338: SMB Best Practices for going Back to Business, with Todd Rowe

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Information shared by an expert at Google provides some SMB Best Practices can use when going back to business.

Todd Rowe, Global Marketing Director at Google, is our guest this week on the Conquer Local Podcast. He uses the information collected from SMBs across the globe to understand the best practices they can take when re-opening after the wave of closures from the COVID-19 pandemic. With his knowledge, organizations will be able to help local businesses get back to business with ease.

Todd Rowe has extensive experience in High Tech, in Sales, Marketing, and General Management with full P&L responsibility. Currently lead one of Google’s fastest-growing business units. Extensive international experience building businesses in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Board of Director experience at privately held companies and Board of Advisors at Venture Capital firm. Todd specializes in building and running high-growth businesses. Background in Sales, Marketing, Product Management in Cloud, SAAS, and Search Engine Marketing Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.

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George: It’s the latest edition of the Conquer Local podcast. So we are facing an unprecedented event that is impacting local businesses and impacting our day to day lives. We are very, very fortunate to bring you a guest this week that has a global perspective and outlook on how this is impacting local businesses. Todd Rowe is the global managing director at Google. For the past 10 years he has led Google’s SMB practice. And we’re going to bring him on the podcast and find out, what’s happened? Google has amazing data points, and we’re going to ask Todd some tough questions about what are they seeing that small and medium enterprises are doing in the face of COVID-19? And from these trends, we’re hoping to give you insight as to how you can help your customers navigate the upcoming weeks as they go back to business. And how they can conduct their business online. Mr. Todd Rowe, the global managing director at Google is coming up next right here on the Conquer Local Podcast. 

George: Joining us in the Conquer Local Podcast this week. It’s the global managing director at Google Mr. Todd Rowe. Todd, thanks for taking some time out to join us.

Todd: Thank you. My pleasure. Great to be here with you.

George: You know, I’d like to get a bit of a background from you on how did you arrive at this role? You are currently leading one of Google’s fastest growing business units, and you’ve got quite a bit of international experience. Plus you’ve been a board member and on advisory committees. But how do you land at this role as the global managing director at Google?

Todd: Most of my background is in with larger tech companies, enterprise software, ERP, CRM, business intelligence. There are companies like Apple, Adobe and SAP. And I came to Google about 10 years ago. And the goal was to build out an organization that would work with third party companies or partners like Vendasta, who would sell to small midsize businesses themselves. The great opportunity is there is 100 million SMBs out there in the world. The challenges there’s a hundred million SMBs out there in the world. And how can we possibly go after that? Google has thousands of employees, not millions. And so literally the way in which we really go to market is to sell to these small midsize businesses will be within through partners. So that’s the background. And really as far as how I got to where I am really it’s identifying what are the growth industries and that identifying, within those growth industries who are the top two or three companies within those, and then seeing what type of roles I could fill there. And so when I got the call from Google, about 10 years ago, jumped to the chance.

George: Well great. And you’re long time, friend of Mr. Jeff Folckemer, who’s a Conquer Local alumnus has been on the show with us. And I get the pleasure of working with Mr. Folckemer day in and day out now. But back in his time, when he was with the Hearst corporation. They were helping to try and solve this problem of working with those local businesses. And I believe that’s where you met him. And by the way, he says to say hi to you. Let’s talk a little bit about your tenure at Google and it’s interesting in the way you put that; the opportunity is there’s a hundred million SMBs. The challenge is there’s a hundred million SMBs. When we look at that professional background and how you arrived at Google and the time that you’ve been there, how are you seeing those SMBs react to what has occurred with COVID-19 as compared to maybe the way it was 90 days ago? Is there a change?


How Are Businesses Reacting to COVID-19?

