214: Sales, Marketing, & Product Innovation | with Bart van der Heijden

Why do salespeople and product teams often clash?

It comes down to communication. The world has gone digital and the only way to stay ahead is by ensuring that information is shared across the entire value network.

This week, learn how Bart van der Heijden, Director of Strategy & Innovation at FCR Media Belgium, has deployed innovative tactics to align business units and reduce client churn at his organization.


George: It’s Conquer Local, the podcast. We are on the road and I’m joining you today from beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia. It’s a fantastic location. We’re just right here by the sea. Actually, last evening, we were in a Game of Thrones tour of Dubrovnik, which is King’s Landing—so a fantastic location. If you get a chance, you wanna come here. Today, on the Conquer Local podcast, we’re going to talk to a gentleman that I’ve known for a couple years. His name is Bart van der Heijden. Bart is from FCR Media in Belgium. You know he is the head of innovation and strategy for FCR media. He is probably one of the smarter people that I’ve met in the space and they’re doing some great stuff at FCR, managing the downturn in the directory business and then growing a new line of business with digital marketing solutions.

We’re gonna ask him some very pointed questions about how salespeople could be better at setting expectations and serving clients, and some of the learnings that they’ve had at FCR Media, serving 30,000 customers in the country of Belgium. So Bart van der Heijden coming up next on the Conquer Local podcast on the road in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

FCR Media, Belgium

George: It’s the Conquer Local podcast and we’re coming to you from beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia. It’s an amazing place, we’ve just been having a fantastic time here this week. Bart van der Heijden joining me from FCR. Bart, where are you from? What city do you live in?

Bart: I live in a city called Stabroek, which is a very small city near Antwerp. It’s very close to the Dutch border. I’m Dutch by nationality. So I feel very welcomed there. And it’s…I think it’s 25 kilometers from Antwerp, where I work for FCR Media and it’s mainly a farmers region city, yeah.

George: So we’ve known each other for a couple years now and FCR is quite the organization. Tell us a little bit about FCR, how many people, how big it is and then, you know, the products and solutions that you folks market.

Bart: Yeah, so we have… So we are responsible for FCR Media Belgium, which is part of the FCR Media Group. But we focus, specifically, on the Belgium entity. We have 300 people in the Belgium unit, about 150 of them are sales and the 50 are back office, finance, and all the other tasks. The products and service that we offer is, of course…we have the Yellow Pages platform, the IYP that we still sell to our customers. Next to that, we have a website offering, which is the core offering that we have for our customers. On top of that, we do Facebook advertising, we do advertising with the Yext, the listings. We have also the print still, so we still run a print business. It’s not very big anymore but it is still profitable, of course. And now, we do some AdWords campaigns on Google and that’s mainly the main products that we have.

George: So, you know, large organization, significant revenue and we know that print has been a challenge that a lot of directory companies have faced. You’ve been there for a while.

Bart: I’ve been here now for three years. So I started three years ago at FCR Media, since then we’ve done a lot. We’ve completely transformed the company, we’ve completely re-platformed our IT architecture to everything Cloud-based, we were still On-Premise when I joined. We’ve designed completely new products, we have implemented the subscription model in full. We completely redesigned the organization focusing much more on one hand side acquisition sales. On the other hand, side customer success, which really takes care of the 30,000 customers that’s still with us today, making sure that they are contacted multiple times a year with either an up-sell opportunity or just a talk about how it’s going and what we actually can do for them.

Product Innovation & Customer Feedback

George: So your role… Can you explain that a little bit for our listeners?

Bart: Yeah, so I’m responsible for strategy and innovation. And the strategy part is looking into the markets, what’s happening, looking into the industry, that’s why, of course, I attend these nice conferences, looking what’s happening out there, seeing where the competition is going, seeing where other industry players are going. And then, of course, make the multi-year plans and budgets to make sure that we can make them. Next to that is innovation. And innovation is something very specific. And what we have done with the innovation is also look at the different things that are happening in the industry and in the market, look at solutions that are out there. And what we have installed is Innovation Lab, and so somebody from my team is responsible for the innovation lab. And what we try to do there is if we see a nice new product or a product that we think can fit with our customers, then we test it first in the innovation lab.

And in the innovation lab, we can collaborate very quickly with sales, we can collaborate very quickly with product fulfillment, we run our products on a specific set of test customers. I think the last one we did was a review platform that we piloted, we piloted it with 10 customers. So we could really follow up very closely what they like, what they don’t like, what is working, what is not working to come to an offer, which if we launch it in full in the Salesforce, we already know that it definitely will work. And so that that helps us a lot. Instead of doing a very tight and rigid selection process, then doing an implementation in our systems, we are ready to sell it and then it doesn’t work, we now already do the product market fit before we implement it in our system and before we make all the expenses for that.

