In the ever-evolving landscape of business, where marketing, software, professional services, big data, analytics, and technology converge, driving innovation and achieving customer success are paramount for high-growth companies. However Michael has been at the forefront of driving innovation and customer success in high-growth companies. Whereoware stands as a dynamic full-service digital experience agency, driven by a relentless commitment to technology maximization, digital optimization, and standout marketing solutions.
Brace yourself for an engaging conversation that will leave you motivated and ready to challenge traditions for success.
Michael, what inspired you to join Whereoware, and how has your vision for the company evolved over time?
I was fortunate enough to meet our founder in 2019, as he was contemplating a change. He had built an impressive business and reputation and was looking for someone to scale the agency.
Today’s Whereoware is a very balanced, full-service digital experience agency. We marry large-scale digital transformations with business consulting and marketing channel activation, centered in a results-oriented engagement model. We’ve evolved over time and acquired additional service offerings, most recently with the acquisition of a UX consultancy.
We’re helping enterprise clients solve technology challenges and ensure they get the maximum value out of Optimizely, Salesforce, Drupal, and other large tech investments.
The breadth of our work across industries and technologies fuels a unique perspective on the best ways to connect all points of the digital ecosystem to create the best experience for customers, shareholders, stakeholders, and employees.
While technology and tactics are always changing, our vision remains the same – to make a measurable impact for our clients.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as CEO of Whereoware, and how have you overcome them?
Our challenges mirror many companies in our space. That is, how do we find the absolute best talent to add to our team and at the same time, keep our costs down?
I generally put agencies into three categories – very large, often publicly traded companies; very small, boutique agencies with a narrow niche, and then Whereoware’s category – the middle.
I like being in the middle. We have flexibility to create the intimate culture of a small company, but at the same time, enough scale and depth to punch above our weight class.
We have a very wide scope of capabilities that other companies our size don’t.
We’re not trying to be a $1 billion company. We do great work for clients by combining a wider reach and breadth of services with the ability to be nimble and pivot to meet new challenges or technologies.
What sets Whereoware apart from other companies in the digital marketing space, and how do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
We aren’t just digital marketers. Marketing activation services are part of many of the platforms (websites, Salesforce, BI, CDP, etc). We build and service, but we have a long list of “non-marketing” capabilities as well.
Our differentiation comes from our very broad set of experience across industries, all at the intersection of fact-based decision-making.
We’re experienced and pragmatic, focusing wholeheartedly on creating deep, consultative partnerships with our clients.
The tech space is inevitably confusing and fragmented. While it’s fun to experiment with the latest technology, our core belief is ALL existing digital ecosystems have very large amounts of unrealized potential. We guide our clients on delivering what we know works vs. chasing the new, shiny trend.
We remain focused on driving meaningful value for clients. A consistent amount of clients’ budgets should be reserved for experimentation and innovation, but the majority must work harder to make your existing tech stack work better. This could be through better usability, deeper adoption, farther reach, or a more connected enterprise experience.
When clients engage Whereoware, they get a true partnership, deep consultative guidance, and a complete set of services to enhance and advance their business.
How do you foster a culture of innovation and collaboration within your organization, and what role do you play in this process?
We’re problem solvers at heart. I love it when clients come to us, especially from the UX or customer experience side, with a challenge they can’t even articulate.
We get in and start working together on that need, analyzing three or four different solutions to provide more value and connection to their customers.
We collaborate, we push each other to solve those seemingly impossible challenges. We celebrate those wins and recognize how much more we can achieve together.
From there, we export best practices to other clients (always respecting confidentiality) and look for ways to apply our learnings.
We also firmly believe in reserving a percentage of any budget for innovation – to try out new ideas, but they need to be grounded in real data. Just because you want something to work, and love the approach or technology, doesn’t mean it actually does – or that it’s right for your goals.
The proof is in the data. Numbers have no opinion or emotion.
What are some of the key metrics that you use to measure the success of Whereoware, and how do you ensure that you’re on track to meet your goals?
Our view is “customers vote with their wallets.” Our excellent work will be rewarded with longer customer retention, larger customer size, and more of our solutions purchased.
Over the last three years, we have intentionally reduced our total number of customers, but increased the value and retention rates substantially.
In fact, some of our clients have been with us through many multiples of engagements over 10+ years.
We do our best work by building more intimate partnerships with clients and continue to seek those types of long-term relationships.
What do you see as the biggest trends and challenges facing the digital marketing industry in the next 5-10 years, and how is Whereoware positioning itself to address these issues?
It’s funny, what used to be labeled as a 5-10 YEAR trend, today may be a 12-24 MONTH trend.
It’s a typical scenario for a CEO or executive to read an article and come back with a mandate like, ‘we need to use TikTok or AI.’
They fail to ask questions like ‘is TikTok strategic to our business?’, or ‘what are we trying to achieve, and how will we measure it?’
More importantly, they fail to recognize that by investing in TikTok, they’re pulling resources away from alternatives that may be more meaningful to their growth. They’re just chasing the “new”.
Right now, the new thing’s AI – which isn’t even new; it’s been around for quite some time. Everyone’s scrambling to figure out what to do with it. My thoughts?
