217: The Evolution of Search Engine Marketing, with Sandy Lohr | The New Marketing Stack

75% of global SMBs will be run by millennials by 2025.

People don’t shop like they used to, and local businesses don’t look like they used to. Yet, these increasingly young and savvy local business owners still need your help if they want to stay top of mind with their audiences and stand a chance against the Walmarts and Amazons of the world.

The first piece of the modern customer journey is awareness, and this is where local businesses must leverage digital marketing tactics to convey their value propositions to prospects. To speak to this element of the modern customer journey, we welcome Sandy Lohr, CEO of MatchCraft. All the way from sales to CEO, Sandy brings a wealth of knowledge on Search Engine Marketing, and shares her insights into this complex digital sales process that continues to evolve.

This is the first edition of the New Marketing Stack Series, stay tuned for more great content!


George: Welcome to “The Conquer Local” podcast. I promised that we would start to bring you some additions all around the digital marketing stack, and the customer journey for SMBs or SMEs. SMB is what we call them in North America, small and medium businesses. SME, small and medium enterprises is what they are known as in Europe and other parts of the world. I’ve got a great guest for you today, all lined up from California, the CEO of MatchCraft, Sandy Lohr. Sandy arrived at MatchCraft about three and a half years ago after a long career, almost a 10-year career as the SVP of sales at Advanced Digital, which is part of the Conde Nast group. I remember when I first met Sandy, I had the privilege of joining her for dinner after a convention in San Francisco, and I was like, “Wow, super smart lady.” And also very inspiring. I’m gonna ask her, during this episode, how she made it from sales to the CEO chair. Because isn’t that all of salespeople? We all wanna be CEO one day.

And we’re gonna find out what Sandy’s take is on the awareness stage of the digital marketing stack. So, you know, you might think that, Oh, George, reputation management guy. We’ll get to reputation at some point in time. But we got Sandy on the phone, so let’s talk about awareness first. You have to have awareness around your brand. MatchCraft is running hundreds of millions of dollars of ad campaigns on search, on social, and on display using their proprietary technology. They’re in 24 different languages, and over 6,000 salespeople around the world. And Sandy is running that organization. I count some of those people like Brad Peterson as some of my really good friends, and we’re privileged to work with them on a day-to-day basis. So, we’re excited to have Sandy Lohr, the CEO of MatchCraft on this special edition of “The Conquer Local” podcast coming up next.

George: It’s the latest edition of The Conquer Local podcast. George Leith with you. I’m very excited to welcome the CEO of MatchCraft, Sandy Lohr, to the program. Sandy, thanks for joining us.

Sandy: Thank you, George. It’s a pleasure. And yeah, you’re speaking on a topic I love, conquering local.

Sandy’s Background Check

George: You and I met a few years back, right when you had just moved into your role at MatchCraft. First, maybe give people a little bit of an overview of your company and, you know, what you folks do?

Sandy: Sure. So, MatchCraft, we’re located in Santa Monica, California. And we serve clients that are trying to run digital campaigns for thousands of clients, hundreds of thousands of clients, and do it in an automated platform for search, for social, and for display, those are the areas that we focus on. And we do that in 44 countries. This is our 20th anniversary. And we try and pride ourselves in both the technology side, but also in service, and understand that our clients end result is keeping merchants on our platform. So, we look at retention as one of our major metrics to make sure that ultimately if we’re serving that local merchant best, that means we’re serving our clients best.

George: Well, you know, that really sums it up. So basically, a media company or an agency would reach out to you to help scale, you know, up to thousands of accounts through, you know, SEM, social media advertising, display advertising, and your platform then you continue to develop is, you know, the industry standard, I guess, is the way that I would describe it if you’re speaking to anybody in the media space. And speaking of media space, that’s where you came from before you arrived at MatchCraft. Tell us a little bit about your role before you became the CEO.

