I get a kick out of moderating channel executive panels, but the downside to that job is I can’t take notes while I’m steering the conversation, so I miss out on some of the nuggets the panelists share. Lucky for me, an ISV panel I moderated recently was recorded, so I had the chance to relive it, laugh out loud at my jokes, and write down key quotes and learnings. And, lucky for you, I’m sharing that information with you today (while sparing you my attempts at humor).
The panel of ISV experts included:
- Thomas Fluty, Director of Payments, ComputerRX
- Jeremy Julian, COO, CBS NorthStar
- Frank Piet, President, Emporos
- Shay Smith, Sr. Manager of Payments, Epicor
- Jamieson Vaughan, Director of Business Development, Instant Accept
How do you stay close to your customers? How do you ensure you are providing an indispensable product to them?
- Piet: “I spend about 60% of my time on the road sitting in front of my clients. A tough call phone enables both sides to be a little more belligerent than they would be in person. Sitting face-to-face, you’re looking eye-to-eye and it comes back to more of a human discussion. It’s one thing to make a commitment in an email. It’s one thing to make a commitment over the phone. It’s another to look someone in the eye and connect on a personal level.”
- Julian: “Don’t wait until there’s a problem. For our top 20 clients, we have a quarterly business review with them. An executive from our organization understands where they’re at, where we’re falling down, as well as where they’re going as a business.”
- Fluty: “In the regular world, no news is good news. But in business, you can’t always rely on your front line support managing up every kind of problem. Outside of those front line issues that escalate to you, what are you doing to get out into your market? Do you have a client advocacy group? Ask what services they’re using, what services they need, and build roadmap from that.”
- Smith: “Our salespeople also act as our customers’ account manager, and they’re very consultative. We have salespeople and technical people all over the country which works for us. At the same time, we have to make sure we don’t have too many touchpoints and confuse our customers. The account managers work hard to keep that road from getting bumpy.”
- Vaughan: “As we know with software, there are always going to be issues. We reach out to our clients and ask them, ‘Do you feel like you’re somebody or do you feel like you’re just a number?’”
- Julian: “We sponsor our customers’ charity events. Sitting on the golf course or at another charity event, the walls come down. You’re not sitting across the desk; you’re sitting side-by-side. That just changes the dynamic of the conversation.”
Talk about your formula for increasing sales. What has been most effective for you in 2018 heading into 2019?
- Smith: “We had a very successful year in part because early in the year we decided that we were going to go after only a couple things. We weren’t going to try to be Burger King – ‘Have It Your Way.’ We decided to go into a couple markets and really focus on them.”
- Piet: “If you get to a point where you can throw your entire customer list at a prospect and say, ‘Call anybody on that list,’ you will not lose another deal. That is my near-term and long-term strategy.”
- Julian: “We were just at a trade show last week. It was us, a potential customer, and an existing customer in the booth. The existing customer took over the demo and sold the system. That customer has been with us at three different restaurant groups over the last 20 years. He asked me, ‘Was that okay what I did?’ I’d rather have that third-party endorsement than us make the sale.”
Most ISVs say, “I stink at marketing.” What marketing activities have worked best for you?
- Fluty: “We’re in a niche market, so from a Google AdWords perspective, you can buy what you need. But if you think you’re going to convert 90% of everyone who clicks through, you’re mistaken. If you combine that with being at trade shows and partnering with group-purchasing organizations, that will help you find new customers.”
- Vaughan: “Trade shows have been vital to us. We allocate resources to make sure we can do a live demo of our software to any merchant that gets brought over to us. When a technician is on board with a demo, it basically sells itself. Seeing the software instead of just hearing about what it can do pays dividends.”
- Julian: “About four years ago, we decided to go with a content marketing strategy. We do the SEO (search engine optimization) and the SEM (search engine marketing), but it’s a pretty bloody space in the restaurant world because there’s a lot of investment capital in that space. When you’re paying $50 a click because someone else got $200 million in their coffers and they spend 80% of that on marketing, that makes it really expensive to go after. So we changed our strategy to where it’s content-focused. We have speaking engagements, a blog, and a podcast called The Restaurant Technology Guys.”
- Piet: “I took a gamble five years ago and we went completely dark with our advertising, much to the chagrin of all the magazines we were advertising in. We pulled everything. We were advertising and at the same time had a customer base that wasn’t happy with us. So what we did for three years was take that $85,000-$90,000 a year we had been spending on ad buys and turned that into a travel budget and started getting our people in front of our customers.”
What principles do you follow and what actions do you take to make sure you create a great customer experience and exceed their expectations?
- Fluty: “Seamless – that’s the word I keep hearing over and over. The customer expects a seamless transition (to new software). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told – or slightly yelled at – from a pharmacist, ‘I don’t have time to worry about upgrading my POS. I’m trying to fill scripts so I don’t kill people.’ I don’t mean that to be funny; they’re just telling me how they feel. We’ve taken that to heart where if we don’t provide a seamless experience when they transition to our software, and if we don’t teach them, educate them, and then send them on their way, then I think we’ve failed.”
- Smith: “Our systems are very complicated – some of our ERP systems have thousands of options to choose from. It’s hard to delight someone when things are really, really complicated. So what we do is give customers hands-on technical resources. If you don’t understand what you’ve got going on when you start, then you’re going to have problems.”
- Piet: “We no longer do a cold handoff to a vendor of there’s an issue. We say, ‘Let’s call Worldpay together’ or ‘Let’s call HP together.’ Then you have to follow through as well, calling the customer back a few days later asking if the vendor took care of you. People hate the finger pointing.”
- Julian: “Customers don’t want to hear you say, ‘It’s not my problem. Call AT&T.’ They want you to call AT&T because you’re the technical expert. That will cost you more, but you win in the end because they’re going to buy their next system from you.”