Todd: The word that we always hear from all across the board is unprecedented. And it really is. Let’s talk about it in terms of, some of the challenges that SMBs have had. But then also, how are they some of the best practices in terms of, how are they reacting to this? And so the challenges, what we have in a global pandemic is primarily a health issue, which has greater implications from an economic impact and economic issues. The challenges with most economic issues, we can look at leading and lagging indicators. So to say well, here’s about the timeframe where we’re gonna be able to, improve on things. With health issues. It’s just so challenging. We really don’t know, even though things are improving, it’s just, it’s very different that way. So I think the first reaction from small midsize businesses, fear and uncertainty of how to proceed, because it really is unprecedented as a result of that. The second thing we see is, some smaller mid sized companies take a more defensive, protective steps to ensure that longer term viability of their company. So it’s very natural. The other things that we see though, is some of the more successful small midsize businesses during COVID is the ability to be able to innovate and shift the way in which they reach their customers. So if they can’t sell in a brick and mortar fashion, then quickly pivoting and it’s to sell online. So we see a number of companies that we partner with, like Shopify, Magento, PrestaShop, Conquer Local for example that helps small mid sized businesses not only get online, but also to sell online. So in that way COVID has created a once in a generation shift in selling behavior. Companies who previously were content to sell and successful in selling in a brick and mortar fashion. Now are required to sell online. And some of them have found that they could become quite successful in doing so. So their retail website effectively has become their storefront. And so we see this both a challenge of COVID, but also a real opportunity, to just shift the way in which small businesses do their business. And for those who’ve been able to innovate and pivot they’ve actually been able to, to not only survive, but thrive through this time.

George: You know, I remember about eight years ago, I was introduced to one of your colleagues name escapes me at this point. We were speaking in Tampa Bay. At the Tampa Bay times to a group of SMBs. And I remember that the Google presentation that was given, and then our presentation that was given, was all about how local businesses need to transition to a new digital online storefront, or to be able to conduct business online. So I guess my point is we’ve been preaching this gospel that you need to be transitioning to digital. And now we have this event that has occurred and I’m using language that I’ve heard from others. This is a forcing function. This is the catalyst now where, you know I was kinda thinking about it, but now I really have to do it. Is that what your data is supporting and what you were seeing?

Todd: Very much so, because right now there is no other option. Whether you call it a lockdown, shelter in place. Some thinks that way, if a small midsize business wants to reach, their customers or acquire new customers, their only choice really is, online and digitally. In the past we would advocate for this and it was, nice to have. Now it’s an absolute essential must have. And so just like, the question of are you more apt to take an aspirin for a headache or a vitamin? Well, most people are more apt to take an aspirin for that headache here. And right now COVID is a major headache. And so it really forces companies to move online. But the positive part about this is as they do that, begin selling, this will benefit them many years down the stream. Well, past COVID.


George: I’ve met a number of your colleagues over the years at various speaking events and had the privilege to see those presentations. One thing I’ve admired about your organization, you always bring data to support the message that you’re trying to deliver. So I was excited to get you on the podcast because you’ve got great research and you’ve got the data. So what is the data showing to be best practices that SMBs are doing today?


Best Practices for SMBs Today

Todd: Yeah, really good question. So there are four things that as far as what we see as we work with hundreds of thousands of small midsize businesses as far as best practices what they’re doing. I’ll take you through qualitatively what those are. And then also have a chat about the underlying data itself. So there are four things that we really see them doing; constantly reassess during COVID, their marketing practices, secondly considerations for their creative, for their actual ad campaigns. A third around change priorities during navigating uncertainty. And the last one here is in terms of being current and being transparent. Well, they actually deep dive into to each of these four briefly here. In terms of constantly reassessing, the pandemic happened so quickly literally as you said within 90 day. It has changed completely, literally on a week by week basis. We see it changing here. So, what that business as usual model normally no longer works. And as things continue to change from lockdown or shelter in place to gradually opening up. 

