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A hyper wahine

Hopeless at English and maths, Gisborne girl Renee Carmody dropped out of school at 15, went on to drop out from an AUT design and fashion technology course, and by the time she was 21 and working for Vodafone Australia, discovered she was a “terrible salesperson”.

She then made a decision that would change her life . . . and so began her trajectory into business consultancy that led to her being headhunted by major Australian retailers.

Having returned to Gisborne shortly before the national lockdown last year, Renee launched Xplode in June. More than a business consultancy, it focuses not only on clients' businesses but creating a life the client loves.

“If you do well in business it fixes every part of your life,” says Renee.

“Our methodology is for people not to master just business but to master their lives.”

Xplode has three main strands. Business strategy — how the business's commercial model functions; marketing strategy; and client mindset and customer experience.

“What's your business model? How do you automate it and get systems in place to give business owners more time and more freedom? How do we make more money and how do we add value for our customers?

“You need to be clear on customer promises. Your customer is paying you to solve a problem. You can't solve the problem on your own. The secret to our success is — we might not know the answer but we know how to find the right people.

“You never want to be the smartest person in the room. You want to be surrounded by smarter people.”

Marketing is the most expensive part of a business, says Renee. Part of a business's strategy should be to automate the “lead flow”. A conceptual funnel maps out the customer journey, and that begins with the lead.

“Your lead is someone who wants to buy from you but doesn't know you exist yet.”

A Facebook page, a website, or even a phone call or text might generate lead traffic. The sales process channels the customer, says Renee.

“It pushes the customer to a place where you can communicate with them, where you own the communication.”

A retail store might push a customer to its website, for example.

The sales process flows through ATV (average transactional value). The ATV of a business is the average dollar amount a consumer spends with the business in a single transaction. By using sales data and market analysis to determine the areas in which the business has the most significant room for growth, the value of each customer and transaction can be increased. Through the conversion process in the funnel, value is increased and cost decreased. The flow-through can amount to a 200-300 percent increase in profit, says Renee.

“The most important thing is post-sales. Aim to give your customer an amazing experience.

“Sell them what they want, give them what they need.”

She gives the example of a DVD store. When people rented a DVD they wanted to relax with a movie.

“Most business owners focus on one thing — to sell the product, not so much the emotional base of what the customer is choosing. Because of my NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) I focus on the experience.”

NLP is based on connection between neurological processes, language and behavioural patterns learned through experience, and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life. Which segues into the last component in Xplode's approach — mindset.

Because Xplode takes a holistic approach to consultancy, Renee's team not only includes a digital warrior, operations ninja, commercial finance specialist, and a customer experience and digital product strategist, but a breakthrough coach/neuro-linguistic programming practitioner, and an AI (artificial intelligence) consultant.

“That's what makes our business unique. The core is mindset,” says Renee.

“I challenge people on their ideals and the way they think. You have to ask the right questions. You're not giving them strategies but asking them certain questions. If you help people find the answer themselves, you get breakthrough.”

This is why a breakthrough coach is on the team.

“She comes in and cleans the limiting belief and replaces it with something that will enable them to grow in the future.

“Our method is to incorporate the three things. We take a holistic view of a client's business; customer touchpoints, the language they're using — you want to talk to customers with their language patterns.”

Closely aligned is AI which is mixed with NLP.

“AI uses a similar methodology as breakthrough — using a client's language patterns, which is done with a bot.”

A bot is a software application that runs automated tasks over the internet.

“We're about to land one of Australasia's largest retailers,” says Renee. “We'll use AI and in-person strategies. A lot of businesses are going pure digital or pure in-person.”

Born here, Renee left school at 15 years old and at 16 said goodbye to Gisborne. She studied design and fashion technology in Auckland but despite her love for the work in that field, and skill in it, she did not enjoy the industry and dropped out.

“At 21 I was a terrible salesperson. I worked for Vodafone in Australia but I couldn't handle the crap I was getting.”

It was at this point she made her life-changing decision:.

“I asked myself, ‘who are the best salespeople in the world?' They were advertising people.

“They sell something non-tangible, a dream.”

Pay sacrifice in return for one-on-one training paid off

Turned down by multiple companies because of her lack of marketing experience, she made an agreement with the Australia Media Group. She would take a half salary if the chief executive trained her one-on-one.

“He taught me everything I needed to know in business — commerce strategy, how to run a team, PNL (profit and loss), tax law. I was with him for six years.

“He was a master of NLP and practised it on me without me knowing about it.”

Renee recognised that was what the Australia Media Group CE had applied while she was studying the novel approach to communication, personal development and psychotherapy.

At 28 years old she was headhunted by Coles but declined because she planned to return to New Zealand to launch the Australia Media Group as the NZ Media Group. But Coles offered her 50 percent more than what she was already earning. Renee joined the company and helped build its commerce strategy.

Within three years Coles' profit increased from $200,000 to $19 million. A year later she left to go on maternity leave and returned to Gisborne. While here, she started up the baby clothing subscription service, Peekaboo Box.

Back in Melbourne 12 months later, she found herself sought after by Coles, Flybuys and Myer.

“I decided to go to Myer after six months of negotiations. They had the best digital thought leaders. For me the decision was based on who I could learn the most from.

“This pathway has been an obsession in learning. I don't know anything different than to continue to learn.”

Her mother, who raised three children on her own while studying towards her doctorate in nursing, was her inspiration, she says.

“I haven't studied business at all. I've been mentored by the best. I've worked with people who all had MBAs. The degree was one of the big requirements by Kmart, Myer and Coles.”

Renee was the only one on the corporations' teams who had no such qualification.

“They head-hunted me for all their roles.”

At Kmart, she ran e-commerce and merchandise.

When Renee returned to Gisborne from Melbourne last year she left behind a thriving career with Kmart.

“I'd been there 14 years. My life, my career, friends — everything was there. I had to leave it all behind. I got home and thought ‘what am I going to do next?' I left my career which is my life. I tie my identity to my work. Business is my passion, I can talk about it 24/7. Business strategy is what I live and breathe for.”

But given Gisborne's big industries are forestry, fishing and farming, how could a business consultancy, potentially viewed by the cynical as “new age”, survive in an environment built on such pioneering bedrock?

To introduce Xplode to the Gisborne business community, Renee and team members delivered water bottles dressed with the company's logo to various businesses, followed up with an emailed invite to Xplode's workshops and followed up again with a phone call.

The workshops attracted a 50 percent turnout “which is huge”.

Xplode is only eight months old but client interest is growing so fast the business is already close to capping the number of clients it has capacity for, and is looking at expanding.

“People said ‘you won't be able to run your business in Gisborne'. Now it's the opposite. We don't do any outbound lead generation.”

Outbound lead generation involves reaching out to a target audience and pushing messages, regardless of their interest.

“Now, it's all referral-based.

“I can't believe I get to do what I do here.”

Set to Xplode: Described as 'an upmarket hyper wahine' by one local small-business owner, business coach and digital technology consultant Renee Carmody launched Gisborne-based business Xplode last year. Picture by Liam Clayton