George: So, you know, there’s a lot of risk in launching a new solution if you don’t know that there’s gonna be product-market fit. So I think this innovation thing, you know when you had first mentioned it to me, I thought it was quite innovative. It’s, you know…it’s definitely something that software as a service, SaaS models have done, where you have a testing team to test a new script or, you know, new go-to-market. So very interested in that. So one of the reasons why I wanted to have Bart on the podcast, number one, super smart guy and he’s doing some great stuff with FCR. But the other thing is, is that Bart and I probably don’t play too well together because I’m a sales guy and he is definitely a product innovator. And I wanted to get some feedback on some of the things that really frustrate you in dealing with salespeople. So can we dig into that a little bit? You know, I’m sure that your salespeople are gonna be listening to the podcast after you’re on here. But let’s dig into it because I think it’s really important that we understand some of those frustrations so that maybe salespeople could think a little bit more like product people and maybe product people can think a little bit more like salespeople. So tell me about some of the things that frustrate you when dealing with sales reps.

Bart: Well, I think first of all, just as a disclaimer, I try to go regularly with sales to visit customers because otherwise, it’s…and it’s a tough job. I think, especially as SMB sales, it’s very tough. The customer, they don’t know what they want, we are there with a nice solution and you have to find a matching, so it’s very tough out there. But I think what could definitely help me is more feedback, which I lack in what I do. And that’s why I try to go and have regular talks with the sales guys. If they see an opportunity at a customer, for example, for a project that we don’t yet have or they see a problem which we do not tackle with our current products, or we can improve the way we bundle or go to market, it’s that feedback loop that we understand from both, from strategy point of view, innovation, and marketing point of view, that we understand very well what is happening in the market with our customers. And that we can adjust our offer to meet the expectations from the customers.

George: That’s really interesting. And I hear that from a lot of folks in your role in innovation and strategy, and developing the solutions that we want the feedback, we want the good, bad, and the ugly.

Bart: Indeed, indeed. Yeah.

Reducing Churn

George: So the other thing that I wanted to ask is, how can we reduce churn? In your mind, what are some things we could do as reps, salespeople representing an organization dealing with customers, what could we do to reduce churn, in your opinion?

Bart: Yeah, well, I think we have implemented a few tactics or we have implemented on the operating model just to reduce churn, and I think one of the things we’ve done, and which is a bit of a…everybody’s doing it now in the direct of this industry is move away from the yearly context and move to a multi-contact mode, not only to sell but also to provide service. And I think that’s definitely something that we see is happening and is helping. We also take the feedback from our customers who after every interaction with sales or with service, we provide them with a survey. And we ask them, first of all, was their contact valuable and can we contact you again in 3,6, or 12 months. And we see that a lot of customers, yes, they believe that the contact is valuable and we are able to get from them that we can contact them again, which is a bit of a…it’s a consent way of saying, “Yes, please contact.” And then we have another…we can have a sales opportunity once we contact that customer again.

George: Yeah, you know, it is definitely hard to get an upsell if you can’t talk to a customer so it’s great to get that feedback. I found actually there’s a number of organizations that we work with, they’ve actually hired firms to do follow up to make sure that the sales reps are not overpromising. And so let’s talk about that because I think that, you know, that’s probably one of the main reasons that churn happens is that, you know, the sales rep overpromises. How do you in your organization work on aligning expectations?

Bart: I think in sales that you need to be able to overpromise a bit because, otherwise, you need to paint the story for the customer so it’s important that it’s appealing for the customer. But I think what we have done is in our acquisition sales, specifically, is we have created an onboarding team. So we split what we did in the past, is we had sales and fulfillment or sales and production. What we’ve done now is we’ve grouped acquisition sales and acquisition onboarding together and we grouped the existing customer, so customer success. That is also responsible for the fulfillment of the existing customers. And what we see there is that there’s a very… Every sales rep in the acquisition team has a fulfillment agent or somebody in the production unit that they can align to so it’s a one-on-one relationship. So the sales rep that is overselling, he knows who will pick it up after them. We’re not there yet so it’s a model that we have now put in place since the 1st of April. But we definitely see churn improving and we see that that is working. Next to that, what we also try to do is align the marketing story for the products with what we actually can produce and what we actually sell. So there’s our product market here so they are responsible and are taking the lead in aligning the story for the products with what sales can sell and they make very nice predict leafless out of that, and also with what we actually can produce.

Scaling a Directory with Digital

George: Thirty thousand customers, that is an unbelievable number of customers for 300 people to service. How do you guys do that? How do you scale 30,000 customers?

Bart: Well, the thing is, of course, that most of those customers did not join in one day so it’s grown over time. So most of the customers, they have their website, they have their product. And so what we need to do is, we need to get in touch with them to see if we need to do any improvements or we have upsell possibilities, and that’s marketing’s job with us. So marketing defines campaigns. So they take the data from our ERP systems, they look at which customer needs to have a contact in their contact plan, which customer has an upsell opportunity or has a potential upsell, which customer has churn risks, based on that datafying [SP] campaigns. And then the sales reps, they announce, I say it very, very bad, but they don’t have to do anything more than open their Salesforce under the application and look at which customers today they need to contact with which opportunity. And I think that is definitely working because it’s data-driven. We exactly… We have churn indications, we have traffic light indicators. And so if you’re in contact with the customer in your Salesforce, you have a view on what are the potential opportunities? What is the churn risk for this customer? You can address it accordingly.

