Episode 18: Making the Transition Into SaaS Marketing with Stacy Schulist, Restaurant Branding and Marketing Expert

This is The Marketing Hero podcast by ClearPivot, turning marketers into heroes.

Maia:
Welcome to the Marketing Hero Podcast. I'm your host, Maia Wells. In this episode, we are getting into the lived experience of what it's like to transition from marketing for brick and mortar businesses to marketing software and hardware solutions to those businesses. Our guest today is Stacy Schulist, a marketing expert who recently drove the efforts for Clover Dining, a point of sale SaaS solution for full service restaurants. On this podcast, Stacy shares details about how her career evolved from heading marketing and branding for restaurant companies into helping technology solutions sell to those restaurants.

She's a proponent of purpose-driven branding with a keen business mind, hello, MBA from Cornell, and an up-close and personal view of marketing SaaS technology to traditional business sectors. Let's get into our conversation about Stacy's career path and how seemingly very different experiences are in fact connected. Stacy Schulist, welcome to the show.

Stacy:
Thanks, Maia. It's great to be here.

Maia:
So glad that you could join us and I want to start off with a question that we ask all of our guests. What is your favorite part of your career and how did you figure that out?

Stacy:
Well, I've always felt that it's important to pursue a career in an area where you're passionate, and I'm a foodie and I've always been fascinated by food trends, what motivates people to choose the food they eat, how food brings us together as a community, the stories, the different foods tell about where people came from. So I was very purposeful when I started my career in food marketing, so I could really dig into that. I worked for Ketchum, which is a big agency that marketed food to restaurants and to food manufacturers. So in my job, I really became a student of the ever-changing food service landscape and it was really interesting to me how restaurants created their brands, not just around food, but around the entire experience, both that hospitality and service they provided and the food they offered. So I was sort of bitten by the hospitality bug.

So I wanted to be a part of this and I moved over to the restaurant side of the marketing business, and I headed up marketing for several different restaurant companies, both chain restaurants, and independent restaurants. In between my jobs, I consulted with restaurants on branding and marketing before I moved to the technology side of the business. But I think my favorite part in addition to being able to focus on food and hospitality that I'm so passionate about is that I've been able to add a unique perspective and something of real value every time that I've made a career transition. So moving from agency to restaurants, I was able to provide so many new insights coming from the agency side, and then from restaurants to technology, I was able to provide a new perspective and that has been incredibly fulfilling.

Maia:
It sounds like there've been a couple of transitions there and purposeful transitions, which I find is very interesting. I think a lot of people in career sort of fall into those types of transitions. Maybe they get an opportunity with somebody and it takes them in a different direction. But with you, it seems like it's been pretty purposeful and we're going to focus our conversation on that transition from the marketing solutions for restaurants into the sort of point of sale technology and the SaaS point of view. How did that transition happen for you in terms of marketing restaurants themselves versus moving over to the technology side? Can you tell us that story?

Stacy:
Yeah, absolutely. If you has asked me really early on in my career if I would move to technology and I had been asked that in the past, I would've said, "Oh, no, no, no." I love restaurants. I love the personalization and that sort of thing. I couldn't imagine myself in technology, which I thought was a lot less personal and a lot cooler. In 2015, I was a head of marketing for Black Angus steakhouses and Black Angus was a 50 year old chain. We had 45 restaurants. We were working very hard to evolve our brand to come out of a bankruptcy. I noticed that as I built new marketing programs that I was partnering more and more with our IT department and that a lot of the marketing programs that I was developing were very much technology based.

Things like implementing a virtual gift card program, rolling out open table for online reservations, partnering with Yelp and increasing our online presence through content focused social media, our e-loyalty club, all these things were technology based. I also observed outside of marketing, how technology was enabling restaurants to provide a better and more personalized hospitality. So my initial thought many years before that, "Well, technology is kind of cold. It's not that personal," it was proving to be wrong. I thought, "I think I could have a bigger impact on the restaurant space if I move over to the technology side and market technology to restaurants."

