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Overcoming Culture: How a Son of Distribution Built a World-Class Webstore, Episode 4

Sean McDonnell struck out on his own to launch when he found that traditional distributor practices, culture and leadership were not compatible with a state-of-the-art e-commerce platform or a turbocharged entrepreneurial culture. Today, serves a community of more than 45,000 customers, with 7.5 million parts and 600 brands. Sean’s leadership created a fast-growing business, expanding to new categories and staying lean. In this podcast, Sean describes his journey and inspirations. He offers lessons that distributors must consider as they strive to attract, motivate and harness next-generation leaders and build a culture of innovation.  Whether catching up or already operating a webstore, every distributor should ask themselves if they have the right tools in place, as the COVID-19 has changed how business is done. 

Featuring: Mark Dancer, Author of NAW’s Innovate to Dominate: The 12th Edition in the Facing the Forces of Change Series; Richard Blatcher, Director of Industry Marketing and Business Intelligence at PROS; and Sean McDonnell, Founder and CEO of 

To listen to the full episode, press play below: 👇 

Like this episode? Make sure to subscribe here!  By subscribing, you automatically enter for a chance to win a free copy of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors' publication: #InnovateToDominate (normally $335). 

To learn more about Sean’s business, visit:  

For more information on this podcast series and the book, visit or

Key Points: 

  • Sean’s insights are not just about creating a world-class webstore. Those perspectives are critically important. His thoughts are also about culture because operating a webstore is fundamentally a different business. 
  • Sean’s business is expanding horizontally. That means that if a distributor has a webstore, that capability is leverageable. Distributors can sell more to their existing customers, or to new customers. But, rightly designing and operating the webstore comes first. He gets a very wide range of customers from very large to very small, across many lines of trade.
  • Core to Sean’s approach is that it is “all about the customer experience.” That means don’t fit the webstore to your processes, create the processes (or experiences) that are right for customers. This requires a blank slate. That’s hard. Sean is “constantly curious”
  • Sean does not compete on prices. He offers full transparency and visibility to the entire customer experience. And his business must enable whatever has to happen to help customers make the right decisions and get the product when they want it. This means he needs to have a 360 view of customers, across the entire customer’s buying needs.
  • Ultimately, success is about building competitive loyalty for the modern age. A good customer might be a good relationship way back when. Customers must continue buying or there is no loyalty. Make that visible to customers. Opt-in loyalty. If you don’t buy this much in five days, you will lose that pricing. That’s different than dynamic pricing for that moment. Human interactions on service all also critical for his success. 

In this Episode:  

[02:00]: How came to be   
[08:00]: The customer experience at the heart of it all 
[11:20] The difference between B2C and B2B 
[15:45]: Rethinking customer loyalty  
[18:55]: Pricing and transparency 
[26:44]: Phone-ordering and the role of human interaction  
[31:17]: Emotional empathy, listening, solving problems 
[34:35]: Doing what is best for the customer 
[38:15]: Data and metrics that matter 

Full Transcript:  

Richard Blatcher: So, hi everyone. I'm delighted to be here with Mark Dancer again as the ongoing podcast series that we are working with around the 12th Edition of the Forces of Change, the Innovate to Dominate book and research that Mark has authored. And this is part of the ongoing series and initiative that PROS is very proud to be doing with the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. ...

We’re very excited to have Sean McDonald here from So, Sean maybe you could just introduce yourself and tell folks a little about you and most importantly, tell us about 

Sean McDonnell [2:00]: So I'm Sean McDonnell. From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, grew up in the industrial equipment space and so my father's been an industrial dealer for my whole life. And after barely graduating high school, I moved to Colorado to be a ski bum. And so I moved to Colorado and do the ski bum thing for a while, 12 bucks an hour. And then I'm like, "Okay, so I've got to figure out how to afford this town." Like ski towns in Colorado are not cheap. 

