How do you grow when the industry you serve is massive? And how do you put the right people and vendors in place so that you’re not doing it all yourself? That’s what we’re talking about on this episode of the Audience Ops podcast. We’re joined by two of the team members of The Receptionist: Andy Alsop, President, CEO, and Founder, and Michael Ashford, Director of Marketing.
The Receptionist is a Visitor Management Software company based out of Denver, CO, which Andy took over in 2015. When he first took over, he was doing everything himself which he couldn’t sustain for long. Since that time, he’s been able to get the right people in the right positions, which has allowed him to be future-prepping for where The Receptionist is going.
In Marketing, Michael has been working to scale the growth of the company and we chat quite a bit about content development and how Audience Ops fits into that strategy.
The Receptionist is focused on humans first, and radical supportⓇ
While The Receptionist is one of many options in the visitor management space, what makes them unique is that they have strong core values that influence everything they do; they run the company from a human-first perspective and aim to support customers better than they’ve ever been supported. In fact, they trademarked the term Radical SupportⓇ to describe the level and kind of support they give.
On the episode, you’ll learn more about how The Receptionist approaches growth in a large industry, the role that content plays in their strategies, and how they’ve worked efficiently and productively with Audience Ops for both podcasting and blogging, bringing us on as one of their sharp shooters.
- Andy Alsop on Twitter
- Michael Ashford on Twitter
- Find out more about The Receptionist at TheReceptionist.com
- Subscribe to Audience Ops Podcast in iTunes
Transcription of This Episode
How do you grow when the industry you serve is massive? And how do you put the right people and vendors in place so that you’re not doing it all yourself? I’m Sara Robinson, a manager here at Audience Ops, and on this episode of the podcast we’re joined by Andy Alsop and Michael Ashford from The Receptionist to talk about how they’ve grown their team and their company, and how they approach content and marketing. Andy is president, CEO, and founder of The Receptionist, and Michael is director of marketing. The Receptionist is a visitor management software company based out of Denver, Colorado, which Andy took over in 2015. At that time he was doing everything himself and since then he’s been able to get the right people in the right positions, including Michael, which has allowed him to be future prepping for where The Receptionist is going. In marketing, Michael’s been working to scale the growth of the company and we chat quite a bit about the content development and how Audience Ops fits into that strategy.
While The Receptionist is one of many options in the visitor management space, what makes them unique is that they have strong core values that influence everything they do. They run the company from a human first perspective and aim to support customers better than they’ve ever been supported. In fact, they trademarked the term, radical support, to describe the level and kind of support they give. On this episode, you’ll learn more about how The Receptionist approaches growth in a large industry, the role that content plays in their strategy and how they worked efficiently and productively with Audience Ops through podcasting and blogging, bringing us on as one of their sharpshooters. Let’s get into it.
Well, a big welcome to Michael and Andy from The Receptionist. Michael, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great, Sara. How are you?
I’m good, thanks Andy. Welcome. How are you?
I’m doing great. Great to be back on again.
Yeah. Awesome to have you both. So let’s dive in. I know you have been hitting milestones and it rocks. What is the most recent milestone you’ve hit that you’re excited about?
Well, I would say that where we, our last one, let me just step back up a second, so we hit the most number of locations that we’ve ever acquired in May, and both at what we call a gross level and also at a net of churn level as well. So I think that was pretty substantial for us because we’re starting to feel the growth and the things that Michael, and Tom Foster, our director of sales, are starting to implement and they’re taking hold and we’re starting to really see some success there. So I’m super excited about that.
That’s exciting. Congratulations. Michael, anything you want to add to that?
I would just say, by the time we drop this podcast we’ll be at 3,000 locations around the world and I think 35 different countries. So when you talk about a company that is just a few years old, I think that’s pretty significant.
Absolutely. Those are really exciting milestones to hit. So congratulations there. So visitor management, it’s a big industry and you have sort of narrowed in in some of the industries that you are focusing on. How has the big industry itself and the areas that you focus on, how has that influenced your approach to growth?
