Ep13: The Marketing Scientist Mike Sager talks customer success, data and all things marketing!

Today I talk to the Marketing Scientist Mike Sager.

Mike’s one of the smartest marketers I know and he’s definitely earned the marketing scientist nickname!

We discuss his extensive marketing career that started in the US and now sees him in Australia, where he founded a vets on demand startup called Pawsum and is now head of customer success at Siteminder, one of Australia’s fastest growing startups.

In my conversation with Mike we cover a wide range of topics including how to Connect your data with your marketing strategy, what customer success actually looks like and why you need to connect your CRM and marketing automation tools as soon as you kick off your business.

Mike also shares the story of the similarities between coaching his son’s football team and coaching his marketing team. Some valuable lessons here!

So please enjoy this special marketing scientist episode with Mike Sager.

What you will learn in this episode

What you will learn in this episode

  • Why data is so important for your business
  • How gamification can lead to data capture opportunities
  • Mike’s definition of customer success
  • Connecting the data with your marketing strategy
  • Make sure that your applications, front end systems, CRM and marketing automation tools are connected straight out of the gate.
  • Why progressive profiling can get the right information at the right time from your customers
  • Why you need to invest in business intelligence
  • Similarities between coaching a football team and coaching a marketing team
  • When expanding your business into new international markets > always read history books for that region.

Resources mentioned

Resources mentioned

Pawssum (Mike’s former pet startup)


90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years.





Book Recommendations

Shogun by James Clavell

What business would you build on Mars?

What business would you build on Mars?

It kind of goes back to the fact that our society now is so much built on growth, and we talk about GDP, and there’s nothing around climate change, and all the things that are basically we’re not exactly doing very right by the world at the moment. So, you go to a new world, fundamentally shift. I like to see a blend of the communal sharing of a company as opposed to just the fact that it’s sheer growth, and there’s a few people at the top. So, there was a company out of the US. I think it’s Chobani. It’s a yogurt brand. Once they went public, they shared with every single employee, they all became big shareholders in the company. So, if I go to Mars, I would literally probably do something around mining and terraforming. But every person involved would have a huge share of that company because if you could reset what accompany means, I would completely reset it to where everyone’s got to share, we grow, but it’s a completely different mindset.

Get in touch with Mike

Mike on LinkedIn



Brendan Hill: Mike, welcome to the show.

Mike Sager: Thanks for having me.

Brendan Hill: How did you become the marketing scientist?

Mike Sager: I started off being an analyst after coming out from the US, and you kind of get thrown in the deep end of learning about the IT industry. So, for about four years I worked at a place called IDC where they threw you in the deep end of learning about tech, HP, Apple, and all the products that we’re bringing to market. Then got poached by the IT vendor themselves, Dell. And spent time at Dell, and Sun Micro, and VMWare, and in the midst of all that, the roles that I looked after were really getting stuck into the backend, and making all the systems connect, and then playing that back up to board level.

Mike Sager: And you realize that if your full stack of data and things don’t connect, it’s very, very hard to do your job.

Brendan Hill: Yeah, for sure. So, I guess data, it’s definitely an underappreciated area, a full business, large, and small.

Mike Sager: Until it’s connected, than they appreciate it.

Brendan Hill: Yeah. Yes. I mean, have you got any stories of how important data can be?

Mike Sager: Yeah. Actually, I had to think about which one was the biggest. I won’t name the vendor, but where we were working at, we had organically grown from zero to close to a billion in revenue, and we at that stage had 286,000 bespoke job titles for our customers across Asia Pacific and Japan. And then Global came out and said, “Well, we want to start targeting IT practitioners.” And we said, “Well, okay, great. What does that mean?” Well, it means IT practitioner.