Sandy: Sure. Well, I had great training. I came from the client side. We were using MatchCraft when I worked for my previous company, and I was overseeing advertising, sales, digital sales, grew up in the print world. And when print became digital, I took that ride. And so I was working for a company out of New York that has markets throughout the U.S. from coast to coast. And my job was to try and find the best solutions to serve local merchants for sales reps. And so I’ve spent over 30 years selling, and working, and serving local businesses, and working with sales reps to do that. So, I get the pain points, and it really helps me understand today kind of how important go to market strategy is for sales teams that are tasked with the great job of serving local merchants, but also how complex that is with all the different media choices there are today.

From Sales to CEO

George: So, you know, I wanted to get that piece in there that you did come from the sales side, because our audience, as you know, are sales people all over the world. We’re very excited in our latest audience numbers, and we’re getting a lot of repeat listens to various episodes. And the reason that, and you and I were together in Croatia here recently at the Center Convention and I asked if you’d be a guest so we could talk about, you know, the local consumer journey. And that’s what these folks that are listening to Conquer Local are interested in, is tactics on how they can super serve their customers. And I thought nobody better to speak about that awareness phase of the customer journey than you, Sandy. I also think that it’s inspiring, because you came from the sales side and you’re the CEO, so any tips for aspiring sales leaders that wanna be the CEO one day?

Sandy: Well, first off, be careful what you wish for. It always seems like that’s the path you want, you know, then you get to anything and it’s like, “Wait a minute, why did I want this set of headaches instead of the headaches I had before?” But now, it’s my privilege. I feel quite blessed to be in this position. But let me tell you, I’ve duked it out all the way. I grew up from the sales side, and throughout college worked full time and helping make sales calls both face to face and on the phone. I know what rejection is all about. I’ve been rejected all my life. And I would say that work ethic, and flexibility, being able to adapt and change. And the other thing I think I learned too late is just expecting to work hard and thinking that someone will notice it’s kind of how I grew up. And what I realized is it’s also part of making sure that you’re noticed, you have to be relevant, and have your own voice, and tell your own story just like you’re selling as a profession, you also have to have an authentic story about yourself that you are able to convey as well. And I think all of those things combined, but it’s just staying humble, and never forget where you’ve come from, and understanding whatever you’re asking people that you manage to do, and knowing what that is firsthand, and knowing what that job is, and rolling up your sleeves and not being afraid to get dirty and not being afraid to make decisions and fail and learn from those. Those are all part of what I think is important career pathing, whether it’s media sales or anything else.

Hot Tips for Selling Digital

George: So, MatchCraft operates in 44 countries, you just celebrated your 20th anniversary, you got 23 unique languages that you serve, SMBs as we call them in North America, and SMEs as they’re called in the rest of the world. And there are 6,000 sales reps that go out and represent your product. Let’s talk to those 6,000 sales reps and, you know, the a thousand or whatever it is today, what? Three or 4,000 sales reps that listen to us on a weekly basis. What advice would you give a sales rep when they’re making a presentation around selling ads? And we’re specifically talking about your suite of digital ads.

Sandy: Yeah. Well, I would say the most important thing is always coming from the customer’s perspective. And it’s too hard when you’re a sales rep, and I’ve lived this, that you’ve got a sales manager, and they’ve got quotas, and they’ve given you quotas, and you’ve got this number that you have to hit. And so sometimes you’re going out with the wrong intentions when it comes to that local business. And so, marching in with your latest and greatest things that you’re trying to sell, instead of marching in with what is best for them and looking at where they are and what they need to do. I think that would be one advice is just trying to balance your job and the demands that your boss is putting on you with being authentic with what’s best for the client and providing results that are best for them. And I’ll give you an example that, again, on the MatchCraft platform, we’re running ads for search, and for social, and display. And there could be some incentives in any one of those areas that as a company, they’re putting pressure on salespeople to try and go out and sell more search, or sell more social. And your client might be in a situation where, based on their consumer journey, and the path to purchase, that one of those works better than the others, but you have competing interests.

And so, at the end of the day, if you’re being true to that merchant as to what works best for them, that is ultimately going to keep that merchant, you’re gonna be able to grow that merchant, they’re gonna trust you, you’re gonna provide transparency. And that, in the end run, is gonna help your manager and hopefully you convincing your manager of that and showing it by your own results is gonna be the journey that takes you the furthest. And I also think that it is more competitive than ever, the job of a sales rep. There are many different statistics out there, and I’ve heard several of them that have been part of your show on Conquer Local, George. But one of those is I think Gordon Borrell and also LSA Charles talk about the 23 different media salespeople that are calling on the average local business every month.

