Embracing Disruptive Moments: Acquisitions and Role Changes

Last Updated October 13th, 2020

Isabelle Papoulias, Mediafly, CMO, Chief Marketing Officer, Customer Experience, acquisitions, role changes, title changes

 

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Acquisitions are often times of stress and disruption, to say the least.

You don’t want to break what’s already working when merging two companies. And you can’t sacrifice the employee experience in the transition — it’s arguably the most important component of a successful acquisition.

Our guest on The Customer Experience Podcast, Isabelle Papoulias, casts a new light on one of my favorite themes – that an exceptional employee experience is a necessary precursor to an exceptional customer experience. And she approaches it from the perspective of acquisitions and mergers.

Specifically, she shares three insights about the acquisition process from her recent experience as she managed teams through a couple of acquisitions nearly back-to-back in the same year.

Isabelle is the CMO at Mediafly. She has worked for more than 20 years building iconic, global brands like Mastercard Worldwide, Johnson & Johnson, Kohler, IKEA, and more.

She believes that empathy, transparency, good communication skills, and delighting the customer are necessary components of excellent customer experience – whether you’re going through a disruptive moment or not.

We discuss…

How delight fits into differentiation
How to measure the value of content
How to minimize the disruption of mergers and acquisitions
How to manage three separate sales motions at once
Why empathy is crucial to the employee experience during acquisitions

 

 

Embracing Disruptive Moments: Acquisitions and Role Changes

Hear the entire conversation with Isabelle Papoulias of Mediafly right here:

 

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Full Transcript: Embracing Disruptive Moments: Acquisitions and Role Changes

Ethan Beute:
Many companies grow through acquisitions, great for the business, but often disruptive to people and processes. What does the acquisition mean for you and your team members? What does it mean for your customers and the customers of the acquired company? And specifically, how does marketing survive rounds of acquisitions? Our guest today brings three specific insights to help us with this challenge and opportunity. She brings to the conversation more than 20 years, building global iconic brands like MasterCard Worldwide, Crate and Barrel, Johnson and Johnson, Kerrygold, Kohler, IKEA and more. With legendary agencies like McCann Erickson, UM Worldwide, and Omnicom Media Group.

Ethan Beute:
She currently serves as CMO at Mediafly, a platform that helps sales and marketing teams create a modern selling experience that values the buyer and drives business growth. She also speaks four languages, French, Greek, Spanish, and the language we’ll be speaking today, English. Isabelle Papoulias, welcome to the Customer Experience podcast.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Hi everyone, thank you for having me.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. I’m really excited for the conversation. I can’t wait to hear just kind of in your own words, that story of multiple acquisitions in a very tight period of time. But just kind of get warmed up, you built a career in New York City and then transitioned to Chicago several years back. Walk that out for me. I’m very familiar with Chicago. I love it. I’ve only visited New York a couple of times. Do a little compare and contrast like what’s similar about them. What’s different. How’s Chicago going for you?

Isabelle Papoulias:
I get that question all the time. Love Chicago. I used to love New York while I was there. I was there for two decades. It was amazing. I had built my career there. And then I woke up one morning and I was bored. And people are still surprised today when I say this, they’ll say, “Well, how can you be bored in New York?” I’m like, you can because 22 years is a long time to live there and yes, somethings reinvent themselves, but at the same time, it’s kind of the same thing. Like you walked every block. Yes, maybe it’s a different restaurant, but it’s kind of variation on the last one.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And I actually was looking to leave the country for a couple of years. I was looking maybe to go to London, I’m from Europe. I thought I’d be close to my family. I also love Mexico City. So I was actively interviewing there. And lo and behold, essentially two jobs found me from Chicago on the same week through LinkedIn, right? Two companies and I took that as a sign from the universe. And I came to interview. I fell in love with Chicago instantly, and here I am. And it’s like a smaller version of New York. It’s a big city. I see them as sister cities. So I think a lot of great arts, great foods, great career opportunities, a lot cheaper to live here. I’m promoting Chicago right now, though it’s exceeded my expectations actually. This is a home.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome.

Isabelle Papoulias:
This is home for a long time.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah, it’s my impression too, is that it has a lot of the same qualities and benefits of New York. And you already mentioned a couple of them and of course a truly international population, et cetera, et cetera. But a lot more manageable, just a little bit easier to get around-

Isabelle Papoulias:
Yeah, more manageable.

Ethan Beute:
… more affordable, et cetera. And so it comes with some trade-offs, but I love Chicago. All right. So customer experience Isabelle, when I say that, what does it mean to you?

Isabelle Papoulias:
So for me, it means delight, it means customer delight. And that’s a term I heard from a new business coach a long time ago in my ad agency days that I stuck to. And at the end of the day, what that means is how do you make your customer feel? And what I mean by that is really how do you make them feel from the very beginning of their interaction with your brand to way later, when they’ve already become a customer, right? So it’s really about the selling experience, which is also the business that Mediafly is in, right?

