Bart Mroz | Repositioning Your Business to Get “Right” Clients

Bart Mroz, CEO of SUMO Heavy Industries, has a problem. This boutique digital commerce consulting company is focused on “heavy” development work on the backend systems for ecommerce clients. But they still get a lot of inquiries seeking help with marketing, SEO, design, and similar work… which they don’t do. 

Bart wants to reposition the business in the marketplace so they can start attracting more of the right prospects, especially bigger companies with in-depth needs. 

If you’re facing a similar problem in your business – a gap between what you do (or want to do) and what people think you do – it’s well worth a listen.

We talk about…

  • How to identify your true buyer and their triggers
  • Why you might need a lot fewer new clients than you think
  • A strategy for laser-focusing your lead list – and how to start the right conversations with the decision-makers
  • An effective way to establish yourself as a thought leader and innovator in your niche 
  • And more

Listen now…

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Transcript

Steve Gordon: Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon and today we’ve got another one of our deep dive series where I’m talking with an entrepreneur and we’re actually going to brainstorm a real-world marketing problem and you guys get to eavesdrop and see how we go about solving some of these problems. And hopefully, in this series, you’ll hear something that clicks with maybe something that you’ve got to do and you’ll get some sense about how to go about solving that.

So that’s why we’re doing it. And today, I’m excited to be talking with Bart Mroz. Bart is the owner of SUMO Heavy. They are a boutique digital commerce consulting firm. They do all kinds of really interesting things around ecommerce and around enterprise development. And so Bart, I’m excited to have you here. I’m looking forward to the conversation and just want to welcome you to the Unstoppable CEO podcast.

Bart Mroz: Oh, thanks, Steve. I’m excited too.

Steve: So give us a little bit of background on SUMO Heavy. I love the name, by the way. I think that’s, that’s awesome. What, is their backstory on the name?

Bart: So the company name is actually SUMO Heavy Industries, industries doesn’t come up a lot of times because SUMO Heavy just makes it nice and short and sweet. A little bit, it’s actually mine and our Director of Marketing name combined for SUMO. Our last names are kind of mixed in there. So it’s not a crazy story. But after that, we basically, I’ve had this name written on our whiteboard for almost 20 years because we’ve been working together forever.

So it just kind of came up. And everything in Japan sort of is heavy and industries and it fit. The logo is great. And I just kind of stuck. And we never wanted to have a company name that’s like web development, or ecommerce or anything like that. It’s just a totally different brand and it’s pretty noticeable when you come across it.

Steve: I would imagine so. So tell us a little bit about what you guys do.

Bart: Sure. So we’re in ecommerce space, always been in ecommerce space. Company’s a little over 10 years old. Had an agency before this, also did ecommerce work. We started as just a development shop, basically, Magento came out in beta/ Magento is a platform, ecommerce platform, pretty large now. And we basically just did development work. Got clients, did hourly work. Over the years, we’ve, the more we’ve evolved in clients the more consulting we’ve done.

We mean, by consulting, we’ve done sort of helping, engineering and leadership in the technical side of it with process and efficiency through process and their technology solutions. That’s really where we got into a lot more than just being just a development shop. So we currently work with, half of our clients are bigger enterprises now where we are part of a team help out with sort of road mapping the product, working with technology, breaking it down. Still doing a lot of development work with them, but definitely working with a lot more internal teams.

Steve: Okay, very cool. So what’s the marketing challenge we’re gonna work on today?

Properly Positioning Your Business

Bart: I think it is just for us, it’s getting us to have a better positioning. You know, because what we’ve had a challenge with is, you know, some of our clients are still thinking of us as a development shop because that’s what we do for them. Some of the stuff that we put out, and sort of we do podcasts and things like that, a lot of, some of the leads we get are very marketing-heavy based.

And that’s not what we do. We don’t touch marketing, we don’t do SEO, we don’t do design. We do heavy development work, or heavy, like construction work. So it’s not a basic site that’s up there. It’s the backend systems. It’s working with things like innovation department, r&d, and, you know, working with them fully. So I think it’s trying to reposition ourselves, especially now, into a better kind of mode of helping long term clients.