And so I learned how to do marketing. I got an SEO book and social media marketing was starting to become popular. So I worked for some local companies and then I start working with my dad's company and helping him rank on Google for equip or forklifts, Pittsburgh or local searches and it's way easier to rank for this B2B industrial space, and I said, "There could be an opportunity here." 

Whereas Aspen real estate agent, I couldn't even get on the fifth page of Google, but very easily was able to get words in the industrial space higher up on Google quickly. And so I said to my dad, "And I think we could sell these parts online. I think there's a huge opportunity" And he said, "Sean we'll never work, people buy from people." And I said, "Okay, well I think it's going to." 

And I also had a development team at the time that was working with other customers. And so nights and weekends started developing this thing and I have to give credit to him and to just the family connections from growing up because we would go on family vacations with some of the major wholesale distributors in the space in the aftermarkets. 

We sell aftermarket forklift, aerial lifts, sweep discover parts. We've expanded, we're getting into some janitorial supply, shop supplies, safety and accessories, but really sticking in the B2B space. And so I'm going after this vision and I'm like, "I'm just going to list the products online and hopefully these vendors will sell to me, hope maybe there's a market there, maybe there's not. 

And we launched it and we started getting traffic and we started doing calls, and we tried to do it internally. So I tried to hand that site off to my dad a little bit. All right, so your internal inside sales, we'll take the calls, accounting will help with that. And what I really found was that it was fundamentally a different business. 

I was getting different customers at first, the smaller operations that my dad's company wasn't really built to handle efficiently. And furthermore, it was turning online eCommerce, self-service customers into call us, we'll make you a deal customers. And I didn't see that scalable. 

And through that and other things, I was pushing really hard in his organization, and especially... and one of the main things that I don't talk about too much so this is exclusive content is I think that if I would have been in Pittsburgh at this time, we would've had a better chance of doing this together, but the one fundamental thing that he was not able to get on board with was the fact that I was in Colorado and planned on staying out West. 

And so I was going to do everything remotely. If I was going to build a team it was going to be remotely. And his headquarters is in Pittsburgh. All of his people are in Pittsburgh and they're all under one roof. And so whenever it came to that remote capabilities, it just was a big disconnect. And so I was pushing hard in his organization. And so essentially we decided, I really saw the opportunity, we started to grow and we decided we're different business models. 

And so I split up from him and then started onboarding more vendors and that was five years ago. We've continued to grow a customer base revenue, and now our future vision is to continue to add more product lines, add more vendors and continue to serve the customers we have and also grow the customer base. 

Richard Blatcher: And the numbers that pretty dramatic. I mean 600 brands. You want to buy a million skews, you want to grow to 12 and 45,000 customers. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah 45,000 customers. Yeah. So 8 million skews. We started with a 2 million skews and it was on a more B2C eCommerce platform. It was built if you want to make jewelry and sell it in-house or something and because, I mean that's all that I could afford. I was funding the thing and it was really a test, but I knew that we had a catalog that was much bigger and I knew that the more products I put online, the more traffic we got, the more sales we did. 

And so, yeah, I expanded, continuing to expand and I went to a more robust eCommerce platform. The guys who founded Magento ended up founding a B2B commerce platform called Oro commerce. And they really had a similar vision and roadmap for what the future looks. 

Richard Blatcher [8:00]: And one of the things I've found fascinating when you've when we've spoken and when you talked and the differentiation of is you're always putting the customer experience at the heart of everything you do. And people still buy from people, but people increasingly buy online. People increasingly buy digitally and research digitally. So it's not an and all in all, right? 

Sean McDonnell: Right. 

Richard Blatcher: It's an as well because we interviewed John Kaplan who runs Alibaba in North American. They did research. And again, talking to thousands of buyers of those 45,000 customers saying that, "Yes, we need to buy online, we need to buy by email and we still..." So all of these different channels play a part. But maybe you could talk Sean about this call that you have of the, it's all about the customer experience that you constantly mentioned that. 