Maia:
What was one of the examples that you remember of it being able to provide a more personalized hospitality experience? Can you think back to those times at Black Angus, was there something you ran into and you said, "Oh, okay. It looks like we can actually provide better service through technology."

Stacy:
Absolutely. So Open Table is an online reservations platform where people can make reservations, but then you have information about them. The restaurant has information about them and about those customers. So when a customer comes in, the restaurant already knows if it's their birthday and they can, for example, welcome them for their birthday. They can also put notes in the system. "This customer loves a red wine and they come in every week." So then you can adjust your service directly to that those particular customers, so it really does help personalize your service.

Maia:
So after Black Angus, what happened then? Because I know you started to transition to technology shortly after that, right?

Stacy:
So after Black Angus, I was fortunate enough to get hired by a company called Yiftee. Yiftee is a mobile promotions and gifting SaaS startup. So they had just pivoted their business to focus on restaurant chains and I helped them define their brand. Given this new target market, they had prior targeted consumers and help them segment the market, pointed out what the key pain points were of the market, and I also was able to add not just general market insights, but some good firsthand insights from building Black Angus's e-gift card program. That enabled me to really help differentiate what Yiftee offered. I also was able to leverage my close relationships with the industry trades to generate press for the company.

Following Yiftee, I was recruited to work for NCR in their hospitality division. NCR was in a huge transition. I actually started the first day that the new CEO started. So it ended up being a really short stint, but while I was there, I learned about the point of sale landscape because that was the technology that I did not know that much about. I learned who the players were and then it really reinforced to me the importance of aligning with the sales team. I built relationships with sales and while it's different, while you're selling hardware and software, it's very different for restaurants, but it's similar in the importance of being in lock step with your sales team. It's critical that all marketing programs achieve buy-in from the people that are actually selling them, and at restaurants, that would be your managers and your service staff, and at point of sale companies that would be your Salesforce. So that was sort of an area where I could really connect the dots and take a strength from one industry and move it into the next industry.

Maia:
We talk about that a lot here on The Marketing Hero in terms of aligning even different departments within marketing sometimes, but definitely aligning marketing with sales and in a lot of cases for SaaS companies aligning sales and marketing even with customer service. So definitely on board with what you're saying there in terms of collaboration.

Stacy:
Absolutely. Yeah. It's really important to talk to all the different departments because they all have insights that are beneficial to the things that you're doing. So sometimes it can be challenging or it's easy to forget, but when you stub your toe, when you move forward on something where there's an answer that's right in front of you, you learn to really build those relationships and leverage them.

Maia:
Is there an example that you can remember of a collaboration situation that went right with NCR or with Yiftee that went right or went wrong and that you were able to improve?

Stacy:
Well, a great example of collaboration with sales and marketing is at Clover point of sale, which is the company that I went to after NCR. So at Clover, they really didn't have that many sales enablement vehicles and so that was one of the things that I was charged to do, was to create some competitive battle cards, which we had been asked for. So I worked closely actually with a lot of the other departments in building these battle cards, particularly with product team, but then as they were nearing completion, I wanted to make sure that they were what our sales team was looking for. So I gathered different people on the sales team at different levels because they have different perspectives and got their feedback and was able to make some significant changes in the battle cards, and also talk to them about how do we roll this out? What is the best way to make sure that everybody is aware of these?

That one project actually blossomed into a much more ongoing relationship where we would meet monthly with the sales teams and share what we were doing, get input from them, and it expanded beyond just me and the restaurant space, but really all of our product marketers joined in on this conversation and was able to get the insight of sales that we could then incorporate not just into the sales material, but also into the marketing that we did, because they had the firsthand exposure with the customer. So there was lots of good insights that we could get from that relationship.

Maia:
It definitely sounds like collaboration is a positive thing. What's a battle card in that context.

Stacy:
Oh, oh, absolutely. I first learned about battle cards when I went on to the technology side of the business, but basically our sales force is going into battle against a lot of different competitors. So the battle cards are an internal sales tool that gives them pointers on how to sell against different key competitors. It might highlight strengths, weaknesses, objections that we know that will come up when they're selling against other competitors, how to address those objections. Then some key selling points for our products and we put this all into one nice little compact card or set of cards that they can use.

