235: There is no I in Team Sales, with Peter Urmson

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The Solo Salesperson is a thing of the past. The new and proven approach is Team Sales.

Conquer Local heads to Amsterdam! We get to pick the brain of Peter Urmson, CEO of Spotzer. We discuss the sophistication of customers knowledge and how it’s evolving. The Sales Teams need to be on the cutting edge to keep up with the trends and the changes coming from the big guys like Google, Facebook, and Bing. In turn, this makes the Sales Team a trusted advisor. Peter tells us how the message and information that the salesperson shares with the customer needs to be simple and not oversell or overpromise.

Spotzer has gone through massive growth with Peter at the helm. They’re focused on websites, e-commerce, SEM and SEO in 23 countries and 18 languages. Producing several thousand sites and ad campaigns a month means Spotzer needs to be incredibly well organized as a high-performing team. Peter advocates that the key to Spotzer’s success is having great teams of people who are all trying to make a positive impact on the lives of their customers. It’s what gives us a laser focus on quality of service and great products.



George: The latest edition of the “Conquer Local Podcast.” I’m very privileged to be able to do some traveling in my day-to-day job. And I was traveling in Australia three years ago, working a scintillating tour of 15 cities in 10 days.

And we were driving through the outback, and there were kangaroos and Tasmanian devils, and… No, there was none of that stuff, but we did get to see a koala and a wallaby. So that was kind of cool for a Saskatchewan farm boy that I am, but I heard this name when I was on that tour. A guy named Peter Urmson. Oh my God. I got to track this guy down, and lo and behold, now a few years later, Peter Urmson’s one of my friends. He’s the CEO of Spotzer.

And Spotzer is this digital juggernaut that is based out of Amsterdam, and Pete runs the entire organization. He’s built this machine that is growing like crazy. And we’re gonna find out everything that’s making Spotzer work. And Peter has some very interesting and unique perspectives. He is going to talk a little bit, I’m sure, about customer success, and how his customer service teams are serving businesses all over the world.

They work in 12 different languages. And Peter’s got some very unique perspectives on SMBs, and SMEs, and what their challenges are. And we’re gonna ask him some questions about that in the learnings that the Spotzer team has because they’re the folks that fulfill the digital services that are sold to these customers by various sales organizations in different countries like Italy, and France, and the UK, and Australia and many, many others, including Norway.

So a very interesting episode is on tap, folks. I guarantee it. It’s Peter Urmson, the CEO of Spotzer from Amsterdam coming up next on the “Conquer Local Podcast.”

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George: It is the latest edition of the “Conquer Local Podcast.” And, Peter Urmson, my good friend, is joining me from Amsterdam today. Peter, how are you today?

Peter: Yeah, I’m good. Thanks, George. Good to be here with you.

George: We’ve been planning this for eight months that I was gonna have you as a guest on the podcast. Finally, we were able to make the stars align, and I appreciate your time. Let’s, first off, introduce you to our audience.

You are the CEO of a company called Spotzer. And could you give us a bit of background on how you arrived as the CEO of that very innovative company? And we’ll talk a little bit more about what Spotzer does in a moment, but let’s talk about your career because you’ve been involved in the media business and in local sales for quite some time.

Peter: Yeah. I’ve kind of been in this space all my working life, starting in Sensis, a Director of Business doing local search in Australia for 10 years in executive roles, then executive roles in similar sort of businesses in Europe. Then back in Australia, CEO of the online marketing group for a big media business in Australia called Fairfax, and then went consulting. And when I went consulting, I went to set businesses up that specialized in local search for enterprise-size publishers such as news limited.

Whilst consulting to them in setting those businesses up, I did RFPs to find businesses to do fulfillment and services of marketing services for SMBs, and Spotzer won the RFPs. And the founder of Spotzer asked me if I wanted to come and run the business. So I moved over to Amsterdam, a beautiful part of the world. We’ve grown the business over the last four years.

We used to have about 60 people. I think we’re now to about 300 people, and we’ve got a network of about 500 freelancers. So, it’s quite a sizable business now and very focused on the marketing services space for small or medium businesses globally.


Simple and Succinct Messages = Sales

George: Let’s talk about how things have changed in your eyes because you’ve been doing this for a while and you saw the transformation of these various industries. I think it’s really unique that you have experience in directory, in the newspaper business, and you’re working with partners all over the world. What do you think the biggest single thing is, Peter, that has changed when it comes to servicing those local customers?

Peter: I think there’s multiple things that have changed. I think the biggest thing that’s changed actually is the sophistication of the customer and their needs. They have become very aware around the digital space. Keeping ahead of their demands and their needs is critical for the industry and the business.

