Newsletter Archive - Corner Office
A discussion with Terry DiNatale & Kirsten Mangers of SME Global Solutions -- WebVisible
11/03/2005 - From an old Chinese dictionary -- Yin and Yang: "Yin is complimentary to Yang and vice versa. There does not exist any antagonism between opposites in Nature. They are always complimentary."
Kirsten Managers and Terry DiNatale are truly the embodiment of Yin and Yang. A fixture at nearly every major industry event, we have watched as they have battled to establish an ongoing business model for their effort - SME Global Solutions, in the emerging local search/IYP marketplace. Even in the earliest days of their efforts, before the Yellow Pages industry came to accept the Internet as its newest growth platform, Kirsten and Terry were tireless in their efforts to explain how this new media can work for traditional print Yellow Pages publishers.
And then in mid-September, great news: SME Global Solutions, the overall company that holds the WebVisible brand name, announced it had secured $5 million in Series A financing from Redpoint Ventures. SME Global Solutions will use the funding to grow a concentrated local advertising service, WebVisibleTM, to serve exclusively its growing list of local market customers and partnerships, including Dex Media, BellSouth, Verizon, Yellowpages.com, Knight Ridder, Interland, The Berry Company and others.
Kirsten Managers has guided the company as Founder and President since 2001. Although she doesn't look a day over 30, Kirsten has over 20 years of experience in the interactive and yellow pages industries with GTE, Pacific Bell, and SBC; including positions in Sales, Sales Management, Strategic Planning and Marketing. Previous to WebVisibleTM, she has held positions with SBC Interactive, Go2 Systems and Engage Technologies as Vice President of Sales & Business Development. She is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in California and heads the office in Irvine, California. When not working, she loves to race "fast" cars (as she calls them).
Terry DiNatale co-founded the company in 2001 and has belied his relaxed southern approach by aggressively established himself as an effective presence in the online local advertising landscape, laying the business foundation for what has become the 2005 evolution of WebVisible. Terry has accumulated 25 years in the yellow pages and local online industry in various sales, marketing, human resources and product development positions. From 1999, Terry was Vice President of Internet Sales and Marketing for BellSouth Intelligent Media Ventures, LLC; then, Vice President and General Manager of Engage Technologies Local Market division in 2000. Terry is a graduate of the University of Georgia and an overly proud native of Atlanta.
We recently sat with Terry and Kirsten to discuss their backgrounds, their ongoing efforts to build this new, emerging business, and their vision for the future of Yellow Pages.
YPT: How did you actually get started in the Yellow Pages business??
TD: I am actually 2nd generation Yellow Pages. My father was in the industry for 34 years. Ironically, when he died in 1980, that was the same year I joined the industry, so within the family we've had 59 years of continuous service to the industry. As a kid growing up in the phone company family, I was 16 years old before I realized the bell with a circle around it wasn't my family crest.
KM: I came to the Yellow Pages industry more by chance. I was ousted from Wells Fargo Bank with the Crocker merger. A college chum told me about "the best kept secret in sales, Yellow Pages." I started as a telephone sales rep for GTE in the LA office.
YPT: Do you still see a career path in the Yellow Pages industry??
TD: Yes. It is a great business. I love it with all my heart. If you are industrious, if you work hard, if you are smart, if you understand the politics, you can do very well in this industry. The business is changing. It is an exciting time. Just look at the dramatic changes we've had in this industry over the last five years. Dex being purchased, going public, then sold to RHD, the SBC-BellSouth Yellowpages.com venture and the shift away from the pure print model as demonstrated by the proliferation of new interactive products. Exciting times, indeed.
KM: Ha! Yes! Can you say divestiture? I never thought in my career life time I would see the break up of the Bells, the Sunset Clause come to fruition and the ultimate consolidation yet again. The passion we have for this business certainly resides in the channel. These folks are the best of breed sales people out there. As long as they continue showing the aptitude and tenacity to offer compelling products to the SME base there is a ton of life and opportunity left in Yellow Pages.
|Personal Stuff - Terry DiNatale:|
Perfect meal? Italian anything.
Favorite CD? Anything Eric Clapton.
Favorite movie? Godfather Part 1.
Best way to spend a day off? In the garden. I'm a horticulturist. It's a passion.
What are you reading now? Just finished "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris
Favorite gadget?? I am not a gadget guy. Probably my cell phone.
