Hi Ross, tell us about your role and journey into technology.
My journey into the world of technology started when I was pretty young. Growing up, I was fascinated by computers and I started selling them when I was still in high school. From there, I founded a web hosting and web design business while I was in college, and when I graduated, myself and a small handful of friends started to build e-commerce websites for retailers. One of the retailers that we worked with, a cataloger called Movies Unlimited, asked us to build them an Email Marketing tool in 1999— which looking back, laid the foundation for what modern Listrak looks like today.
How did you arrive at the idea for Listrak and how has it evolved?
We have evolved from being a non-differentiated email platform to a retail-focused Cross-channel Marketing and analytics platform. Listrak was born out of closely listening to our retailer clients and building technology to address their needs. Every time that we went out and asked clients what types of technology or tools they thought could help their business grow and make their Digital Marketing strategies more sophisticated, they gave us the ideas for the next set of products that we needed to build.
Staying close to our clients and helping them throughout their entire journey is still a core part of how we operate today. Our leadership team knows retail inside and out and they work with clients every step of the way to ensure that their cross-channel marketing programs are as successful as possible.
The retail industry is going through a massive transformation. Where do you see it headed, particularly when it comes to Cross-channel Marketing solutions?
Retail has been in a constant state of change for some time. Looking back at the last decade, the largest transformation occurred when consumers no longer had to go to the mall to see what was available to buy. As we all know, today, we can quickly do that from our phones.
That said, technological advancements and shifts in human behavior to buy online have pushed retailers to evolve. The world of online shopping became a real challenge for retailers, and in the last ten years or so we’ve seen them pivot their business models and retail strategies significantly.
Ultimately, I’ve observed that retailers just want to be where their customers are. They want to enable customers to transact in ways that are convenient for them and that suit their needs in the moment – whether that is online, on mobile, on a desktop, in-store, etc. For those brands that historically sold to retailers through wholesale channels, those companies increasingly want to have direct relationships with their customers. In light of these broader shifts happening across the retail landscape, Listrak is in a position to help both of these groups address some of the larger challenges that they’re facing when it comes to Cross-channel Marketing solutions.
What kind of Digital Marketing technologies or Automation tools did you really miss having in the early part of you career? How do you work with these tools now?
From a broad technology perspective, Big Data platforms are something that we didn’t have early on at Listrak. They have had a massive impact, enabling us to process huge amounts of Marketing data at scale. Moreover, Big Data platforms have allowed us to drive increased real-time reactions to customer behavior and personalization which has helped us deliver on customer expectations.
On the other hand, there are technologies that have existed for some time, and that we have failed as an industry to embrace. Take SMS, for example. This Black Friday and Cyber Monday our customers saw unprecedented revenue across the SMS channel. SMS has similar metrics and ROI that email did back in the early 2000s. From time spent in the industry, I know that those numbers will even out, but the results around SMS today are impressive. As more and more retailers look to deliver better results year-over-year during the holiday period, they’ll need to embrace different channels, like SMS, that can provide them with net-new or incremental customers.
As a CEO of a technology company, what kinds of training and learning do you undertake regularly? What keeps you sharp in your game?
I have as many conversations with clients as possible. Nearly all of my inspiration comes from speaking directly with retailers – whether it’s for a new product or something that we need to fix. I spend about 25% of my time having these conversations: from phone calls to executive advisory councils to our bi-annual conference, Connexions. Throughout my time as CEO, it’s been critical to stay connected to our customer base and it has played a major role in our growth and success.
How do you pass the learning and development lessons on to your teams?
We have a deep culture of learning and knowledge sharing at Listrak. That culture is literally baked into the physical design of our headquarters office space. For example, my office is located in the middle of the building, with glass walls so that people can see me and I can see them. Not having as many physical barriers and divisions lets us converse more freely and also collaborate in more meaningful ways.
Additionally, I run interactive learning sessions with new employees, especially for teams that are client-facing. I’m often in our other offices walking teams through how I would analyze a client account— unpacking everything from indicators of success, opportunities for growth, potential problems, and optimization. This same approach is used by other leaders across the organization.
What message do you have for young Marketing and Sales reps? Can you share a customer win that taught you a valuable lesson early on in your career?