Steve: Okay. Well, so anytime I think about positioning, I always like to start with really getting clear on who the buyer is, you know? And, you know, if you look at our inevitable growth scorecard, the first mindset is who is your who. And so have you guys kind of articulated your ideal client and who really does the buying and makes the decisions?

Bart: Yeah, so just looking from, so the challenge also comes from us is that we, half our clients are smaller, means we become that team for them, that technology team for them. So usually that’s going to be a CEO. For the bigger enterprises where we actually want to head and we’re heading that direction, it’s going to be the VP or director, director of ecommerce or director of technology.

It could be the innovation department, less tech hub DevOps type of side of it, but it happens. But it’s that technical director or CIO, somebody who’s in charge of the technology itself and actually delivering for the business. A lot of times, it’s not going to be the business itself, it’s gonna be the tech side.

Steve: Okay. So I mean, as I hear that, there’s two distinct markets. There’s kind of the existing market of smaller companies and then you’ve got this newer one. And it sounds like you guys are making an intentional pivot towards the larger companies. Are you putting any focus on marketing to the smaller companies right now?

Bart: No, we’re trying not to. And the reason for that is really, we find it that our style of work and the business model we have fits really well with bigger companies. So just a background a little bit. We don’t do projects or hourly work, we actually are fully retainer month to month retainer kind of style work. So it’s a little different, it makes it easier for bigger corporation to hire us as a full team and have that as a nice chunk, instead of just doing hourly type of work.

Steve: Okay, so you’ve answered an important question. And then where I was going with that was trying to figure out, are there really two types of ideal clients that you’re trying to market to. But you’re not. You’re really trying to focus on these bigger clients. So for those clients, what are the things that tend to trigger them wanting to work with you or needing to work with you?

Bart: Especially in the ecomm world, you know, it’s replatform, or platform type of ecommerce platform type solutions, botch, you know, replatform, so it’s a rescue job. The other is, you know, they need a, they have a specific need on integrations or back end integrations that have to happen. That’s what triggers a lot of what we’ve had. Obviously referral business is a huge business for us because it’s, you know, enterprise kind of works that way really well. But developing bigger scalable sort of solutions is what we kind of are heading towards.

You know, clients come to us with really just an issue and then we walk in there and stay for a while because our style work, lets us do that. So I would say, rescues or sort of implementations type things, is where it gets triggered a lot of times. And I think that’s where we need to solve because I would love to get to a point where, you know, there’s a new thing that they have to do like digital transformation type things, or they’re looking at scaling their business and figure out how to cost save money from technology perspective, that’s where we like to play really well.

Steve: In a perfect world, you know, if we’re looking ahead a year from now, and it’s August 7th as we’re recording this, so let’s say August 7th, 2021, how many clients do you feel like you want to add to really feel like you’ve made great progress?

You Don’t Need Hundreds or Thousands of Clients to Thrive

Bart: All of them. Just kidding. So we carry between, just gonna be a long roundabout of an answer, but we carry between eight to 12 clients at a time right now. And we’re happy in that place. We probably could do about 15. I would love to bring in two, between two and four sort of the larger clientele in, and that’d be a, you know, bringing to be amazing. Bringing four be even crazier and awesome. Because we don’t need a lot considering that we stay with clients for a very long time, as long as they like us and we like them, too. Because it just expands on what we can do for them.

Steve: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great business model. My first business was a lot like that. We get into a client and you just keep asking questions and uncovering new problems and new ways to help them. And

Bart: Yeah, we also get to the point where like, we become part of that team, part of that family and part of that client because we work with him every day. And it just becomes part of that. Although though we’re a different company, to a point where we actually had a company put us on their org chart one time, which was funny. It’s crazy.

