Julie Feller - Isabelle Papoulias -  Kristen Russel
January 20, 2023

Shifting Into Position Post-Acquisition

Guest: Julie Feller - Isabelle Papoulias - Kristen Russel - CMOs, U.S. Legal Systems - Mediafly - symplr

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On your mark… Get set… Acquire a company! 

An acquisition announcement garners a lot of excitement, but the real challenge rests in everything a company does afterwards to ensure that brand equity isn’t lost and that customers aren’t confused. Want an acquisition playbook? Here’s the kicker, no two acquisitions are the same. 

Luckily for our listeners, we have three fantastic CMOs with multiple acquisitions under their belts, here to share their strategies and best practices when it comes to effectively pivoting post-acquisition. With wisdom from Julie Feller of U.S. Legal Support, Isabelle Papoulias of Mediafly, and Kristen Russel of symplr, this episode is not to be missed—tune in! 

What You’ll Learn  

  • Why no two acquisitions are the same 
  • How to effectively integrate brands post-acquisition 
  • How to measure the success of an acquisition 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 328 on YouTube 

Resources Mentioned 

Highlights

  • [3:28] Julie Feller interned for the Sacramento Rivercats
  • [4:57] 3 acquisitions at U.S. Legal Support
  • [12:28] Isabelle Papoulias’ passion for dance
  • [14:13] 5 acquisitions at Mediafly
  • [17:04] Storming, forming, norming, performing
  • [20:28] Kristin Russel: MA in Public & Business Administration
  • [21:47] 9 acquisitions at symplr
  • [29:30] On CMO Huddles
  • [33:09] Trigger moments: When you need to rethink GTM
  • [40:36] Acquisition metrics
  • [44:01] Engineering integration
  • [46:11] Final words of wisdom: Managing acquisitions

Highlighted Quotes 

“It's really important that we help mitigate the market confusion and avoid hurting any potential deals that we have in the pipeline from either organization.” —@JulieRFeller @USLegalSupport Click To Tweet

“Make sure that everyone across the organizations agrees on the metrics you’re measuring for success & the trigger points of when something's not working so that you can be in alignment before you even start.” —@JulieRFeller @USLegalSupport Click To Tweet “My number one focus when we’re going through an acquisition is people.” —Isabelle Papoulias @Mediafly Click To Tweet “Over-communicate early and often. Way before the acquisition, way before the due diligence process… As soon as you know.” —Isabelle Papoulias @Mediafly Click To Tweet “We want to make sure we’re bringing customers along with us.” —@krussel @symplr Click To Tweet “We look at the deal thesis. Why did we acquire the company: Is it for growth of the TAM or is it for a technology acquisition play? Depending on that, we're going to apply different metrics to the acquisition.” —@krussel @symplr Click To Tweet

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Julie Feller, Isabelle Papoulias, & Kristen Russel

  

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew. And I’m guessing that as a podcast listener, you will also enjoy audiobooks. Well in that case, did you know the audio version of Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands, was recently ranked the number one new B2B audio book by Book Authority. Kind of cool, right? Anyway, you can find my book on Audible or your favorite audio book platform.

And speaking of audio before we get into today’s show, I do want to do a shout out to the professionals that Share Your Genius. We started working with them several months ago to make this show even better, and have been blown away by their strategic and executional prowess. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast or want to turbocharge your current show, be sure to talk to Rachel Downey at shareyourgenius.com and tell her Drew sent you.

Okay, let’s get on with today’s episode.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade Drew Neisser.

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Marketers. Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite the top rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing obsessed individuals. You’re about to listen to a recording of CMO Huddles Studio, our live show featuring the CMOs of CMO Huddles. A community that sharing, caring, and daring each other to greatness every day of the week. This time we’ve got a conversation with Julie Feller of U.S. Legal support, Isabel Papoulias of Mediafly, and Kristin Russell of symplr on all the challenges related to when your company is acquired, or when you start acquiring a bunch of companies. And there are challenges, so let’s dive in.

I’m your host, Drew Neisser, live from my home studio in New York City. In my latest book, Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B brands, I offer a playbook that covers all sorts of challenges. From driving demand, to creating a category, to measuring impact. But one scenario I didn’t address is what to do when your organization acquires one or more companies in a short period of time. This happens a lot more than you think, particularly in the VC and PE world, and creates all sorts of unique challenges from acculturating employees, to reassuring current customers, to product integration to messaging adaptation, to rebranding, and more. It’s a lot.

To solve these issues. We have 3 awesome CMOs, who also happened to be active members of CMO Huddles. So with that, let’s bring on Julie Feller, Head of Marketing at U.S. Legal. Hi, Julie, how are you?

Julie Feller: I’m good. Thank you. How are you, Drew? Thanks for having me today.

Drew Neisser: I’m delighted! Now, first, where are you?

Julie Feller: I am in sunny San Diego, California.

Drew Neisser: I love San Diego. Just a little bit of Heaven. Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that you interned—many moons ago—at the Sacramento River Cats—by the way, that was the first time I’d ever heard that term—There must be a story there, right?

