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EPISODE 40

Ecommerce Ties That Bind: How Spiral is Building a Full-Service Ecommerce Experience

With Jeff McRitchie, VP of eCommerce at Spiral

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Without question, the last several months have accelerated ecommerce adoption and drastically changed consumer behavior. The entire sales lifecycle from finding a prospect to closing the deal has been turned upside down. Now two key obstacles lie in the path of ecommerce leaders…

The first is the more obvious, more discussed problem: How do you operationally and technically need to change to meet your customers’ evolving needs? 

The second key obstacle is not as often addressed, but is equally as important: How do you then communicate to your customers that even in these changing times, you are equipped and ready to meet their new needs? 

The binding and laminating business doesn’t sound like it would be ripe with insights into answers to both of these questions, but Jeff McRitchie, the VP of eCommerce at Spiral, is here to prove that assumption wrong. 

Jeff has nearly two decades of experience in the ecommerce and digital space. Just last year, his own company, MyBinding.com, was acquired by Spiral, where he now helps lead ecommerce operations.

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Jeff explains what it has been like merging his ecommerce business with a more traditional binding company. He shares some of the challenges he faced along the way, and what methods and strategies he’s leaned into to find success. Jeff also discusses tips for building out a winning SEO and content strategy, and how ecommerce is playing a larger role across the entire business, including in customer acquisition and content marketing. 

Main Takeaways:

  • The Merge: When a primarily ecommerce company merges with a larger more traditional business, there are a lot of balls in the air to create a cohesive and efficient system. Most of the adjustments have to be made on the side of the acquiring company, which needs to learn how to compete in a digital marketplace. That means that education has to be a priority both internally and externally.   
  • Use Their Words: Every industry has jargon and industry-speak. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using that language throughout your platforms and channels. Instead, you have to meet customers where they are with their own language, and use the words and phrases they use. This will ensure that your customers feel like you are speaking directly to them and it also helps create more longtail SEO opportunities. 
  • Content For Now that Pays Off Later: Some of the most-viewed content you create might be consumed after a customer makes a purchase. On the surface, that might make it seem like content-creation is not a good customer acquisition strategy. On the contrary, it’s actually a critical long-term strategy in the sense that good, useful content is critical for brand awareness and building trust, which customers will remember when they need to buy in the future.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“Our approach is to allow customers to interact with us the way they want to interact with us by giving them better options. The priorities for this past year have been to try to integrate systems and then upgrade our footprint so that we can allow the company to put its best foot forward, starting with the E-comm side and getting everybody on the same platform and then tied into the same systems.”

“The age old question — which is really challenging in any organization that has multi channels — is how do you deal with the channel conflict? Whose customer is that? I guess it depends on who you would ask because everybody thinks that the customer is theirs. Yet ultimately the customer needs to deal with the organization in a way that the customer feels the most comfortable, not in the way that the organization feels most comfortable.”

“One of the hard things that we all have to deal with in ecommerce right now is that the bar has been raised. There are people who want more and more features in terms of their online shopping experience. What you find is that you need to be able to roll these things out, but you need to make sure that it doesn’t make things harder on those customers, especially long time corporate customers. They are really dependent on these things working smoothly and easily.”

“One of the challenges that we face at least is that sometimes as the E-com department and on the technology side, you don’t always get raw feedback. Maybe the stuff you’re hearing is from the people who are yelling the loudest, not necessarily from the people who are trying to help you. You’re not necessarily hearing about the features that are going to make the biggest difference for most number of users.”

“When you start to think about what the power of ecommerce is for a B2B organization. ecommerce can really become the engine that powers the acquisition efforts of a company. Especially because we can get in front of hundreds of thousands of customers a month, whereas the traditional B2B sales force might only touch hundreds of customers per month. Maybe thousands, but definitely not hundreds of thousands.”

“We are on the ecommerce side, on the B2B2C Ecommerce piece of it. We almost have too many leads. We get so much traffic that comes in. So then how do you figure out, take all those leads and build a really robust system where you can make sure that they’re getting exactly what they need, and you’re closing as many sales as you can, but then how do you figure out a way to pass those accounts up, the right accounts to the right people so that you can build them into a much larger long term sustainable program.”

“We’re exploring machine learning and big data to try to figure out a really good way of scoring customers because using that scoring, you can figure out how to pass customers up. Then a set of rules as well that says if these customers aren’t of a certain size or if they have this kind of profile, they really belong in this group. But it’s an interesting challenge from trying to figure out where do you get all this data from, and then how do you process it?”

“The question [customers have] is, will this product work for my specific needs? That’s a question that our customers are constantly asking. That has been a really great acquisition model for us to build around — the idea that every customer that comes to us comes to us with a problem that we can solve for them, and then figuring out how do you work backwards to that. What problems could we solve? Then as you start to get creative with that and build massive amounts of content, that content lives out there forever. That’s been really a big part of our success — the longevity but also the content generation machine that we’ve built over the years.”

“Amazon’s product terms are awful. Yet they sell so much. Why? Because they tie into language. They usually have products that have all these different words in the titles that you would never imagine…. They’ve managed to call out even the most important attributes of that product in a very search-centric model or they have really been able to hone in on key words that we weren’t thinking of when building this out.”

