Every organization that is conducting business for profit is dealing with some sort of disruption and they need to be thinking about reorganization.
We have a series of episodes coming at you from Conquer Local 2019 where we snagged some infamous people in the sales and digital marketing realm. Matt Dosch, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Comporium, joins us to discuss how a business reorganizes itself after transitioning to digital. Matt explains that it isn’t a one-time fix but rather an ongoing notion that always needs to be evaluated. How does an organization handle people that have been there for 25 years, or employees who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s? Each cohort of employees have different things they care about, different things that drive them, and different things that are important to them. George and Matt explore the level of aptitude a leader should have by speaking to the people they work with on a day-to-day basis.
Matt joined Comporium, the nation’s 13th largest incumbent telephone company and 27th largest cable company, in 1994 and has served in a variety of capacities within the enterprise, culminating in his current position. Reporting to the Chief Executive Officer, he is responsible for designing and implanting relevant business strategies, plans, and procedures to achieve short- and long-term strategic goals. He oversees business development, sales, installation and repair, and customer care.
George: Welcome to the latest edition of the Conquer Local podcast. Over the next few editions, we are going to be interviewing folks that attended Conquer Local 2019 in San Diego, California. And my first guest in this series is Matt Dosch, the COO of Comporium. Comporium is a 125-year-old broadband company, and I have had the privilege of working with this organization over the last six years and I met Matt a few months back and you know, spent some time chatting with him. He’s a super smart guy and has a lot of history when it comes to the reorganization strategies that they have deployed inside the telecommunications company, known as Comporium.
George: Comporium is in the Carolinas and they started out 125 years ago putting copper wires on poles and delivering phone service. And if you think about the telecommunications business, there’s been an enormous amount of disruption inside that space and reorganization strategies needed to be deployed and they’d been doing it for a long time, so I think you’re going to find some great learnings from Matt as I ask him questions about how in the telecommunications business they have been managing this transformation. The other thing I’m going to ask him about is I hear rumblings that the telecommunications business is getting into the digital marketing business. We’ll find out what Matt has to say when we return with this edition of the Conquer Local podcast with Matt Dosh, COO of Comporium coming up next.
George: It’s another edition of the Conquer Local podcast. My name is George Leith, thanks for joining us. We are live on location at Conquer Local conference in Beautiful San Diego, California, and we have the privilege of meeting folks that are attending the conference and you know, wrangling them into our studio here that we’ve set up at the beautiful hotel Coronado. And my first guest of this entire event is Mr. Matt Dosch, the COO of Comporium. Matt, thanks for joining us.
Matt: Thanks for having me. It’s exciting to be here.
George: So I had a chance to meet Matt face to face a number of months ago. We actually went to a football game together. Thanks for the invite, and you know we got to talk business at the Comporium luxury suite in beautiful Panthers Stadium, and when I saw that Matt was on the Attendee List for the conference, I’m like we need to get him here as a guest, and I just want to set the table a little bit.
George: You know, Comporium is a very large organization based out of Rock Hill, South Carolina. Fantastic city just over the border from North Carolina. And we’re going to find out what makes Matt tick and what makes Comporium tick, as Chief Operating Officer. Matt, you’re responsible for the operations of this company. And let’s talk a little bit about Comporium, what is Comporium? And you know, how many customers and how many staff work for your organization?
Matt: Comporium is based in the southeast, as you said, out of South Carolina. We’ve got a little over 1,100 employees right now, and we serve around 130,000 broadband customers. We are today a broadband first company. Our history though, we are 125-year-old telecom company. We started out as Brockville Telephone Company in 1894.
George: So you know, a 125-year-old company, when I think of that and with 1,100 some odd employees, it’s a very large organization, a lot on your shoulders as the chief operating officer. And we’re gonna talk disruption today because you know, the interesting thing is you folks in the telecom space have been disrupted quite a while ago and we’ve got a lot of listeners to our podcast that, you know, maybe are media sales reps or they’re running a digital marketing company and they’re like, “Oh my God, things are changing so fast.” But you’ve been dealing with that state of change as a telecommunications company?