Julie Feller: Yes, I did intern for the River Cats back when I was in college at UC Davis. They were, at the time, the triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s. And I believe now they’re the affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. I feel likeI’m dating myself—or like my parents saying this—but it was back when on a Wednesday, you could get a beer and a hot dog for $4 at the games. I helped out with a variety of activities and marketing promotions, including the in game promotions. So I got to shoot T shirts out of a cannon, lead the mascot around the stadium, and all those other type of events that I feel like are kind of marketing and promotions rite of passage, so to speak.

Drew Neisser: Well, obviously you’ve learned a lot about grassroots marketing. Because one of the things I’ve noticed about Triple-A baseball is people are not necessarily there for the game. But the level of entertainment provided is epic!

Julie Feller: Absolutely, it was a lot of families, a lot of people there from the local communities and colleges. And so there was a lot of activity happening other than the baseball game.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny because in huddles right now we’re talking about events and everybody’s really rusty—or it seems like their rusty—and they’re all saying, “Oh yeah, right. Before, during, and after.” And you really got to know the during part of the live event experience. So I’m sure that’s paying off for you right now, right?

Julie Feller: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Drew Neisser: All right. Well, let’s get to the topic at hand. During your 2 1/2 years at U.S. Legal Support, how many companies has your company acquired?

Julie Feller: We have acquired 3 companies since I’ve been with U.S. Legal Support.

Drew Neisser: Oh my god, that’s amazing. Okay, that’s just a lot. And what that means is you acquire 3 sets of employees, 3 sets of brands, 3 sets of culture. All of these things. When you look at the challenges that I’ve described, from a marketing perspective, what was the biggest challenge, for you, in bringing and integrating these acquisitions?

Julie Feller: I think the biggest challenge across all of them has always been how to integrate the new brand so that we have a cohesive story, but we don’t lose the essence of the acquired property or their market position. And so learning and understanding their current positioning, what’s worked well for them, but also what hasn’t worked well for them. Really digging into everything. Whether it be the messaging, their digital strategy events, you name it, it really helps to uncover and drive some of the decisions that need to be made. 

And from a challenge perspective too, I think that a close tie would be client retention. And they really do go hand in hand. Because probably not surprising, we found that we need proper communication with the existing clients of both our existing organization and the one that we’re acquiring, so that everyone is aware of the changes, they feel comfortable, and taken care of. So it’s really important that we help mitigate the market confusion, avoid hurting any potential deals that we have in the pipeline from either organization.

And with the new branding, we just really need to get it right. And sometimes we don’t know until we try something. So when we work with the acquired companies team, communication is key. We need to make sure that we both have our current ways of doing things. And what we try to do is keep the same goal in mind, we want to serve our customers as best as we can. So when we keep that the central focus of what we’re doing, it really helps to keep us aligned and guide our decision making.

Drew Neisser: So I want to dig in on a couple of things that you said. First, you talk about trying to assess what’s working from a marketing perspective. And I’m just wondering not every one of the companies that you acquire necessarily has a sophisticated marketing. Do they know what’s working and what isn’t?

Julie Feller: Not necessarily. So a lot of the times I go into it hoping for any information that will be better than none. But a lot of the times we’re doing our own digging, and they might not have an event plan or a budget for paid advertising or social strategy. But they do at least have communication with their existing clients. And they know how they’re getting business, whether it’s referrals, or just little tidbits of information can really help drive some of those decisions.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so we’re trying to get a sense of how they are growing their business or at least maintaining. And then the next thing you said, and this is probably a close tie, is retention. And I’ve seen this happen a lot where it’s, I know that we’ve just been acquired, and you send an email or calls go out to customer saying, “Don’t worry, it’s going to be the same old people in the service that you love. But now with more resources.” Because it’s always the same promise, “It’s gonna be the same, but it’s going to be better.” And sometimes when you’re acquiring, and you start to talk to the customers, you find out, everything wasn’t perfect. And so I’m curious how you balance this. We want to keep the customers but we want to improve on the experience and how that communication sort of happens with them.

Julie Feller: Absolutely. So we do send out those mass messages with emails and we have phone campaigns. We also then have the local reps and the account managers in those markets meet with clients. Ideally, face-to-face. Phone calls, as well to make sure that they know who their point of contact is.

And throughout the acquisition process, there’s kind of a checklist that we follow, not just in marketing, but across the entire organization, from operations to finance, billing, you name it. And so when something does go wrong or there’s hiccups, which there always will be, we try to learn from it and make it better. And we have really found that transparency. And again, back to that communication is key. We’ll admit if something wasn’t as smooth of a process as we liked it to be, and we try our best to remedy it and make it better moving forward.

Drew Neisser: One of the things that occurred to me is that a lot of folks think that email is enough. And when you listed email, phone, and face-to-face. To me, that’s almost a minimum, we’re talking about 3 channels, it probably would be better. I mean, could we text them? Could we also do a direct mail piece? Is there anything else that you’ve tried in terms of—I’m going to just call it reassurance marketing?

