An Interview with Trackback’s James Davenport

17 November 2017

James Davenport is Head of Technology at TrackBack. The company’s first employee as a start-up, James has helped shape the globally successful, multiple award winning organisation that it is today. Here, he reflects on his journey and considers the future.

For anyone who hasn’t come across TrackBack before, what problem does the company try to solve?

TrackBack technology reveals if and when automotive dealers follow up sales leads generated by manufacturers. We do this by telephone and now by email too, with the recent introduction of TrackBack Email. It’s niche, measurable, insightful and labour saving for dealer personnel.

We believe that all potential customers deserve a fast, high quality follow-up to their enquiry but, surprisingly, this isn’t always the case. In Italy, for example, research showed that just 30-40% of leads were being followed up and often this took several days. With the deployment of TrackBack, it’s now over 90%, with the majority of prospects being contacted within one hour.

Why is this important?

It’s important because the car industry’s advertising spend is second only to cosmetics and toiletries. Universally, manufacturers make a huge investment in lead generation but rely on the dealer network to convert this investment into income. Unfortunately this is where the problems begin: staff working in car dealerships may view some leads as poor quality and simply not bother, or the opportunity may be lost as the follow-up isn’t quick enough. The conversion to appointment rate from a lead that has been followed up within one hour is around 50% but it drops to approximately 25% if contact takes two days or more.

The automotive sector is a real indicator of global economic performance: how is it fairing at the moment?

There are always peaks and troughs but it’s fair to say that current conditions are challenging. That’s why high quality customer engagement and resource efficiency are extremely important right now.

Many manufacturers are developing and rolling out programmes to improve the car purchasing experience, taking learnings from conventional retail space and looking to those that break the rules, like Apple stores. This is leading to removing the traditional desks, computers and salesmen that pounce on you, and replacing these with informal lounge areas and iPads to generate car configurations, quotes and finance options on the spot. It’s exciting to see this revolution taking shape with TrackBack playing a part.

Tell us about your role specifically?

I have been working alongside Founder Jerry Horwood since inception and was involved in creating the first prototype. Now, as Head of Technology, I am focused on operational leadership, governance, learning how to make best use of emerging technologies and staff development.

A key challenge for me is keeping on top of new global communication channels, specifically social media. An example of this is the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp called WeChat. The Chinese are already utilising this to book appointments and so we need to be able to capitalise on these emerging channels to stay consumer-relevant.

TrackBack was recently awarded two Queens Awards for Enterprise: how important are accolades like this?

We were presented with the International Trade Award, recognising our impressive rate of international growth with export revenue quadrupling over three years, and also the Innovation Award, recognising the uniqueness of our product and the impact it is having for both businesses and customers.

These awards are incredibly important internally because they’re not just a reflection of the company but the people within it. Often it’s hard to put a value on IT products or services because they are intangible, only existing in an abstract way when you ‘switch on’. These accolades somehow make our work tangible and give our entire team a great deal of pride and satisfaction in the fruits of their labour.

Externally, the recognition has prompted a few interesting conversations too, particularly in India where the Queen is held in high regard. This is extremely positive in the Brexit landscape.

How has the Science Park supported company growth?

The Science Park’s flexible approach has been hugely beneficial to us as we have upgraded our offices four times now. Another major benefit of being here is the environment itself – it’s a truly nice place to work.

We have an open plan office but my second office is Lattes! Although our core market is a little far removed from others on the Park, I enjoy meeting other people working here. It’s really good to be able to talk to others in a non-competing technology space. Contrasting your experience with other companies adds context and this can make all the difference.

Looking back, what have you learnt from your journey that you’d like to share with those about to start out on theirs?

The major lesson I’ve learnt is that technology entrepreneurs tend to prioritise the nuts and bolts of their technology instead of people. I believe that when you grow beyond three staff, whoever it is that’s leading the journey should spend a minimum of 50% of their time on their people through mentoring, training and leadership. This responsibility cannot be placed with others or there’s high potential for unseen problems to develop.

My other advice – despite not being a mountaineer! – is: don’t look down! Stay focused, stay positive and keep looking up!

And what does the future hold?

New markets. We’ve recently got Ford, Mazda and Volvo onboard and there will be further expansion across Europe. Then it’s America! It’s a prime market but difficult to break into given the current political climate and its very different sales culture. It’s also a bit ‘chicken and egg’: we need a local presence to demonstrate commitment and be taken seriously but at the same time, we need to get some major business secured to create the right conditions for a US office base. But I’m looking up, and it won’t be long!