Welcome back, everyone. My guest is John Lyons. John, welcome to the show.
Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here.
Tell everyone where you’re working and what you’re doing. Tell us a little bit about your background.
I work on the loyalty program and the VIP program at The LEGO Group. I’ve been there for under a year but it has been a massive learning curve. It’s the first time I’ve been truly in-house. For me, it was a product I loved as a kid, but as a grownup marketer, it was a brand that I admired. In a previous agency career, it was the client I always coveted. I did manage to win them as a client a couple of years ago at a previous agency. I fell even more in love, so I’m super happy to be there now.
Prior to that, for twenty-plus years, I’ve been an agency side marketer. In fairly senior roles from the beginning, from freelance, I fell and created my own digital agency in the mid-‘90s. That was something that very much grew organically. I learned on the job in many ways. By my next move, we were acquired in 2008 by a US digital promotions agency called Brandmovers. It was more of a formal arrangement by that point where the acquisition led to me launching and heading up the first global office, which was the European office here in London, and assisting a few years later with the next rollout, which was the India office.
With that, there was much more of taking on board a brand, nurturing the brand, localizing the brand, and building out our agency offering there. I was there for ten years and it felt like the right time to go. We had our record turnover. Ten years is ten years. I exited there and spent a little time in consultancy. Having thought that I was a creative digital guy, what I realized is that everybody knew I could solve problems inside a business. Most of my consultancy work was helping come up with strategies, but also building the platforms and the technologies for businesses to find their market, nurture their markets, and build a sales funnel.
Digital Audit: Being able to create a different funnel with a different view of the CRM in the same technology meant that I didn’t have to learn everything twice.
My role prior to joining LEGO, I was at The NDL Group. It’s a well-established promotional marketing agency and group of companies. They’re on their 25th anniversary in 2022. They’re very much a trailblazer in the industry. They invented the category of winner and prize management. They probably got a little bit too comfortable with where they were. When I joined, it was a group of three companies. There were challenges when we got into lockdown. Suddenly, there was much more to look at what we were doing, what was functioning well, and where efficiencies could be made. It wasn’t just cost-cutting efficiencies, but actual efficiencies across the three businesses.
You must have seen a lot of client challenges about getting things digitally enabled. It’s often a combination of the brand problem and the tech problem. How did you sort out the problems they had and recognize where to point them to the right types of solutions?
For clarity, I went in to head up a creative team to pitch and win great promotions. I was looking forward to putting my feet up and not having to worry about business and finances. As we went into lockdown, as a priced company, a lot of the businesses are based on travel because it’s still one of the greatest prizes. That stopped. I got more involved and was eventually appointed Group Sales and Marketing Director. What we had to look at was, firstly, the money. We had to look at the numbers. We had to look at the bodies or the physical resources. We had to look at the brands.
At that time, we had two companies. One of those companies had a sub-brand within it that was a software platform. My first thing after looking at the numbers and looking at the resourcing of the structure was, “What are we telling people about these brands? Are we maximizing our touchpoint opportunities?” We did a quick but fairly large-scale research and brand repositioning process on all of the businesses. That meant resource changes. It’s not necessarily losing people, but it meant that we appointed two MDs across the business alongside a third one.
The teams came a lot closer together. We developed marketing and sales strategies. When the strategies were in place, we then had to work out how to execute them. This is something that you’re familiar with. What we found was a whole multitude of disconnected and inefficient technology solutions that were cobbled together as our ineffective marketing tech stack.
From there, the big job was what we needed, how many of these things we needed, and how we could connect the dots together. To give you an overview of what we had going at that time, within the NDL agency, there was an email CRM. There was also a separate sales CRM. There was a disconnected invoicing system. There was no social management. There were two prize managements.
You have to know how to maximize your touch point opportunities where you have to do large-scale research and brand repositioning processes on the businesses.
It sounds like everybody’s problem. Everybody’s disconnected in some way. I didn’t want the audience to think you had a unique problem. Everywhere we go, people have parts and pieces that they have to knit together. You were in the midst of discovering that. How did you do that?
It was a case of looking at what was even being used. We had a CRM system that was being used as a ticket system for customer queries. They were support tickets, but we were paying full and we weren’t using that at all. It was looking across what we were using correctly and making decisions on how we could cut those down.
What we ultimately came to was there was not much of this worth keeping. One of the problems that we had was the volumes of different things that we thought these systems had been used alongside each other back, in some cases, fifteen years ago. There was a lot of old data. We didn’t know how much of it worked. We had to get the data cleaned before we did anything. The decision made was we needed to find a new provider because the email CRM clearly wasn’t working. We wanted a bit more insight.
I worked with HubSpot quite a lot in the past, particularly in my consultancy days, and for small companies. The insight you get there in terms of when people are opening emails and feeding into the sales funnel is a lot more than, “I sent this person an email.” We started looking out at the marketplace. We shortlisted three different platforms to serve in effect. We were looking at the email function and the CRM function. We weren’t looking beyond that at that point, and the intel of the funnel.