“Many times people use our videos post-purchase not pre-purchase. People are going to the video to figure out how does this thing that I already bought work?… You look at it and say, it’s not going to win us the sale today, but it will win us brand awareness. It does potentially when you do supply sales. Because we’re a very supply-driven space. If you think about it, if you buy a binding machine, you’ve got to buy some supplies for it. Long term, we want to have an awareness and be in front of customers so they understand who we are when it comes time to buy the supplies that they need.”

Bio:

Jeff McRitchie is the Vice President of Ecommerce at Spiral, where he is responsible for website development, customer/user experience, retention, customer service, sales, business development, and marketing expansion. A true entrepreneur at heart, he loves to find new and creative ways to acquire customers, expand sales and maintain profitability.

Jeff joined Spiral after thc company acquired MyBInding.com, which Jeff founded and launched in 2003. From the time he developed and launched the original site, the company has maintained a double digit growth rate every year expanding market share in a declining industry. Much of this growth has come through search engine optimization, content development and social media. In the beginning, Jeff did many of the marketing tasks himself. Today, he manages a team of thirteen marketing professionals and developers working together to build the MyBinding brand. In 2019 MyBinding was aquired by Spiral and Jeff took on responsbility for all ecommerce activities for the organization.

In addition to his responsibilities in ecommerce marketing, Jeff has also played a number of different roles over the years. He has managed most of the departments inside the organization including: accounting/finance, warehouse, purchasing, order entry, customer service and IT. Working with teams he has developed many of the processes for the organization and has ownership/management responsibility for all of the major technical systems inside the organization including: CRM, CMS, Ecommerce Platform, ERP and OMS.

Jeff is also a popular speaker at conferences and events related to online retailing, entrepreneurship, SEO, Amazon B2B, and internet marketing. He has spoken at a number of events including Etail , Magento Imagine, and Internet Retailer events.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome to another episode of Up Next In Commerce. This is your host, Stephanie Postles. Today on the show, we have Jeff McRitchie, the VP of Ecommerce at Spiral Binding, My Binding and Binding 101. Jeff welcome.

Jeff:

Thank you.

Stephanie:

Thanks for coming on the show. I was excited when I was looking through Spirals background. It looked like you guys started in 1932. Is that right?

Jeff:

Yeah. I mean, we’ve been around for a long time.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think that’ll make for a really fun conversation because I’m sure that the company and you have seen a lot of transformation over the years, so that’ll be fun to dive into later.

Jeff:

For sure.

Stephanie:

Tell me a bit about Spiral. What is it? How do I think about what you guys do?

Jeff:

So Spiral is really a company and we’ve built ourselves around helping people to bind presentations and proposals. We do a little bit of laminating. We do a little bit of other things, but really we focus a lot on binding. We sell the equipment and the supplies for people to be able to bind presentations, proposals, books and training materials. Those are probably the primary things that come out of it.

Jeff:

We’re a niche player in the office products market is one way to think about it. We’re an interesting a hybrid of a company because we sell a little bit in B2B, a lot in B2B, a lot in B2C or B2B to C sort of space. Then we also have some really interesting national account sort of business as well. Kind of a little bit of an evolving company, we’re a manufacturer and a distributor at the same time. We have lots of different faces which presents some really cool challenges from the standpoint of being in a digital transformation or Ecommerce role.

Stephanie:

Okay cool. So how long have you been at the company for?

Jeff:

My story is interesting, actually I’m co founder of a company called My Binding about 17 years ago. Last year we sold to Spiral. I’ve been with Spiral for just over a year now in this sort of digital transformation role but with My Binding, which was more of a pure play Ecommerce space. We grew and we were the largest sort of binding Ecommerce player in the market. Then all of a sudden we joined forces essentially with Spiral, which was the largest sort of B2B player in the market. Now we’re one force together going after the binding and laminating market.

Stephanie:

Oh, interesting. What was that process like where you had your own company, you guys were selling online and then joining a company that maybe wasn’t doing as much of that. What was that process like when it came to incorporating your company into an existing older company?

Jeff:

There’s definitely some upsides. Suddenly you have increased purchasing power, you have more access to talent and capital. Those were amazing things, but the integration side of things is tough.

Jeff:

I mean, you’re trying to merge systems and figure out how everything works together and learn the language of a new company. Some of that stuff is not as easy as it should be, as well as trying to figure out where exactly are they on the landscape of digital transformation and how do you navigate that when… We were pretty much an Ecommerce or digital first organization. That wasn’t really their background. Now we’re figuring out how do we be both? That’s a pretty big challenge actually.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That sounds really difficult. What does the customer journey look like for Spiral or what did it look like compared to My Binding?

Jeff:

I guess the best way to think about it would be that in a B2B, B2C sort of Ecommerce experience, we were really building our business around a large number of transactions with a large number of customers, essentially small transactions to a large number of customers. On the more traditional B2B model, the traditional side of the Spiral business would have been around a small number of transactions to really big customers. Which is pretty typical when you look at this idea of traditional B2B and more like an Ecommerce B2B sort of experience. At least a B2B, to C sort of experience.