To truly be successful, you need to tap into customer emotions. Marketing messages need to unlock psychological benefits of the product you’re pushing. Marketers need to think through questions like, ‘how will I feel if I wear this type of apparel?’ and ‘will I get promoted if I buy this piece of software?’ With that, I’d also say that they need to viscerally understand the audience that they’re Marketing to in order strike the right chord, every time.
A valuable lesson that I learned early on in my career was around B2B Sales. You need to holistically understand, top to bottom, the prospect that you’re marketing or selling to. The more you know about them, the more you’ll be able to understand how to add value and help solve their business problem. It takes time and effort, but if you can listen, you’re already halfway there.
What’s your go-to Digital Marketing playbooks or other resources?
The playbook starts with customer identity acquisition. That is acquiring any bit of data that might help them market to that consumer in the future, such as an email address, a phone number, or getting them to opt into push notifications. Not enough retail organizations are focused on customer identity acquisition.
Getting a low-cost customer acquisition machine running is one of the most powerful things that a brand or retailer can do.
Plus, the cost of not building these processes sets retailers back significantly. Brands need to move past the perception that customer identity acquisition tactics are invasive or they’ll end up having to use expensive means of advertising to win customers back.
Looking ahead, are there any other ways retailers can be using AI or Predictive Analytics that they aren’t already today?
The opportunities with AI and Predictive Analytics are endless. We frequently draw parallels between the AI revolution and the industrial revolution: the main point being that innovative technology freed up human operators to go and do more creative tasks.
A similar thing is happening in today’s modern Digital Marketing landscape. In most Marketing organizations today, people are still cranking through spreadsheets and doing analysis. I see a future where we all have AI-powered tools to help us do every part of our jobs more efficiently, including more streamlined merchandising processes, developing better email subject lines, and identifying the right segment for an SMS campaign. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible with AI and predictive analytics.
Today, there’s a heightened awareness around consumer privacy, but more and more retailers are exploring ways to personalize experiences. How do you think they can balance both?
First and foremost, there are a few new laws, including the California Consumer Privacy Act, that I would encourage every retailer to familiarize themselves with in order to ensure they’re compliant.
From there, as long as you’re compliant, it’s a matter of balancing the act of tailoring versus avoiding coming off as too intrusive. Each customer is different, but it’s critical that retailers test out how far they can go when it comes to personalization before it impacts overall performance. Retailers also need to ask the right questions: how will this make customers feel? Will this erode trust? Are we using data in an ethical way? Are we keeping data safe and secure? By being more mindful, retailers can help balance privacy and personalization.
This Is How I Work
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
There is an unspoken rule at Listrak tied to customer expectations. Ultimately our customers’ primary desire is to make their revenue go up. So as much as possible, I try to inspire my people around that purpose— helping our customers grow and requiring as little effort from them as possible. All of the technology that is built at Listrak is centered around that philosophy.
One word that best describes how you work.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Which superhero character/movie do you most profoundly relate to?
I’m going to have to go with Tony Stark. Tony doesn’t have any natural superpowers but instead relies on his drive, work ethic, smarts, and perseverance to win as Iron Man. I hope it’s not bad luck to choose a superhero who died in the last movie…
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
Exercise for 45 minutes every morning to keep my energy levels high and ensure that I’m thinking clearly.
What are you currently reading?
I’m listening to Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell and also reading Jim Collins’ monograph, Turning the FlyWheel.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Those who focus are those who win.” It’s critical to have deep, specific domain expertise versus piecemeal knowledge across a range of domains.
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
I appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of my team members better, and more often than most.
Tag one leader from your community whose answers to these questions you would like to see here
Thank you, Ross! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Ross is a co-founder and CEO of Listrak. He has over 20 years of executive leadership, successfully launching and directing three technology start-ups. Ross has led Listrak from concept to a leading automated digital marketing solutions provider specifically tailored to retailers.
Listrak delivers results for more than 1,000 retailers by providing best-in-class email, SMS, behavioral based triggers, cross-channel orchestration, predictive analytics, and customer insight solutions that drive customer engagement, revenue and loyalty. With Listrak, retailers gain more than a technology platform; they gain a long-term, strategic partnership with retail marketing experts who become an extension of their team to help execute growth strategies and exceed their goals.
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.