George: So. as we move forward here in the next three or four years, where do you see that account number growing to? Like, what is your forecast target to grow business inside of FCR?

Bart: I would already be happy if it’s growing because today, as I think most Yellow Pages companies we’re still declining. What we are aiming for for 2019 is I think just to take a step back, What we’ve seen is that our product offering and the customers that we target today, we still target them with a very high annual amount that they buy with us. And so the customers that we bring in into our acquisition, they even have a higher ARPA than the existing customers, which makes it very difficult when you move from acquisition to customer success to be absorbed. What we try to do, of course, is to get to that lower segment of customers with a better-tailored offer, with a cheaper fulfillment, cheaper sales channel that we can put in place and then we can grow the number of customers. But I’m not going to give you a number, that’s a very difficult one. But I hope that we can get in 2019 back to growth because that’s something we definitely need.

George: So, you know, I guess my… Maybe I could rephrase the question then. My point is, of the new offerings that you were putting in front of your customers, that piece is definitely growing.

Bart: Yes, yeah, that is growing and that needs to grow. And that’s something that’s… I think what happens most now is that churn is reducing. And that for us, that’s the most important indication that it’s working. As I said, in acquisition, we still lack a full force of new customers coming in, that’s something that we still need to do. And that’s a match between the product offer that we have, the type of customer that we target and which sales rep we put in front of them. So that’s something that we’ve been continuously working at to make sure that we can count the churn with new customers that we can bring in.

George: What’s interesting is you’re talking about a team sales approach because we see that to be very effective inside organizations, aligning the onboarding team with the acquisition team, and then having those multiple touch points.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

George: You know, it’s been a fantastic couple of days here as the folks of Siinda have outdone themselves with this location. But tell us, and this is now…this a little bit of tourism for Croatia and it’s maybe a little bit of motivation for sales reps. I think that, you know, people listening, you really do wanna come to Dubrovnik, it’s amazing. But what was your favorite part of this location that we’re at, this amazing location?

Bart: Well, I think… I do triathlons so I like to swim, bike, and run. Now biking or running here is difficult because you’re in a conference. But I love the swimming so we have the swimming pool outside. And after that, we have the sea. So we’re in front of the sea, where I’ve done some great swimming there, which was amazing. It was very salty, that I must say.

George: And I heard that the sea is actually warmer than the pool.

Bart: The sea is warmer than the pool. I think there’s a difference of one degrees but, it’s indeed, yeah.

George: Well, it’s great seeing you as always, and congratulations on the good things that you’re doing. I’ve often admired your innovation and the things that you’re doing to change that industry in Belgium, and help those customers of FCR Media and we wish you all the best, and thanks for joining us.

Bart: Thank you very much for having me.


George: Well, some key takeaways from today’s podcast. It’s really interesting when I get to sit down with people that are outside of sales. So Bart’s, you know, a pretty smart guy, he gets on the road and does four legged calls with his reps to make sure that they’re aligning expectations. But some of the things that they’ve done there when they built that innovation lab and they’re actually testing things to see if there’s a fit in the marketplace, and to align the way that they’re going to market, we see that more and more as part of an effective strategy. The other thing that I thought was interesting is, you know, they’re managing the downturn in the traditional directory business, but they also are growing business and realizing that you need to have those multiple touch points throughout the year. In fact, what we’re finding in some of our studies internally of Vendasta is that 90 days, you don’t wanna have a 90 day period where you’re not talking to the customer and trying to align some new solutions to their problems. So it was great to hear that validation of some things that we’ve known. And then the other piece that I really like is what Bart is saying from the product side and the innovation side, we want that feedback.

And I think as salespeople, sometimes, we just expect them to know how the customers feeling, but it’s great to hear that one of the things that they want is to hear from the sales people what some of the challenges are. And I think that what, you know, he didn’t say it, so I’m not gonna try and put words in his mouth. But what I have heard from others is, “It’s not about bitching and moaning, it’s about true customer feedback, aligning those products and services to the needs of the customers in the market.” So we really appreciate grabbing a few minutes here in beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia with Bart van der Heijden from FCR Media in Belgium. We hope you will reach out to us on LinkedIn, we’re looking for that feedback. I really appreciate the comments we’ve been getting lately around some of our broadcasts and we’re looking forward to the months to come, we’re actually getting really close to the end of 2018, which, wow, time flies. But we’ve got some great episodes in the making as we continue to be on the road here for the next month or so with the Conquer Local podcast. So make sure that you tell your friends to subscribe and stay tuned. My name is George Leith, I’ll see you when I see you.

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