Julie Feller: Yeah, no, absolutely. We do a lot of in person events and there’ll be smaller events. So whether it’s a happy hour or we’ll host an open house at one of our new spaces.

We also do events for the existing employees of the company as well. So it’s kind of a mixer, not just for their clients, but for their employees to come. Everyone gets that face-to-face time. Obviously, the last couple of years that was a challenge, if not impossible in a lot of the markets. So we’re getting back to that now. But we’ve really found that when we build the relationships, and we can just get even 20 to 30 minutes of FaceTime with them, the emails, the text messages, the phone calls—we’ve sent mail in the past as well—all of that seems to resonate a little bit more when they can put some faces to the names.

Drew Neisser: We do business with people. It really doesn’t matter the acquisition so much, I think a lot of times that recall, it’s like, I really don’t care, even what the company is called, it’s about who is working on my business? And do they care? Do they know my business? Do they care about my business? So it’s fascinating.

One last bit, and then we’re gonna bring on our next guest, do you have like an acculturation kit, where you say, “Okay, this is how…”—because you’ve done this 3 times—where this is the U.S. Legal Brand, and this is for the employees—because we talked about customers—but we got to keep our employees too. Because they’re the ones that have the customer relationships.

Julie Feller: Absolutely. We’re in the litigation space. And so we work with a lot of court reporters, videographers, etc. And part of the acquisition process is the relationship building with that client segment, as well as the actual clients that we’re both working together to serve. And so whether it was the internal employees and even some of the court reporters, we have welcome boxes, and welcome kits, and that’s when we host these happy hours. And we try to make them feel that they’re part of the company. We host some virtual webinars as well to explain to them who we are, what we do, where we’re looking to go make sure they know who their points of contacts are, and that they don’t feel like they’ve all of a sudden just joined this big ship and they have nowhere to go and they don’t know where they’re steering.

Drew Neisser: All right. So it’s a lot of very clear communications. All right, Julie, thank you. Okay, now, Isabelle Papoulias, until recently was the CMO of Mediafly and is now the EVP of Global Expansion. She was the star of episode 176 of Renegade Marketers Unite and episode 19 of this show. Hello, Isabelle. Welcome back.

Isabelle Papoulias: Hello, Drew. Great to be here. Always a pleasure.

Drew Neisser: First of all, where are you?

Isabelle Papoulias: I’m in beautiful downtown Chicago. I’m in the office. I’m the only one here but that’s okay.

Drew Neisser: All right. Yeah, that’s funny, we should come back to that. Okay. So I was looking at your bio again, and I couldn’t help but notice at one point in your career, you were doing the marketing for a dance company. Was dance a personal passion or is that just a random stop?

Isabelle Papoulias: Oh, no. Always a personal passion since my parents put me in a ballet class at age 7. I never stopped dancing. It’s what I call my professional hobby. I still dance today, I mostly teach Afro Latin, African dances. And that’s very much part of my life, but has slowed down because of COVID. Fewer social events, and so on starting to pick up again now. So it’s very much still a part of what I do.

Drew Neisser: Very cool and when you were at this dance company doing the marketing that must have felt like a dream job.

Isabelle Papoulias: It was a dream job. In fact, it was a very interesting moment in my career, because it was either get hired by Ogilvy in advertising, right? Which I really wanted. Or work for this dance company, the Parsons Dance Company. Which at the time was my favorite company in the world. Needless to say, the salary wasn’t the same. But I felt that and I agonized over it for several days. And it felt like, if I said “no” to Parsons dance, I would have regretted the rest of my life as the dancer that I was. I did it for a year, and I got it out of my system, and I did get into advertising eventually.

Drew Neisser: There you go. So you got to taste it. And I think that’s such an interesting thing, as you said, get it out of your system of particularly for the younger folks listening to do it. If you have a passion like that and you can blend it with marketing, what you may find out is what you really like as marketing and what your marketing matters a little bit less than the people that you’re marketing and so forth.

You know, it’s funny when we did our podcast together in 2020, we talked about the impact of 2 acquisitions. And that those it was the 2nd acquisition as I recall, that forced you to completely reposition the company. Now since then, you’ve acquired how many more companies?

Isabelle Papoulias: 5 and counting. But 2 were very long time ago. Or at least it feels like a very long time ago. We’re up to 5 now.

Drew Neisser: Oh my god. And so to pivot, did another 3 fourths yet another pivot?

Isabelle Papoulias: Yes, yes. Especially the one that we did our acquisition of insightsquared back in December. We’ve since also acquired execvision. Mediafly used to be a sales enablement company and we’re now combining sales enabled with revenue intelligence. We’re the only company that marries the two under one umbrella. And that was very much the reason for the last 2 acquisitions. So that absolutely forced a rebrand and new messaging in the marketplace. It’s a test and learn process, right. And I think that’s one of the things we can say about acquisitions is you have to have an open mind, you’ll deploy tactics, some may work, some may not work, and then it’s iterative. You’re learn and you optimize from there.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s not a one size fits all kind of a thing, right? So the first thing that goes through my mind when you acquire all these companies, is that it’s easy to reposition in the sense that you can say, “Well, now we have this, and we have this, and we’re the only company that has…” It’s another thing to have the product integration happen in a meaningful way, right? Because you can get ahead of it with messaging, but it takes time to get the product to work as one. I mean, you know, just as the folks who use Salesforce and try any of their acquisitions, the challenges that they face, and that these things are not as smooth as you might think. It’s a ton of engineering.