Todd: We see successful SMBs pivoting, but we see successful SMBs constantly reassessing their marketing strategies. So for example, as you’re going from retail or retail and online now to exclusively online website and selling online. And then post COVID, then online website to selling, online to potentially, going back to a retail store. Successful SMBs, ask themselves questions like how has the pandemic change things last week or two? And how have I changed the last week or two to adapt to those changes? So the aspect of constantly reassessing what I mean constantly, literally is on a weekly basis. And if you can ask yourself, answer the question, how have I changed literally the last week or two? Then you probably are adapting as well as you need to. If you’re struggling to find answers to that, then perhaps need to do a better job on that. 

Todd: Second point in terms of considerations for your creative. So the actual ad campaign and what you share with your customers. What we see here is successful SMBs right now, look from tone, visual imagery to the copy and key keywords. And then the context of our media buys needing to be reassessed. So for example in terms of tone, visual imagery and ad copy, we see successful, small business businesses in tone. Things like slapstick humor really doesn’t work right now, what works and where we see the click-throughs and where we see what really resonates is, messages of reassurance of support and of safety. In terms of visual imagery, even subtle things like, what we saw with handshakes or hugs really don’t work right now in nature social distancing. Social distancing really is top of mind. And so the visual imagery needs to reflect the reality we have right now in COVID. And the last lead ad copy. A text that used to make sense about a software virus check. Virus check takes on a whole new meaning now. So just double check your ad copy, make sure that it makes sense. So the second, best practice we see is about considerations for your creative, around tone visual imagery, and then copy really important. 

Todd: The third best practice we’ll see here is around change the priorities to navigate uncertainty. Most small midsize businesses will have a certain marketing budget that they’ll use. And they’ll allocate that to certain products in their portfolio. But now we see most successful the ones where they’re selling online are those, no surprise were most relevant to their customers in a COVID environment. And so we’ll look at the most successful SMBs will be those who will not only be able to help their customers in the time of need, but also have select those products to advertise those specific products that are more relevant to their customers in a time of SMBs during the time of COVID excuse me. 

Todd: Lastly, I’d say as far as being current and transparent. The only way your customers are finding you now is online. And so your customers are looking for information, and trust your company to deliver. So make sure you’re proactively communicating, any business or product availability updates. If your hours of operation have changed for example, a picture of customer facing sites on your business profile, or your Google search or maps. Use a post in your business profile, or adjust your messaging and your ads to share information about any extra precautions that you’re taking to help that sense of reassessment and of support. Like extra services to help the community, or if you’re experiencing any delays. So be very current and transparent. So those are be the four things that we see as far as best practices and a whole lot of underlying data where as the small business businesses do these four best practices, they’re actually reaching their customers. We see more click-through more time spent on the ad and actually more purchases online this way.

George:  Well I really appreciate that feedback. So we’ve got the best practices that are coming out of the dataset. And then you’ve given us the messaging and back to our audience, which are people who are serving SMBs all over the planet. There’s some really good takeaways on things that we need to remember. I think that it’s important, you know, great information but there was nothing in there that was earth shattering. It’s really getting back to the basics. Is that what you’re seeing when we talk about, you know, creative has always been an important message, but probably more important now to take a hard look at it than ever. And then in that messaging, just a simple thing of having a handshake and some imagery, it just isn’t gonna work as we move forward. So thank you for that. That is some really good feedback for our audience. Let’s talk a little bit about how industry leaders are helping. So we hear about the big global tech companies but there’s some interesting initiatives that have been undertaken by those global industry leaders.


What Are Big Global Tech Companies Doing to Help?

Todd: Yeah, it’s exciting to be at a company like Google that plays a global role and therefore has a responsibility who as a good corporate citizen to help out, especially during times like this. We see companies whether it’s Google, Facebook, Amazon, all doing some really exciting things, to help their customer base. And I think, it’s not only good business, but morally, it’s the right thing to do to help others in time of need. And really there is no greater time of need than during this global pandemic. You’ll see companies whether it’s, Google, Facebook and others will be providing investments in small businesses, like ad, grants or some things that way, which I think is helpful. Google is also pivoting it’s customer support and pivoting how our sales and our customer support people work with customers, focusing on the areas that are just really most critical right now. 