Sean McDonnell: Well, I saw it as working with my dad's company, I think he wanted me to build the system based on the internal business processes, the legacy business processes in order to fit his business. And what I've found as I meet with more B2B companies is that typically as the strategy. We can't show pricing, we are going to show pricing all of these conversations that is that best for the customer? 

Constantly coming back to, is that best for the customer? And to be honest, a lot of people don't really know unless you ask them. And unless you really put it out there, try things and iterate on that. But whenever you're building something to look like your current business, it's a different business. And that's really how it had to start was rethinking, getting a blank slate and rethinking what is best for the customer, asking the customer. 

Well, but of course it goes to the whole Henry Ford thing. If you ask people what they wanted, they'd just say a faster horse. Sometimes they don't know so it's the data aspect as well and trying things and also watching what is working in other spaces. I get a lot of my inspiration from the B2C space, but also understanding the B2B complexities and the needs of B2B buyers. 

So it's like that marriage of there is still a lot of the B2C customer experience, self-service, but then also having to be the hybrid of having more experienced customer support and really the customer enablement. Because whereas I don't have order takers, I have people internally that will show my customers how to do it the first time, walk them through it so that teach them how to fish. 

Richard Blatcher [11:20]: And that that line between B2C and B2B is definitely blurring. And you didn't really approach this from a, okay, this is an online catalog, neither did you, this was a whole project – had you done that you said publicly that probably wouldn’t have worked. 

Sean McDonnell: Right. 

Richard Blatcher: How did you approach it? 

Sean McDonnell: Once again, I wish I could say I just saw it so clear early on. I approached it in a very B2C way, so I didn't believe in quoting. I didn't believe in the price is the price. I didn't necessarily put enough weight in the transparency of price and availability and some of the more technical specifications about like, is this a hazardous item like candy? Is it an LTL freight item? 

These are just things that I think that B2C doesn't have to focus on as much, but there are things that are critically important, especially if you're selling aftermarket parts replacement parts because if someone's piece of equipment is down, they needed that part yesterday. And so whereas I think a lot of people will compete on the price level. I really have tried to differentiate myself by competing on the full transparency level. If it's non-stock, I'm not going to pretend it isn't stock. 

Like, I'm not going to say, give us a call and we'll figure something out. If it's not on stock, I can't do anything about that. This is going to be the timeframe. If someone else has in stock, we suggest to buy it off of them. We want what's best for the customer every time, not just whenever it suits us. And obviously, we try to keep getting better and better to have it suit us as well, is to have everyone win. 

And so really I've tried to approach things from... and customer experience is end-to-end. So it's not just putting an online catalog up, it's about having the online chat, having your phone system, communicate with your CRM system so you have a 360 view of who the customer is when they're calling, what orders, et cetera. This isn't so innovative any of this. It's just understanding how to piece the things together. 

And then whenever it comes to marketing campaigns or whenever you even comes to post-purchase, if an item is going to take longer, we let them know. We automate that so we're able to send them an email, letting them know when it's ship. We get them tracking. If you go to Amazon, I'm not saying anything that they aren't doing, I feel like for some reason it's been lost in a lot of the B2B space where it's just customers want full visibility into their experience all the way through. 

Mark Dancer: Is your business now still SEO driven? So it's a customer who goes online to search and they end up on your site or do they now go to your site because they've been there and they'd like to experience? 

Sean McDonnell: I was looking at raising capital for awhile and then we also talked to a company and they were trying to acquire us. And one of the big questions was repeat customers. How much of that is a repeat business because B2B is a lot of repeat business. And at that time, which was a few years ago, it was a lot less. It was like, let me about 10 to 15% we're continuing to come back, which was great. 

I was getting a ton of new customers, but I hadn't whether it was price or availability or selection which are Amazon's three pillars. I hadn't done something as well as I could have in order to keep them. And in the last year, I really started getting the data on an everyday basis, quarterly, monthly how many repeat and we're up to about 50 to 60% repeat customers while continuing to add new customers every day. 

