Jimmy Hunt On How Spectrio Is Growing Its Channel, And Why Content Is So Central To Success

April 27, 2022 by Dave Haynes

Spectrio has been around the digital signage and on-premise media spaces for a bunch of years, growing both organically and through acquisitions, and increasingly making digital signage the main focus of the Tampa-area company.

I’ve known of the company for a long time, but REALLY came to know some of its people in the past year, when we got into discussions about Sixteen:Nine being acquired by Spectrio. That happened, and this podcast and publication are now part of Spectrio.

But my business partners have been fantastic about letting me continue to just do my thing, and make my own editorial decisions. I’ve wanted to do a podcast for a long, long time with Spectrio, way before this happened. We finally managed to make it work … in a conversation here with Jimmy Hunt, who is the VP of Channel Sales for the company, working out of Dallas.

We had a great conversation digging into how the company’s partner channel was formalized last fall and how it now works for Spectrio. We also get into what Hunt and his people are seeing and hearing in the end-user and reseller marketplace, notably how customers are now tending to fully understand and value the importance of well-executed and relevant content.

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Jimmy Hunt, thank you for joining me. Can you give me an idea of what your role is at Spectrio? 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. My role is VP, Channel Sales and Business Development. 

Specific to the channel or overall? 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, so my main focus is within the channel. I handle all of the indirect sales, so resellers, channel sales, the sales and the account management side, all roll up to me.

Okay. So you’re nurturing a ton of partners? 

Jimmy Hunt: A ton, yeah, and it’s been very interesting to develop a good blend across media publishers, AV, IT, and the agency space. 

You’ve formally launched the reseller program back in November, but I’m guessing that you had resellers prior to that?

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, so I’ve been in the reseller space for about 15 years. My sole focus has been selling through the channel. Our methodology is pretty straightforward and simple. It’s one-to-one-to-many. Previous to Spectrio, I focused mainly on the media and publisher world. So dealing with some of the largest media companies in the country across TV, radio, print, and digital. So we had a program in place yet, but it was great in Q3/Q4 to really formalize that and make it applicable to Spectrio moving forward, as well as the other industries, such as AV, IT, manufacturers, distributors, et cetera. 

How many partners do you have it at this point? 

Jimmy Hunt: So we are roughly over about 120. Prior to that announcement, we had about 60-65 meaningful partners. So we’ve doubled since then. It’s been a busy Q4 and a busy Q1, but it’s been great, really doubling down on the things that are working, and we’ve seen a lot of excitement across space.

I was curious about your qualification of meaningful. I have seen lots of partner pages on websites of companies where I’m looking at their partners and thinking, “I wonder if they even really know each other?”

Jimmy Hunt: That’s a really good point. So for us, I always tell my team that we only win when our partners win. So if we’re going to be a vendor and we’re going to sit on the sideline, then expect for for that partnership to not be meaningful. So when I say meaningful, we really dig in with our partners. We try to position ourselves as true thought leaders to be consultants, to be advisors about our partnerships, but overall the space in general.

We have to make sure that we can not only address the day to day, week to week, month to month, but also help steer our partners and educate them on what’s happening in the industry, and a lot of times, it’s really just connecting other partners together. Maybe it’s a product or service that we may not even sell or be interested in, but if we know partner X over here does this very well, and they’re good people, we like working with them, then we’ll connect them with a partner Y. 

So this is a lot more than preferential pricing, or wholesale pricing, or whatever you want to call it. You’re doing buddy-calling. You’re doing support and training and all those sorts of things? 

Jimmy Hunt: Oh yeah. A 100 percent. Again, the only way we win is when our partners win. So we have to make sure that they understand the products and services from a training perspective, from a server’s perspective and workflow perspective, really understanding again, from the very first conversation to delivery of signage or whatever the product may be, that we at least have a hand in that. And there’s some partners that want us to be super hands on, have things white labeled, and there’s some that say, “Hey, we’re going to sharpen the spear. We just want you to support us.” 

The good thing about our leadership and the way we built the partner program is that we can cater to any type of scenario, right? So whether we’re working with a global distributor or a local agency, we can find a way to dig in and be flexible and fluid to help their goals, and really it’s at the end of the day it’s understanding what benefits them, how can our product and services and moreover how our partnership benefits our partner.

And when you’re doing that, there’s obviously a lot of digital signage CMS and solutions options on the market. How do you distinguish what Spectrio brings to the table versus the other guys?

Jimmy Hunt: It’s three main things, especially in my role. Number one, it starts with that partnership. To be quite honest, when we’re talking to new AV, IT resellers or anyone in the reseller space, we actually rarely lead with a product or service. We lead with our ability to be a good partner, and so everything you said earlier, all the training, all the collateral, certifications, et cetera. That’s really what we lead with. And I’ve found that there’s a lack of that partner support, partner management. So that means applying as an account executive on a particular partnership and everything under the sun there. 

