How does one leader manage the complexity that comes along with running a multinational organization with thousands of team members that goes to market under more than two dozen brand names? That’s the question Sharon Love, President and CEO of Community Brands, answers every day in her work.
Community Brands is a consortium of 33 brands helping nonprofits, K-12 schools, faith-based groups, and associations engage with members and manage operations and financing. The brands offer software to manage just about any aspect of nonprofit operations you could imagine.
One brand helps private schools track enrollment and payment. Another allows associations to offer continuing education online to their members. A third guides nonprofits through the complex financial accounting required of tax-exempt organizations.
As Community Brands’ leader, Sharon manages many layers of complexity to the organization, from the distributed nature of the team to a sales process where one client may benefit from multiple products offered by Community Brands.
With complexity comes the risk of error, but Sharon and her leadership team have a track record of generating steady growth for the organization. How?
Throughout much of the CEO Campfire Chat, Sharon offers advice rooted in common sense. When asked how she creates an environment where sales teams are comfortable with allowing clients to “graduate” from a basic offering to a more advanced one offered by another brand within the Community family, Sharon says they explicitly reward it. Any movement from one brand to another within Community doesn’t count as attrition in sales metrics.
Concerning the leadership team’s approach to managing 30+ brands worldwide, Sharon says that the secret to success is allowing the brands to maintain their individual culture, office structure, and the team that already works for them. Community Brands offers support, learning, and best practices but otherwise empowers these existing offices to keep doing what they’re doing.
This all sounds very practical. But as with most things in life, just because something sounds easy on paper doesn’t mean it’s not difficult to execute in reality.
What keeps Sharon and her leadership team on track is a combination of humility and a willingness to listen. Sharon says the leadership team has a service mindset. The C-suite is there to listen to the individuals who are on the ground, interacting with clients daily, and provide them with what they need to be successful.
She also notes the importance of experimentation in spurring growth in any organization. This is another piece of advice that’s easier said than done. Many leaders say they want innovation, only to balk when trials go awry. Again, the leadership team’s humility is crucial here.
Sharon’s team is willing to speak up to her when she’s upset by an unsuccessful experiment: “Hey Sharon, we told them to go run an experiment. Why are you concerned about it? This was intended to learn something. You gotta let it go.” And she is glad to have that reminder.
Sharon and her leadership team have created an environment where steady, sustainable growth, fueled by experimentation, is the norm. It’s not easy to execute, but by remaining focused on serving the Community team and its nonprofit clients, they find a way forward together.
Rob Ristagno: How do you manage multiple brands and a team of thousands distributed across 30 countries? For today’s CEO guest, it’s all about creating policies to motivate the right behaviors, establishing a strong sense of community and teamwork, and having a willingness to experiment. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Hear how our guest makes it happen.
Announcer: This is the CEO Campfire Chat with your host, Rob Ristagno. Taped in front of a live studio audience, join us to hear successful growth stories for middle-market companies just like yours. Sponsored by the Sterling Woods Group.
Rob Ristagno: Welcome to the CEO Campfire Chat, recorded live in front of a studio audience of leading executives. I’m your host, Rob Ristagno, and today, I have the privilege of introducing you to Sharon Love. Sharon is the CEO of Community Brands, and that is a leading provider of cloud-based software and payment solutions for associations, nonprofits, faith-based groups, and K-12 schools.
Rob Ristagno: With more than 2,000 employees serving over 120,000 clients in 30 countries, that’s a lot of complexity. They help organizations grow stronger and achieve their missions. Sharon comes with a lot of experience as an executive in private equity-owned businesses, such as Social Solutions Global and CentralSquare. Earlier in her career, she worked with some household brands such as NCR, Lenovo, and FedEx. Welcome, Sharon.
Sharon Love: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
Rob Ristagno: All right. We’re looking forward to hearing a lot more about what you’ve been up to, but for those of us unfamiliar with Community Brands, give us the elevator pitch.
Sharon Love: Oh, happy to do that. And chances are, you haven’t heard of Community Brands because we go to market through our brands, through the companies that serve so many organizations that really impact our communities. And that’s how we think about it. We enable organizations to engage their members and manage their operations. That’s in a lot of different areas as you described in the intro, that might be a K-12 school who’s supporting families who are looking for a different educational experience for their kids.