Isabelle Papoulias:
And everything is selling. I mean, you’re starting to sell way before your sales reps get engaged, right? You’re already selling indirectly when they’re on your website looking for information. So at every touchpoint, when you’re on your websites, they’re consuming content, what experience are you providing there? When they engage with a sales rep, what experience are you providing there one-on-one in those live engagements? When you’re following up with contacts, and you’re sending them something, how interactive, how animated is that content, right? Is it flat and boring, or is it highly engaging?

Isabelle Papoulias:
When they become a customer, what training and onboarding experience are you providing. And then even beyond that, what experiential fun stuff are you doing, right? I was invited to a shoe design event by a company recently, and I was a little skeptical going into it, but it was actually amazing and it was virtual. So it’s these consistent, delightful engagements with your brand at every touchpoint, and are there consistent? So brand consistency too is important. And I find that especially for those of us who run marketing teams in the tech space, startups, a lot of emphasis on hyper-growth all the time and generating demand, and I find that we often neglect the brand as a result.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And so that’s something that I constantly try to remind myself often. And I was in a conference once and there was a speaker talking about the customer experience. And he started by saying, start with the premise that everybody hates your product. It’s a little extreme, but I like it. And really what I tell myself and what I tell the teams internally often at Mediafly is start with a premise that in the customer’s or the prospect’s perception our product is the same as everybody else’s. So how are you really going to differentiate? You are going to differentiate on the experience, right? So that’s my thought on that is how do you delight them at every point of engagement.

Ethan Beute:
You checked so many of the boxes in, I ask this question to all kinds of marketing sales, CS professionals, people in other types of roles as well, and with different depths of expertise in different industries. And you’ve really checked all the boxes here, which is every touchpoint across the entire customer life cycle, pre-sale, sales process, post-sale, focus on delight, focus on experience, focus on how you’re making people feel. Consistency is so key because we make these promises in some of the marketing pieces that we provide, which are touchpoints that build some awareness and trust and perhaps affinity but are you setting them up for expectations that you can consistently deliver on. Checked so many boxes, it’s really good and you included a couple of stories. Thank you so much for that. For folks who aren’t familiar, tell us a little bit about Mediafly, like who is your ideal customer, and what is the primary problem or some of the problems that you solve for them?

Isabelle Papoulias:
Sure. So Mediafly is a sales enablement platform. We provide a portfolio of sales presentation and content management tools to make the selling experience more engaging and more effective, right? And so we were just talking about experience. The reason why we’re in business is because I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact that B2B selling, whether you’re the buyer or the seller, that experience is really poor, especially in the current environment, right? So if you’re up, it’s getting harder and harder to sell and to meet quotas and to close those deals. And if you’re a buyer and there’s plenty of stats on that, the interaction is not delivering the value you’re looking for.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Most of them don’t want to give it a second meeting because they don’t feel like they got much out of the first one. And most buyers we know come to interact with a seller much later in the journey. I think something like 65% of the journey at this point is self-guided. So they’re saying all right yeah, I don’t really value you, right? And so we, through our technology and the different tools we provide, whether it’s a sales presentation app, whether it’s a content management system, whether it’s value selling tools like ROI or TCO calculators so that reps can really better quantify the value of the solution they’re providing.

Isabelle Papoulias:
We’re putting content at the center. And so we’re saying at the core of making that seller-buyer experience the most effective and engaging it can be to ultimately drive revenue. Obviously, that’s what we want for our companies. We’re saying content is at the center of that. So whether it’s your building a great content hub on your website, whether it’s your enabling your apps to use content, to find it more easily, to create more customized presentations easily, to use like I said, ROI or TCO calculators to drive more of a quantitative conversation with a buyer, whether it’s even post-sale, we’re saying content is at the center, and we want to create a conversation with you. We don’t want to show up and throw out a linear or PowerPoint deck, which is what still happens a lot today.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And we serve, I mean, we have clients big and small. And I mean, big, I mean Fortune 100 companies all the way to very small companies and everything in between. The reason for that is because again, we have a broad set of tools that can serve big and large companies, and it’s not a one size fits all solution. There’s out of the box, but there’s also plenty of capabilities to customize. Our sweet spots and how we’ve grown is the, what I call the greedy industries, the like CPG and manufacturing, the industries where you’re not necessarily selling in a fancy meeting space or boardroom, okay, especially right now, everybody’s selling from home.

Isabelle Papoulias:
But you might only have 10 minutes on a factory floor. And so you have to make an impact very, very quickly, and it has to be memorable, and you have to prove the value that you can bring to the table. And then in a remote selling environment, that today it’s even harder, right? How do you make that interaction more engaging when it’s virtual? So that’s in a nutshell what we do and who we work with.

