CPM chief looks to data-science future
After earning her stripes at Eir Lorraine Butler is leading from the front at outsourced sales provider CPM, writes Ailish O'Hora
Firsts seem to come easy to Lorraine Butler, the straight-talking managing director of CPM Ireland, one of the country's leaders in outsourced sales and marketing services where key customers include the likes of GSK, Harvey Norman and Eir.
She was the only woman out of 13 on Eir's business board before becoming the first woman managing director at CPM Ireland.
And now she is overseeing another first.
CPM Ireland is bringing data solutions in the form of predictive analytics to its client firms for the first time and has invested €1m a year over each of the past three years in the development of its data-science capabilities.
"Technology is becoming more and more sophisticated and artificial intelligence [AI] is now being built into systems.
"We are going to launch predictive analytics to the Irish market and we'll be the first to do it in our industry.
"You have to have a differentiator. When a person is out in the field, presenting a brand and being the face of that brand they have to know what to do so predictive analytics helps them.
"There's information available as to what worked for them and the customer and what might work better."
She added that the system is based on big data where the company harnesses the power of AI through machine-learning algorithms to predict future events.
So just as she is bringing her technology background to CPM after over a decade at Eir, CPM is marrying its technology capabilities to improve its people-based offerings for its clients in the increasingly disrupted world of retail.
"We are a people business supported by technology. I do love technology, but it's the people part that has helped me to make a difference at CPM. It's the combination of the two that counts.
"Our data and research is being used by marketing teams at our client companies to make business plans with their own customers. Our clients tell us these new facts and figures have made a fundamental difference to how they do business.
"We use data scientists to create information that are used by humans, and by bringing the two together you have a powerful tool which is constantly evolving."
CPM Ireland, which is part of the larger group Omnicom, in the main is a provider of field marketing and sales services to players in the retail market.
The Irish field marketing market is worth about €100m and the company has an estimated turnover of €20m a year.
While technology is clearly an increasingly important aspect of CPM's business, finding the right people for its clients is the top priority.
However, given the low unemployment rates here against the backdrop of a booming economy, finding the right people for her clients has become a challenge over the past few years.
Potential employees have high expectations and are often not willing to put in the groundwork, she told the Sunday Independent.
"People are beginning to lose their social skills so people engagement is an issue. Technology is intervening too much and people are becoming more used to engaging with their devices more than other individuals.
"This comes across very strongly in interviews. So the personal touch, the personal engagement is not there as much it would have been before.
"For me I have to decipher the person and see what people can bring to us and the brands we work with versus the value and the value they'll bring versus the cost to us and our clients.
"In the last three years I've seen an inflation ask from candidates of between 25pc and 45pc - and they are getting it.
"Then people begin to believe their own hype, and I'm finding it at the lower end of the market too, so as an outsourcing agency we can provide a lot of different services. But a big part of our business is merchandising and people coming in at the lower end work their way up the ladder and that pays off for them. But it's very hard to find those gems."
There are other challenges, too, in a market where sometimes the employer is battling against a welfare system which is proving to be an attractive alternative for some potential employees, Butler added.
"I also believe we have a problem with our social welfare system. There are so many opportunities at entry level in our business, but some of the feedback we get is that it just isn't worth it because potential employees can get more on social welfare.
"That is an issue we deal with every day. And believe it or not, it's not just the younger people, it's their parents getting involved.
"Parents are contacting us as part of the interview process and are also asking their children why would they go into a role at entry level when they can get more on social welfare or jobseeker's unless you can command a salary of €40,000 or more?
"These young people are missing out on the learning aspect of employment and the benefits of contributing to society.
"Outside of my career, I do a lot of mentoring work. As business leaders we need to be aligned and we need general rules of engagement in terms of what is acceptable in business with so many challenges ahead."
According to Butler, the company has had to adapt its approach to hiring for its clients because of the challenges in the market.
"We can't compromise on this because it is our brand and our reputation and our clients' reputation. We are now investing about three times more in human resources than we were three years ago.
"In any given week we have about 40 vacancies so you are constantly recruiting and interviewing people and it is taking us three times more in terms of resources etc in finding those people," she said.
