Today we sat down with Lisa Genovese, the President of BottomLine, a digital marketing agency who helps organizations create an actionable marketing strategy to maximize their message through a market-based research process. As a company, BottomLine focuses on leading with kindness and integrity to create meaningful impact. You can learn more about BottomLine at their website here.
Listen to Lisa speak about BottomLine's company culture, women in leadership, client relationships, and more.
Tell us a little bit about BottomLine and what makes it stand out as a digital marketing agency.
Sure. I’m happy to. Often we can put it in that marketing agency category but we’re really more of a market research firm first. So we do a lot of your typical quant/qual activities and then use that data to really drive that decision making piece and help drive the strategy. Once the strategy is in place, the baton gets passed to our implementation division that handles anything from web development, visual brand identities and a big focus on the digital advertising space – so it’s that side of our business that people often go “Oh they’re a digital agency” but really more of that research first is what makes us different.
How do you think that being a relatively smaller company enables you to create more intimate relationships with your clients, and how can other small businesses apply that concept in their industries?
Such a good question and you know, right from the very beginning when we were just a handful of people, I always wanted to have a boutique feel. I feel that when you have that smaller feel in your company, it gives you that ability to be just more accessible to your clients and build stronger relationships where the clients and the employees for that matter, aren’t just a number. We’re actually looking at that relationship piece which is so important. I think that small but mighty mentality can really be applied to any business. Just because you’re a large big box brand doesn’t mean you can’t have that boutique mentality and build those relationships. It’s something that I often see which is kind of pushed by the wayside as companies scale up and it’s one of the things that I think really hurts them. Because we know that it costs about 30% less than keep a current customer than it does to acquire a new one and so you’re leaving so much money on the table if you’re not really focusing on that client centric approach. You think that you’re scaling up by adding more revenue to the mix when really, if you were to just have a better relationship with your existing customers, you probably would be more profitable.
Rahul: Very interesting. Is the takeaway from that, that investment and retention is equally or more important than acquision of new business?
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Rahul: That’s fascinating. Sorry if I’m pivoting but this is a really interesting conversation. Do you find that working with smaller companies, you can help them shift that ethos into more of a retention mindset and building a deep value proposition with existing clients?
Absolutely, and this is kind of back to the whole why we’re not just a digital marketing agency. I feel like a well-rounded strategic plan needs to look at all facets of the business. So, how are we retaining our current customers or clients. I don’t actually like the word upsell, but how are we adding more value to their business and helping them grow? At the same time, yes, there needs to be a new customer acquisition play for sure. There are so many different facets that go into a proper marketing plan and I feel like people always jump to the “What are we doing for external facing tactics and comms and how is that going to bring us new clients?” That’s not the first place that I go when I’m building a strategic plan. If you look at the data and numbers, often where you’re going to make a higher profit margin and scale faster and better, for lack of better words, is having that multi-faceted approach and really looking at the current customer base first.
Being a female leader, can you share why it’s so important to have women represented in leadership positions?
So, I think outside of the obvious ones, I think again, it’s that well-rounded approach. I’ve been part of boards, peer groups, you name it that are either all women, all men, or a mix of both. I can tell you that the most successful companies that I have been involved with have a mix of both around the table because you’re getting different perspectives, different experiences, and people will often say women are more emotional. It’s also what makes them highly intuitive and typically, they’ll pick up on things that their male peers might take a while to get there. That’s not a criticism of men but I’m more just trying to highlight that both genders bring a unique perspective and it’s those unique perspectives together where the rubber meets the road. Because I’ve also seen if its an all female board or an all male board, it’s really again not the diverse approach and so you’re typically leaving something off the table.
Rahul: It’s absolutely insights that I share. I think that diversity and representation matters in a number of ways. While gender is one aspect obviously, age is another, you have cultural backgrounds that bring unique insights. The feedback from your own unique experiences from different boards and being able to relay that and share that with us is really helpful. Is there any specific takeaway from any of those diverse mixed boards that you’ve found has impacted or has helped your business?
Oh my goodness, many. Our board at BottomLine is mixed gender and I think that the one thing that always sticks with me whenever I have this conversation around why’s it so important for females and under-represented groups in general to be apart of the decision making process is because sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. Somebody is going to bring a piece of insight that. is going to just completely blindside you because they come from a completely different experience than you did. So sometimes, that is the 21 year old intern in the room and sometimes that is the 65 year old white guy that has had been doing it for all these years. There’s a couple of instances from my own business where I myself have gone “This is the path we’re going. Here’s what I think we should do.” Then somebody else goes “You’re not thinking about this, this and this.” And I go, “Oh, that’s largely going to impact this in operations, or the team. I didn’t even think about that”. I think the biggest key takeaway that I can say is to be open-minded and expect that different experiences are going to bring different ideas and embrace it. Don’t push against it. There are so many leaders that want to push change away and they think change is bad. Change is not a bad thing and especially when someone comes with this wild crazy idea, it could be the very next big thing so be open to it.