Steve: Yeah. But that’s really, really powerful, right? So knowing all of that, it can kind of inform how you’re going to approach trying to attract those clients. You know, from a positioning standpoint, you mentioned a couple of triggers or problems that pop up that tend to cause them to reach out to you. And, you know, on the front end of things, sometimes it’s useful to, you know, create messaging around those trigger events, because that’s what’s gonna drive people to you. But at the same time, you’ve got to also be putting the message out there that you solve lots of problems that you, you know, you get in deeper.

And I would imagine that there are some bigger kind of overarching problems. So I understand replatforming. For those who might not know what that term is, let me see if I can state it as a layman what you mean there. That’s somebody who’s got one particular ecommerce platform, you know, maybe they’re on Magento. You mentioned that earlier, you’re moving to maybe Spotify and I don’t even know if those are platforms that you still work with, but something like that. Is that what that process is?

Bart: And Steve, it’s Shopify, not Spotify.

Steve: I’m sorry. Shopify, you’re right.

Bart: Yes, that’s what I mean.

Steve: In the podcasting world, everything is Spotify.

Bart: Exactly, right? It’s crazy. So yeah, I mean, thats partial. You know, on our side, we do have a full list of what we do between agile planning, platform migration and process management, you know, digital transformation, data migration, infrastructure, team augmentation. There’s just like a plethora of things that we can do. It’s just more positioning yourselves to be that call that was like, you know, we need these guys to come in to help us from a bigger perspective.

Steve: Yeah, and that’s the really challenging thing, I think, for anybody that is looking at a situation where you’re only trying to attract, you know, like you say, two to four clients over the next year, but they’re big whale clients.

Bart: Because it’s not, you know, if you do a comparison of ecommerce agencies or whatever, you know, there’s a lot of agencies that just do marketing and put people on Shopify, sort of clientele. And it’s easy, right? They just do marketing. And that’s an easy way to do that positioning. We do marketing for clients and we blah blah blah. When it comes to this world, it’s a little harder to describe because we don’t have any flash. So you, we don’t, we can’t really show you code. But we know the results. And the problem side of it is I think is a lot of results that we show, we can’t really show because it’s private.

Steve: Yeah. And I would imagine for every client, you’re solving different problems.

Bart: Yes, yes. Some of them kind of transfer. And, you know, we’re in the ecommerce space, it doesn’t mean we have to be because organizationally, when it comes to enterprise, they all have the same problems and it doesn’t have to be an ecommerce space. We just happen to come out of that. And most of our clientele is ecommerce. So, you know, people ask us for vertical. I mean, we don’t really have one. I mean, it’s just we work with ecommerce clients because they have the most complex sort of issues that you run into, and they’re constant. They’re not just a site that you put up. It’s a lot of work all the time.

Put Your Flag in the Ground

Steve: Yeah. And so I mean, when you begin to think about positioning, I think the first thing that makes life a little bit easier is putting the flag in the ground and saying, even though, yes, you could work in all kinds of industries but if you put the flag in the ground and say, we’re ecommerce, from the prospect’s perspective, it frames now, the fact that you’re for them. And it, you know, it takes you from generalist to specialist.

But, you know, oftentimes what I see businesses try and do is when, you know, when you’re only looking for that very small number of very specific clients, you try and go and apply all of this kind of broad marketing strategy to it and it doesn’t work nearly as well because you’re literally looking for the needle in the haystack. And, you know, so content marketing, you do all that kind of stuff.

But, and it’s useful in a supportive role, you know, to have some content to show that you guys are innovative, and, you know, and thought leaders and all that. It’s useful to have that, but it’s not so useful as the thing that’s going to attract the prospect. It’s really useful as the proof once you’ve engaged with that prospect, that yeah, these guys are the real deal.

Bart: Yep. And so that’s kind of how I’m thinking about a little bit of our contact, right? Like, we’re not going to be the place that people come to for breathtaking sort of solution that they’ve never seen. But I think that once we have that engagement, people will see are these guys actually legit.

