Alan Mills is CEO of Axium, a company that has been developing project management and financial software specifically for the architecture and engineering industry for over 25 years. Proudly, Axium is privately held and has chosen to keep all product development, marketing, sales and support in the US. This strategy allows Axium to keep a close watch on the quality and progression of one its main goals – making software that’s so easy to use their clients actually enjoy using it.
Earlier this year, they developed a philosophy they rolled out to all of their employees called The Golden Rule of Services, the guiding principle that every client should be treated respectfully. This belief is played out in every part of the organization with its commitment to use their combined experience to help firms work more productively. In the last few years, Axium has garnered international awards for its online support files and continues to deliver on its promise to answer 80% of its client calls in 30 seconds or less. In a time when many businesses are struggling, Axium is thriving.
Q: How’s business?
Alan Mills: We’re doing well. Although the business climate has been difficult for the AE industry for the past few years, we’ve continued to grow market share and expand our offerings while maintaining a good level of profitability. Since 2006, our client base has averaged 35% growth every year.
Q: That’s quite a contrast to the state of the economy during the past few years. What do you think is contributing to your success?
AM: We credit our success to having two fundamental values on which we base most of our decisions. First, in all that we do, we ask ourselves, “Is this in the best interest of our clients? Will it make it easier for them? Will our clients be happier?”
Secondly, we consider what is in the best interest of our employees because they are our most valuable asset. Everyone at Axium is a significant contributing factor to our success, and we want to make sure we create an environment where people enjoy what they do. For the past four years, our employees have voted Axium as one of Oregon Business Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Work in Oregon, one of our main indicators of the health of our workplace.
When we have visitors in the office, they often comment that they hear laughter within the first 15 minutes of being here. That’s exactly what we want. Our corporate structure is a product of our commitment to this simple but powerful principle – when people like what they do, they produce better work.
Q: I know we’ve had low employee and client turnover. Where does this level of loyalty come from?
AM: We believe loyalty is the result of our commitment to helping others succeed. For our employees, that means offering training options, career advancement and a culture that supports taking risks without fear of negative repercussions. For our clients, we’ve raised the bar for what we consider success. Getting the software implemented isn’t our success measurement. It’s our goal to make sure everyone is using Ajera to its fullest potential, so we offer training on best practices for project manager involvement, free monthly industry webinars, live training workshops, local users groups and an array of online help solutions.
Q: Why is customer and employee loyalty so high on the agenda for Axium?
AM: Our loyal customers are one of our best marketing tools, becoming an important source for referrals. Many of our clients have become what we call brand advocates, speaking on our behalf and sending their colleagues our way.
Our long-term employee and management retention allows for a continuity of knowledge and experience, which ultimately benefits our clients.
We know that our clients and employees can make or break our reputation, especially in a tight vertical market like ours, so it’s important to us to protect and invest in the people who help us succeed because they ultimately have a say in building our brand.
Q: We heard recently that Deltek may be selling. How do you think that will affect Axium?
AM: Having experienced shifts in the competitive landscaped over the last 30 years, we’ve seen competitors come and go and change focus. In our exclusive AE market space, we compete directly against Vision, one of Deltek’s many product lines, so I’m interested in seeing how this shift will affect its customers in the future. I read the article that was released shortly after the announcement from Deltek’s CEO and I was very surprised to see there was no mention of clients. It indicates a strategy that is very different from ours, which focuses on our employee and client success.
Q: Let’s switch gears and talk about client satisfaction. How do you measure this?
AM: We ask and listen. A few years ago we realized we spent a lot of energy talking to our clients and not enough time listening. This led us to create a program to continually ask our users what we’re doing well, and what we could be doing better. From this program, we learned that 88% of our users said they’d recommend our software. Seventy percent considered their relationship with Axium either very good or excellent. Right now, 93% of our clients say they are completely satisfied with Axium’s live support. We love hearing this because we consider our support team an important investment, not an expense.
We also look at a number of other KPIs to determine client satisfaction, including client retention. In the last eight years 92% of our clients chose to reinvest in their software every year. They tell us Ajera is user friendly and they’re happy with the quality and abundance of resources we provide.
Q: With Axium’s “people first” focus, it’s easy to see why you chose The Golden Rule as a guideline for how to treat your clients. When I think of The Golden Rule, I think of the phrase “treat others as you’d like to be treated.” Is that what Axium is trying to do?
AM: That’s exactly what we want. For us, this translates into our employees treating our clients with respect, listening to their needs and continuing to care about their success after the initial sale. We’ve taken a different approach, integrating sales and consulting, to make sure we are setting better expectations and delivering not only what our clients ask for but helping them ask even better questions. Our goal is to maintain a business partnership with each of our clients for a decade or longer. Some of our clients have been with us for more than 20 years.
Q: So, what’s on the horizon for Axium in the next five to ten years?
AM: As always, we’re completely committed to staying in the AE market space. It’s an exciting niche for us because we see compelling ways for us to help our clients become even more successful. Our goal is to become the most used project-based accounting software in the AE space in the next few years. If we can help our clients work more productively and keep our employees happy, I’m confident we’ll continue to experience financial success as well.
During his 25 years in the AE industry, Mills has consulted with a variety of firms around the country in their quest for better financial, firm and project management software. At Axium, he is in charge of operations, marketing, sales, product development, support and client services.