Sharon Love: It could be a nonprofit who’s looking to raise funds, it could be someone who’s looking to manage their nonprofit, doing the complex fund accounting that those organizations have to do, or big associations, you just want to manage their membership and understand how to engage their members.
Rob Ristagno: A lot going on there. Let’s unpack that. You mentioned a few different communities: associations, nonprofits, faith-based, K through 12. How did you figure out that these were the verticals to focus on?
Sharon Love: What they all have in common is, they’re delivering services to consumers. It’s not a traditional legacy model where it’s all about product, it’s about placement, it’s about pride. This is about experience, it’s about identity, it’s about creating value for the consumers that they serve. And that’s what creates the commonality of need across all these organizations that you might look at on the outside and think that they’re very good.
Rob Ristagno: Gotcha. That makes sense. So what then maybe organizationally, how similar are the products? How similar is the marketing, the sales? Do you run these as four different business units or how much synergies are there at the corporate level?
Sharon Love: We run them as separate divisions, and then we have shared services that go across. That works really well for these organizations because, for example, we have some world-class sales leaders, love these folks. They’re amazing, they understand that building up your sales team and really giving them the tools to succeed is how you do it. Some of these companies, before we acquired them, knew they wanted that ability, they just could not afford it.
Sharon Love: It wouldn’t scale down into the size of the business that they were, but then they come into the Community Brands family, and we can just take their sales team and help them grow and really build out a great experience, both for them and for their customers. Because when you have a really good sales team, you sell what you can actually do, you don’t get out over your skis. And so that helps these organizations that we serve as well.
Rob Ristagno: Great. And how do you think about other markets? Are there other verticals that could be a fit for services to consumers and solving the problems associated with that model?
Sharon Love: We never rule that out, but what we also want to do is make sure that we’re meeting the complete needs of the organizations that we’re serving today. And we see lots of opportunity for expansion within these organizations. We were talking before this started about coming out of COVID and now all of these organizations are trying to meld that digital experience with the physical experience. What is life after COVID? How do I deal with virtual?
Sharon Love: I was doing all these virtual events before, now we can all go back to the hotel. Am I just going to do those? How do I think about that? How do I recreate or continue to use those virtual tools so that I can reach people that maybe never before could or wanted to go to my conference? So there is a lot of expansion, a lot of thinking that we can provide and support them in and how they go forward.
Rob Ristagno: Gotcha. So you’re looking in terms of growth for now. Maybe there’s other verticals you’re keeping your eyes on it, but how can we expand the existing verticals? And it sounds like a combination of new services and products, potentially just going deeper and getting more market share within the areas you’re already in.
Sharon Love: Yeah. Going deeper innovating new products, innovating new combinations of products, and it’s really about helping them marry that digital and physical world.
Rob Ristagno: What about your own go-to-market model? How has that evolved over the last year with COVID, and have you become more digitally-oriented, or tell us a little bit of how that’s shifted.
Sharon Love: I’m smiling because the team did such an amazing job. So historically, we had done a lot of events, we had a lot of face-to-face meetings with customers, but the big thing that hit us as we were shutting down is we knew a lot of our customers were shutting down. So we help our customer, like a nonprofit, you know the big gala that you go to and you get to wear the great dress and have a really mediocre chicken? It’s super fun.
Sharon Love: And that is a critical fundraiser for a nonprofit. Gala season is March, April, May, June really starts in April. All of our customers lost their main source of funds. And this team, as we were shutting down our office, figuring out what we do, they put themselves together, and within days started creating online alternatives and creating webinars. And some of it was how you could use our product, and some of it was, you guys are just trying to survive this.
Sharon Love: This is how you can start thinking about getting through this. These are the best ideas we’ve come up with. And so they started creating these really high value, rich content, truly helpful webinars to reach out to people. And that propagated across the company where we started thinking about how we become the guide and the partner through this radical time of change.
Rob Ristagno: Wow. All right. So you’ve got some real innovation there and really kind of figuring out how to adapt your own model, your own processes to best–in the name of–your mission is to help other people with their mission. So all consistent there. And you mentioned a little bit before about acquiring brands and bringing you them into the Community Brands portfolio. How strong is inorganic growth going to be for you over the coming 12 to 24 months?