New Speaker: And my team in India, we’ve pulled together and showed them all the disparate, across 11 languages, the 286,000 job titles we had. Six month project, crunched it down, got rid of the dummy data, and filtered that down to eight sort of smart form driven. So, we redid all of our web smart forms, did progressive profiling, cleaned up all the database. So, now, a message could come down from corporate in the US, and hit the database, and really land with the right audience whereas before you basically were targeting whoever had a fuzzy match based on the turnaround in marketing conversion went through the roof once we rolled that out across every language. Korean, Vietnamese, Mandarin, et cetera. So, as far as a big project goes from a data cleansing perspective, that’s the one that I kind of hang my hat on. Yeah.

Brendan Hill: Wow. So, I mean, if there’s a startup or a business just starting up, obviously data is not at the forefront of their mind. How can we change that conversation, and highlight its importance?

Mike Sager: Yeah. I founded another startup here, but in the pet space, kind of Uber for pets. And what we did from the beginning, I coached the guys, I said, “If we’re going to do this, you have to get everything straight out the gate.” So, we actually designed the original app to have a lot of data capture, and we sequence it to the more you did in the app. You gamified it. So, you gamified it, so you collected your data. So, you did your progressive profiling along with getting the person. They got more points the more data they put in. So, if you can instill that from day one with client number one, then you’re on the right spot.

Brendan Hill: Awesome. And talking about your role now, I mean, what are you working on? What’s business black box at the moment? What problems?

Mike Sager: So, right now, I work at the world’s biggest, based out of The Rocks actually, hospitality tech company called SiteMinder. So, our black box at the moment is we just hit 100 million a couple of days back, and then our growth curve is we want to triplicate that over the next three years, but the growth curve is going to be huge. Our challenge is how do you take your unbridled enthusiasm for growth, and make sure there’s quality included. So, do you have the data? Are you hitting the right people? Are the customers going to be healthy, so they stick with you for a long time? So, customer success, and what I do means you’re not just a customer, you are very healthy customers. So, you get your lifetime value back. So, it’s that layering in of quality, and making sure your customers is successful while you grow by 30% every year. So, that’s our challenge we’re going through right now.

Brendan Hill: And also, mainly speaking of customer success, can you elaborate a bit more on that? What does that entail?

Mike Sager: If you look it up on LinkedIn, there’s every version under the sun of it. What it means for us is literally what the title says. It’s making sure that every customer you have, whether it’s the smallest bed and breakfast in Estonia to the biggest hotel group in Australia, making sure that they get everything they can out of the products that they’re using, and you’re giving them advice outside of the product just in their business in general, and it’s well suited for who they are, and where they’re at in their customer journey. So, the team cuts across all of that. So, it’s making sure the company thinks about it in every single instance and of the customer journey, but the physical team, that’s what they do day in, day out.

Brendan Hill: So, that’s in your black box at that moment. What do you wish personally? You were more of an expert in marketing at the moment.

Mike Sager: I’m a dinosaur now. We’ve been working for 20 years. You see the people coming into the business, and you go, “Oh, that was me 15 years ago, but they’re a lot smarter now.”

Mike Sager: I make the social in content marketing, and you see the data that they can … We had someone recently that was researching the fact that as the world turns, hotels are searching for different content based on the season they’re in, location. So, if you’re in the Alps versus Thredbo, they are literally looking for revenue management versus optimization of their channels, and you can literally see that shift. And that’s data that I wouldn’t ever even know that stuff existed because I’m a bit of a dinosaur now. So, that plus socials, and when I started out doing the pet startup, I had no idea we were doing for Google Ads. So, I wish I knew more about that, and you show the age when you don’t.

Brendan Hill: Yeah. That’s for sure. And I mean, going back to your pet startup, if you were to have Aladdin’s three wishes, what we wish for at that time to help you guys out?

Mike Sager: I wish I had a dog. My family loves dogs, but we didn’t have one at the time, so that we’ve made it easier. Yeah. So, besides from having a pet at the time, I would’ve wished for someone to come in, and say, “Here’s the mistake.” All literally, the social side. It’s amazing how much cash you can burn, and the spend per acquisition. If I could go back, and have someone come through, and do a crash course for a month before we started, I reckon our early seed funding would have been a lot more efficient. So, your payback versus your dollar spent. I mean, if I could go back, that’s the number one thing I would do round.