Let’s say, I go to Vegas. I only put as much money in my pocket as I’m willing to lose. I test and learn, while playing as many games as I can. If I come back with zero dollars, I planned for that loss and still had fun.
What I don’t do is say, ‘I’m putting everything on black and just see how it goes!’
That’s the mistake companies keep making with new trends or technologies. They try to bet it all on the newest “sure thing”.
Everyone’s tolerance to risk and budget for experimentation is different. I don’t have a prescription for this.
But, you need to reserve a percentage of your budget for super conservative tactics you know will work, and the rest for wild experimentation. The “wild” budget can start small, but experimentation should never be zero.
It’s through strategic thinking, data, and experimentation that you decide how much to invest in that new thing, like AI, and how best to measure its success on business.
How do you ensure that your employees are engaged, motivated, and aligned with the company’s mission and values?
Being in a hybrid virtual environment, employee engagement is extra challenging.
Doing great work and sharing results is the best way to bring people together, mixed in with a healthy dose of transparency and communication about where we are as a company and where we are going.
Our work isn’t easy, but we offer the ability for individuals to get involved and put their fingerprints all over building the business. For the right individual, this is very exciting, especially coming from larger companies that are much less flexible.
Everyone likes to win and authenticity guides our path.
How do you approach partnerships and collaborations with other companies in the digital marketing space, and what criteria do you use to evaluate these opportunities?
We have a handful of very important partnerships with platform providers (Optimizely, Salesforce, Acquia, Drupal, Acoustic, Domo, etc.), selected because they’re innovative companies, reliable tools for our clients, and we’ve found mutually-beneficial company alignment.
We know their tech inside and out. We have proven past performance and foster deep connections with their field reps and professional services staff.
We are not trying to be everything to everybody, and we make sure our partnerships are invested in and aligned for success.
It’s not a ‘happy accident’ that we are on the advisory board of many of our partners at both the executive- and product development-level.
We engage in active, direct dialogues with senior staff within these partner companies on a weekly basis. These conversations are centered around understanding their roadmap of what’s next in terms of new platforms and service offerings, and what we’re hearing from our clients about their needs and wishlists.
Our partners take some of their wishlist items and prioritize them as new features, and others, we build ourselves to meet that need.
This is part of the reason we limit our number of partners. You can’t have this level of connection or communication with 25 partners. We choose to really focus on a few platforms to build deeper partnerships.
How do you ensure that Whereoware stays on the cutting edge of technology and innovation, and what steps do you take to keep your team up-to-date on the latest developments?
Our teams are highly engaged in the tech space; they’re the best. They’re passionate and endlessly curious. We are proud to have many members of our team certified and active as MVPs with our platform partners, and they are a great source of leading-edge information.
Our clients trust us to guide them through the ever-changing digital landscape. Understanding the cutting edge of technology and innovation is paramount to our mission. More importantly, separating fact from fiction on the newest of the new and actually being able to apply it for real results is our north star.
To do this, first, we hire the right people. We need specific skills across comprehensive digital practices (like personalization strategies, data maximization, SEO, digital advertising, to name a few), and we need platform and channel expertise (Salesforce, DXPs, integration tools, marketing automation, content syndication, customer data platforms, the list goes on).
Next, we need smart, proactive, and personable project managers, client partners, and other support staff to ensure our clients have reliable people available to offer strategic guidance, ideas, and issue resolution.
Once we have the right people in place, we empower their success through clear objectives and communication, training, certifications, industry access (conferences/user groups), and technology/tools to do their jobs better.
Through formal or informal training, continued education, hands-on execution, or testing and optimization, our people are always learning and problem-solving. Our culture of experimentation and data-driven thinking is essential to keep our pulse on what works and why, so we’re not tempted to simply follow trends.
It’s a common misconception that buying trending tech is “innovation”, but that’s untrue. True innovation is about having the right people, with the right ideas, using the tech to test and achieve new outcomes.
Strategic thinking is never a commodity. You must invest (through time, budget, past performance, and testing strategies) to actually understand the promise of new trends. Don’t believe the hype.
Whether it’s maximizing AI or strategizing for a cookie-less future, there are endless new capabilities to master and tactics to try.
We encourage a culture of experimentation and fight to promote curiosity and tempered risk-taking, so our team members have an arsenal of ideas, data, and past performance to find the right strategies for our clients.
What’s next for Whereoware, and what are your long-term goals and aspirations for the company?
We are heads down, building the best company to deliver superior service and results for our clients.
In my experience, when your focus is centered on excellence for your customers and employees, any number of options become available. Take care of your team and clients, and the rest takes care of itself.
Tactically speaking short-term, we’re focused on elevating our data analytics practice.
We’ve successfully built our core technology stacks around Optimizely, Salesforce, and Drupal. We’ve placed holistic customer experiences (and the strategic requirements to deliver these successfully) front and center. Our consulting and strategy business is thriving.
But, at the end of the day, our current growth needs to be better informed by our data analytics business, which is a heavy investment and heavy growth area for us in the next several quarters.