Episode 44 Transcript

The Components of a Successful Technology Consultancy w/ Michael Burton

    Banoo Behboodi: Welcome to the Professional Services Pursuit a podcast, featuring expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. I'm Banoo, and today I'm joined by Michael Burton, the CEO of Stitch, which is a marketing technology consultancy focused on helping marketers get the most out of their technology investments and drive customer engagement.

    Michael, I'm so happy we've connected and welcome to the show.

    Michael Burton: Yeah, thank you. I'm excited about the conversation.

    Banoo Behboodi: Fantastic. Why don't we get started with you telling the audience or the listeners a little bit more about your background as well as Stitch and what the company's all about?

    Michael Burton: So I've spent the last, more than the last two decades in professional services.

    This is just the world in which I breathe.I ended up deciding on primarily embedded services, which we'll talk about that in a little bit, about my transition to consultancy, but this has been my lifelong focus. And at Stitch, as you mentioned, we're focused on helping marketers, and we're doing that along a couple different companies, Braze Technology Partner, and then Segment.

    What I always think about is my mom.When my mom says, ‘What do you actually do, Michael?’ Even though I go through those kinds of things, I think I always say, the best way to describe it is that I am a digital marketer.It's incredibly complicated between, the technical side.

    These companies have lots of data, they have an app, they've got a website, they've got all these channels, WhatsApp, email, etc.It's incredibly difficult to manage, and then you've got the art of a brand, the creative aspect.And I tell her what we really do is we help marketers pull together and stitch the technical aspects of their job, with the creative parts of their job.

    And that typically gets my mom happy enough to not ask me for another quarter, and then she'll come back and ask me again.

    Banoo Behboodi: That's going to make me happy as well. That sounds like a very interesting combination, right? That creative and tech coming together and your consultancy around that and how to do that effectively.

    So I can't wait to dig in a little bit more and understand it. I know that you mentioned that you have a lot of experience in embedded service, and I know in a previous life you were working with embedded services organizations dealing with Salesforce integrations, but then you decided to make a switch to a boutique consultancy at Stitch.

    How does your previous experience apply to making you effective in this new environment of boutique consultancy?

    Michael Burton: It was really 16 years that I was in embedded services. I was a part of different tech companies from marketing tech backgrounds to higher education to financial services. That's really all I knew and was just always waiting for contracts to come in and then start doing my work as a project manager.

    I was, PMP certified project manager and went through that for many years.I was a part of Salesforce.I was saying, ‘Why am I doing it internally? What is it like to be on the outside as a consultancy, not being inside of Salesforce, but being next to it?’ And that's actually what led me to a company called Lev, which we had a lot of success with.

    So that's a little bit about how I got to that point. In hindsight, I didn't know better, I really thought let's just give it a shot. I didn't really fully understand what it meant.Yes, there are similarities when you think about the work that you're doing day in and day out, but it's all the other things that are outside of the actual executing for our customer that make being in a consultancy so unique.

    I always talk about the best way, from when I made the transition from Salesforce to Lev.Salesforce Embedded Services, Lev a consultancy supporting Salesforce customers on the outside.I ended up working more broadly and deeper with Salesforce than I ever did when I was inside of it.In hindsight, it makes sense.

    You're working with people from the selling part of the tech partner. We do that with Braze now, we’re marketing customer success. So you're just getting this wide exposure to everything it takes to run a business.I've gotten addicted to it, so I got all the great benefits of being in professional services, but I got the larger aspect of running a business and consultancy. And I think that's one of the biggest differences as far as being inside an embedded services company or professional services team.

    Banoo Behboodi: So when you were at Lev, Lev was a partner to Salesforce, right? You were an implementation partner. When you say consultancy, you were an implementation partner and consulted on best practices

    Michael Burton: That's right, we were focused on helping marketers get the most out of Salesforce. Some similarities to what we're doing with Stitch and Braze. We were doing everything from, how do we help Salesforce win a deal, and then owning that lifecycle for the customer from beginning to end, initial strategy and implementation.

    More for you, think about a marketer.There's always another campaign, that's the beauty.That's why I love this work for consultancy around marketing. There's always something else that needs to be happening.So we did a lot of the ongoing services alongside Salesforce.

    Banoo Behboodi: Within Stitch you also partner with Braze, as you mentioned in Segment specifically, and you were a partner to Salesforce within Lev

    I would be interested in getting your perspective on best practices around partner enablement and making sure that the partner network can be very effective.Because a lot of SaaS companies are moving or are already there in terms of a partner network that is responsible for delivery.

    Having them focus on software sale and the SaaS part of their business, the learnings are critical for people to replicate.