Ethan Beute:
I love it. So it sounds like one of the key things you’re doing is taking that 65% of the self-guided journey and providing a variety of ways for companies to fulfill the need in that 65%, in a way that brings them probably warmer to the point of interaction.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And beyond that. So yes, we do that through content hubs, but we also enable marketing teams to enable their sales reps. So typically what happens is for many companies, is there are selling in what we call a traditional way. So there are bidding content, they’re emailing reps, or they have three or four different … they might have some things on the server and they might use some different content management systems, and so content is all over the place, it’s not updated. And so for reps to actually find that content and use it, it’s very hard. And so what happens is they go rogue. And then you have issues with brand compliance.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. I’ve seen that slide deck before. It is not pretty.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Exactly. So we’re not just impacting the 65% of the self-guided part of the journey, we’re also impacting very much the engagement between the sales rep and the buyer one-on-one.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. I was going to ask you about evolved selling, which is a phrase that you all use to talk about this kind of evolution of sales enablement that has some more dynamic pieces to it. It’s interactive and more engaging in general, but I think you really tackled it there in talking about some of the current traditional problems that require an evolved approach so that you don’t have reps going rogue and all of that. And I hear brand compliance all the time is a really big sticking point for marketing teams and sales teams in general. And it’s funny because the teams kind of put themselves in that situation, it’s so interesting.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Well, marketing is great at creating a whole lot of content. We’re not always so great and understanding how that content ultimately is used by reps, how it’s consumed by prospects, and ultimately how it’s impacting the bottom line. And a big part of what we do, what actually surprisingly I forgot to mention, is that what we call the Mediafly Insight. So it’s the measurement piece, which enables you to, once you understand how your prospects are consuming the content, how your reps are using it and you can tie the use of that content stage by stage across the journey, at every part of the journey all the way to, oh, this is moving me from this stage to the next stage.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And these content assets are actually helping me close more deals, right? So as a marketer, I’m going to produce more of those types of assets for my sales reps. And I’m going to stop spending money on a whole bunch of other stuff that I’ve been creating all along that is not really working. And especially in this day of age of economic uncertainty and marketing budgets are highly scrutinized, really making sure your content is working the hardest and that you’re putting your marketing dollars on the right content creation is key because otherwise, you’re wasting money that you really don’t want to be wasting right now.

Ethan Beute:
Absolutely. I don’t want to go too deep here, but I’m just really curious. I would assume that you plug into other systems and other platforms so that as your kind of identifying that people are moving through these content experiences, they’re moving through the sales funnel. And some of that reporting probably speaks in and out of other systems.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Absolutely, marketing automation platforms and certainly CRM. CRM is a big one for us, that’s the biggest, probably the biggest integration there. And there’s a lot of also AI building in the integration between CRM and Mediafly in terms of content recommendations. Again, making it easier for the reps to be … have the perfect content at the fingertips for the conversation they’re about to have, not the one size fits, right?

Ethan Beute:
Yep.

Isabelle Papoulias:
So yes, integrations across the entire tech stack.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. Really very helpful I’m sure for marketers and salespeople of businesses of all sizes as you said. So part of the way that Mediafly has grown is through acquisition. So what I’d love to do is A, hear the story, B, kind of some of the most immediate and obvious consideration’s kind of like what’s up for grabs when you have acquired or been acquired. And maybe some of the effects, you don’t need to do this all in one pass, but I just kind of want to outline where this goes is like, talk about it from a customer perspective because obviously there’s some level of alignment. There’s some reason you’re making the acquisition, but now the marketing team’s approach to the customer and the sales team’s approach to the customer, potentially, especially if you’re going to merge teams, changes the customer definition and maybe the total addressable market changes.

Ethan Beute:
And then you have three specific things that you learned through the process that I love these tips. I’ve only seen the bullet points, so I’m excited to get into them, but I think they even transcend the acquisition piece and I think are probably helpful to leading and managing teams of people and leading complex processes regardless. But so let’s start with the story. So you commit to join the Mediafly team as … gosh, that’s actually another question I would love to ask you is progress from sales into marketing, but we’ll save that for later if we have time.

Isabelle Papoulias:
All right.

Ethan Beute:
So tell me about the acquisition process for Mediafly, what was the purpose of it, and what were some of the immediate consequences?