Jeff:

That was the really interesting thing is that we were dealing with customers from all over the country that in almost every industry that you can imagine, but most of them were rather small and we are filling specific needs for those customers. That was fine. On the spiral side you were looking and saying, hey, they had deep relationships. Relationships that went back decades, in many cases, with organizations where they were the supplier of choice. They had complex contracts and all those kinds of things. That was never really part of the Ecommerce world. Trying to figure out how do you merge those two together to get the best of both. It’s not easy, but it’s really fun actually.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I can imagine it takes a lot of training for their existing customers who are used to those contracts and used to things being done a certain way. How are you maybe going about training the customers who are used to doing things the old way to be like, Hey, we actually can do this online usually.

Jeff:

Slowly.

Stephanie:

Any lessons there that someone can take away if they’re going through the same thing right now within their org?

Jeff:

You don’t have to do it all at once. Our approach is really to allow customers to interact with us the way they want to interact with us by giving them better options. Really the priorities for this past year have been to try to integrate systems and then upgrade our footprint so that we can allow the company to put its best foot forward. Really starting with the E-comm side and getting everybody on the same platform and then tied into the same systems.

Jeff:

Now we’re actually probably just a couple of months away from launching our brand new B2B E-com experience for the traditional spiral customers. Essentially we have been allowing them to continue to exist and deal with the company in the way that they used to while improving the experience and then bringing the platform up for the entire organization. One of the things about especially B2B commerce is that it gets really complicated as you tie in lots and lots of systems and a lot of interesting rules.

Jeff:

Customers want to deal with you in the way that they want to deal with you. What we’ve found is that we have to build specific experiences for our different customer types. That’s the approach that we’ve been taking. I think that’s a good approach from the standpoint of, you’re not trying to force everybody into the same sort of experience because not everybody wants to deal with it in the same way. As a large organization that sort of deals with these sort of different challenges, we have to answer questions, like, do you display pricing on the front end of your website or is it a login only experience?

Jeff:

What pricing do you show people or what price pricing do people get and how do you control that and how do you manage that and how do you make sure that that experience is personalized for individuals? Then there’s the age old question, which is really challenging in an organization that has multi channels and that is, how do you deal with the channel conflict? Whose customer is that? I guess it depends on who you would ask because everybody thinks that the customer is theirs. Yet ultimately the customer needs to deal with the organization in a way that the customer feels the most comfortable, not in the way that the organization feels most comfortable.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That makes sense. What kind of legacy or what things did the legacy customers get hung up on the most when you guys are making this transition and trying to show them that a new platform’s coming? Is there similar themes of things that they’re like, oh, I don’t feel comfortable with that, or, I don’t want to move because of this?

Jeff:

I think when it comes to customers, most customers want technology. I mean, they become comfortable. I think that they don’t want to lose functionality. That’s been probably one of the hardest things is that even if that functionality wasn’t the best, they become comfortable with it and they don’t really want to lose that. Yes they do want a best in class experience. One of the hard things that we all have to deal with in Ecommerce right now is that the bar has been raised.

Jeff:

There are people who want more and more features in terms of their online shopping experience. What you find is that you need to be able to roll these things out, but you need to make sure that it doesn’t make things harder on those customers, especially long time corporate customers. They are really dependent on these things working smoothly and easily. That’s actually one of the hardest challenges in this process has been, okay, well, we’ve done a lot of cool things for customers over the years. One off, you build a feature on the website just for that one customer.

Jeff:

Well, trying to then redo that and not lose a substantial amount of functionality for specific customers, especially large customers that you have these really deep relationships with, that’s pretty tough.

Stephanie:

I was actually going to ask that next, when you mentioned that you were personalizing the experience for certain customers to make them feel more comfortable or hearing what they want and trying to incorporate that into the platform, how do you go about picking out what things you should maybe personalize or give to the customer without going down a worm hole of having a personal experience for every customer?

Jeff:

Ultimately, we’re taking an approach of first saying, what’s the best in class experience that we could build. What are the things that are going to be the best for all of the customers and then looking and saying, “Hey, can we in our roadmap put in the flexibility to accommodate for these many things that customers have asked for?”

Jeff:

How could we build this in such a way that we can add that on or this on? I’m not sure that we always nail it just from the standpoint of… It’s pretty tough to keep everybody happy. But we’re taking the approach of, hey, we can make it substantially better for everybody. It may not be perfect, but it should be a dramatic enough improvement that they’ll recognize that we have their best interest in mind.

Stephanie:

It seems like some of those requests might also fit other customers as well or it might be something where they’re like, oh, I actually wanted that and never thought to ask. It could be helpful when it comes to product development on your side, like technology development.

Jeff:

Yeah, totally. We had a really good team that we used to build out stuff and we’re able to iterate fairly quickly. That’s the good news because sometimes we miss something and so… But as long as you can respond fairly quickly to a customer’s need, it gives you an opportunity to serve them better and to communicate. But the other really important part of this is really getting the account managers and your sales people involved in this process so you get some really good feedback because one of the challenges that we face at least is that sometimes as the E-com department and on the technology side, you don’t always get raw feedback.

Jeff:

Maybe the stuff you’re hearing is from the people who are yelling the loudest, not necessarily from the people who are trying to help you. You’re not necessarily hearing about the features that are going to make the biggest difference for most number of users.

Stephanie:

That makes sense. With this whole re-platforming and new tech stack that you’re going to be launching what pieces of tech are you most excited about showing to the customer or bringing online that maybe wasn’t there before?