    Michael Burton: It does the enablement. The certification process needs to be well defined. And I'm still surprised that there's a lot of tech companies that are still playing catch up.

    I think a little bit, Salesforce was a very early adopter of being a partner first, back almost from once they started.There are other companies that are just catching on to the benefit of that kind of model.I think sometimes what we've learned is really effective enablement. Not just about the technology itself, but more of what are you trying to do? What are the goals that you're trying to accomplish with this technology? Sometimes that's missed.It's just glossed over, but that's the most important part of understanding how a specific product is actually solving that problem.We've learned a whole lot and that you can't just go off of certifications.

    You have to understand how to be strong consultants.I was listening to a prior podcast that you did about, ‘How do you teach people just to be basic consultants?’ That is something that I think haunts so many consultancies and I see it in partner ecosystems now.That's one of the root things that really needs to be addressed.

    The other piece that we've learned that's allowed us to be successful at Lev, and is allowing us to be successful at Stitch, is this understanding of how do you help your technology partner be successful? In my mind, I need to be adding value to a Braze account executive.What am I doing to bring value and help that customer prospect that the Braze account executive is bringing me into the conversation?

    That's difficult, so many people don't understand why that's such a critical piece to making a boutique consultancy work. We've learned a whole lot about how do you go to market.A little side story here, we think of a Braze account executive as a customer of ours, so they enter a journey.

    We've got plans on how do we continue to be top of mind for them. Those are some valuable lessons that we've learned over the last six or seven years.

    Banoo Behboodi: In terms of partner selection, not every partnership will work. From your perspective, what are some of the criteria that you look for to make sure that partnership will indeed be effective?

    Right before you even start enablement, because you want to invest time and the partner wants to invest time if that partnership is going to be mutually beneficial.

    Michael Burton: The first thing I think it gets overlooked, it gets overlooked until you get to the final stages and you realize you should have looked at this at the very beginning.

    The first piece is what are you passionate about? That's the first thing that matters. I'm not going to get into ERP type of work now.That's not necessarily for me what drives passion. The first thing I'm looking at is, what am I passionate about? What kind of technology is very interesting to me?

    That’s starting to slim down the different options that we're evaluating. Next step is starting to look at what the growth looks like of that technology partner that you want to be connected to. What's their growth look like? I start digging into earnings calls, transcripts, I dig into 10Ks.

    I want to understand what analysts are saying to see if they have a strong story over the next five years plus.Then, the next thing I dig into is what does their ecosystem look like? Either they are not enough consultants or, maybe they're still very early in building their partner ecosystem. Both of those are good signals.

    So collectively, across that passion, what does the opportunity look like for that specific technology company? And then again, specific, what kind of opportunities are there for partners ? So those are the things I look to, the one thing I've learned though, from that, it’s really tempting that once you start building a relationship with one partner, it's very tempting to want to go, ‘I'm doing marketing with Braze,

    why can’t I go do marketing Tech with Iterable ?’ Then what happens is you start losing focus and then you're not really adding value to your technology, to your partner because you're just responding to whatever work is coming in that really dilutes the effectiveness of you as a strong consulting partner, and wanting to have a strong point of view.So that's the other thing I caution about not going after too many things and staying really focused in what you're after.

    Banoo Behboodi: I love that, being intentional versus following the business. This partner has now brought something, so let's jump on the wagon and before you know it, you have five partners that are not well enabled, but instead of just one partner that you've gone after intentionally, and there's truly a partnership established.

    That's, Great advice, and the podcast you're referencing was with Shane Anastasi where we focused on consultancy and what makes an effective consultant.I would think that would be a critical component to look into for a technology partner because it's not about the technology only, right?

    We say people process technology, and so that people process side of their ability to consult around all those aspects, including the governance that's needed, around data governance. All these aspects that drive technology companies today are probably critical as points to assess, correct?

    Michael Burton: Yeah, it's tough because you're balancing out all those aspects of building up consultants and they have to be from strategic to technical and there's a balance between time to launch versus time to value.

    You can't lose sight of either one, you have to keep those in balance all while you're trying to run a consultancy of what's coming down my pipeline? Do I have the staff to go do it? Am I going to go higher? It's what makes this opportunity difficult and a consultancy, but it keeps you on your toes like.There is no slow day for me, when you're trying to balance all that.

    Banoo Behboodi: You mentioned time to launch versus time to value.

    Do you want to clarify how you look at that and how do you partner or work with your technology partners to narrow that down? Because you want to make that as tight as possible.

    Michael Burton: There's a little too much over-indexing on time to launch, and time to launch in our world, when we think about working with Braze, it's time to get the first marketing message out the door in the platform and you're migrating off of something else. Maybe you're a new company, the challenge by just fixating on just the time to launch is that it's not necessarily addressing the root problem or why are you going to go and implementing Braze? I'm just working with a customer now where there's too much of that over-indexing on time to launch.