And that local business needs to understand what you’re bringing to the table that sets you apart. And ultimately, they don’t wanna deal with a different person for all the different things that you can offer. For instance, the staff that you can do through Vendasta. And so, being the one that they choose and trusting, that means not being afraid of bringing in the good news and the bad news. And my advice is not going in and over promising to begin with. Look, if understanding the media mix, and the digital stack were a science, that’d be easy. We just go in and say, plug in who they were, what their business was, and you’d come up with this budget and say, “All right, this is what we do. This is gonna work.” But it’s not like that. It’s a journey, and it needs to change, and we need to tell our businesses, “I’m gonna do everything I can for you to make sure it works. And we’re on this road together. And I’m gonna bring in the good news and the bad news, and we’re gonna make the changes with what works and push more in that direction, and what doesn’t work we’re gonna change.” And it’s a constant formula that it needs to be tweaked, because what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. But not being afraid of that and bringing in the good and the areas that need improving, that earns you trust, that transparency, to me, is one of the key differentiators today.

George: It’s almost like you read my mind. Because I was reading LinkedIn earlier today. And I saw Gordon posting about these 30, 20, 17, how many people are calling on the customer. And I’m sitting there reading, and I know he wasn’t presenting it in his post as new information. But we’ve always had this. Like, I look back at it, and I was doing the math as I was driving over here. I’m not very good at math, but I was doing the math. I remember when I was calling on a local car dealer in 1989 in Kindersley, Saskatchewan. There were five radio stations that were calling on that client, there were three television stations, there were four different newspapers, there at the time was three different directory companies that were calling on that client, and I’m not even counting about billboards and all other things that that customer…so, you know, with quick math there, we’re talking 25 at that time.

So there always has been somebody that’s trying to eat your lunch, if you are a marketing rep. And I think that when you move from being a salesperson trying to hawk what your manager wants you to sell, to serving that customer. And I’m glad that you brought that up. Because, you know, here’s the thing, the rep needs to stand out from those 23, and the best way to do that is not to lie to them, tell them the truth, the good and the bad, and deliver on the things that you talk about.

Sandy: George, sometimes you see this when you’re working with some of your clients that sometimes you’re even competing within your own company. So, there’s somebody that’s handling vertical sales, somebody that’s handling geographic, and there’s even disputes internally as to what ends up in what end. And, you know, sometimes it’s a competition. We even compete against ourselves. It’s kind of painful.

George: Whose client is that? No, it’s my client. No, it’s my client.

Banks = Digital Disruptors?

Sandy: I was just gonna say, you know, you’re talking about, we always think about the media reps, but recently, I mean, the Royal Bank of Canada, think about competing against this. And this is really important that sales reps understand this. The Royal Bank of Canada not only is going out and offering marketing programs to the businesses that are using them for business banking, but they’re lending them the money. They’re saying, “Hey, we’re not only gonna talk to you about marketing, we’re gonna give you the money for marketing. We feel so good about our marketing program, we’re actually gonna give you the money.” So, that actually eliminates the, “Well, I don’t have any money for it. I don’t have the budget.” And, I mean, that in itself, think about competing against that as a sales rep, you have to be so confident and an expert as to what you’re offering and yet understand that those merchants, especially today, they are all over the place with their own knowledge.

You’ve got Gen Z and millennials that know a whole lot more about digital than when you and I first started calling on businesses. And so, you know, you have to be able to show your value and your expertise, and meet them head on. But anyway, it’s interesting, we always think about competing against other media reps. But Royal Bank of Canada, or Dell computers, that is going out there and saying, “Hey, local business, since we’re offering you your computer, and your software, and your security system, how about our digital stack as well?” And that makes it really hard.

George: You know, the other piece is, the Royal Bank of Canada or whatever banking institution that is making the sale, doesn’t have to worry about collecting the money because they have access to the account.