Sharon Love: Both are really important. And the M&A side of this company is really fun because we have a, maybe, kind of a provocative perspective. When we buy a company, the first rule of buying a company and bringing them into the Community Brands family is to make sure we don’t break all the things that we saw that create value. A lot of that’s about the people, it’s about their offices, it’s about the unique things that make them them. So we do a lot of bringing in best practices.
Sharon Love: We get some headache out of the way, like the F&A side of it, outside of it, we bring in best practices like I was talking about with sales, and we let them continue to be that and continue to grow. And it’s really focused. We’ll have founders come in and they had this idea that they wanted to make their company so much bigger, but we all know that’s a really big leap, there’s a lot to learn. And now they’re in an environment where this things are just happening for them and they can keep promoting their business.
Rob Ristagno: Sounds exciting. It sounds very appealing. If I want to be acquired, I like to have that continued creative control with access to more resources. How do you manage all the complexity though? You mentioned 30 different countries. You have offices, 2000 employees, how do you create a consistent brand and how do you keep people on the same page?
Sharon Love: Well, that’s where we go to market through our brands. I can’t make Community Brands a thing, if no one knows who I am, that’s super cool. My job and the rest of our leadership team’s job is to help those brands be out in the market. And so that’s really, we just kind of embrace that diversity in the uniqueness of it. We don’t try and standardize every office, we don’t try and lock everybody down.
Sharon Love: For example, as we’re figuring out how to go back after COVID, we’re actually putting lot of how you think about going back into the hands of the teams that will be going back into those offices. Put healthy parameters around it, and make sure we’ve got some baseline rules, but now it’s up to you. What does your team need? Your teams should be telling you what they need and we just embrace the diversity and let it happen.
Rob Ristagno: Let me take a pause from my questions to see what the audience is thinking, questions from the audience about what Sharon said so far?
Audience Member: Sharon, I’m interested, you talked about that you go to market under all these different brands, and I apologize for not doing homework prior to the meeting, but could you share with us some of the brands that maybe some of us have heard of? I know I’m involved in several different types of organizations that use different types of services and software. Maybe I’m a client already.
Sharon Love: Sure. One of our brands is we have a great association management software called Nimble. It’s built on a Salesforce platform and a lot of associations use it. And it’s both to manage their members who they’re serving and also to manage their finance and their operations. We also go to market through an organization called YN Careers. So associations, well, they have a bunch of members.
Sharon Love: So if what you want to hire, as an employer, is a left-handed engineer, I promise you there is an association for that. And we help find all the people who want to hire left-handed engineers and create the careers website for that association. And it’s great for employers because now you’re accessing people who care a lot about their profession, that’s why they’re a member of the association. And maybe they’re not looking, but they know they have a really good web careers website.
Sharon Love: And so they’ll go look at their association website and you’ll find people you never would have seen before. And the association loves it because it really increases and emphasizes the value of what they do. So we do that. We have another association management software called NetForum Enterprise. That’s built on the Microsoft Stack. So if your environment is really driven around that, we give you a great alternative, you can still then bring in that career’s capability.
Sharon Love: We have MIP Fund Accounting software. If you’re not familiar with the term fund accounting, if you’re a nonprofit or you’re someone who gets funds from a variety of different sources, those funds, when you’d be able to account back for where that money came from, there’s all sorts of different accounting rules around it as well, and potentially different tax treatment, ridiculous complexity.
Sharon Love: So a regular accounting software doesn’t work very well, or it takes an expert accountants spending a lot of time doing it. And MIP makes it easy for people to do that fund accounting. We have Pathable virtual events software that has done literally thousands and thousands of virtual events over the last year. We use it internally and it’s a great experience. Someone’s going to get mad, I’m going to leave somebody out. Crowd Wisdom learning management software.
Sharon Love: So your association, you serve people who have to do their continuing education units, to get work credentials, we can provide that. You have a bunch of restaurant workers, if you want to make sure they know the latest COVID protocols that are learning it on our platforms. We also do a GiveSmart, which is the software to run galas and also support online fundraising. It’s a big range.
Rob Ristagno: Oh yeah. Yeah. Thanks very much.