Todd: The time horizon is no longer one quarter from now, one year from now, but literally; today, this week, this month. What are the things that are most critical that we’d help you get through this economic and financial storm that’s been caused by COVID? But what I’m also excited about is, you could be a bit cynical and say, well, you know, big companies, of course you can provide a financial investment to the SMBs. You can pivot your sales of our products, our marketing support that way. And that’s true, I’m actually very excited about some of the things we’re doing from a product enhancement standpoint. That’ll help small businesses right now. There’s a free product that we offer called Google My Business. So you literally go on a search. You search for a company here, and you’ll see the search results. And usually on the right hand side, you’ll see some details about that business store hours, address, things like that in the protocol Google My Business. And so what we’ve done is, we’ve announced that over the next few weeks, we’ll be able to do certain things like update store hours, options for delivery or pickup, even selling gift cards to support themselves during this downturn. Another change aims at the, to address the broader way the pandemic is impacting in-person businesses. 

Todd: So instead of shutting down entirely, many small businesses have chosen to pivot and go virtual. So restaurants, for example, they’ve turned themselves into virtual kitchens or yoga studios and gyms have begun streaming classes online. And so this type of update information about what they sell is now available in Google My Business. So in the next few weeks, merchants who were verified through Google My Business will be able to alert their customers that they’re operating in a new capacity by adding their profile attributes like, online classes or online appointments or online estimates. And they’ll also show up in Google search in maps. Lastly we’re expanding a function called Reserve with Google. 

Todd: So it’s doing appointment setting, to help merchants offer easy online appointment bookings that customers can book directly from their business profile, which is cool. Lastly, not only Google My Business, but also with Google search where you literally have billions of searches on a daily basis, customers will now be able to donate to their favorite businesses. We partnered with PayPal, Let’s go funding to be able to do this. What I like about this is, these products and enhancements will help not like during COVID, they’ll help small businesses well after COVID is over. So just excited about how do we pivot an offer product enhancements and things that are really meaningful to help a customer right now? And hopefully we’ll continue try be of benefit well after COVID.

George: Well, that’s great feedback for our listener base that I’m sure is very, you know, well versed of the value of Google My Business. And now the ability, you know, it’s a question that I’ve been thinking about. So thank you for addressing it. If I go to create an online store, but my physical store is closed for whatever reason, you’re now going to support that through that functionality. So it’s great to know that.

Todd: Yeah, the price is free. It’s a pretty good price.

George: That’s great. And then the ability to put delivery and pick up and then to reserve with Google, that’s fantastic. Now, the other thing I wanted to talk a little bit about is, the, you touched on it earlier but I think it’s important. Not everybody has figured out that you can post on Google My Business. And so when that search happens for people looking for the business, you also could have some, some marketing material or some post material. You brought that out, a little over a year and a half ago. But it’s something that I think it’s missed sometimes.


Posting on Google My Business

Todd: Yeah, it’s one where it’s this great advantage to small businesses where you’re able to post things and add the content there that keeps the content fresh, and it keeps customers coming back and looking to see what’s new on this. And it’s really pretty easy to put on a post new content there and the companies who do this, we actually see the data that will show greater viewership. Greater people coming back and spending time, and then do those stuff things as far as making appointments or going in-store. So it’s just low hanging fruit. That’s there for the taking. And right now it’s especially timely.

George: Well, I’m glad that we could get Todd Rowe to say that in a snippet, because we’ve been professing that businesses should be posting on Google My Business. So thanks for giving us that sound bite. What advice would you have for our listeners? We have salespeople, sales leaders, running, you know, digital agencies or working for large organizations. What advice would you give those listeners as they go out to service their SMB customers? As we move into, you know, some people have dubbed it, the new normal, what would your advice be Todd?


