Paya, Inc., announced its new brand in late January 2018, after Sage Payment Solutions was sold by the Sage Group to Chicago-based, private equity partner GTCR. The market opportunity for GTCR was a complete repositioning of the payments business to address current and future market demands in a highly-saturated arena. Beginning this mission was the relaunch of a better payments provider under a new name and brand, with a focus on building partnerships, new solutions, and future acquisitions to quickly build market growth.
The launch of Paya has been spearheaded by Christina Cravens, former Head of Marketing for Sage Payment Solutions, and the new Paya CMO. Cravens cut her teeth as an Internet entrepreneur and previously transformed three global marketing organizations into revenue-centric, demand generation engines. Here’s her take on successfully navigating a new brand and go-to-market strategy.
What were your first actions post acquisition?
Once the deal was closed, the team methodically spent time ensuring that we had a complete understanding of market needs. We looked at what customers needed from product development, from support, and from marketing. Then we viewed all the insights from a partner perspective—determining what partners need from Paya.
These insights were the foundation for building a strong corporate and go-to-market strategy for our new business. All of this was done before we determined we needed a new brand in the marketplace.
Once the acquisition was complete, an overhaul of Paya’s go-to-market strategy began, with a renewed focus on cultivating new partners. Selling directly to merchants will continue, but our market play is selling through our reseller and referral partners. It was imperative to capture the attention of a new partner audience with the Paya brand launch. We are not repackaging our old company, we are dramatically shifting our focus. To effectively reach our target audiences, a new brand was needed to correctly message to this market.
One pitfall with acquisitions and strategy shifts, is that the leadership’s mindset does not fully change to meet the new requirements. Often leaders believe they understand their market personas, market, and product needs without taking a step back and realizing that they need a different perspective. Constantly refreshing market research really helps to gain this perspective because the natural inclination is to lean on what you already know from experience. While experience plays a huge role, new thinking and a new approach is often needed to move in a different direction. You must take a fresh look at the size of the market, the size of audience groups, and the size of the verticals where you can be successful.
We took about three or four months to research, reassess, evaluate, and really understand the best way to go to market with our new strategy. A lot of time was also spent reviewing competitor rankings, market leading products, and trends, which helped us tease out Paya’s differentiators.
A big moment for us was the realization that part of our future success was in partnerships. Spending more time acquiring and cultivating new partnerships would be more profitable than focusing our efforts around direct acquisition, which is what we had done previously.
Any lessons or challenges on the people side of a transformation like this?
Since the acquisition closed in August, we reshuffled our team and recruited payments industry veterans to drive a new culture. Our new CEO, Joe Kaplan, is well known in the industry, as well as our new President, new COO, and new CIO. Our new culture focuses on inclusive engagement around our strategic mission, focus and goals. We openly discuss research personas and use our industry acumen to unpack the market research, instead of accepting everything at face value.
You must understand your ability to use your expertise to build upon that research. Leaders must ask themselves, “What will it take for us to become a market leader?” Then they must accept that mission and believe it will succeed.
When assessing a sales leadership team, it’s important to consider that each leader comes from different industries and has different experience. Their industry relationships are their strengths and they are going to push towards those strengths. You must weigh that dynamic against your belief in the future direction of the business.
Your new go-to-market strategy is now focused on acquiring partners, how does this feed into the new brand?
You cannot just shed your old brand and swap it out for another. We worked to ensure that our new brand matched our new mission and vision for the future of the company. You must look to the future while leveraging the heritage of the old brand. Emphasizing the true strengths of the legacy business and the strength of the new business moving forward is critical to a successful transformation. You need to forward-sell your vision with the new brand.
The Paya launch is a new business launch. I’m not solely focused on marketing, I’m looking at every aspect of our new business and how our new brand will impact each piece of the business. For Paya’s new technology brand, our messaging must resonate with our customers, our new engagement tools must be useful and easy to use, and we must consider the way we speak to customers in real-time. Each of these elements need to add value to the customer, and the brand.
How do you involve the rest of the exec team? How do you lead that charge?
Involving the leadership team at Paya is very similar to when I was transforming a large marketing organization into a digital center of excellence. Since we have new leadership, it is all about communication, and usually I begin by drawing concentric circles. One circle represents those who wear the title, and need to be communicated to in the way they like to hear things. The other circle represents influencers within the organization. These circles overlap, and you must parse out communications to each of the audiences in different ways. Whether you are a big or small organization, all of them have influencers. They are the people who really bring the group along with you.
First, I begin with understanding who my audiences are across the groups and identify the leaders and the influencers. Then I take a step back and consider what kind of communications will be most effective for each audience. For example, we were using an instant messaging system, which is an internal tool that allows you to post things on a board.
I discovered over the past few years with Sage Software that many of the executives don’t like using those social tools. You must be very careful to communicate in the right channels for the right audience. I also communicate in numerous channels to ensure the message is received.
Tell me more about transitioning employees
In the beginning, we would meet monthly regarding transition plans. These meetings hashed out the direction for each organization during the transition and the changes in roles during the transition. As we got closer, we moved to weekly meetings. Within specific groups with a heavy or complicated lift, we introduced scrums, which keeps things agile. Communication was constant, through email, conference calls, and hallway conversations—I was bringing leadership along as we progressed in a very strategic and planned approach.