Isabelle Papoulias:
Yeah, so we had two acquisitions in less than a year. You mentioned that we’re selling earlier, right? So I want to kind of go back to that for a second because that’s the backdrop really for the acquisitions. We were lucky from the very beginning of really the origination of Mediafly to way before my time, to work with companies that had really embraced content as the driver to a big digital transformation. And so they were all out in terms of embracing sophistication. And as we looked at what these companies had in common, we also realized that they were kind of a verified few. So then for us, the question became, well, how do we bring evolved selling really to the masses? And so that’s how we started to think about acquisitions is how do we expand our portfolio of offerings to make it easier and less risky to some extent too, with a lower price point for “The masses” to have access to really enterprise-level sales enablement technology.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And so the first acquisition was a Florida based or London based company called Alinean, which build value selling tools like the calculators I mentioned earlier. And I believe that was in December of what? November, December of 2018, I want to say. And then about it was a July, August of 2019 is when we acquired iPresent, which was a UK based sales enabling provider, a lot more similar to ours. So it was a sales presentation app and combined with a content management system. But what they had going for them is that they really were very successful with SMBs. So we, up to that point, Mediafly was seen as kind of a premium me sales enablement platform for the very sophisticated enterprise-size companies that again had embraced, we’re looking for big digital transformation.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And we again were looking to expand our total addressable market. And because iPresent had the S and B side of things, essentially, you put them together and you can do sales enablement for all, which by the way ended up being our campaign around that to announce the iPresent acquisition, so that’s the reason behind it. And then as far as the customer and how that changes and the value proposition, you can stop me from going too fast. This is where it gets tricky, because acquisitions are a fantastic thing no question, if you’re doing it for the right reasons, hopefully, you are, and you’ve thought it through, it only makes you better at servicing your customers. But it can be disruptive in a sense that you’re combining brands, you’re combining people or your combined company values. In our case, for example, we brought in Alinean and so of course our value prop changed a little bit and our messaging had to change a little bit.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And just when you think you’ve nailed your new messaging, here goes another acquisition. So it’s disruptive from that standpoint, but you have to keep your eyes on the prize, what’s the reason why you’re doing this and you’re doing it to serve your customers better and expanding your total addressable market and core revenue in the end. And so from when I think about the customer specifically, that’s been a great story for us because the message to our customers, and when we have an acquisition, we need to message all our audiences. So it’s our customer base. It’s our internal audience, obviously our employees, that’s very, very important.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And then it’s the external audiences like prospects, and then all the influencers around it, like analysts and partners and your channel and whatnot. But in some ways I want to say that the message to customers is the easiest one because it’s bigger, better, more for you, right? And we haven’t … I mean, there’s been very … I will say there’s been no backlash, there is no friction. I mean, all our acquisitions have been very well received for that reason because our customers who understood very well how it expanded our capabilities in the right way.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. So it sounds like they were specifically kind of product portfolio expansions at some level, certainly with the first one, a little bit less so with the second one. How did you tackle internal communication? And specifically, did you bring members from either of those other companies into your marketing team as CMO and how did you blend that together?

Isabelle Papoulias:
Before I answer that I wanted to touch on your first comment, which you said they were sort of products, portfolio expansions with the first one, but also with the second one, in a sense that one of the reasons iPresent was so successful with SMB’s was they had really a fantastic UX. Very easy to set up. You could set it up in hours. A lot of grades, interactivity, and animation features that we didn’t have. Again, ours was a little more premium, a little more custom, a little more … And so part of what we were looking to do was to take some of that great UX and injecting into the original Mediafly platform.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And they had a freemium offer and so on. So there was a lot to the iPresent product as well that benefited us, so I don’t want to undermine that. But you’re right, the Alinean, Alinean was really something … calculators was not something we were already doing, right? In terms of the people side of things, yes, we did merge teams. So actually one of the core things we look at when we look for companies to acquire is to make sure that there’s no redundancies, there’s another replication. And so we’ve been able to do that very well with both acquisitions where there’s been no layoffs at the moment of acquisition or anything like that because we really are, it’s a perfect marriage across the board.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And so lucky me, I inherited, I want to say three folks, maybe four from the iPresent side into my marketing team. And then before that, from the Alinean side, there was one more person that joined. And it’s been just getting exactly what I was looking for, except that rather than going outside and finding and hiring it, I was able to get through the acquisition. And in fact, our CEO calls these acquisitions acqui-hires.

Ethan Beute:
Nice. I love it. So the idea of getting, not just the tech, not just access to the customer base and access to the revenue, but access to the talent and experience and insights. I love it.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Yeah. And it’s a more efficient way to do it as part of the deal, overall than to go hire individuals that way, so.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah, when the approach obviously seems very, very thoughtful, it seems like there’s a lot of relationship building and probably a lot of homework done. And so I would guess that the cultural transition probably was not especially difficult because of the work that was done in advance-

Isabelle Papoulias:
It was not. It was not because … exactly because that’s part of the strategy too, right? So it’s the, is it the right fit? Yes, of course, from a product stand point and in the financials and all those things, but the people side of it, whether again, the acqui-hire notion of it, as well as the culture, huge for us. Huge. In fact, I remember being in a board meeting where we’re discussing those acquisitions. I forget if it was the first one or the second one, I don’t remember. And we all agreed. I remember highlighting how I felt our two companies were a perfect cultural fit. And I remember one of our board members saying that’s the most important thing.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Because even if everything else is perfectly in place, if there is not a match in the cultures, it will fail and no question. And we’ve been, I don’t know that I can say we’ve been lucky because again, it’s front and center in terms of our strategy. We’re not going to acquire a company where we feel it’s not a good cultural fit, but I feel like we’ve clearly, we made some … we’ve been very diligent about that point. And so we’ve made right decisions as a result. So yes, the culture, there’s been no real friction there.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. Go to the customer side of it. Obviously, the sales and marketing motion in S and B is different than sales and marketing motion for, you mentioned Fortune 100 companies and you span that whole gamut. How did expanding that total addressable market really affect you and your team? How did it change the way you think about things? How did it change the way you approached the work that you were doing to address its difference?