Audience Member: So is the ideal fit for you, a small, medium or large a nonprofit or association, or does it not matter the size?
Sharon Love: Yeah, we serve the full range. For example, on that association management, we’ve got YourMembership, which is the great entry-level platform. If you’re a small association it’s really fast and easy to set up the price point supports you, then you get bigger and you want more capabilities, then we can bring you onto one of our other platforms and let you grow with us. And that’s part of what we want to do is, you can think about it.
Sharon Love: An association should be focused on their mission, a nonprofit should focus on their mission, K-12 schools, they should be thinking about their kids and their families. And what we try to do is give them this platform so that that stuff just works in the background. And when they get bigger, they have more sophisticated requirements, we can take them forward with us.
Rob Ristagno: And when someone graduates, I guess, from the entry-level platform to the next level platform, how did the sales teams coordinate, how did the customer service coordinate?
Sharon Love: We explicitly reward it because… And you’re right, that is an area that can get complicated. So for example, we all have attrition metrics, they stay within the family, that doesn’t count towards your attrition metrics. We view it as a very, very positive step, and that’s part of why we have sales leaders who bring the whole sales force together so that they can make sure that we’re working in partnership.
Audience Member: That seems really important to get the solutions diligence, right? So how do you stay on top of, all the different software and other options out there to best service your clients?
Sharon Love: A lot of that is empowering the individual brands. That’s why we leave the people who know that intuitively they’ve been tracking it for years. So for example, we’ve got one of the leading tools to apply to a private school. And to help you find the right one and then go through, many of them have competitive application processes.
Sharon Love: The people who founded that, they know that market inside and out. And they will rattle off the names faster than I ever will be of the companies that they want to watch and make sure we’re partnering with are aware of competitively. And maybe it’s the next acquisition, maybe it’s the next integration that we do so that we make it easy for the schools.
Audience Member: Sharon, either what channel or what aspect of the various that you offer have you seen the most growth in separate from pandemic-related activities, but over the course of the last three or four or five years, what were the real big growth areas to serve?
Sharon Love: Yeah. I would say across the board in digital payments. And if you think about your own adoption and whether you use Venmo or one of the other tools, when was the last time you put a bill in an envelope and stuck a stamp on it, same thing is happening in the rest of these transactions. So we’ve got payments intertwined with everything that we do, because that’s really part of making, engaging with your members easy, is, it’s nice that I can offer you an event, it’s even nicer if I can make it easy for you to register, pay for that event and then get your… If you’re doing it for continuing education to get that credit back.
Rob Ristagno: Let’s dig a little deeper than into your actual buyer. The actual customer that you’re speaking with across these four verticals. Who are you selling into? Are you selling… Is this a C-suite sale? Is this kind of director level, which departments are you talking to? Tell us a little bit about your buyer persona.
Sharon Love: Some of it is a C-suite sell. So if you’re talking about association management, if you’re talking about our SIS products ribs, sorry, that’s a school information system where we’re managing the school’s operations, their accounting, or enrollment solutions, tuition management, a lot of those decisions are made by the core leadership teams. But many of them are also made at a much more tactical level.
Sharon Love: So you’ve got someone who’s in charge of an association and driving membership, and that would be a conversation that we have around our careers capability of creating their careers webpages. You might have someone who, their whole focus is on fundraising for this school. They’re going to have a conversation that gets smart around, do we want to use you for our campaign? And it’s nice because we often start there and then we go into the holistic relationship that let’s not talk about just for this campaign, let us help you manage your year-round fundraising.
Rob Ristagno: Gotcha. And how does your team think about building out ideal personas? What does the ICP, ideal customer profile segmentation, how do they think through that? Is it anecdotal or are you doing any research? How are you coming up with these?
Sharon Love: I think we’re we’re starting to increase our system sophistication around that. And part of that is, there’s a number of new leaders that have come into the organization who’ve been in big companies that have less sophisticated capabilities. And it’s been an interesting conversation because you come into some of that, people are like, it sounds very corporate to do it that way.
Sharon Love: And then you peel back a layer, and what you actually realize is what we’re talking about is making sure we’re talking to the people who have a problem to solve, that we have the right tool to solve that problem, and this is part of how we help our customers execute those missions. So we’ve been bringing that discipline in with some of the new leaders that we’ve brought into the organization who have gone through that cycle themselves and see how nice it is. When you sell to the customer who really, really needs your product, everything happens and it’s really easy.