    They were trying to become a $700 million business to a billion dollar business and just implementing the technology was missing the whole point of, we're still missing a large subset of customers that we need to go market to. So I'm always trying to balance it out.I understand from one point of view, time to launch, you have to be using the platform, in order to continue to get better.

    If you're not constantly asking yourself even on a weekly basis, ‘Why are we doing this,’ and ‘Are we making progress towards what we originally planned.’ Right alongside of, ‘Am I progressing towards the date of being live at the right time?’ If you're not constantly talking about those things, then you're really doing a disservice to your customer.

    Banoo Behboodi: Before we leave the partner topic, I wanted to ask, what advice do you have? Because obviously, to make that ecosystem work both your business has to grow in parallel with the partner business, so you're really, feeding each other in this ecosystem. From your experience, what are some of the best practices to ensure that your partner is growing alongside what your business is doing?

    Michael Burton: There's a difference between an agency and a consultancy. For me, when I think about a consultancy and what we're doing as being partner counter dependent with each other, is that in my world, my technology partner is my number one customer because they are helping me to grow my business. They're bringing me new brands.

    So when I think about it from that viewpoint, my best practices, as a whole, are much more about, ‘How do I make my technology partner successful?’ When I do that, I'll be growing my business. So I'm thinking all my marketing effort is all focused on my channel partner, so anything I'm putting out on LinkedIn or we're having on our website or blogs, anything we're doing is all to help better educate our technology partners so that they can be better at helping service their customers, which then in turn, will drive business to us.

    It's a change, versus I have this set of customers I work with as my agency, and what do they need to be successful? It's a different viewpoint of how to grow your business, and so that focus on go- to market is all about that initial focus on your technology partner.Then it starts to benefit everyone because once we're bringing on a new brand, we're making that brand successful.

    I'm helping reduce the churn for the technology partner because I'm keeping that customer on board for much longer.I'm finding opportunities to upsell. Maybe they're doing email or sms, but they're trying to do something with their mobile app. I'm then finding that opportunity to bring back to Braze, because it is this circle that has to happen and it all does start with having a strong point of view on who is your primary partner.

    And then how are you going to go best support that primary partner being very intentional.So this again kind of goes back to why focus is important.I can't, as a boutique consultancy, be able to do that same type of play across five or six partners. I'm not going to do it well.Those are some of the things that we've really learned.

    I was taught long ago, and I think it is right, that our technology partner is truly our number one customer.

    Banoo Behboodi: To that point, within Stitch, how will you look at expanding your product offerings? You mentioned some of the ways that you look to expand the partners business, and it all makes sense, but how do you envision expanding your own offerings?

    Is that through expansion to other technology partners when you are ready, or are there within the premise of the current partners ? Other offerings that you can think of that you're going to expand on, and what data do you look at to assess what your go-to market is and how you need to evolve that go-to market?

    Michael Burton: I see three different paths in order for us to stay focused on where we are now, but still allow us to grow outside of just, landing new net business. The three paths I think about are international expansion, like where there are opportunities with Braze in other countries where we could think about starting to grow a new presence.

    So Braze specifically, they just acquired a reseller in Australia.They already have a good footprint throughout Europe, so I'm starting to look at the exact same data that we referenced before. What does revenue growth look like in Europe? What do the consultancies look like? The same thing in Australia.

    That's one path I'm always thinking about.It's tempting to do it, but I've got to be really patient.It's not something you can just jump into right away, especially as a smaller consultancy like Stitch. So that's number one, the second thing I'm looking at is, by implementing Braze, it does open up a lot of other services that sit on top of Braze.

    We can be an extension of a marketing team where we're running their campaigns. Yes, we're providing strategy, but we're also executing, we're measuring performance, we're giving feedback. So I'm figuring out, what kinds of additional services can I build on top of what we've already invested in?

    And then lastly, what kinds of technologies may not be my primary focus, but are complimentary to what Braze is doing.And so, you hear us talk a little bit about Segment.That's on the data side that plays as a complimentary to Braze, but Braze is our focus, our center. So those are the three main paths I think about when growing this business, but not losing focus on my primary partnership, which Braze.

    Banoo Behboodi: You mentioned geographical regions as. Part of where you could potentially expand your business? Do you do that in partnership with Braze? Understanding what markets they have presence in terms of service, delivery or implementation, and then understanding their gaps and seeing if you can effectively fulfill those gaps so that it expands their go-to market as well in terms of regionally?