Jeff:

For us it’s really about an enhanced user experience. We kind of been a little bit on the old school side on the traditional B2B piece of it. This gives us the ability to provide a really much better experience end to end in terms of transacting with us. Some of the things that we’re aiming for, that are harder than I was thinking they would be, would be real time freight quoting. When you’re a B2B company and you’ve got a distribution network across the country, and you’re trying to figure out how much that pallet is going to cost to go to this customer. You think, hey that should be super easy. That’s like in the Ecommerce world, until you start to realize, well, it’s really important that you get that right. You have to first know where all that’s going to ship from.

Jeff:

One of the biggest things is a really deep integration with our ERP so we can understand where the inventory resides and then how much it weighs and the sizes and all those kinds of things so that we can do that on the fly. Because right now we do an add back type thing. We’ll tell you what the freight is later. Customers don’t like that. Especially not in the Ecommerce world. Getting that upfront, same with sales tax calculation. Right now, a lot of that’s done on the backend and people want to know upfront. That means building a system that has management for resale certificates and all of those pieces.

Jeff:

I need to understand where are you exempted, where you not exempted and what are you exempt from and all of those kinds of things so that I can quote you and tell you what the sales tax is going to be upfront before you place your order. That’s another piece of it that we’re excited about. Requisition list is another one where people will have their own custom price list in the system where they can quickly order. We’re building a system where they can upload an Excel file with all of their items that they want so they can do quick ordering and quick reordering.

Jeff:

I guess those would be a few of the systems. Like a quote management system to allow people to request pricing on items and then for us to respond to them live and track that inside of our system is another one that we’re building. Those are all areas where we’re saying, hey, this could really enhance the user’s journey and make it a lot easier for them to do business with us.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Yeah that sounds like some great changes. Have you had any customers trying out the platform as beta testers and have you seen any difference when it comes to average order value or anything?

Jeff:

We’re not quite there yet. We finished design and we’re in the midst of development at the moment. I would say that that’s going to be one of those steps prior to launch. Will be first to have sort of sales associates and account managers jump into the platform and test it for themselves and then to really get especially key customers in the system testing, and then also giving us feedback. What do they love? What did they not like and how can we make it better for them? That’s on the roadmap before launch to be able to say, “Hey is this better for you?” It’s funny because on a traditional B2C Ecommerce launch, you’d be focusing so much on the front end.

Jeff:

Like, the My Account pages are taking just as much time for this site because that’s where our customers are living. They want to use the search, but they really want to use the my account pages. They know what they want, and they need to be able to quickly reorder it. They need to be able to see their orders. They need to be able to have the ability to upload those requisition lists. It’s a little bit of a twist but getting them, especially into those my account pages so that they can spend some serious time understanding their accounts and telling us what they like or what they don’t like is going to be really important for the launch process.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s really interesting about focusing on my account page and how much time they’re spending there. I’m sure that things like product suggestions or also bots might be very important on that page to help showcase items that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise buy when they’re just quickly uploading something or just reordering. Are you guys experimenting with some of the suggestion features?

Jeff:

Most definitely. Yeah. That’s part of the vision is to try to figure out and say, okay, we have these deep relationships with customers and they buy specific sets of products. How can we expand to purchasing a product set? How do we get them and introduce them to complimentary products and show them the right pricing and the right place so that they can say, “Hey, I should totally add that on.” That’s something that I should consider. It’s an interesting challenge for us because we have different personas or groups of people that we’re dealing with.

Jeff:

On one hand we’re dealing with dealers and they’re really reselling product. You’re trying to show them maybe categories of product, where do they need to expand because they’re buying for specific purposes. Then you have end users and those end users you might want to show them a different size or a different color. We’re experimenting with what the best algorithm is that we can use to show them the right products and then also in the right places too.

Stephanie:

That’s great. What tests are you most excited about that you’re pitching to everyone right now and some people maybe aren’t sure about?

Jeff:

I’m actually most excited right now about the lead gen side of our business.

Stephanie:

Tell me more about that.

Jeff:

When you start to think about what the power of Ecommerce is for a B2B organization. Ecommerce can really become the engine that powers the acquisition efforts of a company. Especially because we can get in front of hundreds of thousands of customers a month, whereas the traditional B2B sales force might only touch hundreds of customers per month. Maybe thousands, but definitely not hundreds of thousands.

Jeff:

The idea of… What does it take for us to build a really cool robust system to not only bring these leads in but then to try to figure out how do I score these leads and then not only take them and turn them into an immediate sale, but to determine which ones of these really can be turned into those more traditional B2B accounts that we have these deep relationships with that are going to buy from us for years to come, many tens of thousands of dollars, right?

Jeff:

The really exciting part to me is looking at it and saying, okay we are on the Ecommerce side, on the B2B2C Ecommerce piece of it. We almost have too many leads. We get so much traffic that comes in. So then how do you figure out, take all those leads and build a really robust system where you can make sure that they’re getting exactly what they need, and you’re closing as many sales as you can, but then how do you figure out a way to pass those accounts up, the right accounts to the right people so that you can build them into a much larger long term sustainable program.

Jeff:

For us, that means building a really cool inbound sales team that makes sure that we take care of those leads and that we foster them and do all the things that we need to do, but then building an outbound sales team as well that’s going to go in and then say, “Hey, let’s take these leads and take them to the next level.” Then also figuring out a system for passing accounts up and down inside of the organization. You really want to be able to pass a lead up or a customer up that has substantial potential to be either a national account or what we’ll call an enterprise level account.