Isabelle Papoulias: Right, it takes time. But unfortunately, you don’t always have the time, right? Because investors have expectations, the board has expectations. An acquisition has happened and they want to see results. And so to me, I am on board with everything that Julie said in terms of the brand and customers and reassuring customers.

One of the biggest challenges I see is the people. And I don’t think that the people are the problem, right? Probably my number one focus when we’re going through an acquisition is the people. How do we bring those two groups of people together, the two companies? Especially if it’s a larger acquisition, if it’s a much smaller company, and it fits very neatly within your existing value prop, it’s not that disruptive. When you’re acquiring companies that sizable, and you’re absorbing a lot of new people in your marketing team. There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done.

So as I always say, people had a day job before the acquisition happened. You still have to do that. Marketing still has to happen, demand gen, messaging, all those things. Now, on top of that, you need to absorb this acquisition. And you find yourself doing it while your team is still storming, right? I really believe in that the team evolution of storming, forming, norming, & performing, and those are self explanatory, right? But I think what happens oftentimes is we’re in a place where we need to perform at a very high level, we have to win while the team is still in the storming phase, right? People are still coming together, there’s a chemistry building, people are still assessing the roles, where does my role end and yours begins now that you’re here. And there’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done quickly.

So over communicating, hyper prioritizing, setting expectations with leadership about what can happen and cannot happen, being open to failure. Frankly, some things will not work and that’s okay. Those are the things that are typically my number one focus—I know I’m taking the conversation, a slightly different direction. But this impacts marketing, right? Because ultimately, marketing is the people.

Drew Neisser: Totally, so I want to go back to just for folks. So we have storming…

Isabelle Papoulias: Storming, forming, norming, performing—and I forget who came up with a structure, it wasn’t me, somebody famous—So storming is when a new team is just coming together, right? It’s getting to know each other, not really understanding what we all do individually. Everybody’s on their best behavior at that point, because they don’t really want to upset each other. But nothing has clicked yet.

Forming is when things do start to click, there’s a better understanding of where my responsibility fits with yours, and so on. So there’s an evolution and organic relationships started to build within the team.

Norming is when they’re synergies are in place, right? Okay. It’s seamless, I get it, we’re maximizing the outputs, there isn’t a lot of friction.

And performing is truly when you’re at the A+ stage. And that’s as high as you’re going to get. And you do need to go through all these phases. That’s why I like this. I think it’s truly is how we develop a team.

Drew Neisser: Well, and what’s helpful about that framework is that you can also share that with the rest of the leadership team, because they all have the same challenge in every department.

Two, you can set time parameters. Now, my quick question for you is to get from storming to performing best case scenario, how long does it take?

Isabelle Papoulias: That’s a tough question. A long as possible. I mean, it’s not going to be weeks. But it’s a few months. It’s at least 3 months.

Drew Neisser: At least 3 months in best case. Okay. And that’s really great because I think that that the people aspect of this is so essential.

Drew Neisser: Right now we’re gonna go to Kristin Russell. So let’s welcome Kristin, CMO of sympler. Hello, Kristin.

Kristin Russel: Hey, Drew. I’m great. Thanks for having me here today.

Drew Neisser: Excited to have you on the show. Now, where are you?

Kristin Russel: I am in sunny Silicon Valley over here in California right now. So just north of Julie.

Drew Neisser: All right. Well, we’ve got the east, the Midwest and the West Coast completely covered on the show. I love that. So now I also dug into your LinkedIn profile. And I noticed you earned a Masters in Public Administration, and then got an MBA in France. So what was on your mind with this career path?

Kristin Russel: Yeah. So just for the record, like if we’re not picking that up, no career path is linear. And I am absolutely not an exception to that rule. But ultimately, this whole thing started with an interest in international finance, government relations. It was actually a combined Masters of Public Administration in Business Administration was with a year in France. But I will tell you, I’m Canadian and American and early on I had dreams of being this kind of Canadian politician bureaucrat, that was going to be my gig. I had a little briefcases at a young age with all ready to go organize papers. And I quickly learned that as much as I loved the dream, the reality of working government was not my stick. So I moved into consulting. And then from that, actually, this is on the nonlinear path, but got into technology, started a FinTech company. I’ve actually sold that a couple times. And then from there, technology took me to health care, which ultimately got me into marketing. And I’ve been, honestly, I’ve been doing this marketing stuff for about 15 years now and this is my spot.

Drew Neisser: There you go. We work away, we’re not going to be in the government. We’ve got to find our way eventually. Very cool. Okay. So now you’ve been at symplr for almost a year, how many acquisitions has symplr made in the last year or two?

