by Kristin Zhivago
Frank Dale is the CEO of Compendium, a fast-growing content management company. Just before he became CEO, he did something all CEOs should do: He interviewed customers. But he didn’t just interview a few; he interviewed 100. In my mind, this puts Frank in a very special category.
Compendium started out as a blog content management platform; as they’ve grown, the platform has expanded to include all types of marketing content, including content for social channels.
There are a lot of things about the Compendium tool that make sense from the marketer’s perspective – including how the marketing calendar is designed. Each entry in the calendar appears in red, orange or green. Red means the marketer hasn’t gotten the draft; orange means it’s in review, and green means it’s ready to publish. At a glance, you can see which projects are on time and which ones are behind. You can also know, over time, which of your content authors are habitually late or on time. You can use that information to publicly motivate your authors to do the right thing.
It’s a great way to manage the content creation process, especially when you have multiple authors for your content (and most companies do). The authors can log into the system and write their content; as they do, there are indicators on the side that rate the content based on how well it meets corporate content standards (such as the inclusion of desired keywords, its relevance to the corporate message, that kind of thing). Once the marketing manager is satisfied with the content, it can be published to a variety of channels, including social media.
Compendium is used by marketers as a “content hub,” in conjunction with CRM systems such as Salesforce.com or Solve360.com (my favorite) and marketing automation systems such as Marketo and Eloqua. They have 350+ customers. Their pricing ranges from $400 a month to $5000 a month or more, depending on the number of users and a few other factors. The company’s renewals are growing about 20% a year.
An industrial materials company called Indium uses Compendium to manage very technical content written by their engineers. Sears uses the program to turn their sales managers into bloggers who talk about what their customers were looking for and how the salesperson helped them find it. PetRelocation.com uses Compendium to gather reviews from customers who used their door-to-door pet relocation services. When the review is published, the customer gets an email about it, and can easily then send that same email to their family and friends, further spreading the word for PetRelocation.com.
Why did Frank make all those calls?
In his words: “My background is in marketing and sales, primarily in tech startups. In the tech industry, the challenge is you are wrong more often than you are right. The name of the game is being humble, and understanding that. My job is to do my best to understand what is going on, then come up with a hypothesis, and then go out and validate that in the real world of the customers I want to sell to.
“I started here in operations, then helping with marketing, then account management. Then the founders asked me to run the company. I knew the only way to do this right was to go out and understand our customers better. So I started calling them, in batches of twenty at a time.”
Now he has made it a habit, and tries to talk to all new customers about two months after they come on. Good timing, I think. “I feel like, at that point, they can still remember what it was like to buy from us.”
One thing this research has done is kept them from “spending three months on something no one wants, which is the worst thing you can do,” he says. “We mock up something based on prior conversations with customers, then go back to the customer and say, ‘Based on the last conversation we had, you told me [this]; would this fix it for you?’” They may like the proposed solution, but then again, they may say, “No, it wouldn’t fix it for me. In fact, I would never use that.”
“I can’t tell you how much easier this makes product development,” Frank says, “which is challenging in an emerging space. We feel a lot more confident in the choices we make.”
What has he learned?
“You’re going to laugh,” Frank says to me. “We would typically find that things that were last on our list of ‘things most important to customers’ were actually the things that were first on our customers’ lists.” Gee, where have we heard that before?
Frank continues: “The good news is, our software is easy to use, it’s effective, and it saves them time. The bad new is, we realized that we didn’t say that anywhere on our website. We’re fixing that. We have also learned to collaborate with our customers. When someone becomes a customer, we assign them a ‘success person,’ who has a portfolio of clients they’re responsible for. They meet as often as weekly. They benchmark; talk strategies; they help with new techniques. Our entire company is split up in teams that work on solving problems for our customers.
Compendium also innovates constantly, because they have to. Content platforms, for one thing, change quickly. “Six months ago, no one was even reading Google+. But as it became more popular, our clients asked us for a Google+ interest button. So we rolled that out.”
Unlike most software companies that release new versions every few months, Compendium employs a “continuous deployment” model. “This puts our engineering team in the top 5% of the teams around the country,” Frank says. “We literally deploy new code every single day.”
Because of customer feedback, they entered into a relationship with Eloqua, so marketers can use the Compendium system to manage content creation, and Eloqua to manage the repurposing of that content for further distribution. As Frank explains, “Platforms like Eloqua are fantastic at measuring, tracking, and helping you optimize, but they still need content. It’s not a content machine. That’s what we are. Put the two together, and you get a very holistic solution.” This video outlines the way Eloqua and Compendium interact.
One of the questions that buyers of software ask is, “What’s going to happen to me after I buy?” For an excellent example of how to answer to this question, take a look at the Compendium support section, which contains some of the best programdocumentation/help I have ever seen.
My hat’s off to Frank. “We expect to keep climbing every quarter because we are focused on working with our customers instead of guessing,” Frank says. “You can literally see our monthly NPS [Net Promoter] score rise from the month that we made the transition to where we are – completely based on the customer.” (NPSmeasures customer loyalty, based on how likely a customer would be to recommend it.)
If more CEOs did what Frank is doing, more companies would be enjoying strong revenue growth, and would have happier customers.
P.S. Just to be sure you all know, I am in no way benefitting financially from talking about Frank and Compendium. Yes, his PR person (Linda Muskin – very good) did contact me, because someone we both knew thought I’d be interested in a CEO who personally called 100 customers. You bet I was. We talked, I was very impressed, and I decided to write about him.
I would like to add, though, that after he read my book, he started incorporating some of my questions into his interviews, and did find that he got even more meaningful data than he had been getting with his previous questions. And yes, that’s more than a subtle hint that my book – which provides explicit instructions on how to conduct awesome customer interviews – could help you, if you decide to join Frank in the oh-so-exclusive “CEOs Who Call Their Customers” club.