Steve: Yeah. So I think talking about, so in the content that you create in my mind, which is going to define your positioning, so anything you put out into the market, you know, anything you say into the market effectively defines your positioning. And you can use that to your advantage because you can now look at all of these different problems that you’re dealing with clients.

You can generalize them a little bit, you know, because your clients want privacy and, you know, confidentiality and all that. And generalize some of those problems and some of the approaches, the ways of thinking about the solution, not even giving the solution but just the way of thinking about it and approaching it. And that’s a pretty effective demonstration of your expertise. And that helps with the positioning. But the thing that will, in my mind, make the most difference in terms of attracting those clients is getting really specific on who you want. Making a list.

Bart: Yeah, and we started to, you know, it’s been interesting. As soon as, obviously, we’re in an interesting COVID time. You know, in the beginning of this, we literally said, well, let’s take this opportunity and see if we can actually nail down things we really want to go after and do. I think we’re starting to do that slowly. But it’s been, it’s definitely challenging, right? You’re gonna have a small company, we’re definitely a small group, trying to keep everybody working. Positioning is getting into bigger companies, it’s definitely tough.

Steve: And it’s not gonna happen overnight, you know?

Bart: No. And that’s the other side of this, no matter what environment you’re in, this takes months and months if not years.

Steve: Yeah. And, you know, the moral of that story is, the best time to start was yesterday and the next best time to start is now. You know, but I really do think that’s where you can begin to move the needle with this because, you know, if you’re, the way most people think about creating content, they think I’m going to put this out there and then Google’s gonna pick it up, and a million people are going to be on my website tomorrow.

And, of course, that never happens, right? But the other way to think about it is, I know the 20 companies that are going to be perfect for us and I’m going to start reaching out to the people that I know have these problems within these companies. But I need something of value to, you know, to be able to open up conversations with them around.

And that’s where the content comes into play. Because that, you know, that can be your, you know, your sort of way to open the door and open conversation. The other thing that can work is, you know, as you probably know, you mentioned podcast earlier, you know, to the extent that you can get these people to come out and do an interview and talk about industry trends and start a relationship that way. That can shortcut an awful lot.

Bart: Yeah, which has been, we’ve been doing a little bit of now, which is good. It’s been interesting. But also of content, like it’s funny you say that. We’re starting to get the internal teams sort of figure out what they’re doing for, like a feature or what are doing for a client and see how we can spin that out into a piece of content that can go out to that same kind of sort of issue in a bigger company or kind of follow that trend of picking out what we’re doing for clients and trying to turn that into something.

Steve: Yeah, I think that combination will work really well for you. I mean, everybody wants sort of the silver bullet. You know, what’s gonna give me those four clients, you know, next week? But, you know, anytime you’re going after a really complex sales like this, unfortunately, time is a factor. It sounds like you understand that. There’s not necessarily any great shortcut. You know, the places that we have successfully helped people shave time off the sales cycle are on the front end, you know?

So getting in contact and using the podcast as a way to do that. And then kind of proving what you can do. Because once you get the initial contact and you’ve got some, you know, rapport beginning to build, the next thing you have to overcome, and, you know, I would imagine you guys run into this. Tell me if this, you know, kind of feels like it’s something you run into, but I mean, is it ever difficult to explain what you do to prospects?

Bart: For me, yes. The team actually starting to have a better time and easier time to do, to explain what we do, which is awesome. You know, our thing is, once it’s in our lap, that first conversation, I have the team on the phone, then it’s pretty easy. Getting to that point, it’s a little harder. Which is okay. We understand it’s a longer cycle but I think we’re positioned pretty well to do those longer cycles because the way we, you know, we’re a retainer-based company, so it’s a month to month or longer contract and it’s one, you know, sort of deal.

So it’s not hourly, so we don’t have to keep on chasing that all the time. So we kind of know what are year kind of looks like, for the most part. And that brings it up to, you know, we can do that longer sales cycle where I don’t have to, I can have that conversation over a period of six months, you know, build that rapport, which is good. But trying to explain what we do in the short nugget, it’s a little harder to do.

Steve: How do you do that now? What do you say?

