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[PCT on the Road] Customer-Centric Conference

Features - Industry Events

Marathon Data Systems solicits feedback from PMPs to create enhanced educational experience at company’s PestPac User Conference.

PCT Magazine | April 30, 2013

Marketing Manager Sarah Gedo played a key role in the planning and implementation of the PestPac User Conference.

Whether you’re the owner of a pest control business or a software company, it’s always a good idea to listen to your customers. After all, they’re the reason you exist. Asking for their input, even if you may not always like what you hear, is time well spent, but it demands a customer-centric approach to business.

Which is exactly the approach Chris Sullens, president and CEO of Marathon Data Systems (MDS), and Sarah Gedo, marketing manager, took in planning the company’s 2012 PestPac User Conference, a biennial event designed to educate current and potential customers about the company’s product and service offerings.

“It’s important for any company to seek feedback from its customers, which is what we did following the last PestPac Conference in 2010,” Sullens said. “One of the things we’re very proud of is our retention rate, which tops 98 percent. We hate to lose a customer, so we try to prevent that from happening by constantly seeking their input on how we can improve our software, as well as the customer experience when working with Marathon Data Systems.”

After securing feedback from past attendees about what they liked and disliked about the conference, Marathon created a “revamped agenda and approach,” according to Sullens, implementing a number of key changes, including:

  • Adding more networking opportunities.
  • Scheduling two events — one on each coast — to lower travel costs and provide greater access to PMPs across the country (Orlando, Fla., and San Diego, Calif.).
  • Holding dedicated training classes on core features of the company’s software.
  • Adding PMP co-presenters to the speaker faculty so PMPs could benefit from the insights of their peers.


“Historically, we’ve tried to make the PestPac User Conference all things to all people,” Gedo said, “but we decided to be much more focused this past year.”

President & CEO Chris Sullens updated attendees on a number of major developments at Marathon Data Systems during the past year.

“We decided to have less demos and more discussion about how users can get greater value from key features of our software,” Sullens added. “There were also more co-presenters this year, allowing our key customers to share their best practices with other PestPac users.”

Sullens said the company hoped to accomplish three things by revamping the conference: (1) arm attendees with the knowledge to utilize all the features of its core applications; (2) familiarize attendees with the new features and benefits of the PestPac system; and (3) communicate the company’s “roadmap” for future product and service enhancements.


Key Accomplishments. During the opening session of the three-day conference, Sullens provided attendees with an update on some recent developments at Marathon Data Systems, initiatives he says position the company for “dramatic growth and development” in 2013. They included:

  • The acquisition of MDS from Concentric Equity Partners by Chicago Growth Partners and the company’s current management team. “Chicago Growth Partners brings a set of resources and a long-term growth perspective that aligns closely with our views and will enable us to accelerate the roadmap of product and support improvements we started several years ago,” Sullens observed. “It will result in faster development cycles, allowing us to have a dedicated focus on next-generation products.”
  • Ongoing investment in the company’s mobile workforce solution, including the introduction of several new product offerings focusing on route optimization and GPS vehicle tracking. “It improves service levels for our customers and it squeezes out more productivity, which results in bottom line benefits for our clients,” Sullens said.
  • The company’s purchase of Viamente, an Italian software developer that introduced an innovative route optimization system to service companies. After reviewing Viamente’s proprietary routing software, Sullens said he decided “we needed to own the company because their software aligned with our customers’ needs.”
  • Launched PestPac CRM to help PMPs automate and improve their sales process.
  • Introduced PestPac CallAhead, a tightly integrated automated appointment notification service.
  • Added more than 40 employees, primarily in development and support, with the goal of enhancing customer support and driving new product development.


The company even added a PestPac “Genius Booth” at the conference, where attendees could stop by and ask specific questions or schedule one-on-one time with one of the company’s PestPac geniuses. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with people who understand all the features and benefits of our software,” Sullens told attendees.


Program Highlights. With a full slate of speakers, educational sessions covered a wide range of topics, including Tips for Client Collections and the Benefits of Credit Card Auto Billing, co-presented by Andrea Dahlgren of A.R.M. Solutions and Kim Pinneke of Element Payment Services; Accurately Tracking Material Usage, presented by Dan Gordon, CPA; and sessions on Sales Automation, Bed Bug and Commercial Service Tracking Tips, Top Support Questions and Servicing Multi-Site Facilities, led by MDS developers and customer support personnel.