Mark Dancer [15:45]: It's an interesting topic because there's a growing realization that distributors need to rethink how they define loyalty and how they measure it. And sometimes they measure loyalty as the metrics or repeat purchases or do you give me a little bit extra margin for the value I provide? 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah. 

Mark Dancer: They've always done that. And so I don't know, are those the right metrics for measuring loyalty, and even if they are the right metrics, distribution needs to figure out for all of their business, not just their online side. What is it that they do to create loyalty, which has to be different some way than it was 20 years ago? 

Sean McDonnell: It's an interesting question. I was actually talking about the other night. One of the things that and I understand that pros really has a lot to offer as far as pricing and pricing optimization and real time algorithms and whatnot. And so I developed a lot of that internally. The team at Oro helped me because I don't have any ERP system. 

So literally, if you go to a product page on my site, it is all being, it's calling my suppliers, getting my cost, getting my availability, and then repricing it in real time based on a number of different roles. 

Mark Dancer: Right there when you're shopping. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah. Right there when you're shopping. And so obviously that takes some heavy duty lifting. But the next phase and what I'm working on currently and once again, I'm not making this up, but I feel like, I don't know why people do it. One question I always had in my dad's company is, so if we actually look at the data, okay? You say this customer gets this tier of pricing because they're a good customer. And I said, "What does that actually mean?" 

Because if you look at the recent years of data, they want score a good customer, you may have a good relationship with them, you may like them, but at the end of the day, they are buying off you now like they were before, but they're still priced the same. Okay? So my theory is, if you're in an airline program you build loyalty, but you have to continue purchasing. And they actually look at how recency of purchase this stuff expires. 

And you need to continue to fly with the airline in order to build that loyalty, build the miles, build the status or you lose the status. And I believe it can be the same way in B2B. So I believe as long as you're transparent and expose all of this to the customers whether it's a quarterly, semi-annually, annually basis saying, here's your benchmark - In order to maintain this pricing that you're getting, you need to continue to hit this benchmark and all the way down to like, you have five days to hit this benchmark or your pricing is going to roll back to tier two. 

Mark Dancer [18:55]: I think transparency is really interesting. When I started working with distributors 20 years ago, in a lot of the work I was doing when I was talking to customers, they would tell me they gave their loyalty to a distributor and they gave them their purchases and they thought they were getting fair service and a fair price. 

And then sometimes they would do a little bit of by design shopping elsewhere to see what price they were going to get. And if they found out that the another distributor, this is before the internet was giving them a better price and they weren't getting that from the distributor to whom they give their loyalty all heck broke loose. Right? There was such a down driver of that's a bad way to say it, but it really impacted their perception of that distributor. It took a while to recover, right? 

Sean McDonnell: It's the free market. 

So then they go to that distributor and say, these guys have this price and this whole price matching thing, which really continues to drive down the actual value of the market in general. So I think transparency is key. Amazon is not always the cheapest option, but they provide more value beyond that, price selection and availability, these are the three pillars. 

Richard Blatcher: And Amazon optimizes the price for that particular person at that particular moment with those particular circumstance. 

Mark Dancer: And I think customers either know that because they read and they see it or some vendors tell them that or... tell me if this is the way you think about it. You're building your relationship with them from scratch, making promises and you have to hold those promises. And the transparency is how you continually prove that to them that you're holding your promise. 

Sean McDonnell: The transparency is also saying there are some things I'm going to try that I can't make a promise on, but I want to try to be better for you. And so as long as you're open to being a part of that group that wants to try this, I can't promise it's always going to stay that way because it may not work out for either side. 

Mark Dancer: And these are businesses, so their view of trust is different than a consumer, right? They like commitment. Be honest with me. Tell me before the bad news, tell me bad news before it happens. Those kinds of values have been there forever. And it's really interesting to hear that they show up again because they're the fundamentals in their relationship with you online. 