Bart: It depends on a client. You know, a lot of times, I’m still comparing it to construction world because we’re the, you know, we’re not just building small houses, we’re not your general contractors. We do heavy construction. So, that’s part of it. Trying to get, and I think that’s where the positioning, trying to get us to have a nice nugget of what we do best is where I’m struggling half the time.

Steve: With your clients, and I’m sure this varies, but if you think about the big picture result that you deliver, how would you describe that?

SUMO Heavy: Big Process People

Bart: See, that’s the fun part. I think for us, it’s more about working through, I think, for me, and we’ve stated this before, is like efficiency through process. We’re big process people. So everything we do is based on process because we know that if you’re in it and follow the process it, you know, it lets you do stuff faster but also be very, very efficient and effective. And we do that internally, too. We’re a very small team, but handle projects are, you know, our team should be two, three times bigger, and it’s not. And we’re still working really well.

Steve: So, I mean, I like the concept of efficiency through process. But my sense is that still a little bit vague, right? So, and it’s almost like, it’s still one layer of abstraction away from the actual business result. So when they hire you, what is the business result they’re generally looking for?

Bart: I mean, current times is definitely cost savings or revenue growth. I mean, that’s the bigger picture. But a lot of that time is being, trying to have a scalable and efficient sort of engineering team that can build products. Because we do work with a lot of internal teams that are a lot bigger, which is interesting.

And it’s always that end goal. And it’s always different for every single client. The other, trying to get to do that next nugget, is that we’ve worked with clients for four or five years, and we, you know, the way we started and then where we are now are two different worlds. Meaning that we started on something very simple and they let us do stuff and then over the years, we’ve built and helped.

Steve: Yeah. It’s interesting. The parallels to my first business are in many ways, they’re pretty close in the approach that we took. And it almost takes, and you can do this when you’ve only got the need for a handful of clients. You can almost have a custom approach for every client. And somewhat custom positioning for every client.

The trick is to, I guess, get really specific on who you want and then make contact, you know, and begin to get a little bit of intelligence. And then you can start to craft the approach, you can start to craft content that plants the seed that, you know, where that you almost appear that, you know, that you’re reading their mind a little bit, you know?

Bart: Right. Like we got to go deep instead of wide and has to be very specific to that particular client. All they know it’s sort of general. And I think we’ve talked about this before where it’s, you know, even if we write it for a specific client, even though we write a specific client in general terms, that means it can attract other clients too on top of that.

Steve: Of course. Yeah, I mean, when you general, when you take problems that they’re articulating to you and then you create content around it and then feed it back to them, number one, it shows that you understand their issues but it does it in a way that hopefully is not, you know, most of the time, it’s not gonna be real obvious that you did it custom for them. You know, and that’ll help establish credibility. But yes, it’s absolutely going to attract others.

That’s the approach that most people don’t want to take, you know, because it’s a little more difficult. And the fear is, you know, gosh, if I target the wrong ones and it doesn’t work out, you know, that’s my whole thing. So you got to figure out a way to balance getting enough numbers to know that you’re going to have some predictability around, you know, at least, you know, over the course of every year, you’re going to add two to four of them if that’s your number, you know, and

Bart: Yeah, yeah. And I agree with you, it is definitely hard because you look at, I look at it from a perspective of like, Alright, there’s agencies that are doing marketing and stuff like that. And I’m like, that’s never gonna, or advertising, it’s not gonna work for us. It’s got to be targeted and very, very specific. Which I’m really okay with, believe it or not. I’m okay, having a lot less conversations, but having targeted conversations, then sort of throwing stuff against the wall and having all these conversations that just net nothing.

Steve: Right. I mean, I think the path to, you know, ultimately to the revenue for you is not necessarily any longer, it’s just different, you know, because every time you land a client, it’s worth a whole lot more. So the agency that’s just doing marketing or SEO or whatever for ecommerce, they’ve probably got to add multiples of clients for your one and they probably don’t retain them nearly as long.

