges.
Many flooring companies struggle to increase their Internet presence because they lack resources to build an eCommerce site in-house. At the same time, B2B customers now expect the same user experience level that B2C companies offer. And if they can’t order a product right away from the website, the vendors risk losing these website visitors. By creating a free account on our platform, the vendors now can, in 30 minutes, set up a Webstore to manage collections and products and display them on the Marketplace.
Another example of how our platform helps to deal with industry disruptions is private labeling automation. Currently, almost all flooring materials have a cheaper alternative, and contractors are often looking for value enhancement opportunities. To avoid direct price competition and channel conflicts, it is feasible to quickly introduce a new brand or label, and our platform can help you quickly convert vendor catalogs to own catalogs, rename the collections and products, apply a new price markup, and significantly shorten the time to market.
NAFCD: Looking ahead to the next 10+ months, where do you see the next great opportunity?
AA: Despite growing consensus on the coming economic downturn, it’s good timing now to build strategies to maximize growth during the next rising trend expected to begin in the second half of 2020, and 2021 is expected to be a stronger year relative to 2019 and 2020. One of the greatest opportunities during the next, hopefully short-term, slowdown would be to optimize business processes through cloud-based software automation, increase efficiency of sales teams by implementing a CRM system, and training people for new skills like marketing automation or B2B sales automation.
Overall, for B2B suppliers and distributors, the focus should be on providing a seamless customer experience, making it easier for customers to buy products online. To monitor customer experience, it’s important to listen to both salespeople and customers, putting all the records in a centralized CRM system.
NAFCD: What is the favorite part of your job?
AA: The favorite part of my job is to observe how our solution really helps our customers to address their pain points or gain in additional sales and profits. It’s fulfilling to see that the product that we developed in response to market need is indeed demanded and delivers a good value to our customers. We also like to receive honest feedback and suggestions from our customers on further development of the platform, because it’s a continuous improvement process, and we constantly check the product/market fit. I feel like we’re executing an important mission on helping the building materials industry to become leaner, stronger, and more resilient.
NAFCD: What do you still find challenging, even hard?
AA: I would say the complacency of the building materials companies is hard to deal with. The recent strong economic growth of the United States shifted the focus of the companies from becoming a leaner and better business to expanding extensively. Strong overall demand and consistent economic growth doesn’t create incentives for the management of companies to change proven business processes, explore inefficiencies and areas for improvement. Even most inefficient companies may still prefer to wait for the coming changes in the industry instead of acting right now. It still works for them to rely only on field salespeople, manually process orders and memorize customer data, applying traditional marketing methods even though they’re costlier, etc.
NAFCD: Was there some advice given to you earlier in your career that’s really stuck with you?
AA: One of the major advisors for me is my father. Early on when I just started my career, he told me that I can achieve anything if I put in enough effort and build good relationships. Today, it becomes more important to cultivate relationships with your customers, trading partners, and stakeholders because the switching barriers have been reduced dramatically and companies are bombarded with new proposals every day. Therefore, CRM and networking modules are two important components of our platform.
A good sales rep can retain the customer even if the overall customer service and support is not meeting his/her expectation. Strong customer relationships can also help a sales rep to increase his/her job security and become more valued by an employer.
NAFCD: Finally, how has NAFCD been of value to you specifically and to your firm, in general?
AA: Our company first took part in the NAFCD Annual Conference only last year. We exhibited as a first-timer, and it was a very pleasant and useful experience. We felt strong support from NAFCD to first-timers both on an organizational level and networking assistance. We liked the format of the show very much. It facilitated direct contacts among participants, and we received a lot of valuable feedback from the industry insiders. We’ll take part in all future NAFCD activities and hopefully will make our own contribution into growth of this association and its members.