Back in the day, you could get away with a very basic product with some basic functionality. And that still is true to some businesses that they want that. But you really have to have cutting-edge marketing services solutions now that keep up with trends and keep up with the needs and changes within Google, changes with Facebook, Bing, and other platforms.

George: So when you and your organization is out working with one of your partners, and those are media companies all over the world, and we’ll get to the languages that you serve in a few minutes in some of the jurisdictions.

But what’s the challenges around training those salespeople to understand that, that the customer is very sophisticated. You’re gonna have to have a higher level of knowledge. What are some of the challenges that you’re seeing with salespeople?

Peter: It’s key, and it’s very interesting. And, fortunately, for myself, I come from a sales background when I was at Sensis as the sales director for a few years there and ran large sales teams. And what we do with our partners, it’s trying to work with them to keep the messages really simple. It needs to be very succinct and simple for the salespeople to understand the products and services that they are selling.

So, consequently, it’s very simple and easy for the customer to understand what they’re getting. The key thing is not to oversell and over promise, but to be very factual. And we work with a number of organizations to influence that. We don’t train them, and we don’t absolutely do that in every instance. But we do influence them on what’s best practice in the messaging that the salespeople have with their customer to keep it simple.

George: I’m wondering if that training is, you just go in there one time, train them up, and they’re good to go, or is it an ongoing cadence?

Peter: Yeah. We have different partners with different levels of relationship type. Where we have a really strong relationship with the partner, and that the partner sees the value that we bring to the table, we will be talking to multiple departments within their business multiple times within a week or a month.

And then we have some partners that don’t want us to do that, and that’s fine. They have their own reasons. They like to do it in their own particular way. So with those types of partners, we just try to influence where we can by providing the right types of information.

What we find, though, is that sometimes the product teams or the marketing teams can sometimes overcomplicate the story, and so the sales isn’t getting the real message or the key unique selling proposition of the product. So we try to influence with the product team and the marketing team as well as the sales team.


Making Sales and Building Bridges

George: I think that the unique thing about your model, and maybe we should just dig into this a little bit, you are empowering local salespeople through your various channel partners. But then at the end of the day, when they buy a website, or they do an ad campaign, or working on their search engine optimization, it’s actually your team that is doing the fulfillment work on behalf of that partner. And how many languages are you servicing today with that team?

Peter: I think, at the moment, we’re about 18 languages.

George: It’s an amazing business model, and kudos to you for being able to pull that off because I’m sure it’s not easy. I really would love to dig into some of the insights that you’re learning from that group.

When they speak to an SME, are you finding that you have to answer a bunch of questions outside of, “They bought a five-page website,” or are they asking that person all sorts of digital questions because they wanna learn more about it? Or is it very succinct? “No, I’ll give you this stuff for the website. That’s it,” or is it a broader conversation?

Peter: It’s absolutely a broader conversation. We need to make sure that, yes, we have our processes in place to execute that sites of five or a 10-page website with a couple of other products attached to it. But we need to make sure that our agents on the phone, we call them client managers. The digital client managers, we’re always training them on SEO, how to handle a call, how to talk to a call and to become that trusted advisor to the customer.

Because the customer might be very good at…let’s say he’s a hairdresser. The customer is very good at being a hairdresser, but he knows nothing about digital. We think it’s really critically important that what we do for that business, even if it’s a three-page website, that we get it absolutely right so that the website ranks properly.

And we’ll advise the customer on what kind of content needs to go on their website, and the things that they should be doing and thinking about in the future as well so that we become a trusted advisor.

George: I was bating you with that question because the real conversation that I wanna have leading from that is, it’s not just making the sale, delivering the product on a binary, you know, yes or no, it takes this village, it seems, where the salesperson makes the sale. Then you’ve got this team that does the fulfillment that also builds a relationship with that customer. And we’re seeing that client manager, as you’ve called them, actually building a very good relationship with the customer.

So, I guess the question that I wanna ask is, do you see that group then starting to facilitate an upsell down the road because they have the customer on a regular content call or something like that? Have you been able to make that leap?

Peter: Yeah. No, absolutely. With one partner last week, actually, we just launched where we actually sell on the behalf of the partner. And the customer gets that salesperson who becomes the client manager who becomes involved in the whole fulfillment process and owns the customer end-to-end.

So we look to build the trust in the customer, either from the ad set where we can have the ability to sell on behalf of the partner and carry on. Or just looking if the sale has already been made, we’ll then start to advise the customer so that we can look for upsell products, and then we’ll either make the sale, or we’ll send a lead to the partner to say, “Hey, this customer really needs this product, and they’re really interested in that.”