Sean McDonnell: Absolutely. These are things that I've had to learn the hard way because I really want to approach this remote B2C approach. And what I've learned the hard way on some of the... like I said I didn't want to quotes, but then I understood that quotes aren't just about price, they're about the whole approval process internally at your organization. 

So you need to get a quote as a buyer to show your approver, who's going to say yes you need to get five quotes. And if we aren't providing quotes we're going to lose that deal automatically. So we built in a request for quote to order all digital online. So it's a self service process and you can request quotes from us and then receive the quote on the admin side of the website. 

And then also once you receive the quote and your boss says it's okay, you can approve an order and order it all through the website. So these are things that shifts. So people say that B2B is going to be exactly B2C. In some ways the customer experience, customers do expect a certain experience, but in other ways, there's a gap. 

Mark Dancer: They're buying as a business. 

Sean McDonnell: Right. So there's different kind of needs, values, especially in replacement parts space, these aren't once like maybe I'll get that alternator from my broken forklift that's loading the trucks. You can't need it. This isn't maybe I'll get the PlayStation two. 

Mark Dancer: The manufacturers of the products that you sell, have they approached you and tried to sign you up to authorize you to put you into their programs? And do you like that if they have done that? 

Sean McDonnell: The big ones haven't because I don't play by the rules of territory and they have dealer programs and this is your region and all this stuff. And I just think that that's- 

Mark Dancer: That's why I'm asking. And I think that manufacturers 15, 20 years ago, they define their programs to really to push inventory into the distributor's warehouse because once it was there, the distributor would sell it, right? And that was a way for them to create some certainty in their sales and take some risk out of it. But that's not your model. 

Sean McDonnell: No. 

Mark Dancer: So a creative manufacturer who wanted to bring you into their orbit, they would say, what can I provide to you that reinforces the way you do business, and have a different sort of program? Maybe they would reward you for your AI capabilities or you create loyalty on some sort of new metric, but you haven't had that, I think manufacturers are behind the ball on this. 

Sean McDonnell: The whole thing is manufacturers also aren't built because I am drop shipping my products, so you have to be a logistics focused distributor in order to work with me. And you also have to have enough tech capabilities at least internally so that I can integrate in with your systems because I need to know if it's in stock or not. I need to know what my current prices because my customers expect that transparency. 

So I really have a pretty strict selection process whenever it comes to working with new wholesale distributors. And I have added more on, but it's not as much like we're open for all whole at this point, we don't have the capabilities for anyone to list their stuff. 

And even Amazon struggles with that now. They've created programs where they reward or discipline their third party marketplace sellers when the stock isn't right or whenever they get taken off of the listing or put down further in the listing and then also reviews. So that's kind of the direction we're going. 

But just because of how the space exists and it's consolidate the top. I don't think there'd be thousands and thousands of third party people that we selling It's going to be more like hopefully hundreds and hundreds. 

Mark Dancer [26:44]: So primarily online interface with your customer, a digital interface and virtual interface. But you also have phone support. Do you find that as you grow your business and you're going new directions, are there things you're doing on the phone with your customers? Not necessarily as a backup to the online, but you're doing innovative things and new things with them.Or just B2B things with them that need to be can because it's a human interaction. It doesn't have anything to do with the data. It's just quality, the digital interaction. It's just a quality human interaction that has to happen. 

Sean McDonnell: Yes. I think about every, so one of my biggest focuses over the years has been reviewing these phone calls and finding patterns and doing whatever I can to build self service capabilities in order to solve these problems. So if there's problems that if you hear about something enough and someone's calling over and over again for something that we have solved digitally, I then realized I need to train my team to train the customer on how to fish because they're things like a big change that we made. 
And it was actually a really scary thing is in our new eCommerce platform, we used to take about 20% phone orders. Even though the customers could place it online, they just weren't trying to place some online and 20% of our orders. So in 2018, 20% of our orders, 2018 and before, 20% of our orders were over the phone. All of 2019 on the new system, you can't place orders of the phone, it can only be done online. 