We came across a platform called SharpSpring and they offered us more that we were able to centralize the social calendar, landing pages, and CRM. It was pretty much everything. Most of our proprietary tech stack across the three businesses would be able to fit within there, and we were able to do it in such a way that we could use the same platform. It was super useful for me because at that point, I was overseeing two different sales teams. Being able to create a different funnel with a different view of the CRM in the same technology meant that I didn’t have to learn everything twice.
I was leaning into the idea. When the environment changes, you got to sharpen the pencil, figure out a way to be productive, and review all the systems. You’ve got a new charter of your platform and how you pull it together. How did you overcome the socialization challenge? The good news was you were leveraging something, but that’s not an inconsequential change in a virtual environment at that point, right?
Digital Audit: Digital enablement is complex. There are tools and methodologies in the future that may or may not turn out to be what we’re looking at at the moment. It’s quite a difficult landscape to navigate.
Absolutely. I will hold my hands up and say that we were fortunate because we were B2B. We weren’t dealing with the volume that you’d have as a B2C company. We were loosely active on social channels. From the day I joined my original role, we were looking at how we could start delivering some content. We were putting a content strategy in place because we needed to remind the marketplace that not only are we here, but we’re as good as we’ve always been. It was very much a case of we need to use all the channels available to remind people that we’re still here.
I’ve always been quite active in the market and communities online and in person in the UK. Things like LinkedIn, Twitter, and other very social channels are something that I’ve made use of in the past. I’ve been very successful. It was a case of educating the different client-facing teams, firstly, to be ready for this. That meant also making sure that they don’t just have a picture of them on their wedding day because this now needs to be a shop window. There was a lot of training that went into it.
You did all that. From start to finish, you reset everything. What would you tell the audience was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
One was it often takes more time to get the data into a usable format than what platform you’re putting it into, so we spent a long time. Because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I learned a lot about Excel. I learned how to code in Excel. We spent so many times loading stuff in it and it crashed. In a couple of weeks, it taught me to learn that hardcore coding.
It probably saved me months. It took several months of doing this program to get this into place. The big thing was the users and educating the users. We maybe have seen changes before and we’re thinking, “Here we go again. It’s another thing.” It was educating them as to why this was a business decision and why we needed their support in order to make it work. There was a lot of onboarding.
Even if I look at the two sales CRMs that we had across the front businesses, there were varying degrees of usage. In my team, we were pretty solid about what did. In other teams, they weren’t because they didn’t feel they needed that level of detail, which is fine, but the business does. It was educating people as to why we needed them to learn it and why it would save them time in the long run. We wouldn’t have to ask them a barrage of questions when it came to issuing an invoice or when it came to a PA coming in.
We need to use all the channels available to remind people that we’re still here.
We had a number of workshop sessions. It worked out well because I was able to take people along on the journey. Whilst they understood that it was going to be a bit of a tough learning path, once they got there, they were running and enjoying the difference. It took some doing it on different levels as well, so I needed to buy in the C-Suite, the management, and also the people on the ground.
The fear of the change is worse than the change. Oftentimes, the change yields so many effects that are so beneficial that people say, “Why didn’t we do this before?” I had seen it so many times. You get one last word here before we close this episode. How do you feel about digital enablement? What one word would you use to describe your feelings about it?
It’s complex. There’s such a range of tools, platforms and methodologies. We’re talking about things in the future that may or may not turn out to be what we’re looking for at the moment. It’s quite a difficult landscape to navigate. I’m fortunate that I started in digital in the ‘90s, so I’ve been pragmatic. I’ve been hands-on. I’ve got a reasonable filter but also, I roll my sleeves up.
I didn’t need to be the person that set up the CRM, but I wanted to be because I wanted to make sure that if I’m going to make other people use it, I need to know how it works. It’s difficult getting the cut-through. For me, the important thing to think about is what job the thing is doing and how much time it is going to save me, rather than why it’s the future.
John, thanks for coming to the show. I appreciate your input. That’s a journey most of our audience are up against. I’m sure they got a lot of value from reading the story of complexity and bringing it all together. Thanks, everyone, for tuning in. I look forward to having you on the show next time.
- John Lyons – LinkedIn
About John Lyons
John Lyons is an award-winning marketer of over 20 years experience. During this time he has founded and exited two agencies, worked as a consultant and held the role of Sales & Marketing Director at the NDL Group of companies. A frequent speaker at industry events and occasional podcast guest, John has also taught on the Marketing, Distribution, Sales and Exhibition MA at the NFTS and sat on the industry advisory board for Arts and the Creative Industries at LSBU where he has also lectured on marketing, digital marketing and loyalty. He is currently in his first client-side role as the Global Senior Loyalty Proposition Manager at The LEGO Group