Rahul: I completely agree with that statement. Honestly, I think that people are naturally inertial beings and are naturally resistant to change. It really does take courage and leadership to try things and be bold. Also, takes courage to be open-minded and listen to people of different backgrounds even if they don’t have as much experience as you.
How does company culture play a role in your organization’s success? How have you kept your team motivated over the last year?
That’s a good one. Company culture is everything. It sounds so cliche, but it is something that we take something super super seriously at BottomLine. It’s why our hiring and onboarding process is fairly lengthy to make sure it’s going to be a good values match and to make sure the person coming in is going to fit in with our team. Throughout the last year, I can very proudly say that it is because of that that. we have grown, not retract because of the pandemic. We’ve always operated partially in a virtual model. We have an office but we have that hybrid approach where you can come in or work from home if you want. That’s been on all the continents we work on and all the offices it’s been the model. When COVID hit, we had to close offices and move people permanently to work from home for a while and it didn’t really impact us. What was really cool, is that if there was an impact, it was a positive one where everybody just banded together and it was like a “Hey how can I support you or help you?” This wasn’t just internally but on a client front. There was so many amazing things, such as an account manager saying “Hey, I know you’re stuck. Can I go pick your groceries up for you?”.
In most organizations I’ve been apart of, people talk about culture and talk about how it’s important. They may run a team building activity every now and then, or they may have their core values written on a wall but nobody can really read them back to you. Without sounding conceited, it was a big proof point for me that we actually have built culture because it stood that massive test that we had last year where it could have totally pulled us apart but instead it brought us together. So, I’m really proud of that and am proud of my team, I can’t take all the credit there.
Rahul: That’s an amazing answer. Just to unpack, you screen for values and you want to make sure that culture is of central importance so I completely share that philosophy. Just to build on that, what are some of your core values in your company and how do you screen for those?
We’ve said core, but we call them functional and frictional values. So functional values, I can actually spend our entire time talking about just this piece, but are leadership, impact, proactivity, and intuition. Those are our four functional values if you will. How we screen for that, is that there are a couple things. One, is just in the initial screening interview, there are a few questions we may ask that seem a bit innocent on the surface but have no choice but to answer them with what your personal value set is. It’s not that there is no right or wrong answer, if you don’t fit with our values, that’s fine and there’s probably another organization you might be suited to work with. That’s the easy answer and we have a couple of things within the hiring process we have them complete. Do they actually believe in our values and do they actually want to create an impact? For the most part, it’s just some simple questions and some exercises we take them through in the hiring process. In the onboarding process, we really see if it is the right fit for us and for them. We also go through our values, and show how they embody the values, a culture book, and some rituals at the end that they go through and sign-off. It’s just the small things that have had made a difference, not only ensuring someone fits with the values but making sure that they are really embodying what the values mean and how it impacts them in their career moving forward.
What do you think was the largest contributor to BottomLine’s success in its early years?
That’s a good one and a tough one. I’m going to speak on a more personal aspect from that one. At the beginning, there were just a handful of us. It really came down to having good relationships and really focusing on going over and above for clients as much as possible. We still have clients that have been with us right from the very beginning that have grown their business right alongside us and I largely attribute that to them taking a chance on us in the beginning and we tried to go over and above which was recognized, helping us further build that relationship.
I’ve also been really fortunate in my career to have some fantastic mentors. I think without that support, I would’ve not known what to do. I’ve worked with some really great coaches as well who have helped me figure out a lot of my head trash, the direction of the company and where we’re going. It was largely the community I guess more than it was any one thing. It’s a conglomeration of multiple things that stack up but really it comes from the community that we have.
Rahul: The community is made up of those people. One of those sets of people that I’d love to build on, particularly the young audience, is the mentors. I strongly advocate for mentorship, I’ve benefitted from great mentorship in. my life and completely share your sentiments on that. How did you get your first mentors and how did you connect with them?