If I was running the industry for one day I would...?? Have a big cocktail party so we could bring all the decision makers into a room and not allow them to leave until they agreed on at least one thing, no matter what that one thing would be.
|Personal Stuff - Kirsten Mangers:|
Perfect meal? Mexican food.
Favorite CD? Anything Seal.
Favorite movie? Have to agree with my paisano..The Godfather movies. They're biopics.
Best way to spend a day off? With my kids at innumerable sporting events.
What are you reading now?
Favorite gadget?? My laptop and anything by Ktel or Ronco.
If I was running the industry for one day I would...?? Ask everyone to a week long strategy session on how to manage the transmittal of local content to any/all distribution outlets ... then fly to Hawaii to recuperate.
YPT: Can you describe what business WebVisible is in??
KM: We provide interactive products and services that local sales channels can sell easily. We typically call ourselves the one contact, one close, one contract, one bill per company. We give our partners the ability to offer a high revenue, high margin, net income heeding products. These products provide local merchants extended reach and distribution on the Internet. To date these products have been things such as banner CPM (cost-per-thousand), CPC (Call-per-click) banners, paid search and local search placements. We are in the process of launching cost-per-call and call tracking services and have more local products in the pipeline. Most importantly, we integrate with the existing legacy systems for Sales Force Automation and billing efficiencies.
YPT: How have you been successful at establishing your business in this new media??
TD: You must have extensive knowledge of the new media industry. From a sales perspective, the key to success is that product must go through the sales channel. If the channel will not sell it, it will not be successful regardless of how killer a concept it may be or how much value it may provide. It's been said before - "local merchants don't buy advertising, the channel sells advertising". While that may sound condescending, it's not! It speaks to the quality of the yellow pages industry and the trust that merchants have in their sales consultants. These business people are owners, operators and tradesmen. They are the best at what they do. The reality is, most local merchants don't have the time or the experience to be marketing or advertising experts. They rely on the media sales reps from Yellow Pages, newspapers, radio, etc. as their trusted advisor to help them promote their business.
WebVisible specializes in working with our reseller partners to develop products that are easy to understand, easy to sell, are complementary to the core products, generate incremental revenue and net income.
YPT: So who is your client? The publisher/local sales team or the provisioners of the products and services you market??
KM: Our client is any local publisher touching a local merchant who wishes to increase their revenue and offer speed-to-market, high-quality, interactive products. The media outlets are our partners in distributing those sales made. It is a many-to-many environment with multiple integration points.
YPT: How have you been successful at getting past a traditional desire of most larger publishers to want to have products and services like these provided from an in-house source, not an outsource agent such as WebVisible?
KM: Most of the publishers within the last 5 to 7 years have begun to realize that the margin pressures they are under are creating scare resources. Outsourcing helps them do everything they need to do but still gives them ownership of the brand, ownership of the relationship with advertisers, and ownership of their data. We act on their behalf with their interests in mind. Given that their margins are instantaneous, they don't have to wait 8 months to wait for the revenue and they have a predictable cost of goods sold.
In the initial stages, we had difficulty convincing our partners to relinquish their content and advertisers over to the Googles and the Yahoos of the world. But publishers are now realizing they are providing value in a single bill, doing the editorial, managing the sales process, one contract, one relationship - they add value to those advertisers and effectively institute a blocking strategy against the search engines from going directly to the merchant. By providing a compelling product and customer service experience, the publishers do not provide incentive for the merchant to deal with another sales rep, another billing stream, another media or simply self provisioning. Ultimately, the publishers realize they must partner with a company that is aware of their business, their channel, their strengths and weaknesses. They want one that is it in for the long haul and will provide strategies and products past the first year for renewals and incremental revenues. That's exactly what we do.
YPT: In making this business successful, you've obviously had to spend a lot of time in front of a wide range of local sales forces. What are the keys to making them believe in these new products??
TD: First, we find these local sales reps are unbelievably positive about new products and services. If you look back over the innovations in the Yellow Pages industry, we are in a unique situation. If you go back to the late 1980's, there was some demand from the advertisers for color in their ads in the print products, but most of it had to be generated. Then we all moved into talking yellow pages for which there was zero demand - we had to create consumer demand for those products. I'm not sure as an industry we did a real good job of generating that demand. That's why they are so excited now - because the demand for Internet products are coming from the advertisers directly, the same people they have this trusted relationship with. They are actually able to provide a product their advertisers are asking for - "Can you get me on Google, AOL, Yahoo!?" While it may not be a direct question, they hear similar questions on more and more calls. Now publishers can give them a product which matches that demand. The exuberance is contagious.