And so we had to go from placing orders for customers on the phone to walking them through the process and helping them through placing orders. And we grew 40% in 2019 so there was a lot of fear. Are we going to give up that 20%, are they not going to be willing to buy themselves? 

And what I found is that, as we enable, you're going to have the 80, 20 principle. You're going to always have customers that won't buy off of you if you can't do it over the phone. And to them I'd say like, "Hopefully at some point you come around, but we have plenty of competitors that are willing to take phone numbers for you." We were just not built to do that. 

Richard Blatcher: What do you think is the driver of, they still want to talk to human being? Is it a training and experience, a lack of knowledge of- 

Mark Dancer: Or is it their intrinsic value there they just want? 

Sean McDonnell: That's the million dollar question. 

Richard Blatcher: That's why I asked. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah, I think that I've been trying to figure that out. 

Mark Dancer: I think it encourage you to figure it out because I think in the research I did for innovate to dominate, distributors have really heard the siren call of being online. They may not do it right, but they know they have to be there and they've totally forgotten and don't defend, don't innovate around their quarter business, which is being local and being human. 

And just like a mall may have lost half its shops, the shops that do excite in the retail world, the shops that exist, and there's a saying in retail that retail isn't going out of business. Boring retail is going out of business. And It's still B2B. There's something around human interaction that could be innovative and new, and not enough people are looking for it. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah. I think that, that it goes from order placers to solution providers whatever that looks like. I think that really specializing in it is what is... because sometimes it's just a confidence thing. Sometimes it's just we want to know you, someone's going to pick up the phone when something wrong happens…. After the fact. Before we buy off of you, we want to talk to someone. And a lot of times that's the case. 

Mark Dancer [31:17]: Some businesses are doing a lot of training around emotional intelligence, which is how to have empathy but in a business situation. Listening skills, which is distributors hired people, local people, so they connected because they were like their customers. But the idea around giving them extra skills and capabilities, there could be some analytics and some technology enablement of it. But the idea of upping your game in terms of your emotional empathy, your ability to listen, your ability to help them solve problems with higher level skills is something that's emerging. 

Sean McDonnell: And it's definitely been a big focus of mine. I spent a lot of time and resources on not only industry training for my team, but also really putting themselves, because we don't work in a warehouse. 

We don't work in the environments that our customers are calling from. We don't have those situations come up. Like when the website's down, is the most comparison to the panic that is happening when my customer's equipment is down or whenever we're having cloud phone issues or something from a technology standpoint is breaking down on us, middle of Tuesday at two o'clock, whenever things start pouring in, that's the closest thing for us that is comparable to your equipment going down on a job site or in a warehouse. 

And so it's really having to reframe and having my team understand that we are solving an actual problem for these people. And so, to understand that sometimes their panic or their attitude in it, whatever case. It's not personal it might be personal, but I mean most of the time it's not. 

Other things are going on that we have to be empathetic up and walk through it with them.  

Mark Dancer: Very interesting. 

Richard Blatcher: But the key is understanding the customer needs. 

Sean McDonnell: Correct. 

Richard Blatcher: So you listen, you then tailor or personalize and then you offer that experience and allow them to engage with you. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah, and it's something that it's a lot easier to do as I grow, I think in this with a lot of companies, as you grow, the leadership gets further from the customers day to day needs. And so really, I'll get on customer service calls, I'll get on chat, I'll be a part of that in order to continue to stay connected to the customers. And I don't ever plan on changing that. 

Mark Dancer [34:35]: The other thing that's interesting is that because of your business model and you don't have a warehouse with inventory in it, you sell to the same customers that many distributors sell to, but your mindset is completely different than that. And one example of that would be we just listened to an economic forecast, right? 