Brendan Hill: And what about successes in the early days? Have you got any stories about any big wins that you guys had?

Mike Sager: Yeah. So, the big wins were when you get those first couple of customers through, and then you get the unsolicited feedback on social media where they say, “Best thing ever.” This one lady had six cats, and a dog, and one of the veterinarians that was in Western Sydney, and the vet came out, and she literally just said, “It’ll literally godsend. Best thing ever.” And that’s the kind of stuff you go, “Oh, okay. I didn’t expect that. But yeah, it’s good.”

Brendan Hill: You mentioned that you’re a dinosaur, which I don’t think is that accurate being in some of the workshops with you in. I mean, what else besides the social has you fired up now around marketing?

Mike Sager: So, the cool thing for us right now is where I work at now, in SiteMinder, we’re just now connecting the data. We’ve got this huge growth plan, and then you can connect your strategy back to the physical hotel, and the person that works there. And our toolset is much more connected now, and you go from a theory of being able to hit someone with a really curated message to, “I can talk to that person in that language, in that country, and they’ll self select what they want.” That’s where you go. It’s pretty powerful.

Brendan Hill: We touched on data before, and I mean, I saw a statistic the other day, 90% of data is being created in the last 12 months. So, I mean, with these large volumes of data, I mean, how do these small and early-stage startups start to leverage this asset?

Mike Sager: If I could rewind it all over again, and just be an advisor for all early-stage businesses and startups, it’s about two things. One is unique identifier. You need what we typically call a you, you ID or unique identifier that between your applications, your front end systems, your CRM, your marketing automation tools, make sure all that stuff’s connected straight out the gate. If you do that, it makes it so easy to scale later. That’s your first one. And do a lot of progressive profiling. Find a way to gamify the experience where you make customers champions, but as a part of that, you’re getting them to continuously profile. And that the bit where I consider myself a dinosaur, I physically don’t know how to connect it back to socials, but that’s probably a big chunk of that 90%. It’s what’s all that. Not from a graphic, but the stuff that makes these people who they are, getting that connected earlier on is really important as well.

Brendan Hill: And taking a step back and then focusing on yourself. Now, what is the most worthwhile, I guess, business or marketing investment that you have ever made?

Mike Sager: That’s a good question. If it was a business investment, I would probably say Tableau. Or to be fair, not to pick any vendor up. At any visualization software for BI, what that does is it gives people from low level to the Chief Executive of the company, it allows them to speak a common language. Everyone has these theories about what they think the data’s going to tell them, but if you’ve got this watermarked BI reporting where a Chief Executive can translate a message down to a frontline support person, but the chief executive can then say, “There’s that trend that I see.”

New Speaker: Now, BI is easily the best thing you could ever spend on. Aside from that, was Stripe. So, payment solutions, and the automation piece there is, that was the one that we did straight out the gate at the a pet startup that just made the revenue so much easier.

Brendan Hill: And going back to data professionals, I mean, number one question, the number one hardest position I think to acquire, I mean, how do you get someone on board? I mean, do you have any stories of at SiteMinder? I mean, how do we engage data professionals? I mean, their salaries are being inflated by banks, they’re getting poached by startups in Silicon Valley.

Mike Sager: I think in Sydney especially you’ve got at Atlassian, and you’ve got Canva, I think with the announcement that where I work at we just made, I think we’re going to become one of those really cool destinations that no one knew about. So, I would cluster a data professional and just developers in the same bucket because good people are harder to find in competitive markets like here. I think you got to find a way to just get them young, and get them interested and engaged with the right manager. I mean, these people are very motivated. But if they’re in the right team, and they have their part of the company, be it socially in monetarily, if you nail those things, it’s just about the culture. Get a good culture, get them in, and help them frame part of the journey. They’ll stick. Yeah.