Rob Ristagno: It’s much easier. How are you making sure that sales and marketing are aligned? Because we hear that a lot, a lot of pain points where marketing’s going off here and saying this stuff, and sales is over here saying that stuff. And therefore there’s disagreement about how high quality the leads are. How do you manage that common tension?
Sharon Love: We haven’t had that. And part of it is, because it’s one team. Our definition of team is not always the people who report to you, it’s your peers. And so if I’m the head of marketing and you’re the head of sales, our job is to make each other successful. And that is… Now I smile a lot at work because it’s really a nice place. There’s very little kind of that traditional fight, doesn’t happen a lot because we’ve got people who understand that their team, you are a part of my team and we are going to make this work.
Audience Member: So Sharon, am I hearing that sales is like a vertically-focused team. So you have one person selling to the school, whether it’s the school information system, the fundraising system, the alumni engagement system, or do you have a more product-based or some kind of a matrix? How does that work?
Sharon Love: Yeah, they’re more product-based because we want them to have a really rich understanding of the problem set that our customers are working on and what our capabilities are, because it’s really important to us. An all our customers are important but if you’re working with a school, for example, some of our private schools, not all private schools are for children with families of means, there are private schools that are really serving important families that have placed a priority on education.
Sharon Love: And they’re very low cost and their budgets are very tight. We need to make sure the product actually fits their needs because that dollar that is spent is important, and if we mess up that kid’s not going to get the education that they need. So that’s how we think about that fit. That’s why we drive it around the product.
Audience Member: So then you could have three or four different sales people calling on the same sort of institution, although it would be different buyers, probably within the institution?
Sharon Love: We coordinate it. So this is the other aspect of our model, which I really, it creates a neat opportunity. If you come in and you’re buying, for example, from GiftSmart, to help with your fundraising and you have other needs, we will keep that relationship through, think of gifts might as you walk through that door, you’re in that store. And now we’ll support the rest of the relationship through that. In some cases, it will branch into a different team if it’s radically different, but we really try and keep you with a team that’s managing that relationship. And we can bring other products through that front door that you walk through.
Rob Ristagno: I’m really impressed because it sounds like it could be a very complicated business and the way we hear you describe it, is you found a way to create certainty and simplicity around all the uncertainty. And I have to imagine, it has to do with the culture that you’ve set there because I think that’s the only thing I could imagine that can make all the pieces of the puzzle come together. But tell us a little bit more about, what are the elements of your culture and how do you go about instilling that in your employee base?
Sharon Love: And culture is always a work in process. There’s probably someone who might listen to this in my company who’s saying, this doesn’t feel like that to me. And actually if they do, I want them to email me and let me know what’s happening so that we can make sure that we’re reaching their manager and that we are keeping everybody on the same page. Because the most important part of our culture, and it’s a big criteria for hiring leaders here, is that we all understand that we’re not the most important job.
Sharon Love: I might have a fancy title and that’s kind of fun to have, but the person who matters a whole lot more than me, it’s the person in support who’s answering the customer call or the customer success manager or the developer who’s doing the next iteration of the software. We’re here for them. And we have to make that work. And if that works, if those people are empowered to make the right decisions and take care of their customers, then the rest of this works really well. So that’s one of the key principles of our culture.
Sharon Love: Another one of that is that we’re not here for the short-term play, we’re not here to pop the quarter. We’re here to build strength, and resilience and healthy growth that just sustains itself over time. And that’s a different mindset because we will typically not do this slide, but just like I said, we won’t do the thing that pops the quarter, we’ll do the thing that makes this time next year be really strong.
Rob Ristagno: Tell us a little bit more about the secret sauce there. People would love to have this healthy, steady growth? What are some of the secrets behind that?
Sharon Love: It’s listening to the people who know the markets really, really well. And then thinking about the role of leadership, asking questions around that, exploring, being willing to push, being willing to have an argument around it, being willing to, and this is probably the hardest part of culture, let you go run an experiment. Like you think there’s a whole bunch more opportunity out there, let’s go hire some salespeople and see if they can access that opportunity. We can do that, we’re really healthy company resources to be able to do that.