Jeff:

But you also want the reciprocity of getting those accounts back or the smaller accounts back from the team. I will say that no one wants to give up that account. That’s a big challenge inside of an organization when you’re trying to say, “Hey, I’ll give you some, you give me some.” The way usually ends up being is someone… Everyone wants to receive, no one wants to give. But the system only really works if you can give the best to the… But then also that you can receive quality back. For instance, handing back to the E-com team, only the accounts that don’t do any business, isn’t really a win.

Jeff:

You really want your enterprise salespeople focused on enterprise level accounts. We’re having to sort of wrestle through what does that look like in terms of structure. I don’t know that we really have it all figured out yet, but it’s a cool idea.

Stephanie:

I’m guessing there’s a way to automate that and create rules. So it, like you said, can go up or down depending on certain criteria from when they’re coming in. How are you all thinking about automating that process? So it’s maybe less of a salespeople having to give and take and whatnot, and more like, Oh, this is automatically routed to you based on these metrics.

Jeff:

That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re exploring machine learning and big data to try to figure out a really good way of scoring customers because using that scoring, you can figure out how to pass customers up. Then a set of rules as well that says if these customers aren’t of a certain size or if they have this kind of profile, they really belong in this group. But it’s an interesting challenge from trying to figure out where do you get all this data from, and then how do you process it? We’re exploring different options right now in terms of what that might look like and how we can best approach that without spending a ton of money before we bet that it actually works.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s really cool. So outside of the prospect giving that information, what kind of things are you looking into right now to find the information to help with that scoring process?

Jeff:

It’s actually challenging. You have certain pieces of information that are given to you which you have usually a name and an address. Their email address usually has a domain associated with it, especially in B2B. So you can pull a lot of information from that and you can start to sort your domain, your customers by domain. But really we’re looking and saying, okay, well we do know the purchase history. The idea then is, okay, if you were to sort all your customers out, you can sort them on a scale of, let’s say a one, two, three. You can say my best customers spend the most money with me. My worst customers spend the least amount of money with me, but that really misses part of the point.

Jeff:

You almost need to add a second access to this, which is really about customer potential. When it comes to customer potential, we’re looking at the idea of what would it take for us to add some big data to this? To understand the size of their company and the profile of the company that they come from, or the industry that they come from as well, because the industry can be really important to us. But then the other side of it is also looking at what they purchased. Like for instance, people who purchase specific equipment or supplies, they’re going to have a much higher lifetime value with us because those are proprietary or have maybe a really good pull through rate.

Jeff:

For instance, it may not be that it’s a proprietary supply, but when you buy that machine, you have to go through a lot of supplies to make it worthwhile. You look at the data and you say, okay, that customer has a huge amount of potential. Not because of the amount that they bought from us, but because of what they bought or who they are, the company that they work for or their position. We’re looking at the possibility of maybe even extending that into some of the databases out there that help you understand whether people are in market and what their roles are as well.

Jeff:

Because when you’re dealing with B2B, you’re not really selling all the time to the company, you’re selling to a person inside of the company and that person has a role. You have to figure out, okay, well what role do they play in this picture? That helps us to sort them into personas. If you’re dealing with a really small number of accounts, you can figure this out, but we have to automate it because it’s not really feasible to do that in a one off basis.

Stephanie:

Yeah, definitely seems like you’re going to need a whole entire data or business operations team who can build those rules out for you and have dashboards. That seems like a big project, but well worth it. Earlier, you mentioned that you guys have more traffic than you know what to do with and lots of leads coming in. Of course my first question is how are you getting this traffic? How are you acquiring potential customers?

Jeff:

Sure. I mean… We’re in a niche industry, right? So that’s part of it. We’ve been around for a really long time. Because of that, at least… Spiral has been around 80 years, My Binding for almost 20 on the web. As you start to look at that, we created a massive amount of content. Thousands of videos and pages. We really have in a lot of ways, the best websites in our sort of space and industry. Because of that, people are finding us to solve problems. What you find is that we built out these websites and either through SEO or through paid search we’re driving a ton of traffic to the websites because they convert and that makes a ton of sense.

Jeff:

We’re essentially… We have all of this content and it’s really designed around this idea of how do we solve these problems for customers? We can drive more and more of that content. The website deals with a certain number of those sort of leads and converts on its own. The challenge for us tends to be, what do you do with the people that are maybe a little higher in the funnel? You’re now talking about making sure they have a really awesome call center that is going to be able to answer those questions. Live chat is really big. We’ve extended our live chat hours all the way to midnight which is unheard of in the B2B space.

Jeff:

I want somebody there to talk to somebody if they have questions about products. Especially really big products. We’re experimenting with the idea of doing triggers for live chat. We did that and that was really successful for us. We turned on the trigger and said, with the idea of if I walk into a store, somebody says, “Hey, how can I help you?” We did that on the Ecommerce site and we had massive numbers of people that were engaging with us. But the surprise to us was that many of those people were actually much higher in the funnel than we were used to dealing with.