Brendan Hill: And a bit of a personal question now, again on the same tangent as the tool, if you have made any purchase in the last few $100 or less, that’s really made a significant impact on your life, what would that be?

Mike Sager: Oh geez. Good question. I would say my son’s soccer boots, but they’re big now. So, those are over a hundred bucks. I can say that. Honestly, if it’s me personally, if AirPods below $100, I’d say that. Yeah. That’s literally me personally. It’s just, yeah, probably that.

Brendan Hill: And do you listen to a lot of audio books?

Mike Sager: I wish I had time for that stuff. Between school stuff, and when you get kids coaching soccer or doing startups at your work, I mean the one thing, and that’s probably why I’ve fallen behind a bit on a lot of the social, and working on that side of marketing, I wish, hopefully it’s this podcast.

Brendan Hill: Yeah, that’s right. It could be the first. And you mentioned you’re a soccer coach. I didn’t know that. What similarities are there between soccer coaching and obviously coaching a lot of your staff?

Mike Sager: It sounds weird, but it’s learning because I’ve managed teams of different sizes and different regions around the world, and it’s working out what makes someone tick, whether it’s a 35-year-old woman playing soccer or a nine-year-old kid or a six-year-old kid. They exhibit the same traits. They’re just not as refined as someone who’s working with you. So, it’s kind of fun where you’ve distilled it down to its most basic components of … This is going to sound strange, but for my son’s soccer team, “All right. So, you guys can pass pretty well, you’re winning your games, but you can’t get a free-kick out the back.” So, it’s as simple as identifying the same stuff in data. “Guys, you want to email IT practitioners, but the biggest thing you’re missing is you don’t know who they are.” so, it’s these big things that you can identify that you just solve for. Now unfortunately, you can’t wave candy or lollies at a database, and expect it to do something. Ironically, nine-year-olds respond to that.

Brendan Hill: And circling back to books, are there any business books or it doesn’t necessarily have to be a business book that’s really helped you over the last five to 10 years?

Mike Sager: Yeah. I had a feeling a question like that would come up, and it sounds bad, and I know a lot of Chief Executives go about reading 60 books a year and all that stuff. I read non-fictional history.

Brendan Hill: Oh. Becoming very popular.

Mike Sager: Yeah. So, honestly, I will literally just finished Shogun, which is a 1200 page book, which is that going to teach you anything about management techniques? No. But I find when I do business, I want to learn a lot about the culture that you’re working with. I think some people assume that by reading a business book, I know an Anglo Saxon business book just applies everywhere globally. No, seriously. So, if you read a book about you know the Byzantine era, the subcontinent of India, Southeast Asia, that will teach you more about where your customers are coming from than reading a Manila book that comes out of Harvard or out of California that you expect to apply globally, and they don’t.

Brendan Hill: And any that you can recommend to the audience?

Mike Sager: Any history book that tells you about anything from any country. Honestly, if your business is going to grow in Asia, pick up any book about Asian history that you can. If you’re going to expand in the Middle East, pick up about the history because you’ll understand the dynamics between the countries. Yeah. There’s no book, in particular, I can pick out because there’s so many that you can read about history.

Brendan Hill: Yeah, yeah. And I mean, great opportunity having the marketing scientist in here. So, definitely going to pick your brain. What, I guess, is some of the best marketing campaigns that you’ve seen over the last couple of years?

Mike Sager: Yeah. I like to hang my hat on one that we did back at Sun Microsystems. For those of you that are in tech, you’ll have the Intel versus AMD processor discussion. We really were trying to identify, we had a campaign sponsored by AMD, and we couldn’t find that niche or we couldn’t find that space. And then we actually ran a couple of focus groups, and found out the people that have one of these really high-end processors, what do they need? The product was the same. It didn’t do anything different, and we changed the messaging by country, and it’s just because you chose to interview someone, and spend a little bit of extra time, and not translate from English, like go from local language back, and just completely localize it.