Sandy: Yeah, good point.

George: So they’re gonna get paid. And I think you’re gonna pay that advertising bill because you don’t want your bank account shut off. It’s a real interesting…it’s an interesting play. I’ve thought a lot about it, because, you know, we all talk to the same people in the space. As the stacks start to expand and you have insurance agent selling advertising and you have advertising agent selling insurance, how does a sales rep stand out from that? And I don’t think that you get the guy that you bought your car from to fix your plumbing. So, again, it comes back to who’s going to be the trusted expert. And it really isn’t a product problem, and I like to say that, you know, when you and I were in the media business, if you wanted to start a newspaper, it was not cheap to do that. It was expensive to do that. And if I wanted to start a radio station, I’d have to apply COTC, or to the FCC to get a license, and then I had to put a stick in the ground and it’s gonna cost me millions. Now, if I wanna sell digital marketing against the incumbent company, I just phone one of the providers and I sign up online, probably don’t even have to go through any sort of process and I can get access to the technology.

The Modern Customer Journey

George: So, you know, being that trusted local expert is a really important piece. When we look at the awareness phase of the customer journey, advertising, there’s a lot of choices. How do you think that a local business should navigate that space? Because it’s so bloody confusing.

Sandy: Yeah. Well, I look at it as kind of the circle if you follow the consumer, so. And this is kind of your story from Vendasta too, which is, first, they have to know you’re there. So, you have to have a website, and as part of that website, it usually means that you wanna drive people to it, so you have to have listings and distribution, and then that means you also need people talking about you, so you have reviews, so then you need reputation management, you need your presence setup and all your social. So, I just talk to them in a way that makes sense, which is, “Hey, tell me how you shop, and tell me how people find you?” And just walking them through that and then ultimately that leads to, “Okay, well, now we need to find the best ways for people to find you.” And there’s multiple touch points along the journey. And when people are starting out, and they’re researching, and they’re using Google, and then when they’re ready to buy, and just going through all of that, and they wanna hear what their friends are doing, so affirmation on social. And just walking them through that journey, but ultimately assuring them that if you’re a sales rep and listening to this call, you’re likely using Vendasta, or some other solution that’s providing you with this opportunity to have these multiple channels through one single sales rep.

And so when you’re out there talking to them, it’s not their job to have to say, “Well, I think we should try this, or I think we should try that.” You need to know that based on their situation and what they’re trying to do, you come up with the channels, and the traffic choices, and the presence choices that work best for them. And again, my advice is not to go in with this altruistic, “Hey, I know what works best.” It’s to go in and say, “Look, if I were just dealing with this one merchant in this local market, I wouldn’t have enough information to be able to be as confident about my offering as I am, because I not only have the information that I’m gonna get from your business, but I can back that up with information of like businesses that I have access to all that information, all that machine learning, all that data, for all the other like businesses that are on this platform that Vendasta brings to the picture, and MatchCraft brings to the picture.

So, that local merchant gets the advantage of that aggregation of all the other businesses that local sales rep is representing, and bringing in. And that you can’t, you know, that local business couldn’t do that on their own. They need you to to be that expert and to bring that into them, and how else are they gonna compete against Walmart? They can’t afford to find their own and make arrangements to have their own search solution, or their own social, or their own display, or their own presence, they need somebody to come in that has leveraged the buying power of bringing that to them, by bringing other businesses to help pay for all of that expertise. And so that’s why I think there’s, not only the expertise, but bringing technology solutions to local businesses through the aggregation of these platforms. That’s why I think local media companies really have the ability to be the best solution for a local merchant.

George: So you were alluding to the platform that you’re responsible for. When I see a campaign that is run on the MatchCraft platform, there is that automation that’s there. So we don’t, you know, necessarily have to have a human that’s in tweaking it. The other thing is, we all know what it’s like when we meet with a customer and we say, “What are your keywords? What should they be?” And they give you that glazed over look, they have no bloody clue. But you actually at MatchCraft have a clue because you’ve ran campaigns for sound engineers, or for dog groomers, or for hair salons, and you know what keywords are ranking. So that proprietary data that you have and that machine learning is one of the key components of the MatchCraft offering.