Isabelle Papoulias:
That’s a great question. Yeah. I’m so glad you’re asking that because it is different and I don’t think we’re quite prepared for how different it was. So full transparency, I feel like we’re skewed a little bit. We started to skew too much in one direction, so I don’t want to say we ignored the enterprise side and we pivoted a little too hard on SMBs, but it feels that way in hindsight. And then we corrected, right? And then we went through redefining of our value prop or really a reassessment of our ICP, our Ideal Customer Profile, and starting to do ABM, Account-Based Marketing from there, right? Really understanding that we really can be one thing for all people. And we have been talking to SMBs more than enterprise, and that’s not necessarily great for our business.

Isabelle Papoulias:
So how do we make sure that we hit all our audiences, and really there’s three audiences for us at this point, three buckets? There’s the enterprise sales motion. There’s the midsize companies, actually sales motion. And then there’s really the velocity segment if you want to call it that way. And then there’s the self-serve segment because, for very small companies, we enable them on our website. They can just go on the website, swipe their credit card, gets our tier-one offering, and get up and start it on their own in a few hours, right?

Isabelle Papoulias:
And so those are three distinct sales motions, and that’s … it wasn’t clear to us quite from the get-go so a bit of trial and error, but we adjusted and it’s working well now. And that’s the big learning from … one of the big learnings for me from acquisitions is it won’t be perfect and that’s okay. And it also gets, I think you learn and you get better at it every time, but it’s okay if things are not quite perfect, you not always time to tweak and make better.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. And it’s never going to be perfect anyway. It’s really interesting. We haven’t done it through acquisition, but we are in the same challenge right now where we do have self-serve. We do have SMB. We do have more mid-market than enterprise. I think enterprise is still in terms of what we do. I mean, there’s a lot of compliance. We do have a couple of very, very large customers that we’ve cut through lot of red tape with and for, in order to get installed in them. But it is really interesting to span that group and to create a single website that allows people to self-identify and know where they are, and to know that this is for you and to support the various salespeople in particular with the content that they need and all these other pieces, because they’re all working at kind of different paces for different audiences.

Ethan Beute:
And even within, we’re just talking about the size of the business right now, we’re not even talking about some of the nuances of the industries that we serve and all of that. It’s very complicated and challenging, but you teed it up there. I would love for you to walk through kind of the three high-level learnings you have from this experience. And the first one you shared with me is not to rush.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Yes. And I know it sounds counter-intuitive, and this is advice that I received from our marketing, our original marketing board advisor right before the first acquisition. He specifically said that to me and I don’t think I really listened. I wish I had in the sense that he said, “Look, when the deal gets signed, that’s the first step. That’s not actually the acquisition.” I mean, that’s not the merging of two companies, that’s just the very beginning, the merging takes time to happen. And we know for massive mergers that happen, it sometimes, it takes several years, but even for smaller companies, he had said to me, it’s going to take at least a year.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Basically, you start to roll things out, but you also have your regular job. Everything else you still need to do, to keep doing, despite the acquisition. So bringing the two companies together will happen with the extra time that you have. So you don’t want to break what’s already working just for the sake of merging with two companies. But we were very ambitious across the organization and we wanted to be amazing. And so we immediately rolled out, we had all these great project plans and the roadmaps, and we’re like, this is how we’re going to merge into websites. And this is how are we going to do a content assessment and build new content. And this is going to be the tech stack, a roadmap on how we’re going to merge the tech stack.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And we did everything within three months and it was across the organization. I’m speaking from the marketing side of things what I just mentioned. But the truth is product side of things, customer success, everybody, operations, people got everything done really quickly. And for one that can lead to burnout, which I wouldn’t recommend, two is, there were things I would have done differently in hindsight is always 2020, right? And so had we taken more time, for example, merging the two websites, we did it, and we did it well, but in the process of shutting down their LinkedIn website and injecting some of their content and information to ours, we lost some things. We lost some things that were important, right?

Isabelle Papoulias:
And we course-corrected later, and so that’s why I said what I said about perfect. It wasn’t perfect. We make some mistakes. You can always address them later, right? But in hindsight, so second acquisition with iPresent, we didn’t do that. In fact, their website is still alive. It’s still live. And so just take the time. No one is holding a gun to your head. No one should be holding a gun to your head after the deal is signed to really merge the two companies.