Jeff:

In other words, they were now engaging with us and they weren’t ready to buy. They were in the research space and they had lots of questions. Which is really cool but it just changes the model a little bit and you all of a sudden have to figure out how do I step up for that? How do I make sure that I have the right person to answer those questions? That’s part of it. Driving the leads really comes to how do you acquire traffic on scale? Really good high quality traffic for the site. Then the question is, well, what can you do with it? Driving the traffic is really exciting from a standpoint of it doesn’t have to be done in one way but you have to be maybe a little bit creative to do it because you really are trying to get in front of people that have problems rather than…

Jeff:

At least in our space, you don’t come to a binding website unless you have a problem that the binding website can solve. It’s not exactly an impulse purchase. You’re going to show up and you’re not going to just browse around. I wonder what kind of binding machines they carry. You probably are on a mission to solve some sort of problem. Right. Whether that’s like your bosses told you that you need to buy a binding machine or you need to upgrade the way that your reports or presentations are going to look, or you have a deadline of Friday and you need to get these reports out for the annual meeting.

Jeff:

These are all sort of really common sort of scenarios and so then the question is, will this product work for my specific needs? That’s a question that our customers are constantly asking. Building to that has been a really great sort of acquisition model for us to build around the idea that every customer that comes to us comes to us with a problem that we can solve for them, and then figuring out how do you work backwards to that? What problems could we solve? Then as you start to get creative with that and build massive amounts of content, that content lives out there forever. That’s been really a big part of our success, is really the longevity but also the content generation sort of machine that we’ve built over the years.

Stephanie:

How has your content… What is the style now today? Is it only educational? Is it humorous and how has it evolved over time?

Jeff:

We’ve tried a lot of things over the years. We’ve tried to be funny. I think we think we’re funny sometimes. We’ve tried a bunch of different things. We’ve tried to be really educational. It was really hard to figure out the ROI of that. What we’ve really… If you were to look at our content, we do a lot of content that is really close to the bottom of the funnel, but that would be really helpful. We go with that sort of helpful thing as well as deep. So the idea of building out a really robust and large set of content over the years about products.

Jeff:

We spend a lot of time making sure that we have all of the details about the product, even to the point where our competitors come to our sites to look up products because they don’t have as good of information as we do. That’s one piece of the content side of things for us. We have a lot of how to videos. We did a bunch of experimenting around the videos. We found that the videos that people really cared about would basically answer a couple of quick questions. But mostly it was, will this product work for me? How does this thing work?

Jeff:

We made a whole series of those videos, almost five thousand of them that are really around the idea of how does this product work and a quick demonstration essentially. Usually around a minute long that takes the product out of the box, show someone how to use it. Those really work well for us because they show a customer generally what are they looking for. A lot of customers they want to see what it looks like or they have a machine already and they want to say, “Is that’s the thing that works with my machine.? They don’t understand our language. Those videos have worked really well for us as well.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Are there any surprising pieces of content that you didn’t think would work that did, or surprising sources of customer acquisition that you wouldn’t have looked into before?

Jeff:

We’ve had a few blog articles that have found traction in the world and the web that I wasn’t really anticipating. We’ve written a lot of content over the years. Most of the blog articles get a little bit of traffic. They’re like evergreen content, little bit of traffic over a long period of time. But occasionally we’ll end up with one like… Something about how to laminate without a laminator.

Stephanie:

That’s a good one.

Jeff:

Amazingly, there’s a lot of people that look up that and I was shocked. It consistently drives more traffic than almost any other blog article for us. Which is odd. I’m not sure it drives a ton of business because they don’t want to buy a laminator, but if you think about it, there’s a whole segment of people that have maybe problems that we don’t traditionally associate with our business. That would be one thing and then the other piece would be the language piece.

Jeff:

It’s always surprising when I discover that the language that we use internally for our business doesn’t match the language of the customer. An example would be we talk about binding covers all the time because we’re in the world of binding. A lot of people they just talk about card stock. In the paper world, the card stock doesn’t even exist. It’s not a thing. People will talk about it. It’s cover weight paper. Index weight paper. Card stock is like this sort of crafting term. Yet it’s sort of taken on a vocabulary of its own in the world.

Jeff:

When people search for binding covers, often they’ll use that word. That’s always surprising to me as well. There’s a whole list of those things where people basically they choose to use their own words to describe things. Now you’re trying to figure out how do I technically be accurate about this product but really use their language? Because if you don’t use their language, then you’re not going to show up in search for this stuff and they’re not going to feel comfortable with it.

Stephanie:

That’s a really good reminder, especially with generational shifts that the new consumer might be using completely different language than what you’re used to. How are you exploring what that language might be? I mean, especially a company that has been around since the thirties, how are they figuring out, oh, this is what they call it now, this is what the kids are saying these days?

Jeff:

Probably the easiest thing for us is to look through our search results and especially the no results found once because often it’s those things. When people are typing in stuff in the search bar and nothing’s popping up. You look at that and you’re like oh… A smart merchandiser, someone who understands your products really well, they start to make those connections and they’re like, oh, wait a second. That’s what they mean. Obviously a lot of that like spelling mistakes and things like that. You can fix those in your search engine but when you start to look at it, you start to see sometimes patterns. That’s one of the easiest ones.

Jeff:

The other two that are really helpful for us would be Google autosuggest. Just start typing things in Google and then figure out what Google thinks that you should add to the end of it. All of a sudden you realize, okay, maybe people are searching for maybe a slightly different side of things than we thought they were. Then the other one would be Amazon. Amazon, their product terms are awful. Yet they sell so much. Why? Because they tie into language. They have usually products that have all these different words in the titles that you would never imagine.