I’d say secondly, what I’m listening to more and more is content. I think Spectrio is really primed right now to set ourselves apart by not just providing a great software and a great service through digital signage, but then taking it a step further and saying what’s going to be on the screen and asking that simple question. Do you have a strategy to showcase the highest quality video content or static imagery possible? And sometimes it’s, yes, we have a strategy, but a lot of times it’s no, and they haven’t even really thought about it. They may have an internal marketing team. They may have an agency. Doesn’t really matter to us. We can again work and fit into their strategy. So we’re finding right now, one of the biggest things that’s setting Spectrio apart is our ability to produce video content for digital signage and really for the partner itself and their clients at scale. 

Dave, we’re producing upwards of, I’d say 7,500 to 10,000 pieces of content a month for partners all over the world, and again, that’s my background. A lot of the folks come from the reseller space at Spectrio, they come from digital signage background, but I come from a media and content background. So being able to blend those two has been really fun and really exciting, and I think third, to answer your question is, as you’re aware, we’ve acquired a lot of different platforms, right? So now we have what we believe is the best in breed to say, okay this piece of this functionality really applies to this industry and this vertical with these types of clients versus just saying, Hey, we have one platform, use it or lose it. We can really customize our strategy and our solution to go across the board and help many different industries in many different verticals. 

Yeah, I’m guessing that’s a bit of a challenge in that, through acquisition, you’ve acquired a number of CMS companies that have different variations on the same thing, and how you sort out which is best for each. It must be helpful to say, let’s build this around content and not worry about features and specs so much. Let’s think about what’s the best platform for that need is? 

Jimmy Hunt: Exactly, and we have a lot of experience, first of all, for C-suite across the board is really specific and careful about who we’re going after from an acquisition standpoint and they have made some really amazing choices, and allowing us to really highlight and compliment what we’re doing today without being extremely disruptive and/or taking a 180. I would say, second, especially in my role in the Channel/BD world, it’s really about leading the sales conversation with discovery, going back to that core value of what are your pain points, what are your roadblocks for you as a partner, but more specifically, and probably more importantly, for your clients, right? Whether it’s working with the AV/IT reseller that focuses specifically in the finance category or whether it’s a media company that has 25,000 automotive clients, it’s really taking a step back and understanding how we can help you get from point A to point B and then from there that helps determine which platform and what pieces, and what pieces of the functionality we can apply to best help that partner. 

So who’s doing the discovery? Because you could have salespeople and channel salespeople who have pipelines to fill, they’ve got quotas to hit and they don’t necessarily think of themselves as content and strategy consultants. 

Jimmy Hunt: That’s a great question. It’s a unique blend between marketing, product and sales. Through some of our acquisitions, we’ve just obtained some of the absolute best, most brilliant brightest folks in the space, I’ll speak about one specifically, Christian Armstrong came from Industry Weapon. Now he’s been doing it for 16 years, and he manages our two largest partnerships, as well as our largest clients through those partnerships. So he has a unique role where he has taken on as a sales engineer as well as a product specialist role, and then we bring in our VP of Product who’s just another wonderful hire from a couple of years ago, a guy named Brandon Mullins, who’s just a genius. 

He runs all of our product and BD efforts. So having him really scope out from the get-go, “Okay this is something that is viable for the Spectrio. This is a good target”, and then really once we do that, we really try to capture that and productize it. Now, every partner industry’s different, but although we are flexible, we still like to put things in a “box” and then scale. For me, it’s all about scale and volume. So it’s finding the partners that have a lot of endpoints, a lot of clients that we can then go after, and a partner and produce a high volume of revenue as well as endpoints.

That’s interesting because I would imagine some of the industry perception of Spectrio is, there’s a company that’s been growing through acquisition, they’re acquiring IP and they’re acquiring customers, but I don’t know how many people think in terms of, they’re acquiring human talent, as you just described. 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah. So I think that’s honestly one of my biggest missions this year is to get the Spectrio name and the vision and our methodology out in space. I think you’re right, Spectrio is sometimes seen as a big or a growing company that’s growing through acquisitions, and we are, obviously, but we have really focused on getting the right people, and I think that allows us to do both. Having Christian, having Brandon and some others as well on board allows us to grow the right way. Even the folks from the ABN acquisition, they are surprising me, and in a good way, every single week. Just how they went to market, obviously focusing on the automotive industry, but how they went to market was different from how Industry Weapon went to market and very different from how I went to market. But we’re trying to find the commonalities both from a strategy standpoint, and then also finding the right people to take what they’ve done in the past, tweak it for a future focus and really grow the partnerships that way. 

What is the size of the company at this point?

Jimmy Hunt: We’re a little over 400 people and growing. We have a headquarters in Tampa. I’m based in Dallas, Texas, and we have people all over, but a big population in that Tampa, Miami, Florida region, as well as Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Oh, okay, and the Charlotte office, that was one of your acquisitions, going back 3-4 years, right? 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, the Charlotte offices mostly consist of sales, management and there’s a handful of marketing folks there as well. 

Are you active in other countries? 