Matt: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been with Comporium for 25 years, and I came to Comporium in the middle of the injection of competition into our industry in the mid-nineties. And we thought that was disruptive, and then it just snowballed and got more and more and more insane. And I would say the last ten years, the last five years, change management is what we do every single day in a variety of ways.
George: So for some of our listeners that may not know this, if you look back in time in the telecommunications space, you really had a monopoly in the markets. And then competition came in where you could get your telecommunication needs from anywhere?
Matt: That’s right. And actually, 20 years of my 25-year history with Comporium was working in the regulatory environment. So I can look back now and say I was paid to try to keep competition out of our space, but that was a train that had already left the station. So yeah, I mean through legislative changes, academically, we started facing competition like I said, in the mid-nineties. But in the case of Comporium, really it’s been in the last ten years, quite frankly we were pretty good and still pretty strong up through the crash of 2008. Coming out of that, it’s just been, it’s just been bar the door. It’s been very competitive. Our bread and butter product used to be telephone service, you know, news alert, people are taking their telephones out.
Matt: So we were seeing dramatic revenue declines from telephone service. We’re a cable company, the cable, the video industry is very complicated. A lot of disruptive changes from a financial standpoint for traditional cable television companies. So that revenue stream is in decline, so we are all about diversifying and finding new lines of business and a new value proposition between us and our customers.
Diversification and Community Involvement = Thriving in the New World
George: So when we talk about diversification, because you know, I think that, I love that word actually, rather than a transition of the business, you’re just looking to diversify the revenue. You’ve made some strategic investments as well in other organizations that were maybe adjacent to what you were doing today. And I saw some press releases and you know, that’s a strategic plan that you have?
Matt: Absolutely. And it started really probably about 15 years ago, between 10 and 15 years ago. When we saw that we weren’t getting access anymore to the most up-to-date technology. And one of the things that was coming along ten years ago was the Internet of things. And so we decided to buy into a Internet of things platform company, which is very successful and grew and was bought out and became part of the Cable MSO space. But that was sort of our first foray into making an acquisition that gave us access to technology that we wanted to provide to our own traditional customers. And we’ve done that several times since with digital signage, and some other companies.
George: So a couple of years back, I was in Rock Hill and I had the privilege of hosting a seminar for your local business folks through the digital marketing side of your company, which is, you know, that was born out of the directory side. And I remember I was invited down to this nice building in downtown Rock Hill to do a television interview preceding the seminar that I was doing. So could we talk a little bit about that cable side of the business because in that community, that local community channel is a pretty important piece to the community, and you folks, you know, sell advertising on that and you know, that’s part of the business as well?
Matt: Yeah. Really it’s kind of a unique little line of business, but it really symbolizes a couple of things that we think are core strengths of Comporium. One, as you say, is community involvement. We compete with the largest companies in the world. You know, we’re competing with Level Three, CenturyLink, AT&T day in and day out. So you know, what is Comporium’s value proposition compared to those companies? Verizon, and part of it is that we’ve said for 125 years, we’re not selling at our customer base, we’re not selling down into a market, we’re selling to our friends and neighbors and we’re part of the markets that we are providing service in.
Matt: So that that little television station, which we put on our cable system is something that we’ve been doing for quite some time and we were one of the early ones to provide very, very hyperlocal news as a product differentiator for our cable system we’ve been chugging away for I think, 25 years.
George: So I have a now-famous joke that I’ve made a number of times that I think Rock Hill should just rename itself Comporium Ville because of your footprint in the market. Now, the reason that I say that, when you go into downtown Rock Hill, you’ve got the fountains and you’ve got the, you know, but it’s, it’s more than that when you talk about community involvement, because I know that you’ve been donating and you’ve been doing a lot of things in the community and you have some pet projects of Comporium that you know, you folks are very involved in?