Sharon Love: Now there’s a flip side to it. We don’t hire people if we’re not confident that we’ve got a long-term opportunity for them, because that’s important that people know they’re valued. I never want a person to wake up and wonder if they’re going to get that, if it’s going to be that day. We’re also growing in so many other dimensions that we can bring in an added marketing talent. We can extend an engineering team. And if that’s not their experiment, if the experiment is not successful, we have other opportunities within the company that we can take those people and help them grow, getting people to experiment is really hard.
Rob Ristagno: Yeah, that is a tricky thing. And a lot of people, I’ll say, pay lip service to experimentation, but at the end of the day, unfortunately the human nature to not like failing or being wrong or anything like that. So you have to encourage that. Besides the obvious things like encouraging it or saying it’s okay, what are some things that, some advice you might have to other CEOs who want to have a stronger sense of experimentation within their business?
Sharon Love: We have to remember when it was experiment and not get mad when it doesn’t go well, that really helps. And part of that is having… I sometimes do talk about it. We have a team that’ll trash talk each other, and so that means they got to be okay with saying, “Hey Sharon, we told them to go run an experiment. Why are you concerned about? This was intended to learn something; we got to let it go.” And I need to hear that sometimes.
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Rob Ristagno: One thing that you mentioned throughout the interview here is, I’ll say the discipline to grow at a healthy rate, but not too fast. How do you address, maybe, I’ll say, ambitious people, potentially investors or colleagues, or maybe even yourself that are like, well, I don’t know I’m making up the numbers here, but 20% is great, but why not 30%? And how do you convince people that there’s some downsides with growing too fast?
Sharon Love: Well, there’s no downside, I love growing at 30%, but can we model that up? And can we understand what that means? Are we ready to do that? Can we hire people fast enough? Can we train them? We have to build those models as well. And so it’s not a, no, we don’t want to grow that fast, it’s, let’s really understand the mechanics of doing it. We don’t do a whole lot of top-down, this is how much you’re going to grow. We’re do the bottom-up: “This is how much I think I can grow.”
Sharon Love: And then we have the conversation around, what about this? Can we try this? Should we run an experiment on that? And so there’s, our forecasting process, it’s a meaty process with a lot of conversations. Our job as a leadership team is to ask questions, to show you opportunities, to cross fertilize ideas, these folks did this. We had a great meeting the other day where we realized that one of our products, that’s a niche and it’s one of those funny meetings.
Sharon Love: They’re all sitting around the table. Yeah, we’re great for that, did you know that that’s not on your website? It’s got to be your marketing materials and you were so good at that. And that’s where we find those real growth opportunities. Then we also have the real conversation, okay, now that we sobered up from this really cool offsite meeting, what are the steps we take to go do it?
Audience Member: I would love to go back to the idea of not trying to pop the quarter. And how does that translate into things like sales comp plans?
Sharon Love: We tend to drive towards making sure that their accelerators are at the right interval for their sales cycle. And so if I have a long-term enterprise scale, then I’m probably getting my accelerators later in the year. If it’s more of a shorter term sale, then we want to see those accelerators build over the quarter, not the month, not the week. And that way, we’re not sending people that, and I believe my month, so I might as well sit on it and pop it over into the next quarter.
Sharon Love: So it’s that kind of rational sales compensation plan. The other side of it is that we don’t just don’t focus all the time on sales comp and what have you close for me today, there’s a whole model that sits behind it around the activities. We can model most for businesses and say, I need to do so many demos to get so many qualified opportunities to have the close rate I need to achieve. So we backed the bus up and we start there with how you’re spending your day to day.
Sharon Love: And then if someone’s off track, like you’re really off on around how you’re doing your demos, we do diagnostics and we work closely with them to help them get there. That makes it a nice place to come and start your sales career and start really building. It’s not just the go sell it methodology, you’re getting, how I do this, how does it work? This is as much art as it is a science around it. And then a lot of skill building versus a sales team.
Rob Ristagno: Are you typically hiring at a junior level and people just work their way up the organization. Are you bringing people in from outside? And if you’re bringing people in from outside, how do you value industry experience versus SaaS versus just skillsets that you can translate from one place to another?