I would say there’s, it’s a very interesting question because there is the potential to try to be everything to everybody, and how do you actually focus on the things that are going to make, that are going to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
So some of the things that we’ve done is to determine, what are the industries that we’re succeeding the best at, and then focusing on those industries. And through some of the work that Michael is doing and some of the work also that Tom Foster’s doing is being able to be a bit more targeted about where we are putting our marketing efforts and where we’re putting our content efforts and really taking a look at where we can succeed the best and continuing to hone in on that. And that’s something that we’re in active discussions right now about doing the same thing. I don’t know, Michael, what do you think?
Yeah, as a marketing guy, I get asked the question, “What does The Receptionist do and who are your customers?” And I get, I want to go to the answer of, “Well if you check in visitors at a location or an office, we can help you.” But the reality of the situation is with a less than 10 person company as we are right now, you have to be resourceful with the resources that you have and go into the places, go into the spaces, into the industries where you can provide the most, that provide the most bang for the buck that you spend in those industries.
And furthermore than that, if you want to, if you do find traction in a particular industry or in a particular space, you want to make sure that you understand and know how to speak the language that you know your customers in that space speak. You want to know that you can help them solve the challenges and the issues that’s specific to that space that they face on a day in and day out basis. And that flows into product, that flows into just how our salespeople talk to people in the industries that we serve.
And so, while, yeah, I want to be, I want my top of the funnel to be as wide and large as possible, we do have to be pretty, I think restrictive about our growth in a lot of ways to make sure that we’re not extending ourselves into any areas that could potentially give us a bit of trouble down the road.
Absolutely. That makes sense. It’s similar to the idea of quality over quantity. You don’t want to cast the net too wide and just try to catch everyone but not do a good job at it.
So let’s talk a little bit more about marketing. What sort of marketing are you currently doing that’s really working for you? You don’t have to give away too many trade secrets, but what’s working for you?
You take that one Michael.
Yeah. One of the, we do a lot of marketing and have a lot of different channels that we put effort into. I would say, first and foremost our best marketing are our customers and serving them well through our support and through just the ease of use of the product and the fact that it doesn’t have bugs. We don’t have to deal with the software bugs. And if we do, they’re fixed nearly immediately. And that goes back to DeLynn and the dev team, and then of course Jessica and the customer support side of things.
So review sites, I mean we, review sites and customer reviews, I mean you think about how you buy a product off of Amazon. I buy the products that are the most highly rated and I look at the people that have not only the high rankings or high ratings but also how many people have reviewed and rated that. You may have a product that has a five star rating but only has two reviews on Amazon, versus maybe a four and a half star rated product, but it has 5,000 reviews. Well that’s really significant too.
I think a lot of people and the customers are really savvy and so we do promote the fact that on review sites like review Capterra and G2 and Trustpilot and Software Advice, we have really high reviews and we have a lot of really high reviews. And those sites are great drivers of traffic and we put a lot of, we direct our customers that if they’re happy, we want to know. And so we direct them there.
Another thing that we do is we do webinars. And we had tried this right when I first came on board of doing more theme produced webinars. But in the space that we’re in, people just kind of want to see the product and know what it is and what it’s all about. Because simply put, we’re having a lot of educational type of conversations with prospects because it’s a newer market. Visitor management and visitor check in is a little bit new to the space and to the world of technology.
And so we just want to show people the product because we think if we show people the product, they’ll get a great idea of what it can do within their business and they can start imagining how they could use it in there. So webinars are great for us. We tried a bunch of different things. We started our own podcast. We have started looking into some outbound stuff that I think is maybe some traditional sales and marketing, but we’re testing different things. We’re dipping our toes in the water in different areas and seeing what comes out.
Absolutely. So yeah. You touched on some content like podcasts and obviously you have a blog, which Audience Ops has helped you both with. So-
Talk a little bit more about how content creation fits into the marketing plans.
It’s huge and major props to Audience Ops. Before I came into The Receptionist, I had tried other kind of third party content producing companies, and I swore up and down I was never going to use another one because I just had terrible experiences with them. So I inherited the relationship, when I came on board to The Receptionist about two years ago, I inherited the relationship with Audience Ops, but it has completely changed my view on it because of just the quality of the work that is produced and the results that it helps us drive.