Matt: Absolutely. And again, it goes back to that, you know, it’s a family-owned business. It’s a private company, 125 years old. The CEO, my boss is fourth generation. We’ve got fifth generation family members running around the company, young managers learning the business. And so part of our DNA as a corporation is community service. Which is both a blessing and a curse. We can talk about that a little bit, but it’s certainly really, it is absolutely a part of our DNA. So whether it’s things like donations and you know, we support a lot of things financially, but we also have a group of employees and retirees called the Comporium pioneers. And they’re a volunteer for us to go out and do Habitat for Humanity projects and other things like that.
Matt: And, and we just look for all kinds of ways to make sure that we are, again, it’s sort of an old-school economic development idea, right? I mean give back to the people that made you successful. And if we invest in the community, the community will grow and that’ll be to the benefit of everybody. So we’ve been doing that for a long time.
George: So I’ve got some news for our listeners. The telecommunications companies are coming. And what I mean by that is there is a plan inside your organization for your business salespeople that have been selling broadband and have been selling, you know, data storage and had been selling phone systems to now start working with digital marketing solutions to help those businesses even more. Can you explain that strategic move that you’ve made?
Matt: Absolutely. And really it started out on the smaller scale. Our entry into digital marketing probably again between ten and 15 years ago, was based out of necessity because we were a Yellow Pages publisher. And as the Internet was coming along and everything was going online, first we dabbled in IYP products and then as Google and individual websites arose, we got into the website business and we really transitioned the company from simply explicitly selling Yellow Page ads to, you know, generically providing leads for our customers. Right? And so that all moved online, that has become, and that was a very pure play within the larger organization.
Matt: So if you sort of zoom out of that part of the organization, the broadband company as a whole, as I said before, we’re looking for new revenue, we always need new things to bring to the table to bring to our customers. And this digital advertising has been very successful for us. And so we’re moving in a bigger way into this sort of the mainline sales force of the company, so to speak.
George: So for those of you listening to the podcast, you remember a few episodes back, we had a Lyndon Munetsi from Telcom business in South Africa talking about this exact same thing where they’re merging together the digital services team with the telecom team, Peter Urmson when he was on the podcasts from Spotsor talked about this, they worked with Telstra in Australia. It’s definitely happening in the Carolinas with Comporium. Do you know of other telecommunications companies that are doing this same type of thing?
Matt: They all are. They all are. I’ve been very active in my career personally in national trade association activities forever, and as much as independent broadband companies are different in their markets in different their approach to the market. They’re all facing the same larger macro issues. And so everybody is looking for a way again, to modernize it in the same way that we were, you know, a telephone company and now we’re broadband companies as an industry, and the same way we were Yellow Page publishers and now we’re getting into the digital marketing, we’re all looking for ways to bring a robust portfolio of services to meet the needs of our customer, soup to nuts.
Change Management – Everything Old Is New Again, with a Few Adjustments
George: So folks, you know, giving you the background with Matt and his work at Comporium and some of the changes that they’re making, I want to shift gears a little bit now and just talk about some of the learnings that you’ve had from making those transitions. Because I get asked all the time by folks, you know, how do I go to work tomorrow knowing that things are gonna change? And I don’t even know what the future might hold. And you know, how do I get used to change management? And I believe that you folks in the telecommunications have been dealing with change management for quite some time. Now my parents would probably the last people to get rid of their landline, and I think they just did that here recently. They have two cell phones and have had them quite some time. And you know, we’re Scottish. So my mom was like, you know, “Why are we still spending that?”
George: But it was really hard for them because it was part of their DNA. You’ve been dealing with that for quite some time where people were getting rid of that line and moving into the cellular space. Then we’ve got your cable part of the business that’s been transitioning and inside all of that are people and there’s 1,100 people that have to deal with that transition and you’ve been doing it for a long time. What, you know, what are some of the things that you bring to your management style and the way that you’re running the company to help deal with that change management?