To be honest, the first mentor was more of an informal mentor. To this day, I don’t know if she really knows she was a mentor for me. She told me to go for a coffee if I ever needed help and we just started going for regular coffees. She was very advanced in her career, kind of getting to a retirement point and the knowledge she shared and the things she helped me through, I felt comfortable to ask the “stupid questions” and not worry about what she thought. That was the first one and it was a bit of a “by accident”. Over the years, I’ve become a little bolder with asking for help and saying “Hey, I really respect what you’ve done with xyz. Would you be willing to meet with me and I have a couple of questions from a mentorship perspective?” I have yet to have someone say no.
When it comes to this topic, I’ve have had the opportunity to become a mentor for other people and the one thing I’ve appreciated most when people are asking about my time is when they’re specific with their asks. Instead of saying “Hey, can you mentor me?” and being an open-ended ask, instead it’s “Hey, I saw what you did with x and I really want to learn how you did that. Would you like. to have a cup of coffee?”. As the mentor, I know what I’m getting myself into from the time commitment perspective and this is really important on the ask side, being specific. Not being afraid to ask is the other thing. If I was to give advice, I have had several people who are unsure if they should ask me this. But just ask! I can only say no if it doesn’t work for me but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so don’t be afraid to ask.
BottomLine has worked with a wide range of companies, both large and small. What are some of the coolest projects you’ve gotten the chance to have worked on?
I gotta say, I’ve been thinking about this a lot and it is so hard to summarize that in a couple of points. I mean, I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work on some amazing large scale brands. At BottomLine, we’ve had the chance to work with HomeDepot, Nike, lots of really awesome brands. I will say, what I’m about to reference is a little more near and dear to me, than it is these banner campaigns that everyone is seeing.
The first one that comes to mind is an agri-tech company that came to us a couple of years ago. They were small, they started in Saskatchewan and were based in Western Canada. They recently had acquired this agri-tech product and wanted to grow geographically. They really weren’t sure how to do that. So, we helped them rebrand, rename, and they’re now on four continents. The way they did it was so cool. They did tailgate barbecues and old-school fun – engaging farmers in the old-school way instead of typical digital advertising so it was more of a grassroots approach and I’m so proud of what they’ve accomplished.
That one was fun and another one that was kind of funny and I hope I can share this on your interview. We’re the agency rep for the highway coalition. We were trying to promote people to use winter tires in the winter. It’s safer and there are four highways that are under the coalition mandate. A lot of it had been a little more boring and stuffy, it focused on wearing your seatbelt and don’t drink and drive. But we did a really funny campaign promoting winter tires called “Good Rubber Prevents Accidents” and it was a huge success. It was mostly because we took an overly governmental or preachy focused brand and turned it on its head and made it funny and relatable. That one still sticks with me when someone asks me what’s one of your favourites.
I will never remember the day when my team sent me the first round of creative for that campaign. I was walking down 8th avenue and I get a screenshot saying “Too far?” I was like no, they’re going to love it.
Another one that was a little toe over the line and I hope this is OK that I’m referencing it. We did another campaign called “Canadians hate the C word” and what it was, was compliance. So governance compliance. The billboards were tastefully done but again, it was poking fun and showing everyone that compliance can be fun.
How do you attract and retain such great talent and inspire them to come join the team at BottomLine?
I think it’s largely due to the culture piece. At BottomLine, we really try to focus on how do we make sure that this is a win-win for our team as well as for us. That flexible work culture, for one. If your kids need a doctor’s appointment, you don’t need to use your vacation time for that, just go to the appointment and make it up later at some point. If you want to take an extra day on the shoulder of a long weekend, do it. Nobody’s going to ask you any questions. The flexible piece is a big one.
The other big distinction is the mentorship and the professional development piece. Again, there are a lot of companies that talk about having a PD budget but they just bring someone in to go paint-balling or some sort of team building activity, which isn’t really mentorship or professional development. Our managers all go through professional training and are actually coaching their team members and are getting that mentorship piece. When you are onboarded at BottomLine, you’re typically assigned a mentor, someone who’s been with the company for a longer time to help show you the ropes and is someone you can go to who is outside of your manager if you feel like you have a silly question, where there are no stupid questions at BottomLine. You feel as if you have someone else to go to for additional support.
On the professional development side, we assign a budget to every single employee, right down to the support staff. It’s not just the leadership team that is getting a budget assigned to them to go to conferences, everybody gets to do those things. I think those are what I’ve been told are the reasons why people want to come work for us.
For fun, what is your favourite food?
Steak, a good ol’ Alberta steak. I mean, nothing really beats a Hy’s steak, let’s be honest. We recently got a pellet grill at home and so we’ve been experimenting with different smoked meats and barbecuing steaks on it and I will say that my husband makes a mean steak at home too.