I mean, as a marketer there’s not a whole lot better than organic traffic and our organic traffic and the content strategy that I work with Audience Ops to help build and craft in terms of what content we’re producing for what industry and what persona type. It drives organic traffic like crazy to the point where we have other companies and other industries wanting to be a part of our blog so that they can capture some of that organic traffic. I think that’s kind of interesting and kind of funny in some ways how that happens.
But that’s the thing. I mean you can’t, obviously you can’t buy organic traffic. That’s the nature of organic traffic. But being able to invest those resources there while not investing a ton of my time and having a partner that I trust to produce really high quality content, content marketing, inbound marketing, whatever you want to call it, is, it produces some of the highest ROI for just about any organization that can really turn the gears in and get it right.
Well I’m glad we changed your mind on that. So Andy, since Michael inherited us, can you tell us a little bit more about what prompted you to get some outside help with your content?
Sure. So what, we have a philosophy here and that is to hire what we call sharpshooters. And a sharpshooter is somebody who has expertise in a particular area, which would be difficult to find in anyone, hire or something like that. And I think that’s actually what happened with Audience Ops as well, is that we were able to find a sharpshooter. And it was actually through, it was De Lynn Berry, our director of engineering, who wasn’t really happy with our earlier provider. We had a provider that did a lot of kind of general marketing for us and they would do some blog posting and things. And the blog posts were good but they weren’t great. And it, sometimes we’d slip on the schedule and we didn’t really have a content calendar determining what we had coming up in terms of content.
And so when, I think De Lynn was a little frustrated by that. We didn’t have Michael as our director of marketing. So I was the defacto director of marketing. And that meant that everything went very slowly because I was also trying to run sales and everything else. And so he brought along Audience Ops and said, “I think, he actually met Brian at MicroComp, it might’ve been, or another conference or something.
And as a result, I said, “Let’s take a look at them.” So we did an interview and they talked about the content calendar and how the content was created and we really looked at it and said, “This is the type of process we need.” So it gave us that sharpshooter that we wanted. Somebody who could really specialize. And I think that’s an interesting thing is that Audience Ops is a focused company, and, as are we. We’re very diligent about going into other areas of business because we want to make sure we’re the best visitor management system.
And I think that’s sort of what I’ve seen with Audience Ops as well, is that is there is sort of a deliberate focus on, we are content creators and then we have a program that supports your content creation. So, honestly, basically, as we were putting up blog posts and approving the ones that came in from Audience Ops, our job is pretty easy. They are fully edited content, they went along the way we wanted them, so then it wasn’t a drain on resources, but we were getting that organic SEO that we wanted in addition to providing our customers with important content that they’d want. So I think that worked well. And I think that you’re, I know that Michael is right, kind of had sort of a, “I don’t know Andy, I’ve tried these things before.” And I think Audience Ops turned him around on that one, so that’s good.
Well good, I’m glad about that. So was it hard for you, Andy, to turn over such an important part of your business? Was that difficult for you? Because I think for founders sometimes it’s hard to let go of that and they feel like they should be doing the content. It needs to be in their voice. And so what was that like for you?
I mean, honestly, I may not be a typical founder, but I feel as though almost always there are people out there that can do a better job than I can at pretty much anything. And that’s usually the case. I mean, we brought in Michael because he could do far better marketing than we could do it as a our little cobbled together team. And then, sales has been going well and I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish over the first several years. But it wasn’t until Tom came in with his 20 years of expertise in sales that we’ve really started to take off in that realm as well.
So, and we just hired maybe, eight months ago we hired, I’ve talked about them on one of our podcasts and that is about a CFO share that we brought in and they’re a fractional CFO firm and they have just brought a level of sophistication to our financial kind of house that we didn’t have before.
And that’s a little hard for a founder I think. I wonder if you went to a founder and said, “Is it going to be harder for you to let go of the financial side, not let go, but actually take somebody and have somebody take over the financial side than it is to take over the content side?” I’d probably say they’d say, “I don’t trust anybody with the financial side of my business.” But I believe there are people out there that are better than sometimes we can be internally or I can be. So I didn’t have much fear of handing it over. And we already had handed over to another firm, but unfortunately we weren’t satisfied with the work they were doing. So maybe I came at it a little bit differently. It wasn’t like it was a fresh initiative. It was much more of a, we’re not really happy with how things are going. We want to find a better organization and we think we have it. And that’s what we found in Audience Ops.