Challenges aside, Butler said that the Irish can-do attitude gives us a distinct advantage, although there are ongoing challenges for a small country trying to fight for investment in an increasingly global market and against the backdrop of Brexit.
"We are a smaller country, but per capita our contribution is high. One of our advantages is our culture and our people.
"It is a country that is built on relationships and while this is changing, our psyche is different. We strive to make things work, we'll find a way to do it.
"But I would worry that we are beginning to lose that. As business leaders we need to communicate what is and is not acceptable. And what doesn't work is short-termism."
And her message to the retail industry is clear. There's no denying the traditional high-street model no longer works, she admitted.
"You have to embrace the change. We need to focus on what consumers are looking for and giving that to them, a reason to go to the store.
"If you are going in for a higher level purchase, for example, you want an experience, a memory, a feeling and we need to invest in creating that instore experience.
"The challenge I see in Ireland from a brand point of view is that you've got a sales function and a marketing function with different P&Ls, different owners, but they need to merge in the future.
"If they don't, people and brands will fail, but people who engage with the consumer have to be part of the same team in the future.
"Digital is key - 70pc of people who are going to buy something go online first and into the store to pick it up. But what we find is that the online experience and the one at the store are different and not joined up.
"You need to make sure that where you are starting and ending is seamless.
"You go online to buy a PC at a retailer site, but you go to the shop and it isn't in stock or it is more expensive or hard to find. That drives the consumer mad and they leave with a bad taste in their mouth.
"In order for retail to survive, you need to ensure the store experience is special, but you also need to ensure you're not messaging customers too much either."
For Butler, bringing new data to CPM's clients is an exciting new development for the company. But it's the bread and butter benefits of the outsourcing model with its cost benefits that will continue to be a unique selling point.
"Often our clients will say if they are focusing on skills and their own people, people can get left behind. And there are savings. So with an average of 10pc from outsourcing and the efficiencies you get from increased sales of about 10pc, so you get a 20pc differentiator normally and we work with our clients typically for about 12 years.
"Again, people don't realise the Eir team they are dealing with, say in a store, are CPM staff, but if our teams doesn't believe in what they're doing it comes across very quickly," she added.
Butler takes no prisoners, that is clear, but she is as tough on herself as she would be on any potential employer.
"At Eir, if I wanted to make strategic decisions I could contribute but not execute and it was never going to be my company and obviously the owners were going to make those decisions.
"At CPM, I have control at end-to-end and although we are part of a bigger organisation with offices in 35 markets, Ireland continues to punch above its weight," she said before heading off on another round of interviews.
Name: Lorraine Butler
Position: MD CPM Ireland
Lives: Killeshin, Co Laois
Education: Qualified professional coach and mentor, DIT & Ibec. BA in Technology Management, DIT, MSc in Business Leadership & Management Practice from UCD Smurfit Business School
Family: Married to Jeff. Oldest of eight sisters
Pastimes: Jogger. I have signed up for my fourth half-marathon, happening in Omagh in April
Favourite book: Anything fiction by Sheila Flanagan, Cathy Kelly to switch off. I tend to read biographies on leaders, finding personal journeys fascinating and offering great learnings. Workwise I gravitate towards Harvard Business Reviews for shorter, thought-provoking reads
Favourite films: Love Actually and Leon
Recent boxset or Netflix's: Peaky Blinders. I can't wait for the last season of Game of Thrones
What example in the world of business do you take inspiration from?
The Amazon Business model and its continuous, incremental evolution is inspirational. Jeff Bezos’s ethos of compulsive focus on the customer versus obsession with the competitor is very aligned to my own philosophy.
What lessons from business are important to you?
There is no place for arrogance or complacency in business success. Success is a moment in time. The business landscape can change at any minute out of the blue and it may not make any sense as to why. Keep your eyes and ears open, and trust your gut. Constantly think of what your Plan B would be. Hope that people will treat you with the same respect as you do them, but don’t expect that this will always be the case.
Who has inspired you during your career?
I have worked for some great leaders throughout my career. Carolan Lennon, CEO of Eir, is a person I admire who balances personal and professional life very well and never forgets the importance of people.
Sunday Indo Business