Matt: Well, yeah, we can talk about that for quite some time. I guess the external forces driving what you’re talking about are multi and varied. They go to technology first and foremost, the technology is completely accelerating the pace of change and changing everything that we’re doing. And with technological change comes increasingly sophisticated customers, quite frankly. And so what the customer is looking for from us initially as a telephone company, now it’s a broadband company is changing. And so all of that lands on the shoulders of our employees. Right? And so, you know, I think the first way I would start talking about the answer to your question is everything that’s old is new again. We went through this cycle about, let’s say ten years ago where we said we need to get more aggressive, we need to start selling and stop just taking orders. We need to get out in front of our customers and really talk about what we can provide for them.
Matt: And what we’ve learned is that while that’s successful, and that was probably a necessary thing for us to do, we’ve really come back around to, it’s all about relationships, right? And again, comparing us to our competitors, to the Verizon’s, the AT&T’s of the world. One of the things that we believe gives us a leg up when it comes to developing customer relationships is being honest, being there for the long-term, solution-based selling, talking about solutions and that kind of stuff. So it really has come all the way back around. We were perhaps by necessity a little too focused on passive customer service at one time, order taking. Then we kind of rushed headlong into we have got to be a sales organization and now I think we’re kind of calibrating in the middle. We need to be a sales organization, but our success is gonna come from embracing our like historic qualities, if that makes sense.
George: So at any point in time when you’re making these transitions, and maybe we could use the, you know, the landline portion when you move to being broadband … And I noticed that you said earlier in the conversation, “We are a broadband company,” and I find that a little funny, you know, when an organization is making a change when they say things like that. And I see that happening a lot in the media side of the business. But you know, would you say that you reorganize the business or you have reorganization processes in place?
Matt: We’ve done, I would say two different things. We have explicitly reorganized our sales groups two or three or four times along the lines of what I talked about, where we swung, nobody is incented strongly enough to actually sell. And so we ran in the direction of, you know, really incenting the acquisition of new customers and throwing all of our commission structure into new customer acquisition, a little too much perhaps. And realized that we were forgetting about, you know, the value of our existing customers and nurturing those relationships and so we’ve kind of swung that back and as we’ve done that, you know, there’ve been position title changes, commission structure changes and quite frankly people who have come and gone as we’ve sort of calibrated a little bit. But I think we’ve landed in a really good place and we still have a lot of people that have a very long history with us who can speak authoritatively about our products and services and what we’re doing. So that’s certainly one angle.
George: The interesting thing when I walk through the halls of your organization, I’ve been in a bunch of buildings, I’m sure there are others that I haven’t been to, I’ve probably been in about five different buildings and I’ll get introduced to somebody and they’ll be like, “Yeah, I’ve been with Comporium for 22 years,” and, “I’ve been with component for 25 years.” You’ve gone through a number of transitions of the business and yet these people are still there and when I look inside media, they’re like, well, we had to move those people out that couldn’t adopt the new things. And I’m like, okay, hang on. We’re looking inside telecommunications and you’ve been able to get those folks to do other things. How is it possible?
Matt: I guess one example of that perhaps is I talked about explicit organizational change and some people succeeding or failing within the sales force, but in becoming a market-driven organization and we gave a lot of lip service to that for a while. I would say in the last five years, we’re really getting good at knowing what that means, being a market-driven organization, a customer-focused organization all the way through the organization, not just in the sales force. So kind of to your point, because of the nature of the sophisticated customer that I was talking about earlier, a salesperson with our product portfolio can’t have infinite depth of knowledge about each one of those products, right? And so the salespeople have had to get used to talking about products to a certain extent and then bringing in subject matter experts as necessary to do things.
George: So like a sales engineer?
Matt: Exactly. But what that’s meant is that everybody else in the organization has had to get more comfortable with that sales engineer kind of role in order to support with the sales groups were doing. And we’re starting to get good at that, and I think that is going to be the key to our success going into the future. Not just tinkering with the salespeople, but the sales process as it touches the entire organization.
