Marketing Experts Selling Business In A Box
By Rajitha Sivakumaran
A degree in physics and geophysics might land a graduate in a university lab, but in the case of Brendan King, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Vendasta Technologies, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Founded in 2008, Vendasta quickly became King’s chef-d’oeuvre. His rise to fame is attributable to the digital marketing solutions his company develops for media companies who work with small businesses.
“We are the number one platform to sell digital solutions to small businesses,” King said.
In recent times, digital marketing has become an exigent part of the business world. A few decades ago, traditional forms of advertising, like newspaper ads, caused the phone to ring, the bell to chime as customers ambled into the store, and the cash register to spring open. Business owners operated under the mentality of “I don’t know what part of the advertising worked, but it worked”.
But things are far more complicated now. Seeing an advertisement doesn’t always prompt the consumer to engage in direct contact with the business. Instead, an internet search often ensues. If your business doesn’t appear on the first page of a Google search, chances are high that potential clients will never become actual clients.
Even when consumers find the digital spaces occupied by a business, a serious inspection process takes place before a final decision can be made. Consumers look at everything from websites and online reviews to Facebook pages. If a business passes all of these checkpoints and an in-store experience takes place, details of the encounter are shared in a manner so convoluted that business owners would have a hard time keeping up. In the past, word of mouth served the purpose of the modern era’s online reviews — posting on Facebook, Yelp and Twitter has practically become an addiction.
Maintaining a first-rate online presence is key to the success of small businesses and that’s where media companies enter the picture. To aid them are the marketing experts at Vendasta, who essentially sell business in a box. Vendasta produces white-labeled marketing platforms to media companies and agencies, who then employ an army of salespeople with established relationships with small businesses to distribute marketing solutions — a platform for sales, marketing, fulfillment and support so that small businesses can sell digitally.
“We’re trying to democratize enterprise software for smaller businesses. What we’re doing is making software easy, accessible and more affordable for small businesses and we’re allowing our partners who have feet on the streets in the local markets to sell these services,” King said.
The secret behind exponential growth
For the very first time in local advertising dollars, digital advertising has surpassed traditional advertising this year. The other trend is that money is moving from ‘paid’ to ‘earned and owned’ — more money is being spent on marketing and promotional services, like Facebook pages and websites, than paid advertising. Currently, twice as much money is being spent on the former and King says that digital marketing is growing rapidly and will continue to grow.
True to his prediction are some astounding statistics from Borrell Associates — digital marketing expenditure from 2015 to 2016 has increased from $80 million to $84 million in North America. Social media management has grown from $630 million to $2.18 billion this year; reputation from $420 million to $1.34 billion; and listings from $230 million to half a billion dollars.
“When we started in 2008, we placed a bet on these services and that’s paying off now,” King said.
When Vendasta first emerged, it consisted of a humble staff base of eight employees. Presently in expansion mode, the company has experienced a stunning amount of growth in a short period of time, employing over 200 people now. With over 400,000 local businesses listed in its system and 550 agency and media partners, and through these partners, over 5,200 salespeople involved in the sales and distribution of Vendasta’s platform, it is no wonder that the company was named one of the 50 fastest growing tech companies in Canada last year, experiencing a 262 per cent growth over the past four years. Vendasta has also made it on to Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 and 500 companies list.
The company conducts 90 per cent of its business in the U.S., catering to partners that include radio and TV stations and newspapers. In fact, Vendasta has worked with seven out of the top 10 newspapers in the U.S. such as the Miami Herald and the Seattle Times. Other notable partnerships include Hearst, the McClatchy Company and Gannett. In its home province of Saskatchewan, Vendasta has partnered with numerous companies like DirectWest.
“Our secret really is our partners,” King said. Through this partnership, Vendasta gets resources like a team equipped in sales and distribution. The Vendasta Advantage is the people, King said. “And the people come from the culture we’ve built. It’s a work hard, play hard culture; it’s a professional culture and everyone wants to succeed.”
Selling digital solutions to small businesses is a niche that entrepreneurs are starting to recognize and this has fuelled expansion mode at Vendasta. “We have to go so fast forward that we don’t need to look in the rearview mirror,” King said.
The challenges of a booming industry
Despite the intensive adoption and integration of digital marketing into the North American business model, the industry is not without its problems. Vendasta’s partners and others who sell to small businesses have to endure high costs to market to small businesses. They have to pass the toothbrush test, King said — like brushing your teeth, media companies need to assure businesses that their services are something you use twice a day and are good for you.
For businesses, the challenges lie elsewhere — their biggest problem is getting more customers and keeping the ones they have. Oftentimes, they lack the time and expertise to focus on digital solutions, a business strategy that can effectively boost sales. For those who make digital products, there is no distribution method to reach out to businesses.
“Building a technical solution is easy. Productizing it and making it into a platform that you can resell and can serve your customers’ needs is really hard so you have to have a strong vision, a strong set of criteria and be persistently moving towards that goal,” King said.
King’s advice to emerging businesses is to recognize the importance of utilizing and maintaining an identity in the digital world. One key to entrepreneurial success is to have a good virtual doorway. Neglecting your company’s digital identity is comparable to ignoring a customer who walks into your store — neither is good for business.
“After saying everything I’ve said about digital, traditional still works. You have to have a full set of marketing,” King added.
Big businesses come equipped with marketing software and experts to operate it, but that is not the case with smaller companies. The best solution is to find a suitable media partner that can help with the technical side of things.