Ethan Beute:
I love it. And it tees up specifically the merging. I think the next one kind of gets to what to do with the brands a little bit. The second one is check your biases.

Isabelle Papoulias:
So yes, absolutely. You nail it, that has to do with a brand. And so another example here, and it relates to the not rushing. Again don’t rush so you can check your biases, right? So just because let’s say, we acquired Alinean and we were the bigger company, we underestimated the … we need the brand equity that the Alinean name had, even though they were a much smaller company and they were niche offering, right? And so what happened was in the process of eliminating the Alinean name, people couldn’t find us. The people were not finding the value selling tools anymore.

Isabelle Papoulias:
So again, we course-corrected that, but there’s a little bit of like we’re the bigger company, we’re acquiring the other one, they’re smaller. And of course we’re going to fold them under our brand. So just watch that. That’s one example. It could be anything else, right? So I think it’s important, check your biases.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. I have a feeling that that has some effects internally as well when you think about acqui-hiring is, you want to make sure that, that the acquired team members don’t feel second class or other either. And so I’m sure that the kind of the, I guess, generically speaking power dynamic of who’s acquiring who has effect across the whole thing. And of course, you spoke very smartly to one of the more interesting ones, which is brand equity and findability. It’s really smart. And so I guess I was kind of teasing there a little bit, your third one, which is mind the people, which just based in the words, I like that one the best, but I’d love for you to elaborate on it.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Well, thank you. This one is so important to me. Look, you’re not just merging two things, you’re bringing people together. And there’s a lot of trepidation, and there’s trepidation on both sides, let me tell you. And I always remind my team on the Mediafly side, whatever X they have going through the process, I remind them that multiply that by 10, and that’s probably how the other side is feeling. Because empathy, put yourself in their shoes. They’re the ones being acquired and yes, there was a cultural fit, but that’s scary.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And their positions are transitioning. And there’s no… In our case acqui-hires, nobody’s losing their jobs over this. That’s fantastic, but there’s still transitions like people’s roles, in some cases, it was a linear transition from one to the other. In other cases, people’s jobs were transformed, and so there’s an unknown factor. And some people love change and love the unknown and thrive on that like myself, for example, other people don’t. So you have to mind that. And what I found was very, very helpful was one-on-ones, constantly like check-ins, both with the team that was already working with me, as well as the incoming team. For a long time, not just for a couple of weeks, but while this is happening and later, once they’re already established in their roles and how are you doing, how are things feeling, et cetera.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And then in the case of iPresent, we also had a different geography, different culture. They’re UK based where the US I know we’re cousins, or I think that’s what we call each other, cousins. And I, locally I’ve … my entire career has been global, a global account management, so really working across the globe with hubs across the world. And I joke, in fact that I know the US less than I know the rest of the world, but there’s nuances. There’s absolutely. You don’t work with Europe the same way you work with Asia, and you don’t work with Latin America the same way you work with the US and so on, very different. And even within Europe, there’s a lot of differences, right? So I was very mindful of that and that’s something to keep in mind. In the communication styles, in the jokes you make. We’ve had a few moments like that. So it’s a constant reminder and a constant empathy for the people that are involved in the process.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. And again if you are a regular listener to this show, you know very well that we have a lot of conversations about employee experience being a necessary precursor to customer experience. A great customer experience is basically impossible without a great employee experience. And so minding the people, thinking about the people on your team, spending time in one-on-one, I found all three of your recommendations here for acquisition, basically, you could apply a lot of the learnings to any kind of a changing dynamic situation. Sometimes it’s changes in strategy. So for us, we seem to have a lot of interests air quoting here “Up-market.” How do we adapt our teams to continue as you did, continue to serve the customers that you already have while growing people in processes that support, attracting, and bringing on new customers as well? And so I’ve really enjoyed this thoughtful approach.

Ethan Beute:
I’d love for you to address one more thing here before I give you the chance to give some acknowledgments to some of the people and brands that you really respect. I would love if you could give me a quick pass on your path, just within Mediafly from Sales Director to VP Marketing, to CMO. VP marketing to CMO obviously is something that has happened to many, many people. And sales to marketing isn’t crazy, but it’s also not super, super common either. Like what was that path like for you? Was that something you wanted to do for yourself? Was that something the business demanded? How did that go for you?

Isabelle Papoulias:
No, it was something the business demanded. Before I answer that can I touch on the one very-

Ethan Beute:
Please.