George: So you know, sales engineers is a really interesting thing I can think of right off the top of my head, five organizations that have done a poor job at that, that I know. How have you been able to make that work? Because the rep feels like they own that customer and you want them to, and to know that customer inside and out. Now you’re saying, “Okay, now you’ve got to bring in Coleen because she’s going to speak about this solution that we have and she knows it better than you do.” So how have you been able to make that work?
Matt: Well, let me start off by saying that I’ve been with my company 25 years, the first 20 had absolutely nothing to do with what we’re talking about. So I was dropped into this role five years ago and I had the benefit of watching how all of these different groups interacted with each other, sort of from a dispassionate distance, right? And so when I landed in my current position, and the first conversations I had were with the salespeople in saying, everybody says we’re sales oriented. We’re really not. The engineers think all we’re doing is doing this so that they can build a better network. The accounting people think this is all just about, you know, filling their ledgers, right? I mean everyone feels that way, right? I mean, it’s organizational, you know, psychology or behavioral psychology of some sort.
Matt: So to really pursue the point that you’re describing, you know, it had to start with, look, the sales guys need to earn the respect of the other people in the organization. Not that they didn’t have it, but they need to think everyday about bringing, speaking with authority and backing up what they’re saying about the expectations of where the market is going. And that takes a while. But as it happens, and as they are proven correct about customer desires, customer needs, where the market is going, where we need to invest in products and so on, over time, people understand that and then everyone wants to get on that train because they understand that that makes customers happy. It brings more customers to us. And so I don’t think it’s something that you can pound the table and mandate, but once you start creating that level of trust, so to speak, and it starts permeating your organization, then you’re doing something. And I think that’s what I’m starting to see now.
Adjusting Management Style to Generations Is the Name of the Game
George: So let’s talk a little bit about management style, in today, we’ve got our generation Z folks, we’ve got our millennial folks, we’ve got you and I in the baby boomer space. How does your management style change depending upon the person that’s sitting across the desk from you in those various age groups?
Matt: Yeah, I mean that is the name of the game of my job right now. Right? I mean, we’ve got people with 45 years of experience and we are desperately, you know, trying to hire new talent and people right out of college and people in college for some sales positions. I think the key is to loosen the reigns a little bit as a telecom company, a 125-year-old family owned telecom company, that checks about five boxes that say central command and control, right? And so, and again, you can sort of speak management speak and say, you know, we want empowered employees, we want this and we want that. But it’s really hard to do that and it’s really hard to change, you know, sort of, it shifts the direction of the aircraft carrier so to speak. But I think we are, you need to just empower people.
Matt: And part of, you know, when you talk about millennials or generation Z or you know, when we bring on salespeople in particular, you know, they’re already speaking the language of LinkedIn and their own sort of personal brand. And so it’s a matter of linking up our corporate brand with their personal brand and allowing them to do their thing and to build their lead funnel in a very personal way that is very, very, very different than the way things have been done, you know, a generation ago. And you sort of have to just sort of take a deep breath and sit back and kind of watch that happen. And when it does happen and when each salesperson who is being researched by their prospects before they even make the phone call right, kind of a scary place to be that, but you just have to sit back and let it happen. And that’s where this success comes in.
George: Let’s talk about sales and I know as COO, and I saw it the other day when we were in Charlotte at that event you had a bunch of your big customers there and there you were talking to customers. How much time do you spend talking to your customers?
Matt: As much as my sales team needs me to, because of the nature of the business, and again, because we’re in our community, it’s not so formal, but I’m just involved in a myriad of grasstops organization, economic development organizations, philanthropic organizations. So my day to day role is more from that standpoint and putting a face on our company in a more organic way. You know, I think we’re blessed to be outside of the Charlotte Metro area and Charlotte’s booming. And so we have a lot of businesses and just residential people moving into the area and a big sophisticated business moves to town and you can sort of almost see them looking over our shoulder sometimes saying who’s Comporium and how do I get to AT&T or where’s Verizon and that kind of stuff, which is valid, right? But when we explain to them, you know, “Well here’s who we are. The CEO lives in town, the CTO lives in town, our engineering department is in town. So if broadband is a mission-critical part of your business, then do you want to be a number with a multinational corporation or do you want to be able to pick up the phone and call the COO, the CEO, the CTO who all are neighbors of yours?