How to Serve Your Customers

Todd: Yeah, especially for those people first of all, selling and marketing to small businesses, thank you. What you do helps not only these small businesses grow and thrive, but what you do also helps, it affects people’s lives and helps them for the better. So you provide a great return on investment for these small companies. So thank you, first of all. Some advice, maybe three or four things here, first of all, take care of yourself, which sounds pretty obvious, but you can’t pour water from an empty bottle. So make sure that you are physically and mentally ready. You show up and your business the way in which you sell to them, is also a sound and solid that way. 

Todd: Then secondly, I will say over communicate. This is to your customers, to your peers or your employees. If you’re a sales leader, in times of crisis the natural reaction is to withdraw. Your customers and your employees may be doing just that. So you need to over communicate with them, about your plans, about how you’re planning to help them. Normal rules don’t apply during a crisis. So double down on the amount of communication that you normally do. The third thing I’d say is embrace disruption. And COVID by definition is complete disruption. But just as with any disruption, there will be winners and losers. Many of your competitors will retrench. Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” So don’t make that mistake. There are customers who will be disrupted, who are looking for new businesses to work with, yours could be a great option for them. So don’t lean, look much more offensively with respect to this COVID disruption, not defensively. And see how you can take advantage of this. Because of this next 90, 120, whatever a number of days that we’ll have with COVID, there are gonna be business opportunities. So look for them and seize the opportunity. 

Todd: And lastly, I guess probably most importantly, for small businesses and for the sales students, what you do right now, meaning this week, this month matters. So while it’s really good to take a long term perspective, and we know that eventually COVID will pass, if you can get through this financial, this storm financially, you’ll come out of it much stronger and wiser. But if you come out of this stronger and wiser it really depends upon what you do, today, this week, this month, because things are changing so dynamically and differently. From a seller’s perspective, a bit of self-introspection in terms of there’s a way in which I’m selling effective. I’m able to reach customers in the new way, which they’re only able to be reached. Are the products that I’m offering them most relevant, in a COVID environment here? And how do I create loyalty now by demonstrating my going above and beyond the call of duty? So to speak to help them during COVID, that will win the hearts and minds of these customers long term. Those will just be a few pieces of advice, I give not only to small businesses, but to the sellers who sell to them.

George: Well Todd, we really appreciate the insights. We appreciate th, data. It’s great to get that information so that our listeners will understand what some best practices that their business community and customers should be following. And I really appreciate the feedback on having that, daily and weekly cadence. Like I think sometimes because we live in a sales environment where I got to hit my monthly number, we forget about the fact that, there’s 20 working days or 25 working days in the month and there’s weeks in there. And we really are at that point in a fluid situation where things are pretty much changing by the day that we have to be taking a good hard look at our business and our customers and how we can help them, and make those pivots during this time. Some very poignant feedback today, and advice from Todd Rowe, Who is the global managing director of Google. We appreciate taking some of your valuable time to get that feedback for our listeners on the Conquer Local Podcast.

Todd: George, pleasure to meet you-thanks for the time.



George: What a great episode and what a great speaker? When you have someone that has been in the role that Todd has been in for the last 10 years, you can see that he really understands the space. And I found that there were a few things that really jumped out and punched me right in the face, from his speech. Let’s go into them. And I’m looking at this as a salesperson. So I’m sitting there and I’m listening to Todd and I’m like, okay, my next client, what am I going to talk about? So the number one thing, constantly be reassessing your approach online. Have a look at what you’re doing and modify, adapt, but it’s a constant look at that. Like you’re a wartime business owner, you’re a wartime CEO. 

George: There’s been a lot of talk about wartime CEOs and you are micromanaging every little piece right now. Because you don’t know, you’ve got to find the things that are working. And we don’t know if the things that we use six, eight, 10 weeks ago are gonna work now. So I love that he is seeing that in the data. That constant reassessing of your approach is so important. Now, the creative. So my friend and amazing sound engineer Mr. T Bone is sitting across from me. And he has told me this over the years. This is one of the things he’s very brilliant about. “You can get the audience, you can put your message in front of the audience, but what is the creative message that you’re delivering to that audience? Do they hear it? Do they view it? Do they read it? And does it resonate?” And I think that we have to look at that messaging, because if you’re just gonna pull the ad that you ran two months ago and run it now, and Todd dug into some of those items that we haven’t really been thinking about. 