Maia:
Sounds like some really smart sales enablement that could be used really in any B2B business, it sounds like.

Stacy:
Absolutely. Yeah.

Maia:
So was the transition difficult for you going from one side of marketing to another? Did it feel very different when you got into the technology side?

Stacy:
Yes and no. I mean, there were some parts that felt very familiar, particularly when I was focused on the hospitality customer, but sometimes it was more challenging, particularly being in the world of tech. It was somewhat of a different language. There are lots of terms that weren't part of my vocabulary. In fact, I still have a lot to learn. I think one benefit of being focused on small businesses like Clover does is that I knew that if I did not understand something because it was so technical, that it was very likely our customers didn't either. You never want to talk over your customer's head. I mean, the goal of marketing is to really address those pain points and let them know how whatever you're selling is going to solve them. So I was able to use that to adjust our messaging, to be more straightforward and not so tech jargon-y. So in that case, I think my biggest weakness was something I could also leverage as a strength.

Maia:
Yeah. That does sound really smart. I want to know more about the Clover network, because we kind of jumped in with an example, which is fantastic. I know that that's kind of your most recent marketing transformation over there. Can you tell me a little bit more about the different role or importance of hardware versus software, the role of SaaS as you worked with full service restaurants for Clover? Tell us a little bit more about what was going on there that you kind of walked into and how to help improve.

Stacy:
Well, Clover sells hardware and various software service plans, depending on the business's needs. So you can't purchase Clover hardware unless you have a SaaS plan to go with it. For restaurants, we had different SaaS plans for QSR, or quick service restaurants, those are the restaurants where meals are paid for at the counter, and then for full service restaurants where food is paid for at the table, where you have waiter and waitress service. We also had a virtual terminal SaaS plan that did not require hardware, but that wasn't as relevant to restaurants, and restaurants were my focus. So our target market, as I mentioned earlier, they were small businesses and the buyer was generally the owner who could be the general manager who could often be found pinch hitting the dishwasher. There was no head of IT that was purchasing our products.

As I said, these folks not only didn't really understand technology, they could be intimidated by it. I mean, the point of sale is sort of a necessary thing, but not something they were maybe as passionate about as building their menu or redesigning their dining room. So we needed to make sure that our messaging resonated with them and addressed them in non technical ways and sort of sold the whole solution, hardware and software, together versus just selling software and hardware and kind of breaking it apart because in their minds they're buying one solution that's helping them transact and that's helping them manage their business better.

Maia:
So how do you get there? Because I wonder what that process is like, even in terms of the mechanics of copywriting, for example. You mentioned that you want a message that resonates a little bit more emotionally, maybe focuses more on the benefit of the entire solution rather than the actual technology that it uses. Tell me a little bit more about that process. Did you have a team working with you? Did you have a copywriting genius that helped you to really come to the right message? Do you remember what that process was like of taking it from that technical standpoint into messaging and campaigns that would really work for these owner managers?

Stacy:
Absolutely. So as a product marketer, I would come up with a messaging and that really is sort of marrying what our solutions do with the pain points that they address. So I would create documents that highlighted key pain points and then how our solutions solve that. Then we would have our copywriters or content people would take that messaging, and then they would massage it into the appropriate copy.

Maia:
Yeah. So it takes a team. It's not just a one man band, that's for sure. On most of the products and services that we market, it definitely is hard to do it as just a singular person. All the different perspective and talents are definitely needed. How did you approach marketing hardware and software? I mean, I think what you just said is pretty much you normally buy the hardware with the software in most cases, and sometimes you might buy just a software solution so that you can kind of sell on the go. Did you break those packages apart? How did you approach the strategic planning to address those different ways of buying Clover?

Stacy:
Well, we tried to make it as simple as possible and not provide too many choices. So in terms of restaurants, in almost all cases, you are going to get either our counter service software or our full service software, depending on the type of the restaurant that you had, and then pick your appropriate hardware that goes with it. So there really wasn't that much breaking it down. It was just this is for full service restaurants and this is for quick service restaurants.