Isabelle Papoulias:
… quick last thing regarding the mind of people, which I think is important is transparency in communication. And this is a little unusual in the sense that at Mediafly for all our acquisitions we’ve been very open with employees on both sides before the acquisition was announced. And I know that’s very unusual, in many cases that’s kept under wraps. Not in our case. We start talking to employees probably like two months, or maybe not two months, like a month before the deal. We know the deal is going to happen and we share a lot of information.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And so there’s definitely not keeping them in the dark makes a big, big difference. And so there’s regular like town halls once a week, where we talk about this, the evolution, what we see happening. And then this is when it’s going to be announced. And then we have town halls after. So the transparency has been hugely effective for us. And that’s very much, that’s all about our CEO. I mean, that’s how he does business. He over communicates and I have a lot of respect for that.

Ethan Beute:
I love it because that’s a give respect, get respect. That shows a great deal of trust and respect for all the people involved. I love it. It’s would have been one of my, I don’t know where I picked it up, but I’ve always had this approach of share as much as you can, as early as you can. Obviously, with some prudence, obviously with some editorial judgment, but the less anything is a surprise to anyone the better off you are. And in specific to what you just said, your CEO is demonstrating respect for all of the people which makes … is it her or him?

Isabelle Papoulias:
It’s him.

Ethan Beute:
Makes him worthy of respect as well.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And your question about my transition. So, yes, it was sudden. It happened in 48 hours. So I came from the agency world, advertising agency, media agencies for over 20 years and decided I no longer wanted to do that, and took a nice six months break and didn’t work, which was nice. And started working at Mediafly in sales. And I viewed that as a career change, I mean, you’re always selling in any environment, even in agencies, but different, call it more traditional selling, full-time focus on sales. And six months into the role, there was a CMO that had been hired. He wasn’t there that long, left. And I essentially got a call from the head of sales and said, “Hey, so I have an idea for you.”

Isabelle Papoulias:
And he says, “You’re not supposed to know this, but so-and-so is leaving. He just started to here, he started building a team and we don’t want to bring the momentum,” because it was at a point where Mediafly wanted to invest in marketing, wanted to build a marketing team and realized that in order to grow the way they needed to grow, they had been very much like product-led, sales-led and they needed a marketing machine. And so we don’t want to build a momentum, given your background could you step in and pick up the reins from here temporarily? And I think this call was on a Thursday afternoon, and by Monday, like Tuesday morning, I had basically walked away from sales and stepped into marketing, right?

Isabelle Papoulias:
And I think there was a team of three people that had just been hired. So it was very much building the engine from the ground up. And I said to them, I said, “Fine, I’ll do it. But I’m excited about sales, I feel like I’m going to really thrive in this, so I’ll do it, but I definitely want this to be temporary, at least have the option to go back to sales in six months.” We had agreed this would be a six-month gig. But really what happened was three months into it, I loved what I was doing and I loved the work, and so it became permanent.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And in fact, there’s a funny story about this and how it became permanent because it was also in a board meeting. And it was my first board meeting and the CEO made a comment too, “And that’s why we’ve taken Isabelle away from sales to now run marketing permanently.” And I remember looking at him and the head of sales and I looked at each other, we’re going, “Okay, I guess, we didn’t know this was permanent.”

Ethan Beute:
It’s funny.
Isabelle Papoulias:
So it was a … that’s how it happened. And I think that even though six months with a short sentence in sales, it was very helpful to me because it gave me a good grasp of what I felt was working, what wasn’t working in terms of the proverbial sales and marketing alignment. And there was very little sales support from the marketing side because there was no marketing. I mean, who are you going to align with when there’s nobody there to align with, right? And so there was a lot of work to be done. And it’s been a wild ride. Then I was promoted to … six months later I was given the VP of marketing title. And a year later I was promoted CMO, so that’s the trajectory.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. I love it. You’re stepping into the circumstance, finding that it is a good fit for you, getting the buy-in from other people, and here you are. It all makes sense in hindsight, but you would not have predicted it.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Absolutely not. So I thought I was done with marketing and advertising, but what I hadn’t factored in was that I’m a builder. I like, and throughout my career, I’ve been brought in to build teams, build global teams, build new processes, and so on. And so this was perfect for me. I just didn’t know, I hadn’t connected the dots. I was just thrown into this situation, but I loved it because I got to build the house from the ground up. And that’s what I love doing. And then being on the client-side.

Isabelle Papoulias:
So remember, I’m also coming from the client service side of things. And so being in house was very, very different and it was surprisingly rewarding because you have a direct line of sight into the business impact that you’re creating. It’s your baby. You have more influence. I mean, all those things that you don’t necessarily have when you’re at an agency. And so I also had not factored in. So it was a very pleasant surprise. It has completely, this role has completely exceeded my expectations. It’s been a wild ride in a good way.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. That’s so good. Thank you for sharing that. If you are listening to this show and it’s been a really good conversation and not one of our shorter ones, then you might like some of the other episodes that we have. We’ve spoken with a number of CEOs on the show. Again, we’re typically talking marketing, sales, and CS, typically leaders. But we also go outside those bounds periodically, but some of the CMOs we’ve had on recently, we had Ed Breault from Aprimo. We had Corey McCarthy from Socio, an events app that is figuring out how to make the pivot within for their customers to virtual events and hybrid events. Of course, Steve Pacinelli, my friend, teammate, and co-author here at BombBomb. Samantha Stone at the Marketing Advisory Network.