Thus we design programs which are complimentary to the core products. Our "It's just like Yellow Pages but different" message provides a very clear product positioning description. Search aligns very well with the purchase behaviors of the users, the messaging the advertisers desire, and the sales process of local reps.
YPT: Have most publishers figured out the business model, the commission structure for these new products?
TD: The feared cannibalization from the print products to the new search/IYP products has actually been a non-event. There are certain user demographics for those that use the web just as there are separate demographics for those that use the printed products. An advertiser has to be on the doorstep and on the desktop. This is what WebVisible does so effectively. So no matter where the consumer, the merchant is within an arms reach from desire. We help buyers connect with sellers.
|Our WebVisibleTM service uses the following search networks and ISP's to make local businesses visible online:|
24/7 Real Media
|Our customers represent one of the largest and fastest growing sales forces in the country:|
YPT: Tell us a little about the process of raising funds for the expansion of WebVisible?
KM: It probably took us about 6 months. We were very deliberate in our search for the right partner. We didn't need the money to operate the business on a day-to-day basis; we needed it to expand the business to allow it to reach its full potential. Our criteria for selecting a partner was 1) we wanted an investor that would allow management to continue to pursue the vision we had established, 2) we wanted a partner that could bring a skill set we didn't have such as a rolodex of relationships we could leverage, and 3) a partner that would pass our chemistry test. That third item was probably the most important. Terry and I evaluated each and every one of the investors with that litmus test. We wanted partners at the Board table who would be collaborative and supportive in the good times and the times of challenge. We chose Redpoint Ventures as they met and exceeded all the criteria and have an extraordinary win record with the companies in which they have invested. We couldn't ask for better partners.
YPT: With that $5 million in funding now available, how does that change your business approach?
KM: We believe we have unquestioned domain expertise. You can't buy that. But you can buy technology. We are leveraging the investment to create compelling IP. By creating technological efficiencies we are able to tighten up and automate parts of our business which allow us to bring new products to market more expeditiously as well as achieve the scale and stability required by our business. Currently we are at 21 full time employees and approximately 10 contractors. We continue to recruit talented people that share our mindset of superior customer service and product expansion. We are extremely proud our original employees remain with us today and the expansion continues. The investment allows us to put our start up days behind us and, at 4 years and counting, we're not so young anymore!
YPT: What was the thinking behind the branding switch from SME Global to WebVisible??
KM: WebVisible better represents what we are, an Internet technology and services company. After so many years in the business we were left with a myriad of legacy names; LocalNet, LocalNet Solutions, SGS, and others. The corporate company name remains SME Global Solutions and the WebVisible brand signifies our interactive products and services offering. It's succinct and helps us unify everything under one name. Terry's joke is "don't be invisible, be WebVisible!"
YPT: Results in the National segment have struggled in the last few years. Is the Internet, especially the kinds of things that WebVisible provides going to be the savior of the National channel?
KM: Wouldn't we love to be the savior in any channel! But let's be honest, the challenge for the CMR's is the same challenge in the local channel -- no de facto standards for Internet products. Even the one standardized product on the IYP's, the ITM, has different specs publisher to publisher. The multiple paths of entry and integration for distribution coupled with no Elite-esque order entry create a true barrier to entry. At the end of the day, all interactive buys really become local in a dealer solicits model. We feel we are well poised to assist in getting relevant traffic via multiple media outlets to the dealer/franchisee level. Additionally, we can provide the analytics and details needed to run the program at the CMR and corporate level. It doesn't solve all the dilemmas but it's a start.
WebVisible'sTM local advertising products & services, sold by the local ad sales professionals of yellow pages, newspapers and online marketers, bring visibility to millions of local business websites that would otherwise be lost in a vast Internet landscape. The WebVisibleTM service suite includes local search, locally targeted banner advertising, eCRM, and Click-to-call services. In addition, the WebVisibleTM service provides a web based proprietary order entry and campaign reporting application, affording easy self-management of order input, processing and reporting.
The service supports local resellers with sales training, product positioning and merchandising to increase reseller's product line, revenue, and consumer loyalty.
A service of SME Global Solutions (incorporated in September 2001), WebVisibleTM evolved in 2005 as a collective of local market professionals with more than 150 years experience in local market advertising and product development. The service is sold by Fortune 500 companies including Bell Operating Companies, newspaper publishers and ISP's worldwide.