    Michael Burton: Yes, I am looking at what consultancies are there now, what kind of work are they doing, how are they growing those regions, and then trying to make a judgment call. For us, when I try to objectively look at it, the Braze team in Latin America uses resellers. So, they've not made a commitment, necessarily, to grow yet, but I'm trying to think about where they may make the best next step.

    So they did acquire a reseller in Australia, I could recently assume that they'll probably make an acquisition of a reseller in Latin America. We have Spanish speaking team members, so all those things are inputs into what I have on staff? What's maybe closer, even from a time zone perspective, that makes it a little bit easier.

    All those things are going in as inputs when we're thinking about how we grow more in geographical areas that we're not in today.

    Banoo Behboodi: One of the comments that you made, that I think is on point, is the fact that the partner has a rule, not just obviously in the initial implementation and enablement.

    Their effectiveness is critical to adoption and retention.I wanted to see if you can give us some insights around the partner's role in driving adoption and retention. How do you, at Stitch, see yourself doing that effectively?

    Michael Burton: For years the teams, my teams have always said, ‘How do we do more surveying of our customers? How should we do NPS?’ We go back and forth, ‘How do we measure customer satisfaction?’ I always push back, yes, we've done NPS, we do those things, but I always think like the number one indicator of a customer's happy with what we're doing. Are they renewing? Are they continuing to invest in the relationship?

    That's where it matters the most. So my motivations are directly aligned with my tech partner. My motivation is, I want to continue renewing services. I want to create annual contracts, commitments from my end customer, which then directly support the actual technology partner. And my success is dependent on us continuing to grow these organizations.

    My goal, as it was at Lev, is the same as Stitch where, 80 % of our revenue have a target that should be recurring services, that long tail work.Though, it keeps us invested in the business, it has a nice install base and it's directly impacting the technology partner because we're holding that relationship for them, and we do.

    We work alongside customer success teams on the tech partner.I think we need to have a strong connection there, as we're working both as a tech company and a consultancy, to make our mutual customers really successful. So that's why we put so much emphasis on the longer tail ongoing services with our customers.

    Banoo Behboodi: So these ongoing services, are they in enhancements? Is it the approach that you do some basic capability within the Braze solution that you're implementing, but then you continue to enhance and evolve, as the customer actually evolves and matures their processes. What do your services look like on an ongoing basis versus initial implementation?

    Michael Burton: Yeah, they come in two primary flavors. There are lots of different exceptions I could say, but the two primary areas that we focus on is one, ongoing campaign services. So, I mentioned that earlier where we're running campaigns for our customers, that is the beauty of marketing. There's always something else.

    There's always communication, you think about our own, personal inboxes that we get and the brands that we buy from, and how many messages that you're getting, whether it's through email or SMS through a mobile app. So, running those campaigns is a key part of our ongoing services that we do. The second flavor is where we're more the technical team that's embedded right alongside the marketing team and our brands.

    So it is playing that role between how do we marry having data across 20 different systems where we're trying to get one view of our customer to market to them, it's complicated.So, having that embedded technical team to work alongside either the campaign team, and sometimes we're doing both. We're doing both the technical aspects and then campaign.That gives us a lot of opportunity for ongoing services and continued growth of our existing customers through those types of services.

    Banoo Behboodi: It's been great and I wish you all the success with Stitch. It’s exciting what you've taken on and any future Stitch’s that may come along. Whether it's Stitch or the next company, it's great what you're doing and the impacts that you're making out there. So I appreciate your work and your time but, I always like to close out with a personal question.

    What is one of your recommendations, or two of your favorite books that you've read that you recommend to the audience? Fiction or business.

    Michael Burton: It’s something I've been reading recently, but I'll tell you why I like it so much. I've been reading, ‘In the Weeds,’ it's by Tom Vitali and he was a producer for Anthony Bourdain.

    Anthony Bourdain had this travel food show and I just love him.Tom was his producer and traveled with him for over a decade going to hundreds of countries.So it's a behind the look scenes of what it was like to work with Anthony, what it's like to create these shows.

    It's so meaningful for me right now because we're talking so much about AI and this idea of prompts ruling the world.What's so lovely about this book, it's about what the hard work that goes into creating art.All the stuff that makes this magic happen, is not prompts.It was just such a relevant topic for me reading this book right now, and I highly recommend, not just to hear more about Anthony Bourdain, but what went into every one of these TV shows that went out there.The production, the thought is just, it's amazing. Highly recommend it.

    Banoo Behboodi: There are people behind that, I'm with you. Thank you for that recommendation and thank you for being on our show, making the time and hope to see you sometime in the future and talk to you sometime in the future and follow your success.

    As always, if you have any follow up questions for myself or Michael, please reach out to us at podcast @Kantata.com.Thanks again, Michael.

    Michael Burton: Thank you.