And distributors listen intensely to that because in good times they buy a lot of inventory and when they see the downside coming, they want to manage their inventory before it hits, so there's good financial planning around that, but that also tethers them to, I'm an inventory based business. You're not that you're totally focused on the customer needs the front end of the business because you don't have the back end to think about. Is that fair? 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah, that's fair. But I mean, Amazon started with books and they didn't stop the thing. 

Mark Dancer: So you might at some point get there. 

Sean McDonnell: I don't know. I mean it's possible if it's what's best for the customer. If my suppliers can't continue to perform like they have- 

Mark Dancer: Or they don't want to for some reason. 

Sean McDonnell: I'm going to do what's best for the customer, even if it means setting up the traditional warehouse operations and going that route  

Mark Dancer: You've talked about adding skews and parts and products and brands and going in new directions. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah. 

Mark Dancer: Do you think of that as you have to stick distribution calls with their line of trade plumbing, electrical, you operate in a line of trade. Does that an encumbrance for you or does that not matter so much? That makes sense? 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah. No, I don't discriminate on online. I mean of course I'm going to add skews and add product lines that make sense. But what I have found is if you build it, you're going to be very surprised as to the wide range of customers you'll get because you aren't building it around a certain customer base. 

I deal the U.S. government a lot. I sell to fortune 100 companies a lot. I deal with small food operations with grocery store with one hand truck or forklift. I deal with plastics manufacturers, oil and gas, you name it and it's constantly a shock, especially when I'm already talking about this and my dad as just some of the customers that ended up buying off of us. And so I think that I'm open. 

I think that continued down the B2B path because I think I've found we've learned a lot, and so there's an opportunity to continue to learn and grow and grow on that. But I've talked to a number of different companies about adding different skews of ancillary industries. 

There's a lot of opportunity and as long as you build up the customer experience properly, you can drive whatever customer down into an area of your site that is really tailored to them. And so I think that that opens it up to have a lot of options. Doesn't matter what industry. 

Mark Dancer: Excellent. Thank you. More questions? 

Richard Blatcher [38:15]: Well, you've talked a lot about how important the data is, right? So I think one of the central things for me has been you constantly talk about how important the customer needs are, the customer experiences and the data. So maybe you just talk a little bit about how data centric your business is because it's the data that's driving these decisions, right? It's the data, I mean, Amazon track what 450 different data points about their customers, right? 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah, that's just about their customers. 

Richard Blatcher: Yeah, exactly. So having that knowledge or that data is one thing, but you talk about using it into an actionable insight into them offering something different or... So talk a little bit about that. 

Sean McDonnell: I would love to say that I get a lot of inspiration if you can't tell from a lot of things that Jeff Bezos and Amazon have done. All the way down to there's a great book written by the guy who was tasked and was the guy who started the third party marketplace. His name's John Rossman. I got the opportunity to meet him and speak at the same conference that he did, and it's called the Amazon Way. 

And so it really goes to the leadership principles and how they make decisions and how they fund programs. And one of the things that they do whenever they come up with a new initiative is you have to set whatever data point, whatever metric, whatever KPI you're going to track this on to show success or failure. 

And so, I think there's always room for improvement, but I've really invested a lot into... for one, opening up all of my systems on the backend so that whether it's my calling system, how long does it take to answer the call how many missed calls, how many calls go to voicemail? So from the calling perspective, that's one thing. 

But then whenever it comes to how long does it take to respond it emails, how long does it take to respond to quotes? All the way down to I even track metrics about my suppliers, and how long has it taken them? Are they meeting SLES that we've agreed to? So these are all things that all affect the customer experience and anything. So whereas, I think a lot of people are really focused on the financial data points. 

In my dad's business, he can tell you all of the financial data points and I can too, but I'm really focused on some of those more the gray or data points that affect how page load time on the website. It's just getting everything down in time or not getting everything done in time, but optimizing those data points. 

But then also it's a slippery slope because you really want to... as a CEO, I need to pick a few that matter the most, but I really do have... I'm sometimes inundated with, with the amount of different dashboards and stuff and I geek out on that. Like, you'll find me on a Saturday afternoon coming up with the new dashboard of this is important and I want to look at this, and I may never look at it again, but I think it's the act of getting there. 