Jeff:

As you start to look at products that are really successful on the marketplaces, you can start to realize, okay, well maybe they’re onto something there. They’ve managed to call out even the most important attributes of that product in a very search centric sort of model or they have really been able to hone in on maybe key words that we weren’t thinking of when we’ve been building this out. Especially because often you start with whatever… A point of reference would be the manufacturer’s title. It becomes quite difficult sometimes to sort of detach from that, but Amazon detaches automatically because they let people come up with their own titles for stuff.

Jeff:

Usually it’s the sort of ecosystem that will change the title to try to optimize. Sometimes when you find really successful products that you’re realizing, Oh, maybe people do care about that.

Stephanie:

I love that. That’s really good tips to remember about, finding those keywords and how to discover them because yeah, I think even longterm key words would probably be really good for your industry. I’m thinking, how would I Google something like that? I would probably be like how to create a hard cover book for my presentation or something really long winded like that. It’s a really good reminder about the keywords importance.

Jeff:

Then obviously you have your paid search stuff too. You can look and see in your paid search accounts, you can say, okay, what keywords are actually driving? If it was a broad or a modified broad match keyword, you’re going to start to dig in and you can say, oh, it actually matched on this keyword and it drove a sale. Again, driving back and saying, okay, what am I driving sales on? It tends to be a really good place to start discovery as well. The only thing, the problem with that is that you might be so far off that you’re missing the boat completely. That’s where it takes a really good merchandisers to sort of nail that stuff down.

Stephanie:

I also think it was interesting earlier when you were talking about how to laminate without a laminator and thinking about selling something through saying, oh yeah, you don’t need to buy through us. Here’s how you do it because I’m sure a lot of people, like you said, are searching for stuff like that or how to fax without a fax machine. I know I’ve searched that quite a bit, but making fun of it and you might actually be able to convert someone who’s like, Oh, I actually just do need a laminator to do this, but having a humorous video around that.

Jeff:

Yeah. As well as maybe they decide that they want to buy some cold laminating pouches. The idea is, if you can be really helpful in the long term, going back to that idea of video. We’ve done a lot of videos over the years. We understand that many, many, many times people use our videos post-purchase not pre-purchase. People are going to the video to figure out how does this thing that I already bought work. Well, that doesn’t really help us but it does help us in the long term.

Jeff:

As you look at it and say, it’s not going to win us the sale today, but it will win us brand awareness. It does potentially when you do supply sales. Because we’re a very supply driven sort of space. If you think about it, if you buy a binding machine, you got to buy some supplies for it. Longterm, we want to have an awareness and be in front of customers so they understand who we are when it comes time to buy the supplies that they need.

Stephanie:

Just like you said, it’s really important to continue to stay in front of that customer so they come to you to buy supplies and remember you guys. How do you go about doing that and keeping a customer retained? Because it seems like it would be easier with these legacy customers who are maybe in these year or three year long contracts. Now when you’re moving towards Ecommerce and they can hop around really quickly, it seems like you wouldn’t be able to retain customers as easily. So how do you go about staying in front of them?

Jeff:

I mean, there’s a lot to that, the question. To give you maybe a general overview of our thoughts is a big part of our business and something that’s really important to us. Especially on the E-com side of things, it really starts with delivering a really awesome experience upfront. So you need to be able to help them find what they need and then deliver it to them in a really reasonable timeframe or meet their deadline. All that kind of stuff. To have the product in stock and all of those kinds of pieces. That’s actually harder said than done when you deal with a really large niche category.

Jeff:

That’s the beginning piece of it. Once you’ve given them that positive experience, or if they’ve had a negative experience, you use your customer service to basically earn a customer for life. That’s actually the motto of our customer service group. Earn a customer for life. As you look at this idea, you say, okay, well, we now have a shot at their business longterm. Now the challenge for us is, okay, what’s the best way to reach them? The easiest way is email. We have a ton of automation in our emails. We send emails based upon what you’ve purchased with replenishment. We send life cycle campaigns based upon… Welcome to the store anniversaries campaigns, and then also best customer campaigns, win back campaigns and reactivation campaigns.

Jeff:

We have all these automations that go out. They’re really helpful. We also have sales that go out on a weekly basis that keep people engaged and keep things front of mind for them. You combine all of that on the email side, but then you recognize that that maybe only gets you half the customers. The question becomes… Because there’s a bunch that are opted out in the B2B space, it’s really hard on deliverability to get into the inbox. More and more people are using advanced filtering programs to prevent spam from getting through to their employees.

Jeff:

As you look at that, you say, okay, well, email only takes you so far. So then what do you do? The real question is, back to that conversation we had earlier about lead scoring, how do you determine your best customers or your best potential customers and make sure that you get somebody to call them? To send them a personal email which are easier to get into their inbox or to find another way of touching them. For us right now, the two other ways of touching them that we’re sort of exploring, one would be SMS and then another would be direct mail. We’re kind of in the process of exploring a test on SMS.

Jeff:

I’m not too sure how we feel about it, honestly. We have to figure out how our customers feel about it, just from the standpoint of as you look at customers giving their personal cell phones for business purchases and getting text messages. But you think about it, that’s a great way to get in front of people and stay in front of them as long as you’re going to be super, highly relevant. Then the other piece of it that we do a little bit of would be on that retargeting side of things. If you don’t know who that customer is exactly, or don’t have their ability to email them, you can at least sort of [inaudible] do it, make sure you’re sending or placing ads more frequently into their feeds on different platforms through retargeting.