Ethan Beute:
We’ve had a number of CMOs on the show. And if you want to check any of those episodes out, you can just scroll through them at bombbomb.com/podcast. If you go to that page, you can click the see more episodes and just kind of scroll through them and see some of them, or you can check out the Customer Experience podcast in Apple Podcasts or iTunes, in Spotify, Google Play, Google podcast, wherever you listen. And there are a number of other episodes you’ll enjoy as I’ve enjoyed this one with you, Isabelle.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Likewise.

Ethan Beute:
And so before I let you go, I would love to give you a few opportunities. The first one is to give thanks or mentioned to someone who’s had a very positive impact on your life or your career.

Isabelle Papoulias:
So this one is going to have to go to Mark Strong, who will now be listening to the podcast, I’m sure. Fantastic team leader back in my agency days when I was on McCann Erickson in New York. It’s one of the places where I’ve stayed the longest, the dream boss, what can I say. Strategic, strategy, project management, people leadership, everything you want. I mean, it’s really someone I learned a lot from directly as well as by osmosis, just how I saw him manage our team and definitely someone I look up to and I still talk to him occasionally. And he’s now a coach actually, an executive coach for good reason. He should be coaching all of us.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. Yeah. And it sounds like you’ve carried some of that experience into your role, and I’m sure it’s part of what’s made you successful here at Mediafly.

Isabelle Papoulias:
I feel that way. I definitely feel like I said, I’ve learned a lot from him. And brands that stand out for a great customer experience, I’m going to say IKEA, and this one also goes back to my agency days. I mean, I like to say I’ve graduated from IKEA furniture, which I have in some ways, but on occasion, I go to their store and I’m reminded, it’s just that store experience and the online experience, everything about it, the consistency that we talked about, right? And they were my first client when I first got into advertising.

Ethan Beute:
Nice.

Isabelle Papoulias:
And so I also remember, I have fond memories of working with them. It was one of my best clients, phenomenal corporate values and they live by them. And so they delighted me in many ways back to my definition of customer experience. I’m still delighted by them. I know it’s a B to C brand, but-

Ethan Beute:
No, it’s good. We get all kinds of answers to that question from large to small. And the most fun thing to me about the IKEA experience is kind of the co-creation element. Like you see everything all put together, but then you have to go kind of find it and carted around and get in line and figure out how to fit it in your car.

Isabelle Papoulias:
But there’s a sense of achievement.

Ethan Beute:
Totally. Yeah. Like you are invested in it in a different way than you are with other things, it’s really fun. I haven’t done it in a long time, but I’ve done it many times. And I enjoy the experience very much. Isabelle, if someone has gotten this far, I know that they really enjoyed your stories, your insights, your experience, and the way that you share them with us here. If someone wants to follow up on the conversation, if they want to learn more about you or about Mediafly, where some places you might send people?

Isabelle Papoulias:
So LinkedIn, my name, my profile, that’s the best place to find me easily. I will say, check out MediaFly.com, our website, but also go to evolvedselling.com. So that’s the Evolved Selling Institute, which is MediaFly’s thought leadership hub. And it’s a community of peers around sales enablement, selling more effectively, sales and marketing alignment, all those great topics. So we host our own podcast there. There’s a wealth of content, so that’s a great website as well to visit.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. Thank you for that. And for folks who are listening, I link all those things up at bombbomb.com/podcasts when we do a short write-up on this conversation. We drop some video clips in there to bring the conversation to life. If you would like to listen on an open webpage, we do embed all the audio there too. And so if you missed any of that stuff, you can either bounce back in your player. It’s Isabelle Papoulias on LinkedIn and at evolvedselling.com, Mediafly.com. And of course, again, I’ll have all those links at bombbomb.com/podcast. Isabelle, thank you so much for your time and your insights. I really enjoyed it.

Isabelle Papoulias:
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

 
 

Video Highlights: Embracing Disruptive Moments: Acquisitions and Role Changes

Check out the top five video highlights from the discussion with Isabelle Papoulias of Mediafly below…

 

1. Differentiation and Delight

 

 

2. Measuring the Value of Content

 

 

3. Merger/Acquisition Disruption

 

 

4. Three Separate Sales Motions

 

 

5. Mind The People

 

 

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Ethan Beute

Ethan Beute | About The Author

Chief Evangelist at BombBomb, co-author of Rehumanize Your Business, and host of The Customer Experience Podcast, Ethan collects and tells stories of clearer communication, human connection, and higher conversion with simple, personal videos. BA: University of Michigan. MBA: University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Fresh air & clean water.