Kristin Russel: Yeah, so in the last two years, we’ve actually made 9 acquisitions, and 4 of them have been under my leadership. So far, in 2022, we’ve already acquired 2 companies, we acquired Greenlight medical, which we rebranded already to symplr spend. We’re in healthcare operations, just to give some context in terms of what symplr does. Health Care Technology is our space and we are one of the leading healthcare technology companies. But Greenlight Medical was our most recent acquisition. We acquired Midas in February. Back in 2021, we actually did 4 acquisitions, Halo Health, which is now symplr clinical communications, SpinFusion, which is now part of our symplr workforce management. All four of those have been done since I’ve been on board. And then prior to my joining, we acquired HealthcareSource in July of 2021. So just as I was joining, and we were just finishing the paperwork on that one, symplr directory is what we call the prior company find that we acquired in February of 2021. And then 3 companies in 2020. Like you almost need a PowerPoint to keep up with this.

Drew Neisser: Oh my god! I mean, you had 9 immediate, Mediafly had 5, and a couple for U.S. Legal. We asked the right group of people here to talk about this conversation. So one of the things as you were talking, it occurred to me that you have a very specific brand strategy in place. Sort of an architecture is that it’s symplr [blank]. And you’re giving up the equity of any of that other brand name. It sounds like you take what they do and it becomes symplr [blank]. Is that the structure that you’ve pretty much applied to the rebranding of these units, if you will.

Kristin Russel: Ish. And the reason I say that is I think each acquisition is different. And so each strategy itself needs to be a little different. And so we’ve certainly brought on some companies that have terrific brand equity as well. And so it depends on what that brand is bringing, and how we want to transition the brand. We are ultimately a branded house. And so there is a brand strategy, a brand migration path. But I think as Julie mentioned, you know, we’re really careful in terms of how quickly we move the organization, the customers, the messaging, we want to do that at a pace that feels natural and appropriate for each of those different companies that were acquiring. But I will say by and large, yes, we really want to move those folks over into a symplr product name.

Drew Neisser: Right and so what’s interesting with this–just for the folks that are listening–branded house is basically saying we have one brand and other brands, they live underneath it. And I know most of the posts are quite sophisticated, but it is a big deal because you have to make that decision. For the most part. I mean, there are some structures where you have a dual structure like Microsoft has a lot of Microsoft products. But it also has the standalone things like an Xbox. So they have this mixture. But Adobe, as far as they’re concerned, it’s Adobe. When I talked to Ann Lenws, they are a branded house even though they acquired Magento and Marketo. And so I’m curious, is there a case yet where you said, “We can’t afford to lose the equity of that brand that we just acquired, and so it’s symplr [blank], and you’re still using the name of the other company?

Kristin Russel: Absolutely. With 9 different acquisitions, if you sort of dug into our portfolio, you would see some companies with their name on them. Now, what I will tell you is, in terms of that transition, we’re looking at how we transition components of the brand. Maybe the colors, the look and feel the typography is going to change but not necessarily the name right now or we’ll do a slower transition. One of our most recent acquisitions, Midas, which is a very well known name in our industry, we think about that as a symplr brand. So we’ll call it Midas, a symplr company, or a symplr product, depending on the case for each one of those different solutions. For us, our brand story has been evolving. Last year, right around this time, we did a complete overhaul where we took a step back and said, “Let’s look at the brand strategy and really make sure that we’re tuned to where we’re going so that the brand itself is big enough to continue the growth path that we’re on.”

Drew Neisser: Yeah, because your house, your branded house, your roofs got to get bigger.

Kristin Russel: Exactly. So we had to move out to like the little like 2 storey into a bigger condo as we continue to grow.

Drew Neisser: And this is something that I do talk about in the book. And I really want to emphasize for folks that are listening. There are in any number—in fact, you can go back to an episode I did with Jennifer Renaud, where she was at 2 companies, literally 2 companies, massive companies that acquired a bunch of brands, and then got rid of those brand names and sales went down 30/40/50% right away. Because they turned off the websites, people couldn’t find it. And these are huge brands. And then they turn the websites back on and the business came back. So the migration is the key word that I heard there, we got to migrate these folks from one brand to another brand. And we don’t have to do it in a day, right? I mean, that’s one of the things you’re talking about. Because sometimes it’s, this is the brand, a symplr company. And there’s a strategy that you phase people out because employees are loyal to it, customers are loyal to it and it has equity, right? So can you spend time thinking about migration? Is that part of your overall approach?