To bring people along, we had to communicate the details, whether they liked hearing details or not. They want to know they’re involved and have the latest details. And it’s not only the leadership and the influencers. It’s the employees, too.
We started with a pre-launch of the brand one month before the hard launch. We began with email teasers to introduce the essence of the brand, and what it means for the employees. We provided tangible assets and signage in each office, and cadenced emails to build excitement as we all move down the same path. Additionally, we conducted employee brand training to create a legion of brand ambassadors. Training includes social media skills to amplify the brand through the employee channel. If you’re an organization of 300-plus, all those people amplifying the message at the time of launch is a huge differentiator.
Training on social media is important so that everyone has their own social profiles aligned to the new brand. We provided branded social media posts to streamline the roll-out. It’s also important to ensure employees are trained on the new brand messages, and know what topics or wording to avoid. Setting the expectation for full participation is also critical and is accomplished through communication.
Was there a cultural transformation?
Yes, there has been a drastic cultural shift. Our new CEO believes the only way we can move fast is if we have trust. And to have trust, you need to know every person in the business. This may seem like an arduous and daunting task, but we have implemented his proven program that is fun and engaging. Our Meet 3 program requires that every employee—even the top executives—must meet with three individuals each week and get answers to five questions of their choice. These discussions created a new environment. The person you used to walk past is now familiar, you know their name and personal details about them. There is now a familiarity among employees that did not exist before Meet 3.
Employees are now very comfortable with stopping by and meeting people they do not know and all three offices are engaging with each other via video calls. The key to the success of the program, is that everyone is accountable to meet each other.
Another cultural shift has been to recognize when you are picking up more than you can accomplish, which is important to the success of the business. In this environment, you are accountable for the things you say you will do. The culture is now more agile in the way we work, and in the way we develop new products and services. I subscribe to agile methodologies with my team, so the shift has been welcomed.
It is a lifestyle. It is a philosophy. Just saying that you’re open to change does not mean that you are comfortable with it. Saying it doesn’t mean you’re comfortable making mistakes and failing fast. That is a big deal.
To make sure we could succeed, we connected every team to a clear set of goals. Each organization has goals tied to our strategic plan. Each individual builds goal that are cascaded from the top-level goal. We also host monthly all-hands meetings to ensure we are driving towards the same set of goals.
Another big part of our transformation is making sure that there is a very clear understanding about what the short-term accomplishments and low-hanging fruit are versus our long-term strategy and how decisions are made for long-term and short-term goals. For example, we’re hiring individuals with a scope that is needed to meet our long-term goals as opposed to just our short-term needs.
In our Marketing organization, we put a lot of new processes into place, including building a completely new infrastructure around sales enablement. Moving from Sage Software resources required a new set of processes, rules and guidelines to be successful. We are continuing to build out our infrastructure. For example, marketing automation, social platforms, BI platforms are all being created from scratch. We’re asking, “What are the dashboards that the organization is going to need?” The answer is based on feedback, e.g. we need weekly reporting to track how we’re doing against our weekly pipeline goals.
Putting that structure in place is important because we’re not just talking about awareness, we’re saying, “This is the pipeline that we have. This is what we are going to do. We’re going to drive three times as much pipeline moving forward.”
How can marketers better support channel partners?
When considering support for a channel, you must understand what they need and whether we have the ability to be successful together based on what you provide. We currently are re-crafting the scope of our partner program at many different levels. Ensuring that support mechanisms are in place is also important, as is ensuring that you have the sales organization to support the channel and develop existing partnerships.
We currently have every kind of partner in our program. We now have a good sense of what our ideal partners look like and which partners will be the most effective in reaching our goals. We’ve accomplished this by having conversations about future strategy, which starts to influence the way that we’re going to work with them. But partnerships remain the same—the top 20 percent of partners generate the most revenue. This is the same if you are working in enterprise accounts or the mid-market segment.
Tell me more about EFT, ACH, and debit business partners
We are a business that works with partners who need money management vendors for payments processing. Another part of our business focuses on EFT, ACH, debit cards, and working with credit card processors. That side of the business changed the way that we work with those partners. We are building out a website to specifically address our Services partners as we continue to enhance that channel.
We deal with several challenges when messaging to these partners. They know that we offer credit processing and they already have a credit processor, but they still want our check processing and gift and loyalty programs. We are marketing to each of these segments separately, with specific value messages for each.
We exercise caution in these channels because there is a lot of overlap with our business and other partners. Every partner has different needs, different outputs, and different goals. We carefully target our efforts and leverage strategies that attract specific partner types. When supporting a channel, the number of new partners you’re going to recruit is based on the number of estimated customers the partner could acquire to meet the goal. In our case, not every partner is the same. They process and acquire at different volumes. And they are active in the channel and our partner program for different reasons. Therefore, we are careful with our messaging, our targeting, our spending for targeted marketing, and our strategies for attracting a particular partner.