Okay. And Michael, what about for you too? Again, you adopted us basically. You had to take us on, but we stuck around for quite a while. So what is it like to continually not have direct sort of control over that piece? Obviously we work together, you give us a lot of input but this is a critical piece of marketing efforts. So what’s it like to have handed that off and to sort of let it do its thing while you focus on other efforts?
I mean it’s freeing for one. I can’t put really a great price tag on it to the value that it brings my time because as the sole marketer here full time at The Receptionist, I mentioned that we’re in a bunch of different channels, and content creation in and of itself would by far be the greatest resource drain on my time if I was in charge of doing that. I mean that would be pretty much all I would do.
But now I can think a little bit higher level and say “Okay, these are the trends that we want to write about. These are the topics that are coming up in sales conversations that we need to produce some content for. These are the keywords that we want to be searched for or organically found for. These are the industries that are really starting to pop forth so we need to have some content that is, that we can directly speak to people in those industries.” If I was in charge of producing all of that myself, I would be nothing but a full time content writer. And so because I’ve tested it before in the past, I’d known that there was at least some value to offloading it off of my shoulders or my team’s shoulders.
And in the instance of being the first at The Receptionist to being first full time marketing hire, that was going to be unsustainable real quick. And so having the Audience Ops in place and learning pretty quickly that hey, this is a really high quality, high level of work capacity that the team is able to produce there at Audience Ops, in a consistent manner, in a really high quality way that it’s, I think it is one of the key catalysts to the growth of marketing in and of itself here at The Receptionist because it’s allowed me to do so many other things with marketing that I would want to do but wouldn’t have the capacity to do had I been in charge of writing blogs and producing content all day long.
Right. And so we work on both your blogging and your podcasting. So how do you work productively with us? Obviously we’ve got our procedures and things that we do, but what can you share about how this is such a productive partnership?
The best example I can give is, early on in the year of this year, 2019, we had really seen an uptick in a particular industry for us. We had had a guest or two on the podcast in the therapy clinic space, and through not only customer referrals but through just some of the promotion that we’d done in there, and some of the word of mouth marketing that had been generated through that channel, we had really start to see a lot of of therapy clinics coming into us, counseling centers and psychologist offices and mental health wellness spaces. So all I really had to do was relay that information to the Audience Ops team and say, “Hey, I’d love us to produce some content in this space about how some of the issues that these folks are concerned with of running their business, how their businesses run, some of the challenges that they face and how we can weave ourselves into the conversation.”
And that was as much information as I really needed to give the Audience Ops team. The Audience Ops team then and went and did the research. They dug into this high level theme that I had given the team and rolled with it and produced some great content pieces that our sales team can use now. We can direct people to, we get organic traffic from it. We just, we use that content all the time now. And all it took was me relaying to the Audience Ops team, “Hey, we’re seeing a little bit of a trend here. Can you produce some content around this space?” So that to me is so valuable that I can present a topic, present an idea, and have really a team come in behind me with that idea and fully flesh it out. And I can say, “Yeah, maybe don’t word it this way, or we would say it a little bit different,” but then we get into just semantics of wording and language and that’s, I’m a former newspaper editor, so that’s in my world too.
And then the podcast itself too is just another medium for us to address our market and meet people where they’re at rather than always having to find us.
Definitely. So Andy, obviously you have a different sort of ongoing role with the content, but any thoughts about how, in your position you work productively with us as content creators for you?
I think the thing I would highlight is the podcast, because I remember actually it was some time ago and Michael came to me and said, “Hey, Brian reached out to me and he said they could help us with a podcast.” And I’m thinking, I don’t think we could have probably put together a podcast ourselves. We would’ve had somebody, to find somebody who would be the personality who does the interviewing. And then we have to figure out how do we actually publish it and how do we get it out there and what’s the content? And we, I just thought, wow, that is just a huge left. We are a small team. I don’t think we can do it.
But when Michael approached me with it and there were, and you guys had basically a fully baked solution, that was what I think was so interesting because it allowed us to hit the easy button and say, “Sure, let’s try it.” And our first iteration of it, we’ve said, “Oh, let’s just do this.” And we tried some things and then we’ve actually been working on continuing to hone what we want the podcast to be. And I think we’ve gotten to a really good place and now we’re publishing episodes that are becoming quite popular as a result.