Mike Sager: So, that was one of the best campaigns I ever ran when I did marketing. As far as the ones that are most effective, Atlassian. That story, and the fact that they literally have no marketing department, and they’ve gone at a user, and just spread out is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.

Brendan Hill: Yeah. Especially being homegrown in Australia.

Mike Sager: Yeah. So, that’s the ability of how they got into that space, and what they did, and it just went crazy. That’s amazing. So, that’s the number one.

Brendan Hill: What about customer success with Atlassian? I know you have a bit of insight on how they-

Mike Sager: Their approach is a replicant of the product speaks for itself. We’ve never, and me personally, never engaged with anyone directly from Atlassian on every element that we use from what they do. So, there’s a mix of how easy your product is to use, and how intuitive it is relative to the maturity. Now, the cool thing about Atlassian, their customers are inherently techie. You typically need customer success if you have a tech product that your customers have a variation of tech and non-tech.

Mike Sager: So, the customers that we have our bed and breakfast in the middle of Victoria to some of the biggest hotel groups globally. And how you vary what customer success is changes based on how well they understand that. Atlassian, they work with tech people, so we typically don’t. Yeah. Their product is incredible, and they actually don’t need that.

Brendan Hill: Yeah. And what about the actual onboarding from Atlassian? I remember you told a story about the onboarding experience from Atlassian.

Mike Sager: It depends on what part of the business you’re in. If you’re a developer, and you’re using that, the onboarding is quite easy because you just replicate the methodology that they have. The funny thing is we typically use their products to onboard our own employees. That’s where you put your best practices, where you put your processes. So, for us, ironically it’s an enabler rather than us having to onboard the product.

Brendan Hill: Thanks for dropping so much value to all our listeners. Very interesting to have the marketing scientists here in the studio. We’re going to finish off with a couple of abstract questions, a couple of creative questions that will get you thinking in different ways. So, the first one is, what is the moment in business history that you would witness in-person?

Mike Sager: I wish I could be around for the time when Elon Musk and people like him is the norm rather than the exception. When you hear the stories of people that have an altruistic approach to why their business exists, and I think we’re on route for that, but it’s farther off than I’d like it to be.

Brendan Hill: And I have a second Elon Musk related question for you right now. So, you’re on the first flight to Mars with Elon Musk, and the first settlers about this Space X star ship rocket. So, what business do you start when you land on Mars, and how would you market it to the new Martians?

Mike Sager: It kind of goes back to the fact that our society now is so much built on growth, and we talk about GDP, and there’s nothing around climate change and all the things that are basically we’re not exactly doing very right by the world at the moment. So, you go to a new world, fundamentally shift. I like to see a blend of the communal sharing of a company as opposed to just the fact that its sheer growth and there are a few people at the top. So, there was a company out of the US. I think it’s Chobani. It’s a yogurt brand. Once they went public, they shared with every single employee, they all became big shareholders in the company. So, if I go to Mars, I would literally probably do something around mining and terraforming. But every person involved would have a huge share of that company because if you could reset what accompany means, I would completely reset it to where everyone’s got to share, we grow, but it’s a completely different mindset.

Brendan Hill: Amazing answer. And Mike, I really appreciate your time today. Is there anything else you’d to say before we wrap up? Anything you’d like to ask people to do?

Mike Sager: The biggest thing is if you’re a part of a growing company, don’t be afraid to fail. I’ve screwed up so many times in so many ways. Keep cracking at it because it’s one of the best things you’ll ever do.

Brendan Hill: Awesome. It’s been fun, Mark. How can people find you if they want to continue the conversation online?

Mike Sager: LinkedIn is always the best. A good place to start. Then you can look through the history, and see if there’s anything relevant to what you’re doing.

Brendan Hill: Awesome. Everything we mentioned today, guys, will be in the show notes that you can find at Metigy.com/podcast. And Mike, this has been fun. Thanks for coming on.

Mike Sager: Thanks for having me.


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