George: It’s very interesting that you’ve been able to bridge that gap because there’s a lot of organizations that are thinking about how to do that. Now, our audience on the “Conquer Local Podcast,” which has over 5,000 salespeople from around the world that listen to the podcast on a regular basis are probably freaking out right now because then do you need the salesperson if we’ve got the customer service people that are doing the upsells? What’s our answer to that question that maybe those listeners might have?

Peter: Yeah. Well, I mean, we’re very strategic in how we offer those services, and we work with partners so that sales remuneration isn’t impacted. We don’t have face-to-face channels, and we have very few by way of T-sales. We really only offer that up to partners that don’t have existing sales teams. We believe that established brands with established sales teams can sell our product better than what we would be able to sell it because they have the relationship. If we launch in a new partner that doesn’t have any sales capability, we will bring that to the table for them.


Welcome to the Age of the Sales Team

George: I’m wondering if there’s been any thought around team sales approach where the sales rep has a face-to-face relationship. We know that we’re gonna need that interaction with the customer. They’ve got a great relationship, but what we want that salesperson doing is going and having face-to-face with new potential customers.

Meanwhile, there’s somebody back at the ranch that is able to offer that level of service that has some sales skills to facilitate the upsell while they have the customer on the phone, and the rep isn’t concerned about it because there’s maybe a shared commission or something like that. Have you seen any models like that in your travels throughout your various 12 jurisdictions, the different languages that you work in?

Peter: Yeah. We pretty well operate with that model with every partner. So, our role is to advise the customer to consult them, to launch the products that they’ve already bought. And if we can see that they should have something else, we’ll advise them of that. And we’ll also send a note back to the partner to get the sales rep to get in touch with that customer because they’ve got an interest in it.

George: Here’s the biggest concern that I have, Peter, and I’m looking for some validation. I’m concerned, as a salesperson, that my customer has declared that they have an intention for something, and I’m out calling on other customers, and my service person is dealing with them. I wanna fill that need immediately, so they don’t go somewhere else in the meantime.

I just think that, as salespeople, we need to really stop being landlords and realize that in 2019, it’s a team approach. And there are all sorts of pieces of technology or advancements digitally that have allowed us to be more efficient, and to do what salespeople are really good at, and then leave the account service work to people who are experts in that space, but just layer on a bit of the upsells into that service model, so we actually could go faster. So, is that your take on it? That’s my take on it. I’m just looking to see if you agree.

Peter: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, our role is to advise the customer and to work with the sales organization, operations, product, and marketing to make sure that the customer has an amazing experience… and knows that they are in very good hands with people who understand the marketing services space inside out. And if our role is to also help support sales in getting through to the customer around that value proposition, we absolutely bring that to the table to enable sales as well and to support them.

We take an approach at Spotzer. We just call it one team, and we go into our partners, and we say, “It’s very much branded as one team. We’re one team together. We can work with you. We can learn from you a hell of a lot, and we can also do things to support you a hell of a lot.” But we always think about the customer experience and working together as one team. The only way to win in this business is going to be through service.


It’s All About the Service, Servizio, Dienst

George: No, I agree with that. I’ve always admired the business that you’ve been able to build and the growth that you folks have had. Tell me, what are some of the challenges in dealing in 12 different languages on a day-to-day basis?

Peter: Yeah. It’s kind of, “Where do you begin?” Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s even broader than that, or deeper than that. Yes, we’re in a number of different countries in different languages. We have to have copywriters, content writers. SEO rules and approaches can have slight nuances and differences. But we also need to write SEO in a particular fashion and in a particular way. Grammar can change dramatically, so getting your quality guidelines and quality framework in place is critical across all of those languages.

And then you’ve got the QA process, Quality Assurance, to make sure that the copywriters are writing in the right way, that the SEO is working in the right way. That you’re designing the websites in the right way. If you have a pizzeria out of Italy, the pizza in southern Italy that you put on the website is very different to a pizza in northern Italy. So, you’ve also got all of those geographical territorial elements to consider.

But we’ve really focused on Europe. We’re in the U.S. as well, a little bit of Southern America, and we were very big in Australia and New Zealand. But, obviously, in Europe is the complexity because of the languages that somebody in Italy, as an example, might have an Italian website built, but they also want it in five different languages. So, we need to be able to provision that.

Same with Switzerland. Now, there’s three different languages in Switzerland. And then Belgium, you’ve got French, you’ve got Flemish, part of Dutch, and the nuances. So, there’s the copy and content, but then there’s also making sure that we hire the right people. Everybody’s based in Amsterdam in a large contact center that we have here. The beauty of Amsterdam is it is a melting part of bringing in internationals, so we do find it easy to hire different languages here. Probably Norway has been the most challenging, but it makes life interesting, let’s say.