Stephanie:

That makes sense. It seems from, especially in SMS perspective, it seems like the only angle you can go about is being helpful. Like oh, you probably are running out of supplies, order now. I don’t know, you can get a discount or something. It seems like there’s not too many ways for B2B companies to use texting without the customer being like, “Oh, I don’t want to be thinking about work right now.” Unless it’s a trigger for them to be like, “Oh, I need to reorder this or else we’re not going to have it on the day.” Is that true or are you seeing other avenues?

Jeff:

Well, the first step would be to be helpful with order cycle. For instance, think about what Amazon has done with allowing you to get a text when the item is delivered. Which is a big problem for a bunch of our customers, especially in pandemic, but even outside of that. It might be delivered to a central desk or to the shipping and receiving area of their company like an alert. Alerts are a pretty good option for us to sort of get our toe in the water a little bit and to stay active. Then yes, something that’s personalized.

Jeff:

Then also, what we’re struggling with is what is the best time of day to do this? Probably don’t want to send it to them in the middle of their evening. They’re disconnected from work, but you also need to make sure that… It’s got to be time adjusted for the time that they’re in and they also really needs to be followed in their workday probably. Those are some of the things that we’re sort of figuring out and testing right now and saying how is this going? Then what’s also the most appropriate way to collect where people don’t sort of get freaked out. Because it’s one of those things, do you want to get text messages from your binding company? I don’t know. You got to ask it in an appropriate way.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s a really good reminder. All right. We have a couple minutes left and I want to jump into a quick lightning round brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I’m going to ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Jeff, are you ready?

Jeff:

Okay. I’m ready.

Stephanie:

I’m going to start with the hard one first for you because I feel like you’re in a game right now. I got to keep it going. What one thing will have the biggest impact on Ecommerce in the next year?

Jeff:

Well, I think obviously it’s COVID. It’s pushing people online in completely new ways. It’s shifting customer expectations around a whole bunch of different things. It’s ruined the Amazon two day expectation, which I don’t mind, but it’s also shifted the way that people shop, where they’re shopping, how they’re shopping, and even their mentality. I don’t know that we even really totally understand how it’s affected everybody yet because everybody’s still sort of in this scrambling mode. But ultimately I think as this shakes out, it’s going to change the landscape of how we market, but it’s also going to change the landscape of how our customers interact with us.

Stephanie:

I like that. What one piece of advice would you give a new Ecommerce entrepreneur?

Jeff:

I would probably say stick with solving the customer’s problems. I know that tends to be a B2B thing, but it’s not really a B2B thing. If you think about it, I need the right sweater for me. Really be customer centric. That becomes really cliche and that’s why I go to the idea of solving a problem. You got to think about what sort of value proposition are you offering to this customer that’s unique, that is going to allow them to accomplish something that they wanted to accomplish when they came to your site.

Jeff:

I think by focusing and being really focused on the customer problem, I think you can build out really awesome experiences, and then that deep understanding of your customer will take you really far.

Stephanie:

That’s a good one. What is your favorite day in the office? I’m trying to imagine what a binding company feels like. What’s your favorite day in the office feel like?

Jeff:

I mean, most of my days are pretty full of meetings. A day without meetings would be an awesome day in the office.

Stephanie:

That’s a lot of people.

Jeff:

I think so. In the world of the binding company, a day in the office doesn’t look all that much different than a day in a normal office. It might be a little bit like an episode of the office.

Stephanie:

That’s what I had in my mind honestly.

Jeff:

Yeah. It’s like paper company. There is a little bit of aspects of that, but I mean, we’re just like any other company. We’re a retailer, we’re a distributor. We deal with customers all day long. I would say the other thing, the best day in the office is the day that you have customers that love you and that are just heaping praises, especially on the customer service people and your salespeople. When you have customers who are just singing your praises, those are great days.

Stephanie:

Yep. That’s awesome. I’m glad you mentioned the office and I didn’t have to. If you were to have a podcast, what would it be about and who would your first guest be?

Jeff:

That’s a tough one. If I were to have a podcast. I am super passionate about entrepreneurship. I’d probably do an entrepreneurship sort of a podcast about starting a business, growing a business, and the creativity that goes around that. If I could get anybody on the show, I would probably pick an entrepreneur. Maybe I pick the person from lemonade stand or one of those organizations that’s really making a big impact on starting up entrepreneurs with kids. That’s something that I really love.

Stephanie:

Yep. I like that. Brings back the memories of my parents make me [inaudible] my neighbor’s yard for 25 cents which is well below market.

Jeff:

I think you could make at least 50 cents for that now.

Stephanie:

I think so too. All right Jeff, this was very interesting, such a good conversation. So many good tid bits that people can actually use from this interview. Where can people find out more about you and Spiral?

Jeff:

Sure. You can definitely visit one of our websites. We’ve got SpiralBinding.com. We have MyBinding.com and Binding101.com. You can find me on LinkedIn as well. Shoot me a message and ask me to connect and I’d love to meet you.

Stephanie:

Awesome. Thanks so much for joining Jeff.

Jeff:

You’re welcome. Thank you.

 

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