And then the other part was also the content upgrades on the blog posts. A lot of people will use content as really a way to drive more organic traffic, which I think is good. That’s a good way to do it. Some people do it with less than stellar content, right? Really the whole SEO engine is built around, if you put out really good content and that content is shared frequently, you do really well. And so we get really good content. But then also on top there’s the content upgrades, which is saying, here’s a little piece of information that will help you solidify what you’re trying to do with whatever issue the blog post is about.
And it’s actually driving direct leads to us that we can then use in marketing to bring those people into our fold and talk to them about, through our marketing, how we do things and how we do them differently. And that I think has been something that we weren’t doing previously to Audience Ops. And I think that having that every time, having some sort of ability to say, “Here’s some other piece of information that may help you”, whether it be a checklist of something you might need as you’re going and renovating your office space. Because we get a lot of customers who say “We want to put visitor management into a new office space.” So that’s just one example. So I think that those are the ways that have really, I’ve been excited and enjoyed working with Audience Ops because we now have a blog. I mean we have now have a podcast in addition to our blog post.
Right. Well I know I enjoy the podcast personally. That’s a lot of fun for me. So as we wrap up today, any tips for founders who are entering that next phase of growth? Any things to focus on or look out for. Obviously every business is different. But any final thoughts or tips for our listeners?
I’ll just start. From my perspective, I think it’s something where you have to figure out what it is you’re good at and what you’re not good at. And some of the best founders I’ve ever worked with and some of the best leaders are the ones who recognized what they’re about, they’re good at, and what they’re not good at. And then bringing in what I like to call the sharpshooters. If it’s sharpshooters or bringing in team members who are going to be better than you are. And that’s hard for a lot of founders. A lot of leaders and companies think, “I’m the best at everything and I can do it all.”
The sooner you can admit where you’re not as good as you really are, like maybe developing content, the sooner you can really experience growth. So surround yourself with not only contractors, but also people who are better than you are at what they do.
Love that. Michael, what about you?
Well, I’m not a founder, but I can speak to the marketing side of things and just say the idea of sharpshooters, and in particular working with Audience Ops, has allowed us to try so many things without going and hiring a full time person and then realizing six months down the road that it doesn’t work.
And the Audience Ops relationship and how that’s progressed in just my time here at The Receptionist, I mean that’s, I don’t ever see us really moving away from that and trying to bring content production in house because it just works so well. And it’s not something that, in terms of our time, the return that we get for it is so great that we can focus on building up and scaling other parts of our marketing while we have something that is tried and true and tested, working really, really well in parallel to all the other things that we’re trying and testing with other sharpshooters.
And so as a marketer, that has been flipping a switch for me. I’ve always had a larger team to kind of, and brought everything in house. I’m fully bought into Andy’s idea of having sharpshooters, and moving forward with that just simply because it’s worked so well. And I think there’s some apprehension with a lot of marketers to go and do something like that. They want to bring it all in house. They want, they feel that they need that expertise all in house and in some roles, yes, that’s absolutely the case. But I think for what we’re talking about, it’s been super productive and advantageous for us.
Okay. Well we are very excited that we are one of the sharpshooters on your team, so thank you for entrusting us with your content for so long. So finally, where can our listeners find you, especially if they want to learn more about a visitor management system and see all the great things that you’re doing and find out more about this radical support. Where can they find you?
You’re going to find us at thereceptionist.com and that’s where all of the great content on our blog is being produced and created in house from Audience Ops. And then you can also, on all the podcasts platforms, you can find the Check-In podcast, which Sara, you’re a wonderful host of that and doing a great job with that and yeah, that continues to grow and be a great channel for us. So the Check-In is hyphenated just in case you want to know, and those are the two primary areas.
Great. Well thank you so much for your time today, Andy and Michael, this was fantastic. We loved learning more about what the company is up to and how we’ve been working together, so thank you so much for your time.
A big thanks to Andy Alsop and Michael Ashford from The Receptionist.com for sharing more about their company, their marketing efforts, and how content and Audience Ops fits into all of that. If you’d like to learn more about done for you content, you can request a free consultation at audienceops.com