In addition, a number of PMP co-presenters participated in the conference, including Jason Schwarz, chief technology officer, MSC, Fayetteville, N.C., who shared his company’s experiences relating to Field Force Automation; Leslie Winters and Bryan Hahn, vice presidents of Burnum-Hahn Exterminators, Tuscaloosa, Ala., who talked about Best Practices for Tracking Sentricon Service; and Ivan Armstrong, owner and CEO of Strategic Marketing, Inc., Greenville, S.C., who discussed Best Practices for Online Marketing.

Top: PMP William Summerville of Suburban Pest Management (center) won a raffle sponsored by Intermec Technologies. MDS staffers Sarah Gedo (right) and Nicole Trivigno (left) presented him with the prize.
Middle: More than 100 PMPs attended the PestPac User Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Bottom: Keynote speaker Brian Lambert, senior analyst, Forrester Research, shared insights about how PMPs can Accelerate Sales by Driving More Valuable Sales Conversations.

In the online marketing session, co-presenters Nick Thompson of MDS and Ivan Armstrong, who works closely with Gregory Pest Solutions, pointed out that websites are “your company’s face to the world.”

“Oftentimes, it’s the world’s first impression of you,” Thompson said, much as the Yellow Pages was the customer’s first impression of your business a number of years ago. “They’re looking at your website like we used to look at the Yellow Pages,” he said. “It helps your customers find you. It’s like the Yellow Pages on steroids.”

Thompson said a quality website must not only feature helpful information about your company and common structural pests, but it must be easily navigable and produce a “good user experience.” Ideally, he said, “your site should lower costs and improve customer service and engagement.”

However, don’t be fooled, developing a quality website isn’t easy, requiring an “ongoing investment” in content development, Thompson said. “Do you have the time to do all the content changes and make sure you’re staying on board with the latest trends? Probably not,” he suggested.

“It takes time to do this right. Where Marathon has helped Gregory Pest Solutions is they help me to do it all without having to know how it works. It gives us the necessary time to create quality content. The finite things in life are time and energy,” Armstrong added. “If you have someone on staff who knows all this stuff, that’s great. If not, partnering with MDS is a great option.”

Two well-received keynote sessions featured Dr. Brian Lambert, senior analyst for Forrester Research, who spoke about Accelerating Sales by Driving More Valuable Sales Conversations, and a panel discussion about Servicing Multi-Site Facilities by Steven Gottfried, president and co-founder, ServiceChannel; Paul Walsh, director, Strategic Sourcing/Gap, Inc.; and Patricia Dameron, executive director, Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM).

Sullens says he and Conference Coordinator Sarah Gedo “interviewed multiple analysts” before tapping Lambert for the keynote address. “We wanted somebody who was going to be able to provide real value to the small business owner, in particular service providers,” he said.

In a lively, hour-long presentation, Lambert shared insights about how to create a high-performance sales environment in field service businesses like structural pest control. “We live in a complicated world,” Lambert said, where buyers are constantly changing. Therefore, he suggested “hitting the pause button on your business” and assessing your sales process.

“Having Dwayne sell more stuff is not a strategy,” he said. You need to put a plan in place, a plan designed to improve year-over-year revenues, while increasing sales to new and existing customers.

“The most successful entrepreneurs view selling as a system,” he said. Instead of focusing on mass mailings or promotion-driven sales programs, help your salespeople take buyers on a journey so they can “achieve results together.”

What makes a meeting valuable, Lambert asked? “The salesperson clearly shows they understand my business issues and can clearly articulate to me how to solve them,” he observed, pointing out all salespeople have the same basic objectives. They include:

  • Gaining the appropriate level of access
  • Having successful meetings
  • Creating a shared vision of success
  • Developing a business case


The key to success is to “optimize the system” behind each of these four objectives by equipping your salespeople with the appropriate knowledge to deliver a powerful message that resonates with your customers; teaching the skills necessary for your sales staff to succeed; and providing the tools required to make a compelling case for both current and potential customers.

In closing the conference, Sullens thanked attendees for coming, as well as the sponsors of the event, including Dow AgroSciences, A.R.M. Solutions, Element Payment Services, Brother, Intermec and Altigen Communications. “We want to continue to hear from you about how we can improve our products and services,” Sullens said. “We take your feedback very seriously.”



To learn more about the PestPac User Conference or the company’s product portfolio, visit www.pestpac.com.