Sharon Love: We’re growing at a rate that we are hiring across all of our sales levels and both inside and outside sales. So if anyone who’s a seller, it’s communitybrands.com, and we would love to talk to you because we have a lot of demands that we need to respond to. So it’s a nice problem to have. The model that I’m describing is also newer. We brought the sales leaders in last year to build this model because where I want to be, we’re not quite there yet.
Sharon Love: We have work to do, but where I really want to be is, if you’re coming out of school and you want to really be good at sales, which it doesn’t matter so much what industry it is, it’s, I can share what my customers are telling me and translate that and understand that my products can do that. If you want to be great at that, I want them to come and work at this company and be able to progress their careers here.
Sharon Love: So when we hire the more experienced people, I think we hire more for mindset than anything. It’s those people who aren’t just looking to cram something down at you, it’s, they genuinely want to figure out what your problems are and if we can help and they have the confidence to pass on it, if it’s not the right fit. Because we want to talk to you again on another day, well, we have a problem we can solve.
Audience Member: I’d like to ask something about the flip side, what do you do to keep attrition low? What do you do to keep your clients engaged? A client might say, well, we can do this ourselves now, what do you do to kind of stay relevant through the life cycle of these clients, right? Because they’re going to be changing and growing and evolving. So how do you work with that?
Sharon Love: Most of our products are deeply ingrained because they are the systems of record. So people don’t change the financial system very often. But the flip side of that means you can’t get cocky and say, ah, they’re stuck with us. So what we need to do, and this is also an area we’re putting a lot of focus on this year is making sure that every time we do an enhancement to a product, we make that enhancement accessible to customers. They understand what it is, they know how to use it.
Sharon Love: That we’re monitoring and we’re looking at adoption and usage so that if we see a customer and we know they bought a product for a reason, they’re actually getting that value back. Are they using this features and functions? And that is an area where we don’t think about customer successes, just being the people who make sure that somebody signs up again and renews. We think about them as the people who make customers want to renew.
Rob Ristagno: So tell us, what’s next for Community Brands?
Sharon Love: It is that helping our customers come through this phase, figuring out what the world looks like, understand with all of their, every across all of our sectors, all of the people that they serve have become much more digitally savvy. And it opened up all of these new channels. Now the flip side of it is, we all want to get back in a room again and actually be around people because it’s been pretty lonely.
Sharon Love: How do we help them use both so that we come out of this in, for one of a better term, hybrid, though I don’t think that’s actually the right description. Maybe it’s enhanced, maybe it’s augmented so that if I figured out how to help my kids and my families that I serve, stay educated during this period, continue to learn. Maybe now I start to extend that into, how do I support them through homework?
Sharon Love: All the new communication channels I opened up with my parents, now do I extend that into keeping the parents more engaged back with my school? Because they’ve all downloaded my app and they’re used to reading the messages, so they figure out what to do next week. That’s a really big opportunity as well as so many customers who were a little hunkered down last year. And now they’re getting that reopening opportunity in influx, helping them accomplish all of their missions.
Rob Ristagno: I really liked that terminology there, enhanced instead of hybrid, because everyone is throwing around the word hybrid, just because it’s punting on the question, are you going to go back to in-person or keep a digital, or hybrid? But if you think about in terms of enhanced, I liked the way that’s going, because I think we’ve all learned over the last year. There were some things that were actually better about digital, and we should keep those.
Rob Ristagno: And there were some things that were worse about digital, and we should maybe go back to in-person. So I think a more creative, enhanced experience is a better way of thinking about it than just punting with hybrid. Sharon, this has been super helpful to us. We learned a lot and we got into some nooks and crannies in your business and really appreciate how you have a complicated business, but you’ve simplified it for everyone, your customers, your employees, your stakeholders, what can the group do to be helpful to you?
Sharon Love: I would love to hear about how you all are thinking about reopening your own offices, that tough, tough hybrid question. Because that’s something that we’re trying to make sure we do in the right way. When we think about all the change management that we’re going through, our employees, the people of our companies, they did that for themselves when they got that email that said, you’re not coming back to the office, can we figure it out? They did that. So now we’ve got to do the reverse of it. And I’d love your thinking because these are tough, thick questions about what we ask people to do, how we think about vaccines.