A lot of times, it's the act of understanding. I mean sometimes it's just not a good metric that actually produces results but it's just the act of understanding the process of getting to these metrics and what the impact or non impact that they have is. 

Mark Dancer: Was data and analytics that you before you launched this business? I mean, did you have that like data and facile with it or did you come to love it because you love your business and data's a big part of it? 

Sean McDonnell: I got my first computer six months before I started my marketing company. 

Mark Dancer: Wow. 

Sean McDonnell: My little brother was the computer geek. I had no interest. I was cool. I had parties in high school and got dated a lot of girls and was the cool guy. I was not a nerd, and my dad once saw, like he told me recently, he was like, "Sean, you're a geek." And I was like, "Dad, no." I was like dad, Yeah, I was like pretty cool, all right. And that's like point Dexter pocket thing, the whole thing. I was like, "That's not me." And he said, "No Sean, that's a nerd. Geeks are called nerd." I guess I'll take that. But yeah, so to answer a question, data and analytics weren't really part of my... this is all self taught, all of this stuff has really which is interesting because I'm constantly curious. 

Mark Dancer: Yes. 

Sean McDonnell: Constantly learning and curious and reading new books, listening to podcasts and sometimes they get a little too bleeding edge and want the newest, coolest microservices, AI, block chain, all of the trend, and some people have to reel me back in and say , "Just, just relax." 

Richard Blatcher: It's a really being full steam to that by gave me those insights and you can't make a decision based on gut felon instant. He's based on the data. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah. Yeah. Very true. 

Richard Blatcher: And interesting how you talk about, you've leveraged so many tools and technology to help you to do that. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah. 

Mark Dancer: Really it’s something I want to think about because it’s really interesting a lot of distributors and manufacturers are thinking about their AI and their business is going to run on data. And so that they’re saying, who should I hire? Right? But I think that curiosity and people that are committed to really want to make the business better will pull them into data. Right? 

Mark Dancer: So you're going to have to blend, you're going to have people that love data and always have and people that get into it. I don't know where that's going exactly, but there's some good insight there about building a data driven organization. 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah. And data driven culture. EOS. I started going down the EOS Entrepreneurial Operating System Framework and data's big piece of that, and picking the numbers for each person and continuing to stay on top of that and beating the drum and setting 90 day, setting the rocks and the longer goals. So it's definitely like the path that we're going because there are times where I find myself in projects and six months disappear and it's like, what happened? I'd come out of the hole and It's done 

Mark Dancer: Six months has to feel like a lifetime to you. 

Sean McDonnell: It does. It is a lifetime. So yeah, it's definitely something that I'm trying to build into everyone's mindset to really follow the numbers and work off the data and also promote and hire and fire and these things really based on the data. 

Richard Blatcher: Excellent. Well, Sean thank you so much. 

Sean McDonnell: Thank you. 

Richard Blatcher: For your insights and your time and we need to do a whole other podcast about the definition of a geek and a nerd. I need to know which one I'm on. Probably for our culture- 

Mark Dancer: Something else. 

Richard Blatcher: We've got to investigate. This is a whole new field. And thank you so much Sean. We would obviously of course post your contact details so people want to get in touch and of course when there are those business problem 

Sean McDonnell: Yeah, I'm sure you guys have forklifts and all kinds of things that we sell. Please. 

Richard Blatcher: Everybody's got a material handling problem. Right? 

Sean McDonnell: PROS may not be good be trying to sell their stuff, but I am trying to sell my stuff. 

Mark Dancer: I think my son, he has about two cars and a Jeep and a motorcycle and I think he's looking for some material handling equipment. 

Sean McDonnell: Exactly, perfect. 

Mark Dancer: I'll tell him that you sell. 

Sean McDonnell: I love it. 

Richard Blatcher: Sean thank you so much. 

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