In this Executive Interview we talk with Mario Matulich, a long standing IQPC Veteran. Most recently Mario has been focused on building The Customer Management Practice, a division of IQPC based out of New York. Mario explains what CMP does, why it’s so special and the team culture that is key to its ongoing success.
I think it’s fair to say that The Customer Management Practice is a world leader in the delivery of Customer Events. Can you tell me a little bit about the portfolio; why is it so successful and how have you managed to achieve this?
The Customer Management Practice (CMP) is 100% dedicated to topics surrounding customer interaction. We think about nothing else! This has not only been the most significant contributor to our success, but also fully aligned us with the thinking and approach of our target market. We only think about what our customers think about! This level of focus allows us to explore the customer management market with a much deeper and more holistic view compared to a traditionally structured IQPC business unit that covers multiple industries or markets.
To explain a little more about our approach, CMP is built around 3 sub sectors under the umbrella of customer management:
- Customer Contact (working with Heads of Customer Contact Center/Support/Care)
- Customer Experience (working with Heads of Customer Experience)
- And Design & Innovation (working with Heads of Experience/Service/User Design/Innovation).
All of our research is focused on these three areas and each sub sector connects (and more and more frequently overlaps) with one another creating a very focused approach to our product development.
Looking at your business it seems to have evolved from just running events into a more multi-channel approach. Why did you make this shift and what opportunities does it offer to both your clients and team?
Again, this primarily comes down to topic focus. However, it’s also worth noting that I’ve been with IQPC for almost 14 years and have been fortunate enough to work within various product lines over those years. I was around when we first launched our digital offerings and also worked with Rob Shannon, Regional Managing Director of the Americas, to help launch our Tampa office, which focuses on the exchange/1:1 meetings event model only. Because of these experiences and having CMP focused topically, it was a fairly obvious decision to bring all 3 proven product lines to our target market: Large Scale Conferences/Expos, Exchanges, and Digital.
This structure changed how we worked with our customers. They no longer needed to “go across the street” to get alternative products or services that we either didn’t, or weren’t able to provide. As a result, our solution providing customers can purchase a fully integrated marketing and business development product suite and our primary market can choose to access the learning format and content mediums they prefer, when they prefer them. We have effectively personalized our offerings.
Unexpectedly, we have also been able to develop both sub sector and product line specialists within the CMP team which has opened the door to a unique set of career growth opportunities and focus within the group.
And what is the vision for the future? What would you like CMP to achieve in the next few years? Are there still opportunities for growth?
There are certainly additional growth opportunities. In 2018 in North America alone, we had almost 5000 executives attending our events, 700 speakers, 300+ sponsors and exhibitors, and many more thousands who utilized our digital platforms. But we know that this still equates to just a fraction of our target market. Additionally, while our three product lines are fully developed for the customer contact sector and still growing aggressively YOY, our CX and Design & Innovation sub sectors are only just beginning to expand.
In the next few years, our goal is to ensure CMP is viewed by our customers and prospects as THE place to receive the most cutting edge research surrounding the customer interaction. Our analysts and product teams are spending more time studying this industry, without distraction, than any of our competitors – specifically the big research houses. While many of our longtime customers know this, we still have work to do in educating our newer customers and existing prospects. However, once convinced, we know our customers are very loyal. We have experienced very high customer retention rates, mostly due to our topic focus which is something our competition lacks.
Tough question but if you had to pick one achievement that makes you most proud, or one special moment that you’ll never forget while building CMP what would it be? Can you tell us about it?
There have been many special moments but one that stands out happened recently. We launch only just a few events each year as we believe that each one must have high potential for ongoing growth. As a result, we are very selective.
In 2017, one of our few launch events was Service Design Week (SDW), part of our Design & Innovation sub sector. It was successful in 2017 and doubled in 2018. Following the event, just a few weeks ago, one of our partners sent us the below note…
Before this year, we had not spent $1 on promotion in our 19 years as a company. SDW was a big gamble for us in terms of investment, but it was also the very best thing that happened to us in 2018. Bryan Taylor, Founder and CEO, Drawn
For me, launching a new product or event, seeing it grow to become a major contributor, and most importantly watching it exceed customer expectations is still the most rewarding part of this business. Reaching 1000+ paid delegates on Customer Contact Week was an awesome achievement and milestone when it happened, but taking home the trophy for launch event/product of the year will always be more gratifying from my perspective.
Can you tell us a little more about the CMP Team, what is the culture like, what drives your team to be so successful?
CMP Team at work…
CMP is built for today’s employees. When we launched CMP as its own business unit, we as a management team (shout out to Michael DeJager, Max Ribitzky, Gahwui Kim and recently welcomed Michael Ringo and Amanda Terrell) wanted our own sub culture and identity that would specifically appeal to the top talent of the next generation workforce. We felt times had changed and people had different motivations across all generations of the workforce (not just millennials). We began studying successful sports teams. What type of coaches were winning today? What were their coaching styles like and how did they differ from the traditional winning coaches of yesteryear?