George: That’s a very compelling argument. And so, you know, just being out and about in the community is sort of my low key way of hammering that message home. Well I really appreciate you taking some time from the beach. Last year when we did our convention in beautiful Banff, Alberta, We did a number of these interviews and, and I find it to be, you know, I’d have to go all the way to Rock Hill to, to corral you in your office. So it’s great to have the conversation, appreciate your partnership over the years from your organization, been big supporters of ours. And you know, I definitely, every time that I speak to you I learned some things about reorganization and the strategies that you’re deploying against that inside the Comporium organization. So thanks for joining us on the podcast.
Matt: Thanks for having me George, it’s been great.
George: Well what a great episode. I really enjoy speaking to Matt. He’s a really humble guy and he’s been doing this a long time and he runs a great organization. You can find out the level of aptitude that a leader has by speaking to the people that he works with on a day-to-day basis, and they speak very highly of Matt and his leadership at Comporium. Now if we look at some of the takeaways, you know, 115,000 businesses count on Comporium on a day-to-day basis and he is competing with some of the biggest companies in the world. Multinational companies that know telecommunications inside and out, they can put great pricing on, they can do, but the competitive advantage of Comporium is their people and their footprint in the marketplace. It was interesting to hear him talk about the business salespeople and how they’re going to be bringing along digital marketing solutions to help solve more problems for their clients.
George: They’re thinking that it’s going to be something that’ll help differentiate them in the marketplace and give them a leg up on those big multinationals that they’re competing with. But you know, the thing I want you to take away from this, Conquerors is that every single organization that’s out there, that is conducting business for profit is dealing with some sort of disruption and we need to be thinking about the reorganization. And you heard what he said when I asked him the question about how does he handle people that have been there for 25 years? How does he handle people working for him that are 25, how does he handle people that are in their thirties because each one of those cohorts of employees have a different thing that they care about and a different thing that drives them or is important to them and you know they’ve done a lot of work inside Comporium and Matt speaks to that inside that episode to make sure that they are building a staff of that 1,100 number. That’s a massive organization, making sure that they are delivering so that those employees can deliver for their customers.
George: Great episode. Really appreciate Matt taking time out of the Conquer Local 2019 schedule to join us here in our remote studio in the beautiful Hotel Coronado in San Diego. Upcoming episodes, we are going to be talking to one of the smartest guys in the SEO space, and I can’t wait for that. That’s on the way. Plus we’re getting ready to move into fall and you know it’s the middle of summer right now, but I would like to get your feedback and you can come join us in our new Conquer Local community, which is on Slack and we’re going to give you information inside this episode on how you can join, but what we’re hoping inside the Conquer Local community on Slack is that you will be able to post questions from our various members. You’ll be able to post information or links to documents or links to other podcasts or links to, you know, white papers and blogs that you’re reading.
George: We really wanted to grow from you, the listeners of the Conquer Local podcast. We’ve been Beta testing it here for the last little while. I actually belong to a couple other Slack communities. I found it’s a great way for the community of Conquerors to come together and to share information. And this was my friend Mike Giamprini from 411.ca over a year ago asked me, he’s like, “When are you going to get a community? It’d be great to have all of these people come together and share their information.” So we’re hoping we’re going to be able to accomplish that. Producer Colleen has been working really hard to get it ready to go, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We are going to be doing a lot more around the Conquer Local community to help the Conquerors worldwide that are a part of this ecosystem that we have built. So thank you for joining us. We appreciate your support. As always, my name is George Leith. I will see you when I see you.