George: Can’t be close with all your friends in the yoga class. That’s not going to work for you. Because while I wanna go to the yoga class, I don’t know if I necessarily wanna be close with 40 people that I don’t know where they’ve been or who they’ve been in contact with. So I’m just using that as one of the examples, but creative is one of those things that is so important and great marketers pay a lot of attention to it. So let’s get that back up into our top of our mind. It’s one thing we wanna be looking at the creative message, closer than we ever have, and thinking about the way that it’s going to be perceived by various audiences. We wanna be always changing the priorities. That was something that really jumped out at me. Where he kept saying, I think he said four times, look at this every week, every day, every month. Every week, every day, every. And he said that a number of times, because what the data is showing is they’re constantly changing their campaigns. 

George: They’re changing the messaging. They’re making sure they’re putting updates out there on a daily basis. So imagine if we have this phased approach in most jurisdictions, where we have phase one essential services, phase two kind of essential services, phase three. And we may now be in phase four. And that’s where your business is. Your audience, your customer base is kinda, can I go to the cycle shop? You need to be updating them on a daily basis. Not yet, six days until we’re in phase. That type of messaging is so important. And then be clear and transparent. And what he’s really talking about is, think about that audience. And while you may not be the person that washes your hands a bunch, uses the hand sanitizer, make sure that you’re at least four meters apart from people, wear your mask. You may not be that person, but it’s okay that others are, and you have to have empathy for your client base. 

George:You gonna have some people who are very concerned about, could I catch COVID-19 from another customer? So what are the things you’re doing to protect your clientele? Even your staff, what are the things that you’re doing to protect your staff so that I feel comfortable coming into your establishment? Or maybe I don’t want to come in. Maybe I wanna conduct business online and get curbside pickup. So I don’t know if you can just put out a general message, after COVID-19 we have the best price, best selection, and we’re looking out for your best interests. I don’t know if that’s gonna work. I think we need to be a lot more specific in our messaging and transparent. That was what Todd was saying, if you really look into that best practice that he was articulating. And then I wanna just go to his final comments. And I think this is something that definitely I took from this and I’m doing a bad job of this, but you have to take care of yourself. 

George: You can’t pour water from an empty bottle. And if you’ve managed to go through this entire event and not contracted COVID-19, it would really suck if now you can start to do business and you caught it. So take care of yourself, over communicate, embrace the disruption. And I love the line, I’ve heard it a number of times, Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And that’s that whole idea of there is opportunity. Unfortunately, it’s a fact, there’s gonna be winners and there’s gonna be losers. And I think that one of the reasons that you subscribed to the Conquer Local Podcast is you want to be a winner. 

George: So keep looking for a way that you can adapt your business or adapt your client’s businesses so that they can win at the end of this disruption. And then what you’re doing right now matters. And I think that it’s pretty cool, actually. We’ve been talking about how we gonna give you the some best practices, and we gonna introduce you to some great guests and thought leaders that will help you Conquer Local. Help you be that trusted local expert. And one of the reasons that I’ve always had a lot of pride in being a salesperson is, since I got out of my early years, I was like a toddler salesperson. I would just kinda running around, running into stuff, cracking my head on the little cupboards and things like that. Dropping stuff, spilling things, I wasn’t a good, I wasn’t a good salesperson. I was just trying to figure it all out. But when I really started to understand that my job was to help my client be successful. And I knew that I could impact that business owners business. 

George: That’s when I really fell in love with what I was doing. And I think that we really can help those business owners now. So thanks to Todd Rowe. I’m sure he’s super busy, like I don’t think he get to be the global managing director of Google SMB. But he took some time out to speak to you, and we’re very fortunate to have him as one of our now Conquer Local Alumni and have his insights here on this edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.

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