Sandy: Yeah. Well, thank you for the plug. You’re right. And, you know, there’s no way to buy that. I mean, that comes from doing it for 20 years, and it also comes because we have, in Santa Monica it’s kind of a melting pot here in the U.S. because of all the universities, all the tech companies that are here. And so, from a language standpoint, we can bring in native language consultants that actually are from the countries that they’re writing the keywords and the ad copy for. And they actually have to go to their home country and live there a certain number of months every year so that they’re kept up on the current terms and everything else. And it’s far more than translation, they have to watch the performance of that ad copy and of those keywords and constantly tweak and add different match types, add different negatives, add longer text, etc. And make sure that that’s an evolving process, it’s not just a checklist that it’s on. But, you’re absolutely right. And that’s really hard to replicate, that would be really difficult for any one company to do. It’s been a journey for us as well. And that is something unique that we’re pretty proud of.

Are We Getting Better at Serving the Customer?

George: Well, it definitely is an interesting time in this space. And I wonder, are we getting better? Like, do you really feel when you’re out meeting with the groups and, you know, there’s been a lot of change in sales organizations, and change in VPs of sales, changes in CEOs, and consolidation in the space. If we look at this thing compared to, you know, four years ago when you walked in the door as a CEO of MatchCraft, do you think that the space is getting better at serving the customer?

Sandy: I think it’s definitely getting better. And I think the competition is demanding that. I think it’s probably why we have so much turnover from sales reps and managers, is that either the good ones are being recruited and are hard to hang on to, but also the ones that either choose not to adapt to the complexities of digital sales, or the ones that it’s just not the right fit for them. Either one of those scenarios, there’s no room in an organization to be patient anymore. There’s just too much demand and too much riding on it. And for every person that we aren’t serving properly, the cost to an organization, short term and long term, is just too great to be able to put up with. And so, I think we’re definitely getting better. I do think that it varies in terms of, and I think Charles Laughlin from LSA would show you that in the tech adoption, it varies by region. You probably see this too, George, that when you’re dealing with globally and looking at clients, merchants are in a different place in different areas. And in the Americas, the tech adoption is somewhat greater than it is in Central America or South America.

In those countries too, you have businesses that may not ever have a desktop website. They may have a mobile website and never do anything beyond that, and just have a responsive site on mobile. And so there are nuances regionally, globally. And I think that’s an important aspect to understand too is to have the expertise on the sales side matching up to where your businesses are. And I mentioned businesses and millennials, but there’s a stat that LSA has tracked, and it’s 75% of global small businesses will be millennial owned by 2025. And that’s not that far away. And that means a different way of selling, and I think you see it now as you train people. Businesses are more savvy, our sales teams are more savvy, or they wouldn’t survive.

Sandy’s Favorite Resources

George: That’s a staggering stat when you mention it. And, you know, we’ve got baby boomers that are exiting from their businesses every single day, and trying to capture the value of that. And we’re dealing with new buyers on an ongoing basis. One question that I wanted to ask, because I know that I’ve had the privilege of seeing you speak at a number of events over the past couple of years, and I know that you’re always reading, and you’re always consuming information. What are some of your favorite reads right now, or some of your favorite places to go to get information on, whether it’s technology or on this local marketing space that we’re in?

Sandy: Well, other than Conquer Local…

George: Thank you for that.

Sandy: So, I watch a lot of TED Talks, and I think they help me in a lot of ways, including sometimes falling asleep at night, but I always think that’s interesting. I also have different social content creators, Gary Vaynerchuk, Gary Vee, and “The Gary Vee show.” I like watching him. And he’s a phenom. I remember when he was just an immigrant with his dad running a liquor shop in Short Hills, New Jersey, and the story he can tell now, he’s a little raw, so, caution, don’t throw me under the bus when you listen to him, he likes the F bomb a lot. But I think he’s a genius, he’s straightforward. And so I really follow him a lot. TechCrunch just keeping up on trends, and just really my Google alerts on a daily basis. Accompany is another one that’s kind of important for me on the people side that kind of combines my calendar to anything that’s happening on any of the people that I’m touching on a daily basis, get alerts brought to me so that also helps me save time in finding things out. But those are the ones that come top of mind.