Audience Member: I’d love to share. We offer tutoring and education services, so direct to families and to schools and districts. And we were mostly in-person before the pandemic but we’ve gone all virtual now. And so I’m most worried about retention and because to train our educators, who are all employees, not 1099s, it costs us a lot. And so we’re going to incentivize continued virtual work with both our families and our institutions through cost incentives and also a little bit of a pay bump, conversely, for anyone who does work in-person.
Audience Member: We’re going to give our employees that bump and I’m not going to require in-person work unless it’s needed. Unless there’s customer demand and everyone knows you want to grow. And so everyone does want to show up if they have to, but if we don’t have to be there, if the customer isn’t paying for it, we’re probably not going to do that. So we’re going to really see where the demand is and respond in that way rather than kind of have a blanket decision at the beginning.
Sharon Love: That makes good sense.
Rob Ristagno: I think what I’m hearing from a lot of companies that we’re talking to is that the jury is still out. That, don’t put the pressure on making a big decision right now, just like we all thought, or many of us thought that COVID was going to be a two-month thing and would somehow bounce back by the end of Q2 last year. The world is still evolving, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to figure out what the long-term solution, you can as much, like you said, Sharon, experiment a little bit. Try some things here and there. And then at some point you probably need some norms, but I think hearing that helps take a lot of pressure off as to making a lot of these important decisions.
Audience Member: Yeah. I think it’s too big of a choice to make. And given that there’s been so much uncertainty recently, I’m really not in the position to say what we should be doing next year, let alone, I’m not talking about next month or next year.
Audience Member: It does seem also that companies have very, very different experiences or have had very different experiences in this environment. And some companies have found that employees are much more productive when they work virtually. And so, we’re probably going to see companies that remain mostly virtual, but have hot seat kinds of setups, so that they can get people into an office when they need to be have gatherings every once in a while to bring people together, maybe not even have an office, but only rent some space every once in a while for group gatherings.
Audience Member: And so I think it’s going to vary tremendously. The companies that I consult with are all doing different things. And as Rob said, and Clint, it’s probably not the right time to make a definitive longterm decision, but do play to what you’ve learned during the period of time that we’ve been experiencing this as to what works and what doesn’t work for your company.
Sharon Love: That’s really helpful because we’ve been feeling like they can put some parameters out there and then it’s got to be what works for the individual teams, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a cop out.
Audience Member: Well, if you want to punch it a little bit, a company I was talking to yesterday is doing a survey for all their employees take their pulse and see where they are. And it was going to base kind of some of their go back to work on the year. And then another company I was talking to kind of like what Steve said, they are actually pretty much going virtual, but they have put money in the budget for either we work or shared space to have a lot of face-to-face activities, meetings, things like that, to really break up the stuck in my home office mentality that some of us feel for sure.
Sharon Love: I heard a really good description of making sure that we’re getting people back together to be humans together again. And remember that even though the only time I see you is to solve a problem, I actually like you, and you’ve got this really cute dog and you have the best dog stories, but we stopped telling them because we just hop on a Zoom and talk.
Audience Member: I like that a lot too. And also thinking about the in-person time and making it purposeful and thinking about, well, the in-person context and what works better, or what works fine remotely. And so really making that time worthwhile and making people want to be there if they miss it. And then the other piece is rewarding folks who have done really well during our distance work together, and just letting them know that you guys have done a great job and so there’s a reward for that. We want to recognize that and you can continue to do that because you’ve shown that you’ve done a great job. So that’s a piece of it too.
Sharon Love: Yeah. I can’t see us ever going back to five days in an office, any of us. This works actually really well.
Audience Member: So true. As long as the internet works.
Rob Ristagno: Thanks. Sharon, if you want to learn more about you or Community Brands, where should they go?
Sharon Love: Communitybrands.com. That’s where you’ll see all of the many interesting parts of our company. And we’d love to talk to you and we’d love to tell you more.
Rob Ristagno: All right. Thank you, Sharon Love. And this has been the CEO Campfire Chat with your host, Robert Ristagno. To listen to more episodes or sign up for bonus content, please visit us at ceocampfirechat.com. See you next time around the fire.
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