Kristin Russel: Absolutely, we think about migration, we think about cross sell, we think about upsell 100%. That’s a huge component in terms of what we’re doing right now and how we’re continuing to grow our pipeline. The other piece of that we talked about communication communication to our employees, but communicates to our customers as well. And so you can imagine, particularly in a B2B world, a customer who is maybe acquiring a piece of software, that’s a particularly expensive piece of software, that’s going to take them a period of time. And that software might have its own name internally. So us just changing the name, we want to make sure we’re bringing those customers along with us. Now, on the flip side, what I will say, Drew, is as we do call these different companies, these different solutions, symplr contracts, symplr spend, symplr directory. What we’re able to communicate in that for our customers, aligns with our overall strategy as well. So we’ve got this sort of approach where we’re basically saying, “Look, we think there’s this opportunity in this space called health care operations, meaning…”—so let me just get nerdy for one second. But in the world of healthcare to run a hospital, there was a lot of different points solutions. We wanted to bring those all together and provide an enterprise offering, cost savings, reliable data, governance, all of those good things. Well, if you think about it, from a strategy point of view, I want a customer who’s using one product, to know that they have opportunity to use others. So by calling it all the same thing it does me in one corner of the hospital, if you’re using symplr directory, and you hear about a symplr workforce project, you’re more likely to start to pull those together. So that it is also important for us to.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and that’s exactly right. All right, we’re gonna take a quick break, because we’ll talk about CMO Huddles. But we’ll be back because I want to talk about that. Because really, what we’re talking about here is going from product specific market percent to a platform and becoming something bigger than that. Which is everybody’s dream in the SaaS world is to be a platform. Okay, we’ll be right back.

It’s time for me to talk about CMO Huddles, so launched in 2020, CMO huddles is an exclusive community of over 100 highly effective B2B CMOs, who share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Everything about CMO Huddles is designed to be a force multiplier. Helping CMOs make faster, better, and more informed decisions where 1 inspiring hour delivers 10 hours of perspiration saved. Since no CMO can out work their jobs, CMO Huddles is here to help you outsmart it. Now we just happen to have 3 huddlers here Julie, Isabelle, Kristen any of you want to share an experience, please do. Isabelle, you’ve been with us the longest and you’ve seen a huddles grow, any thoughts?

Isabelle Papoulias: Yes. I’ve learned so much. And what I love the most is the format. I find the format to be very intimate, the smaller groups that are set up and allows us to build personal relationships and reach out to people one-on-one and help each other. I consistently walk away with tactics that I want to try at home, so to speak.

Drew Neisser: All right. Thank you for that. Julie, Kristin, I know you’re both relatively new, any thoughts so far in how it’s going for huddles?

Julie Feller: Yeah, I can jump in. I think the ideas and the insight and collaboration are great. I also think the validation is really helpful. Since we’re all so busy and pulled in so many different directions. It’s nice sometimes to hear how others are handling similar situations or challenges. I do also enjoy there’s a Slack channel. And so just seeing what people post and being able to communicate at any point is really beneficial as well.

Drew Neisser: I love it. Thank you for that. Yeah, there’s a little bit of marquetry going on here. Just being able to hear that, “Oh, I’m not alone. This is a problem that I’m facing as well.” Kristin, any thoughts?

Kristin Russel: Yeah, I mean, I’ll tell you, I joined just yesterday, I was sitting in one of the CMO Huddles on events. And I learned a lot from the other marketers. I’m taking notes like, “Oh, gosh, I should have thought that’s a great idea.” Different ways to look at outcomes analytics from the events. I’m a fan for sure. And I love the Slack channel as well, particularly for finding resources.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny, you should mention that huddle because the term revenue in the room. Like that was like to me one of those lightbulb moments was like yes, that’s an interesting way of thinking about events. And it’s a little crass, but it’s really helpful.

This is a good time for me to ask what would Ben Franklin say? The reason I’m so obsessed with Franklin—and I would describe him as America’s first Chief Marketing Officer—is that he was in France to get Louie the 16th to fund our war effort. Massive amounts of money that we got all the weapons and we got to experience military officers and ultimately the naval support the turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. And sadly for Louie probably cost him his head because it bankrupted the country as he helped ours getting established. So I think dear Ben, when considering our conversation about the challenges CMOs face making acquisitions work, would advise nimbleness and agility versus a rigid prescriptive approach. Noting, “Can anything be constant in a world which is a eternally changing.” Okay, thank you, Ben.

Now, back to this. Let’s talk about all with all 4 of us on camera, trigger points where you realized that you needed to rethink your go to market strategy. Your go to market strategy or your brand’s story. So when was that moment where you realize that you needed to rethink that go to market?

Julie Feller: For one of the brands that we acquired, for us, we had it right. And maybe we had pieces of it, right. But when the sales team starts to go out, and the account managers start to go out and have conversations with our existing clients, and with new prospects that we’re trying to bring in, when the story wasn’t really cohesive, and it wasn’t working, and the sales weren’t coming in, the deals weren’t getting into the pipeline, and things weren’t moving as fast as we would like, or as much as we would like, that’s when we take a step back and say, “Okay, something’s not working here. What is it? And then obviously, there’s so many different areas that we can dive into to see. But for one of the acquired properties, it was definitely a challenge to get the two sales teams aligned and make sure that people were clear with who’s doing what and how.

Drew Neisser: At that point in time, are you still selling what the old company did alone are you selling some kind of combo of the two?

Julie Feller: Kind of a combo of the two. So similar to what Kristin was saying, where if someone’s using one of our services in this area, we want them to know all the other ways that we can help as well. So there’s definitely opportunity to cross sell and upsell existing clients on both sides of the fence with everything that we have to offer. And so when we tried to do that, and it wasn’t really resonating, the lightbulb wasn’t going off. And we started to kind of change the messaging, change the story slightly, and then you start to see the light bulb and then you start to see the deals come in and we’re able to produce the content and everything else that sales needs to enable the deals to keep moving. That’s when we are able to hone in on what’s working.