The Future of the Awareness Phase

George: Let’s look ahead. There’s been a lot of change in the last five years. It’s actually staggering when you think of the amount of change that’s occurred. Where do you think we go in the next five years? What, you know, and five years is actually a long snapshot. So maybe why don’t we look at the next three years, where do you think we end up in three years?

Sandy: Well, we’re betting here on the idea that it has to be simplified, multi-channels, and where consumers are going is very important to understand that. So, from a path to purchase, what we’re doing at MatchCraft and our next iteration, and next product launch in terms of major is to have a single budget and have it be able to optimize that budget for phone calls, or whatever objective that merchant wants across search, social, and display. So, across Google, and Bing, and Facebook, and Instagram, and Google Display Network, and other networks, and have them compete for those dollars based on who performs well. That’s our ultimate goal. And having the ease of being able to set that up in a single campaign. We call it multichannel, not omnichannel, because omnichannel to me ties in all those media you were talking about from billboards, to bus advertising, to print and broadcast. And that’s not what we’re focused on. We’re just focused on digital solutions, and social, search, and display at this point.

But tying all those in. So just making it simple and eliminating the complexities of having the sales rep or the advertiser have to say, “Well, I think this one will work better than that one.” And having algorithms automate finding those solutions as best as they can, I think will be one thing that will be commoditized. I don’t think we’re the first, we hope we’re the best. But I think you’ll see that trend coming. And then I think, it’s just everything that has to do with shopping is going to get bigger. So, one of the things that, you know, obviously, Amazon’s a huge entity, and walmart.com is a huge entity. How do local businesses compete and win, either with Amazon or without Amazon? And I don’t wanna overreach and pretend like we’ve solved that, because we haven’t. But that’s one of the areas that we’re truly focused on, is helping small businesses be able to compete with the armchair shoppers, and how to incorporate, whether it’s the Shopifys of the world, or the shopsprint.coms, and how to tie that in and be better than what exists today.

George: Well, that is a great place to wrap it up. I really appreciate you joining me today. I know you’ve got a very busy schedule with, you know, have to go to Belize for the weekend, and then into New York next week. So thanks for taking a little bit of time to join us on the podcast. And always a pleasure getting your insights. I remember that first dinner that we had in San Francisco. I was super impressed by this woman that I heard so much about, so, thank you. It’s an honor having you on the podcast, Sandy.


George: So let’s wrap this up. There are some nuggets in there. Not only the fact that Sandy said that she gets her information from the Conquer Local podcasts, I didn’t even set that thing up, that just happened. But the interesting thing is, look at that stat of 75% of global SMBs will be run by millennials by 2025. We better be ready for that as sales organization. Because that means we’re going to be dealing with a consumer, a buyer, that is way smarter than we are because they grew up with the Internet in their hand as a research tool. So we should be thinking about that.

And then having it from one place. There was an overwhelming theme in what Sandy said in that podcast, was that, businesses aren’t looking to deal with 23 different people. They wanna deal with somebody that they trust, and you need to be able to bring them the solutions that will solve their problems. Even before you think about how you’re going to hit your quota, or hit the bonus, or hit the incentive, you better be thinking about solving the customer’s problem because this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. And on every single call, you should be coming at it from the customer’s perspective. We’re not putting those words into her mouth. It’s just what the smart people are doing in the space to be successful.

So, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Sandy Lohr, the CEO of MatchCraft, one of the smartest people in the space when it comes to serving those local businesses, not just in North America, MatchCraft is serving them all over the world.

This is the special editions of the digital marketing stacks. Special editions of “The Conquer Local” podcast, bringing in experts around each nuance of the digital marketing stack. We’ve got all sorts of great global experts to come in the next few weeks. In fact, we haven’t even put a time limit on this thing. If we’re still doing this at Christmas, or even in January, that means we found great guests that can speak to the nuances of the digital marketing stack. My name is George Leith. I will see you when I see you.