Hire the right people that fit your brand vision. PEOPLE POWER is very important because most companies are in the people business.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Len Summa. Len Summa joined the Data Age Business Systems, Inc. team in 2012 and currently serves as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Before becoming Data Age Business Systems’ CEO, Len was Chief Operations Officer (COO) for four years. He has 27 years of experience in executive software solution sales and operational management for both early stage and well-established firms. Prior to his Data Age service, he was the General Manager of global sales and operations at Persystent Software, an industry-leading enterprise recovery software. Len has also served as the Director of North American SMB sales and operations at Learn.com, the preeminent software firm in the learning management space. He has a vast business and entrepreneurial background and was the co-founder of Lou Ferrigno/Fitness Showrooms, a highly successful retail and wholesale chain located throughout the Northeastern United States.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my path as an athlete who went pretty far in his college career. Once my athletic dream came to a stop, I became an entrepreneur and opened up my own successful business. As a business owner, I was forced to invest in technology and became fascinated with what it can do and how it quickly became my most trusted employee. As the times changed, I saw the power technology was delivering not only to the world but to businesses. I sold my businesses and decided to jump into the technology space full time. I was fortunate to connect with some very successful software application companies over my career, which spanned several different markets.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on in my technology career, I had the chance to go to my first trade show (Comdex). Mind you, this show was being held in San Francisco in the heart of the hi-tech boom. I am working the floor as a very junior Inside Sales Director and a prospective client walked up to me and asked me about my value proposition. There weren’t any smart phones at the time to Google value proposition and I literally did not know what he was asking, even though in my entrepreneurial life I would deliver a value proposition 50 times a day. I decided to go for it and wing it…and that did not go well at all. My lesson learned was to be prepared and never be afraid to ask a question. When you are honest, how can the question be wrong to ask?
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
To start, Data Age Business Systems has been leading the way in our space since 1988. Data Age has consistently evolved as a business and how we approach business over the years. The changing landscapes is something our company embraces and actually drives in our industry. Products that evolve are a given, but the one constant with Data Age is our people and their true commitment to world-class customer service. We employ a customer centric model and we personalize every interaction with our customers and prospective customers.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are always working on new projects for inside and outside our industry, for our customers, and our staff. Security and accessibility are two very important things for our customers and we will be able to satisfy both in a one stop shop. Also, expanding on our easy-to-use marketing and customer communication tools will help our customers modernize their businesses.
Okay let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Brand marketing is our core focus and is why we have led the way for over 30 years in our space. A brand is a trusted result that your customers come to expect every time they use your products, engage with your service teams, and work with anyone associated with your company. This would also include selected partners. The brand for us is our people — how they are trained, how they are hired, and how they deliver the consistency that our customers need. Piggybacking off this customer centric model that we live by, our advertising is mostly content marketing. We want to get our products visibility, but we do it within the context of educational deliverables. Everyone is searching these days. SEO, if done right, will get people to your doorstep. How we get them in and part of our family is by truly educating them with high quality content. Our one-stop shop approach is providing ubiquity for us in the market place as the go-to vendor for products and education.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
In today’s business climate, no matter how large or small your organization is, marketing is what I call an important hat that is needed to wear and focus on. Like I stated, everyone is searching and getting themselves educated in their own way before they even engage your sales team. For the most part, most vendors or businesses have similar products and services, so how you differentiate yourself in the marketplace is the real secret sauce. I also feel that you build this from the inside out. Your people, your culture, and your commitment to the customers has to be embedded into every fiber of your business. Your marketing team should have two customers…your external clients and your internal staff. I can’t see any successful business flourishing in today’s markets where marketing is not fully embraced in every area of the business.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Hire the right people that fit your brand vision. PEOPLE POWER is very important because most companies are in the people business.
- Commitment to training your people to ensure they deliver to the brand promise every time. Make training a basic step in your day-to-day process and never settle for a good performance as we know good is the enemy of great.
- Practice, encourage, and demand consistent and clear communications. Internal communications as well as open and honest communications with your customers is key.
- Have an open door policy of bi-directional communications with your customers. They use your products and work with your people. They will tell you what is right and where improvements are needed. I feel for us this has been the key to staying at the top of the industry for 30 years.
- DON’T FALL VICTIM TO THE FOLLOWING SEVEN DEADLY WORDS AND PRACTICES…WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY. This could be both a brand and company killer.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I am a very big fan of Geico and Southwest Airlines. What impresses me is their ability to market their products in a manner that makes you look forward to seeing their next market piece. I don’t know their financials, but I can say this — not many people stray away from watching, reading, or hearing what they have to say. They get a real thumbs up regarding the outcome to their deliverables. They are constantly setting the bar high with new and fresh takes. Geico has actually become an entertainment brand and is very impressive. How do you replicate this? Listen to what your customers are saying and track what is working and what is not. Take a chance and go past your comfort zone.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
The role that social media plays is a top priority for us and it should be a top priority for a business. The statistics centering around social media are staggering and they are only growing. I would go as far to say that even very small companies need to invest in adding a resource to this department. Social media will allow you to deliver on every front. You can advertise products, drive quality educational content, and share your company values through your people. We get the most likes and engagement when we deliver the feel good stories of our team and bring our office to our customers via our videos featuring our team. Social media has garnered us many business opportunities that we would never engage with through the standard marketing outlets. Social media is a very cost effective way to secure customer/prospect engagement.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I am not a burnout victim, but I came very close. You have to remember why you are doing what you do. For me, my family is why I do what I do. It can become very gripping when you are in the game and driven to win. Taking a step back is tough, but it can provide great clarity for yourself and can be good for your business efforts. Don’t forget yourself in all of this. Know that it is okay to work to live and not live to work.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I would be the influencer on real communication. Healthy debate with no blame would be the goal. Dialogue on how to work together better, connect together better and respect one another no matter what the circumstances may be. So many people have great ideas and thoughts. Many are afraid to speak their minds. At one point in my career, I was that person. Seeing or hearing someone like myself who used to be a really quiet introvert be able to achieve goals and dreams could inspire those people who feel out of place or inspire them to speak up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You will never hit a homerun if you don’t swing the bat. This quote got me out of my bed one spring morning as my soon-to-be business partner rang my doorbell to go get our business license to open up a startup in a Long Island flea market. I almost did not answer that doorbell. Where would I be if I did not ring him in? It would have been so easy to have gone right back to bed and figured it all out another day.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
New England Patriot Head Coach Bill Belichik.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am very active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Data Age Business Systems YouTube Channel.