Bart:Right. And then you’re in a constant cycle of selling.

Steve: Exactly, exactly. So I mean, there’s a lot of advantage to the business model that you guys have built but you got to have marketing. And going back to your idea of process, you got to have marketing and a marketing process that matches the business model that you’re selling. And I see this all the time, people watch this, all this crazy stuff on the internet and come up with all these different ways to go about it. And they’re trying to apply marketing for a business that doesn’t have the same business model, you know, to their business.

And it just, there’s always that feeling of disconnect. It’s like something’s wrong or it’s not working. Well, it’s because it’s the wrong model. But yeah, I think if you go deep and really begin to think about individual prospects, individual accounts, use your content to demonstrate what you’re doing for your other clients but in a generalized way, and to demonstrate your expertise. and then build that list out. You know, and that list probably needs to have 20 to 50 companies on it.

Bart: Mm-hmm. Yeah, a sizable size that makes sense for us. And just scouring that, you know, what the issues they’re having and how we can jump in there. Yeah, no, this is a good gut check.

Initiating That First Conversation

Steve: Yeah, I mean, so then the process, you know, has got just a few steps. You got to get, you got to identify the right person first and then you got to get in contact with that right person and somehow initiate. you know, the very first conversation.

And that might not be a conversation that’s a selling conversation, probably won’t be, but just to begin to build a relationship. And so as you think about building out your processes, that’s kind of the way you want to be thinking about it is what are my stages? And then using what you guys already do really well around process, how am I going to build that in a way that we can execute it given everything else that we’ve got on our plates?

Bart: Right, right. And, it’s a good, like I said, this is a really good gut check for me, although we’re going through this process. Internally, we’ve actually been talking about it and actually adjusting it, which is awesome.

Steve: That’s great.

Bart: Feels like a good track. We’re on a good track.

Steve: I think so. Yeah, I think so. This is exciting. So you’ll have to come back in six months or a year and give us an update?

Bart: Yeah, yeah, this is gonna be good. And, you know, any company that’s trying to go through this right now is, it’s not a fun situation a lot of times. You know, I have a lot of agency friends who definitely have struggled a little bit and to know what to do. You know, we’re fortunate a little bit that we’re in the space that’s been growing and has its challenges all over a place and people are going for it. But I think there’s a way to adjust your agency for anything you’ve been doing right now.

Steve: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of people are doing that. I mean, this is, I was just on a call with a client this morning who said, you know, shame that it took a pandemic for everybody to stop and look at what they were doing and ask questions, but boy, there’s a lot of it going on right now.

Bart: Yeah, I, you know, for me, it’,s you know, this is not my first rodeo in downmarket. You know, technically Yes, SUMO’s 10 years old but I started this basically in 08 and I graduated college and 01. So kind of take cues from there.

Steve: Yeah, I understand. I went through both of those. And I came out in 94. So go with that one too. So yeah, it’s it helps to have experience with these things, you know? Helps get you through them. You learn very quickly that you will survive. Well, cool. How can folks find you? So if somebody’s listening to this and goes, man, I actually really need what Bart does. How do they track you down?

Bart: SUMO Heavy on everything. Sumoheavy.com, on Twitter. Like all the socials are all SUMO Heavy. We’re not hard to find. You can also find my name, just Google it. I’m easy.

Steve: Yeah, and we’ll link all of that up in the show notes for this. Thanks for coming on and brainstorming a little bit with me today. And, folks, I hope this has been helpful. For those of you who are listening, I know that there are people out there listening who are sitting there going, I’m in exactly that boat. I only need that small number of whale clients. So now you know how to approach that, and that’s why we do these.

So if you want to go through the same set of eight mindsets that we use every time we look at a business and help a business solve their marketing challenges, you can go to thegrowthscore.com, you can get the inevitable growth scorecard, get your score, and in about 10 minutes, it’s going to show you where to focus your energy next to begin to improve your marketing. So go check that out at thegrowthscore.com. And we will see you in the next episode. Thanks, everyone.

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