Drew Neisser: Really interesting. And again, we get back to sort of this nimbleness of the thing. It may not be exactly what you think, right? That’s so interesting. Isabelle, you we’re gonna say something in this area?

Isabelle Papoulias:: Yeah, we’ve had quite a few after 5 acquisitions. Like trigger moments of change. From what Kristin said of under estimating, and acquiring companies brand equity, and essentially shutting down the brand too soon, and demand dropping as a result, and so realizing that and then reinstating it from expanding our TAM, and then having to readjust, right? So going from enterprise to also adding downmarket as our ICP, and then realizing that we don’t internally have the resources to both have sales and customer success to handle the volume that was coming our way. So are we adjusting that. From rolling out a message that was too lofty. The challenge between having an investor message versus a buyer message. Investors want to hear something that’s… let’s call it sexy. Ya know? And buyers want something perhaps a lot more tactical, right? So how do you strike the balance there. So there’s been quite a few examples of planning for one thing, and then having to adjust because it didn’t go exactly as planned.

Drew Neisser: Now, just in case, we have some listeners who aren’t as familiar with all the acronyms that Isabelle mentioned. We’ve got TAM, which is “total addressable market” and ICP, which is “ideal customer profile.” And those things are really interesting in this part of this thing, because you were marketing towards a specific group of people with a market. And, in theory, when you make an acquisition, your total addressable market grows or not. It’s interesting. And, Kristin, in your world of healthcare, does the total addressable market grow? Or is it simply getting more revenue per customer?

Kristin Russel: Yeah, it’s not always about the TAM, the total addressable market growing in our world. It’s certainly some of the acquisitions we’ve made over the last decade have absolutely grown that TAM. There’s a different reason for each one. In some cases, we’re augmenting technology in the portfolio, we’re augmenting the actual product. And in other cases, I would say we are acquiring customers and looking to grow that TAM. So it’s a little bit of a case by case in terms of what is the rationale for the deal. And ultimately, that actually even goes into how you measure the effectiveness of the acquisition and how you bring this whole thing to light.

Drew Neisser: And we’re gonna get to that, but I want to stay where we are for a second. Because Isabelle, you mentioned getting rid of a brand too early. And that the migration just turned off the brand and boom, you felt it immediately. In that situation where they’re considering turning off the brand, is there any sort of thinking back now there were signs that you could have—how could you have done a little more due diligence or something to help you know that you can’t turn this brand off yet?

Isabelle Papoulias: I would say, this is a general answer, I would say if it’s not broken don’t fix it. That’s the first thing. And you need the time to ask questions. You need the time to get a sense. I mean you could also put a survey out there in the market and do a poor man’s awareness study and get a gauge there. You can spend more time talking to customers, doing more social listening, and so on. That would be my recommendations. And we didn’t take the time to do any of that.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. Okay, and I think when you started to talk about customers, to me, that’s when the light bulb went off. Because what you really can find out—and I’m going back to this other podcasts that we did—is that people—there are some cases, even with small brands, where the product/person relationship, the buyer and the user, almost identify themselves with that company. The way, say, a Marketo and/or an eloqua, those folks were really deeply involved. In fact, it kind of define their role. And so if you take that away from them, they’re suddenly adrift. And so finding out the level of—for lack of a better word—engagement, and connection that they feel to the brand, which I don’t think is a survey, I think that’s a qualitative thing that you feel once you get someone that drink in their hands and say, “So how do you feel the brand? And where’s it fit into your life?” It’s everything!

So interesting. Julie, when you look at this, were there trigger points for you, that we haven’t talked about in terms of, we need to rethink this thing.

Julie Feller: I was just going to add on to what you just said. We’ve done some focus groups and brand loyalists interviews of both internal employees and external clients to look for, what is the essence of the brand that they really, truly like? And so we don’t want to get rid of that, obviously. And sometimes we do find—back to the people do business with people—a lot of the times it’s the relationships and not so much the actual company name. So by being able to say [something, something a U.S. Legal Support Company], but still having that level of personal connection and interaction has made a lot of the transitions easier in some ways in a lot of the cases.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, as you’re talking about that I’m thinking about something as simple or not simple as when do you changed the email addresses of the acquired company. And it was funny as one of our huddlers was lamenting that they had brought 9 companies together and that they’d been together for 3 or 4 years. And there were people who were still using the email of the original company and how hard it is to get folks to really embrace the new brand. So as you’re migrating these things, keep that in mind. You can’t just flip a switch and say, “All right, everybody’s using this new email.” Because it’s hard. People connect to it. It takes time to do this.

All right. Well, Kristin, you brought up this issue—or this opportunity—of measurement and metrics. When you look at an acquisition that’s been integrated now a year later, what are you looking for? And how do you know that this is sort of the sign that this acquisition was a success?