As a result, we took ownership of the CMP culture and changed it. We implemented CMP specific closeouts and town halls to ensure all team members were clear on our goals and progress. We changed the dress code to a more modern executive look helping people feel more comfortable and less intimidated. We added “kangaroo court” as part of our monthly closeouts for the purpose of team building. We also changed how we managed people by rewarding and acknowledging swagger, confidence, and hard work.
We wanted to make work fun without sacrificing accountability or results and quite frankly, we wanted people to work their asses off because they wanted to and were motivated to do so, not because we had to push them. We wanted our team members to never want to leave CMP, because they were successful, financially growing, and because they loved their jobs and the culture.
We live by the motto of “outwork everybody and have fun doing it”. In a nutshell, this is the CMP culture. The vision for our culture is lofty. Make no mistakes, we have to work towards developing it everyday.
…and at play
And when you look for people to join you, what is it that would make a candidate stand out from the crowd?
Smart and hardworking. Many would say, “well that’s a cliché from any job ad”. Maybe. However, in my years on this earth, many as an athlete and the last 13+ plus at IQPC, I can tell you with certainty that while either of these characteristics on their own would absolutely be considered cliché, together they are special and define #theCMPway (as we call it).
When you are able to put these characteristics together when describing a candidate, that makes them unique and standout. There are many smart people in the world and there are also many hardworking people in the world. However, there are few smart AND hardworking people. These people have what I call intellectual horsepower. The pace and demands of this business require intellectual horsepower. You are not part of CMP unless you have it.
Finally we’d like to know a little bit more about you, how long have you worked for CMP and IQPC? What has your career journey been like?
As mentioned, I have been with IQPC going on 14 years, celebrating my 13th anniversary in 2018. We launched CMP in 2016. The journey up to that point began in delegate sales back in 2005, then to sponsorship sales, sales management here in NYC working with both the delegate and sponsorship teams, and then across the Americas working with our NY, Tampa, and Sao Paulo offices in a regional role.
However, in 2014 following years of mentorship and training on the greater business, I was craving additional influence beyond the sales strategy. I wanted the pressure of choosing topics, product development, quality control, marketing involvement, and the ability to change what our onsite experiences looked like.
At that point I made a very difficult decision. I decided to go from Regional Sales Director, reporting to Regional Managing Director and Global Head of Sales to producing stage1/launch events. Talk about going back to school! For clarity, many thought I was absolutely crazy.
I went on to produce several events and then was given, what I viewed as an opportunity (some may have disagreed), to lead a small team that was inheriting two business units that had lost a combined 1.5m dollars in the year prior. I said to myself, “well, surely you can’t do much worse!”. We went on to turn the 1.5m loss into a substantive profit in the following year, launching events that still are still big contributors in the NYC office today: Future Offices, Autonomous Vehicles, VA Healthcare, Learning Analytics, Learning Spaces, Military Flight Training USA and others.
I quickly realized that “going back to school” was one of the best decisions of my career because following that turnaround project, I was asked to work on a growth project – a business unit that was already profitable but hadn’t yet reached its full potential – CMP was born.
And what is it that has kept you in the business so long? What do you love about your job and the company?
First and foremost, I am infatuated with the business. It is an ongoing chess match. Everyday you are challenged to innovate, create, and think. However, what makes this unique is that it’s done under pressure and deadlines. It is the pace and challenge that keeps me constantly engaged. And when you are successful, it becomes addictive. You want it again, and you want to do it bigger and better! Plus it’s hard! Not everyone can do it and not everyone has the “chops” for it….which adds to it!
Next, it’s the people. I am very blessed to have landed with IQPC. The mentorship that I have received from the leadership group here has been incredible. I have been taught by those that have essentially built this company from the ground up, which is so rare. I am forever grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me and for believing in me very early on.
And last but certainly not least, I work alongside an absolutely awesome group of people at CMP and within the greater NYC office. I consider CMP my second family. In my opinion we have created something that is truly unique and special. We have created the culture we were striving to build and now hearing people speak with pride about #theCMPway. In such a tough and demanding industry, this makes me as proud as I have ever been of any achievement in this business…. maybe even more than that wonderful note I shared from our SDW client!
With that said, we need to continue to work on our culture and move it forward. I want our culture to be recession proof, transcending any challenge or external pressure that may come our way. It is too special to ever lose.
Finally, can you give us 5 pieces of advice that we can share with someone beginning their career at IQPC?
- Outwork everybody and have fun doing it
- Focus focus focus
- No half measures. Fail knowing you did everything you could to succeed. Safe is death.
- You own your culture, no one else so no excuses.
- Become addicted to success