Change is Inevitable: Embrace the Challenge to Succeed

George: Well, I just find it fascinating how you’ve been able to grow as fast as you have and to solve for what might be a nightmare on 12 different languages. I’ve never asked this question in 60 episodes, so this is brand new. Let’s see how this goes. Peter, if you were advising our audience, what is the thing that they should fear the most as a salesperson today?

Peter: I would say the fear of change. They have to change, and they have to change really fast. I worked under a great CEO at Fairfax in Australia, Jack    Matthews. He was head of digital, and he often used to say, “Today is the slowest day in digital right at this point in time.”

And what he meant by saying that was that, every day after, it’s just gonna get faster. And as things get faster, you’ve just got to change with that. And if you’re resistant to that change, you’re gonna be left behind. You’re not gonna advise your customer in the right way.

George: Peter, that was an absolutely fantastic answer to that question, and that was what I was hoping for. I’m very interested in your insights because you’re dealing in a number of different markets, you’re working with different organizations.

And when you and I met three years ago, and we started to realize there was an opportunity to work together, and that we saw things the same way, we really bonded over that. That if a sales organization has some sort of change management system in place, and they hire people that are not adverse to change… So, that’s the first piece, you’ve got to get HR, hiring the right people that are challenged by change, and they love it, and they want some excitement.

And then when we’re going into these legacy organizations, and we’re working with people that haven’t had the change for years, identifying those people that are looking for the excitement of trying new things. But with change comes an enormous challenge, and that is you need to be constantly learning. How are you helping those organizations with that challenge of, “Now we got to go to learning pretty much on a weekly basis?”

Peter: I think that coming with change is being brave enough for a leadership team, particularly an executive level, to make those changes. Now, they need to drive them into the organization, and they cannot be complacent about that. And you can never underestimate the challenges that come with that as well.

But keeping people in positions just because they’ve been in the business… you need people who know and are subject matter experts in a space. And so, it’s not necessarily just bringing consultants in, it’s bringing in experts in that space in. Now, I’m not saying that we’re experts in everything, but we are experts in what we do.

So what we try to do is just put on the table with all of our partners as a free service pretty much. “This is our experience. This is what we’ve seen that’s worked. This is what we think would be good. It’s up to you what you take on board and what you don’t.” We just try to influence and share our experience because if our partners are successful, then we’re successful.



George: Peter Urmson is the CEO of the juggernaut known as Spotzer in 12 different languages around the world, 300 people working at that organization and probably one of the busiest men on the planet. So, Peter, I really appreciate you taking out some time today to join us and to share your wisdom with the listeners of the “Conquer Local Podcast.”

Peter: No problem. It’s been great to be with you, George.

George: Here’s your takeaways from your lesson that you just received from Mr. Urmson and his years of experience in the space dealing with local businesses. Customer service is the most important piece of this whole animal. And having a team that can fulfill a very simple and succinct solution that’s been sold to the customer is the key.

And we find that top performing sales organizations that are selling digital are the ones that are able to distill the many digital solutions or tools that are being used down to a clear deliverable that can be measured for the customer. And then, not hiding behind a dashboard or something like that, actually having a conversation with that customer around whether we hit the mark or there are other things we need to do to reach that ultimate goal.

And Spotzer is the team in behind the scenes that are providing the service to those customers and actually jumping on the call and speaking to those customers in 12 different languages, building their websites, handling their SEO, doing their ad campaigns. So some very interesting and unique perspectives from the service side of the business, which is very important to be tied to the sales side of the business.

Because if we can keep that congruent message from lead to bleed, as we say, so the lead comes in, they see some advertising, salesperson goes out and sells them something, service takes care of servicing it, and it all delivers as the ad promised, then we’ve got happy customers, and we have customers that have aligned expectations. Also, there is an opportunity for that customer service team, and we’re seeing this more and more, to participate in the upsell. And that is when you really have a finely-tuned machine.

Imagine the person that’s creating the website, talking to the customer, getting the information, photos, things that they want in the website, also identifying that they need some SEO and selling them right on the spot? That’s pretty cool, and I think that that would be a very interesting advancement to a sales organization.

And then, keep in mind, you sales folks out there, it’s the service that wins the next sale, and the next sale, and the next sale. Selling something that somebody wants, everybody can do that. You can go in and tell a story, sing and dance, make them feel good, and close the deal once. But the service layer needs to be aligned so that you can get the repeat sale from the customer.

And then the other unique thing that comes from that happy customer is usually referrals from their friends and family that need the same services that you’ve just sold to them. So it is really a big circle where you get the lead that comes in, you sell them a solution, customer service takes care of them and aligns those expectations and delivers on them. And then you go back, and the wheel of sales life just continues. I’m George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.

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