Maia:
It sounds like making it really simple and emotionally appealing was the ticket. Did that bring some success for you? What were the results of that renewed approach that you took?

Stacy:
Yeah, I think it was ... and I don't know that it was necessarily renewed approach, but yeah, that made it a lot easier to sell than sort of breaking it apart and then sort of making the purchase that much more challenging for the merchant. You want to make it as easy as possible.

Maia:
So it seems like these people might have other technology solutions that they already work with to promote their restaurant or to take reservations. One of the things you mentioned before was Open Table. There are other technology solutions a lot of people use like MailChimp or QuickBooks, for example. I noticed in researching Clover that some of those do integrate with the Clover technology and just in general that integrations are normally a really great way to market a SaaS solution. Did you focus any on integrations and how the Clover solution can work with them? Was that a part of your marketing strategy at all over there?

Stacy:
Yes, it was. In fact, I learned about the challenges of integrations when I was on the restaurant side of the business and I saw how difficult it could be to integrate our old legacy point of sale system with some of these other integrations that we wanted. Then when I moved over to Yiftee, one of our key selling points was that we were point of sale agnostic so there was no need to integrate and it was really, really simple. Regardless of the point of sale system you had, you could just use it. So at Clover, we had hundreds of integrations that were already created so that they could easily integrate with the Clover system. So a key selling point for us was that when you would purchase the system, you could then purchase any one or several of our hundreds of apps to customize it to your unique business needs.

That was something that we would highlight in our marketing for restaurants. We would highlight our most popular restaurant apps and at trade shows, we would even highlight them and demonstrate them to show how you could extend our system to meet all the various needs of the restaurant market. There are some additional reasons why integrations were important for us and why it was a focus at Clover. The obvious is that the more integrations that merchant had, the more SaaS revenue that we're going to generate. But more important than that is the more integrations that they had, the stickier the merchant became, and they were less likely to leave because now they had this whole system that was working for them. The key to SaaS is having that ongoing revenue stream into perpetuity. So the stickier that your customers are, the better for your business.

Maia:
So Stacy, do you consider yourself a SaaS marketer?

Stacy:
I see myself as a strategic marketer and an expert in the restaurant industry. I don't know that I define myself as a SaaS marketer per se, but marketing SaaS is now certainly a part of my repertoire.

Maia:
It's becoming a part of pretty much anyone's repertoire that does marketing and even sales these days. I come from more of a traditional agency marketing background myself, and over the last five years, if you want to be in marketing, you got to know how to market SaaS. I mean, at least that's what I've found. So that's part of what we do here on The Marketing Hero podcast is help people learn about it and help people learn about the ways others have made transitions just like yourself. So thanks for sharing that with us. I wonder, as we come to the close of our time together, I want to know what you're most excited about. It seems like you've had your hands in a lot of different cookie jars over the years. What's exciting you right now? Is there a project on the horizon that you can tell us about?

Stacy:
Well, I think in general the future's incredibly bright for restaurants. I mean, this pandemic, as devastating as it was, it really showed restaurants how technology could be leveraged to drive sales and make smarter decisions. Maybe most importantly, as I had alluded to earlier, provide better hospitality and forge deeper relationships with guests. I think now that restaurants and their customers are probably a lot more open to trying new technologies after everything that's happened over the past year. It's not just the millennials who are ordering dinner online, it's everyone. So the customers are also primed to adapt to new technologies that restaurants provide. So it's a very exciting time, I think, for restaurants to grow in different ways and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with technology companies to help restaurants to win.

Maia:
If we want to know more or if people want to find you, are you available on LinkedIn? Where can we connect with you, Stacy?

Stacy:
Absolutely. I am on LinkedIn. I'd love to connect and you can also find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Clubhouse. My handle is sschulist for all of these platforms.

Maia:
Awesome. So you guys heard that. If you want to go and talk about restaurants and technology, Stacy Schulist is available for you over on LinkedIn and all the main social platforms. We really appreciate your time talking with us today, Stacy, and we'll welcome you back soon.
 
 
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