Kristin Russel: Yeah, I keep saying it’s not one size fits all. And that is very much true as well, with the metrics themselves. We go back and we look at the deal thesis. Why did we acquire the company? I talked about that a little bit earlier on. Is it for growth of the TAM, or is it for a technology acquisition play? Depending on that we’re going to apply different metrics to the acquisition. We’ll look at a variety of different things. You know, the other point I would make is, there’s a checklist that we put together for every acquisition. And running through the checklist itself does not just mean success. So like we could go through and check off all of the items, we could do the brand transition, we could have the turnover, we could turn off the old website, and we could do all of those different elements. And of course, it’s not just marketing as well, we’ve got this with finance with our service and our sales teams. And we still may not have customer or employee satisfaction. So it’s ultimately the metrics that we look at that helped determine how we’re doing. And it’s going to be things like the net promoter score will give us a gauge on customer satisfaction by that acquired customer over time. We’re going to look at things like our success of cross selling into the new organization. So are we seeing that penetration pipeline and cross selling. We’re going to look at the number of customers acquired by each acquisition over time as well. And average revenue per customer. Those are probably some of the bigger ones.

From a brand perspective—Julie talked about this a little bit, I thought it was great—we run a brand survey twice a year. We look at how a brand is performing. We measure those acquired brands as well in our brand survey. So we’re still looking at the older brand names just to get a sense of where are we transitioning? Where’s there’s still opportunity?

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and I think having that brand tracking has got to be so valuable, because at some point over, you’ll see, you know what, that brand isn’t that strong anymore against this target audience, and we can turn it off. Then you really have some facts at your fingertips. Julie, Isabelle, when you look at metrics, was there anything else that you wanted to add to that part of the conversation?

Isabelle Papoulias: Now I want to double click on everything that Kristin said, and just add maybe a little more color around the cross sell, because I think that’s hugely important. Especially as you make more and more acquisitions. And probably Kristin and I can relate to this, you become a platform with multiple products, and perhaps even services, huge opportunities to cross sell to your customer base. Even more so then perhaps more emphasis on cross sell even new logos. That’s a big opportunity. And certainly for us, you know, we’re looking much more closely at those types of KPIs.

Drew Neisser: So you brought a platform and I mentioned before the break, sort of the holy grail of all this in SaaS land is that you get in there and then you have this platform. And oh, by the way, you could add this and it’s right there. And you could add this. We all know that when you make the acquisition, that it doesn’t become a platform, it becomes a platform idea. The vibe form is actually delivered, probably when the whole thing is torn down and rebuilt, which never happens. Or you get this jerry rigged thing, right?

And so I’m curious how you all—because this matters in the scheme of thing. And the engineering at some point matters because your marketing what you got. Or the promise of what you have. Talk a little bit about what you’ve learned from this  engineering integration and how to manage that promise of platform. Maybe before platform is even there technically.

Kristin Russel: I’d love to jump in there, Drew, and then Julie and Isabelle, you guys can let me know if you agree or totally disagree. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. And I think from our perspective, there’s a couple things. So there’s the value we can offer our customers right now. And even though the vision of the platform is something that’s coming, and we’re working really hard to make sure our sales team and our customers understand that there’s the right now benefits and the work that’s coming down the pipe. So we distinguish between what we have today, which is all of the benefits of as we grow, having fewer vendors to manage a standardized solution deployment, data governance practices, enterprise security, all of that comes with just having one single vendor managing similar processes across the board. We also, though do talk to our customers about both our vision and how we are delivering on that vision. So we’ve made it really clear, here’s how we see this coming together. And oh, by the way, here’s the $1 out of $5 that we’re investing in our R&D to go build this vision. So this is what that looks like. And this is what you can expect, 6 months, 1 year, kind of making sure that the customers and our employees understand both where we are today and where we’re going. And then getting those points on the board as soon as we can. To me that’s really critical.

Drew Neisser: I love that because it’s not over promising and under delivering. We’re not in the world of April, where there is this other things are coming. But what we have is really good right now, because remember, you were using it before. And now it’s better because look at the wrapping we’re putting around it and it’s this integrated platform, it will get there. But still it’s better because of this other corporate capabilities.

All right. Well, we’re running out of time here. So I want to thank you all. But first, I want to get final words of wisdom—think of this as a Tuesday Tip—one tip for CMOs new to the managing acquisitions. Just give them one tip. Start with Isabelle

Isabelle Papoulias: Over communicate early and often even way before the acquisition, way before the due diligence process. As soon as you know.

Drew Neisser: As soon as you know over communicate. All right, great. Julie Feller, one tip.

Julie Feller: I agree with the communication and also make sure that everyone across the organizations agree on the metrics that we’re measuring for success, but also those trigger points of when something’s not working so that you can be in alignment before you even start.

Drew Neisser: Perfect. And Kristin Russell, one tip.

Kristin Russel: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Drew Neisser: Amazing. Amazing! You guys are amazing. You’re great sports. Thank you audience for staying with us.

To hear more conversations like this one and submit your own questions while we’re live, join us on the next CMO Huddles Studio. We stream to my LinkedIn profile, that’s Drew Neisser, every other week.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!

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