An Interview With Dennis Kelly: Startups, Customer Success & Direct Marketing Automation

Dennis Kelly is the CEO of Boingnet, a multi-channel marketing software that helps direct marketers, agencies, and printers generate more leads and revenue. They take pride in being a provider of lightweight automation tools that excel in user experience and customer success.

Recently, Kelly spoke with Wilde Agency Co-Op Kristen Montana and Account Director Megan Allinson about the make-up of an entrepreneurial spirit, the benefits of working for a startup, and what we can expect of Boingnet in the future. Check out their informative discussion below.

You say in your Twitter bio that “optimism is at the center of resilience.” What keeps you optimistic in times that resilience is warranted?

Optimism was a gift given to me by my parents. I learned early in life how you can be challenged and things can seem really bad, but what you see is often just the tip of the iceberg.

Often, a difficult challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. I ran across this quote several years ago, and it really expressed something that is a core belief of mine – “At the end of the day, our attitude is a choice.”

If you choose to remain optimistic, regardless of the circumstances, you can usually find some area to grow regardless of the difficulty that you’re faced.

It’s apparent you’ve carried that with you throughout your career, along with a demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit. Is that something that’s learned or innate?

It’s definitely a mixture of both. I think that many people are capable of contributing value to a startup. You don’t have to be Steve Jobs. You don’t have to be a visionary or a brilliant technologist. You just have to enjoy working at a strategic level, as well as a tactical level, at all times.

People that get involved in startups, I believe, like to get their hands dirty. I grew up on a farm, and I was doing a lot of manual hard work every day. It’s something that I enjoy. And as I learned more about business, I realized that I didn’t want to be too far removed from that day-to-day tactical work.

Through some friends from college, I had an opportunity to join a startup at a very young age. I found it rewarding to be in control of your destiny and see the results of your efforts every day. When you’ve got a small group of dedicated, hardworking surrounding you, you can get a lot more done than you can, sometimes, at a very large organization.

It’s not for everybody. You have to have a very high risk tolerance and underlying confidence that things will work out regardless of the circumstances that you’re dealing with.

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It seems that many entrepreneurs actively want to be their own bosses. They don’t want anyone else telling them what to do.

That’s how it starts for a lot of people. They feel like they have good ideas, and they can feel stifled in a more bureaucratic environment – one where politics and process get in the way of doing great things.

That impatience, I think, is something that gets a lot of people excited about entrepreneurship and starting a business, but from a sustainability standpoint, the thing that gets people coming back is the thrill of getting a small group of people all pointed in the same direction, quickly accomplishing things that other organizations might require a longer time to accomplish.
How has working at a startup differed from other professional experiences?

My first job out of college was at a very large corporation, a Fortune 50 insurance company. I learned a tremendous amount working there, but I wasn’t really able to put many of the ideas that I developed into practice. If you’re fine with a process that may or may not affect change, then that’s great… But if your personality demands that your ideas see the light of day, then startups are a great things.

What’s one surprising thing that a budding entrepreneur might learn in working for a startup?

Whatever the idea is that they’re thinking, it’s going to take twice as long and cost twice as much. It’s like building a house. You jump right into a new market with a new product. There’s a period of learning and adjustment that has to happen, and so, it makes sense to plan for that upfront.

Your latest venture is at Boingnet. In your own words, how would you describe the problem that Boingnet solves for marketers today?

Boingnet is laser-focused on solving the problem that exists between digital marketing and direct marketing. Essentially, they have become two completely separate forms of marketing over the years, and smart brands are focused on eliminating those silos and presenting cohesive, highly-personalized marketing campaigns that have great user experiences across all channels.

Boingnet is focused on providing software and services to make that process easier. The notion of taking complexity out of the equation and replacing it with simplicity is at the core of how we think about ourselves. Reducing the friction that is associated with integrating digital and direct with personalization is really the thing that sets us apart.

Overall, how important would you say user experience is?

Customers have a lot of choice. Brand loyalty is entirely dependent on user experience at this point. With the internet, it’s so much easier to get information and quickly, easily switch products.

If Boingnet can help brands deliver great user experiences, then we’ve really accomplished something. We’ve aligned the organization of the company around the idea that when our customers are successful, we are successful. We can create long-term value by keeping those incentives aligned.

And how do you define customers’ success? Is there a recipe that you use, or is it based on metrics defined by your customers?

There are similarities that are somewhat consistent across clients, but as a small company, we’re at a stage of our development where we can work very, very closely with our clients to tailor our approach to be successful for them. We can bring best practices and our knowledge from working with many, many clients to the table, but ultimately, all of our clients have somewhat different needs.

So, we’ve created software that is very flexible and can be deployed in a lot of different ways, and we are creating processes that are flexible as well. That tailored approach is at the core of how we’re solving that problem today.

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Are there specific industries that tend to be more successful in achieving their goals through your platform?

We’ve had success working in industries where the processes that are in place to deliver direct and digital are highly manual, disconnected and complex. So when we run across an industry that has that combination of things – complexity, disconnectedness, and manual effort – we can step in and quickly add value.

We’ve seen significant traction in financial services, where there’s often a very large gap in the way brands, both B2B and B2C, have interacted with their clients in their direct and digital marketing. We see a significant amount of opportunity in what we consider large, discretionary consumer purchasing. Things like automotive, higher education, big ticket products or services, where a lot of information is easily accessed online, but direct remains a primary channel for lead generation, loyalty, and win-back campaigns.

Has there ever been an “aha” moment with a particular client that made you think to yourself, “This is why I do this”?

Yes, very much! We had a client approach us with a very complex win-back solution that had been developed online and required the consumer to enter some fairly complex codes in order to participate. The direct organization had a long-standing campaign where direct mail was being used drive people to the online portal prioritized over the call center, because of cost.

Yet, when the consumer reached the online portal, the complexity of the customer account information required was causing a significant amount of friction, and a very low conversion rate.

Boingnet was able to deploy a solution that delivered personalization to the landing page and tied together the direct campaign with the digital campaign. It eliminated the need for the consumer to enter those complex codes to bring their account up and complete the win-back process.

We were able to devise a solution that used our software,  our experiences, and our services to quickly solve this problem and deliver significant ROI to the brand, because of the cost differential that existed between the call center and their online win-back campaign.

What’s your take on the future of Boingnet?

We are extremely optimistic about how direct and digital can be presented in a unified way. As we deliver more and more of these unified experiences to the customer, we will be able to use the data that we generate to get really creative in how the teams can work together to deliver better experiences and generate more leads.

We see a lot of growth and a lot of interest in this. A lot of CMOs are no longer tolerating these silos that exist within the marketing operation, and so, we think we’ve got an opportunity to bring that all together and solve some tough problems for people.

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Wilde Agency is an award-winning integrated marketing agency that specializes in understanding and utilizing the science of human behavior to drive superior results for our clients.

Previously, they collaborated with Boingnet on the behavioral science game MindCamp and their 2016 holiday card campaign, as well as campaigns for clients Nationwide and Yodle.

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