Jimmy Hunt: We are, yeah. So we are international, I would say a majority of our focus is US and Canada but we are active in other countries. It depends really on how we want to grow our international presence. It will be very specific and strategic and we’ll most likely go through resellers and partners. Obviously, it’s one of the easiest ways to get traction their fast.

But there are, I guess there’s 30 million plus SMEs or small to medium size businesses across the US so there’s plenty to have here. But some of our acquisitions in Canada have been very interesting and allowed us to have a different perspective and to really see growth there, as well.

Yeah, you bought Screenscape about a year and a half ago, two years? 

Jimmy Hunt: Correct. Yeah, and talking about a couple of guys that have stayed on. One of my top top sellers that stayed on lives in Canada and really took on that whole channel market himself and has just done very, very well.

In terms of vertical markets, where are you guys seeing growth?

Jimmy Hunt: So I’ll start with my team, and then I’ll talk about the Spectrio at large, but really from our focus, again, from the channel side, we’re are targeting resellers and channel partners in three main categories, and so that’s media and agency, TV, radio, print, digital, etc.

Second and probably our largest and fastest growing is AV/IT. So that’s where all the big players are and again, through the acquisitions, I would say we work with 60% to 70% of the top players in that space, but there’s a whole bunch that we can also go after and then the third is  an interesting mix, and these are more true partners than they are resellers, and that’s every one from manufacturers of screens, mounts, et cetera. So think of Sony, LG, et cetera, all the way to a Brightsign and more of that player manufacturers. And those have been really interesting for me because it makes so much sense, right? If someone is out there securing deals and lots of endpoints selling their hardware, and they can have the conversation to say have you thought about a CMS provider? Have you thought about the software piece? That’s where we’ve seen a lot of growth, and those partnerships were fun, right? Because like I said, it’s less of a sale. It’s more of a true value out of saying, okay, we have this 2,000 location retail chain that we’re trying to chase, and we know that they need hardware, but they’re also gonna need software. So let’s introduce the Spectrio folks at the right time. 

So that’s our chase from an industry perspective. From a vertical perspective, it’s probably what you would imagine, it’s healthcare, QSR, retail, automotive, higher education. For me, personally, higher ed has been super fun. I’m actually having a blast with that, just because I’m talking about an industry that could really use most of our services. You go on site to a big university or college campus. You can say their auditoriums and their stadiums and basketball arenas that have tons of screens that also need high quality content and as well as wayfinding capabilities for the campus itself. So it’s been really fun trying to dig into that vertical more.

They can be messy though, can’t they? The higher ed, because you have individual schools that have their own IT departments. 

Jimmy Hunt: Oh my goodness, you’re absolutely right. Not only that. It’s the schools, it’s also the athletic departments, and a lot of the build-outs of the various buildings and infrastructure are all different, right? As you know, you would have one part of the campus be renovated a year ago, and the other one hasn’t been touched in 25 years. That’s why having the product and sales engineers alongside with me pitching those types of clients has been crucial, and also just understanding what their needs are now versus what will be their needs in two or three years.

There’s been endless discussion about how the IT & AV worlds are converging and they ought to be best friends forever and so on. I would say it’s only been in the last couple of years when you’ve really started to see that happen. I was intrigued by Diversified bringing on a new CEO and their founder is not stepping away at all, he’s going to be very reactive, but much more mentoring, but their new CEO comes out of IT Services. So they absolutely see where the future is. 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, so without having specific details on why they did that, I think overall, that is going to be the trend we’re going to see, and it’s not just IT. I think you could slot in content there. I would not be surprised if there’s some big changes in the C-suite across the various resellers, bringing in people that have strong content backgrounds as well as IT, I think we’re going to see more of a blend, right? 

We’re getting to the position where it’s almost annoying, I can’t go anywhere without looking at screens, and I was in the airport yesterday. I probably sat in and it was technically my day off. I was visiting my family in DC and my team was like, please stop texting us. But I was in the airport just taking videos at the bar, at the restaurant or in the Concourse and all these different types of functionality and services and I think it’s becoming so apparent and just consumptions and consumer behavior is really going to help drive this blend of, okay, AV actually needs more of a lock step with IT as well as content. So I’m not surprised by that move at all, and I think it’s probably gonna work very well for them.

Yeah. It’s interesting that in the last little bit, I haven’t seen anybody stand up at a conference or publish something that says, “content is king”, which was an eye-roller for a whole bunch of time. But now it seems to be baked in there that people get it, that this is not about the screens, it’s not about the software. It’s about what’s on the display and you’ve got to get that right. 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, David, I think that’s absolutely right. I would even take it a step further. I think a lot of times, what I’m hearing is it’s all about what’s on the screen, but moreover, what story can you tell? And that kind of goes back to the “Mad Men” days of advertising, what story are you going to help that brand tell? It’s actually really fun and exciting to see. You could see it come full circle with a new type of media, right? Signage is relatively new. I know it’s not new, per se, but in terms of TV and radio, I think digital signage on site is a little bit different, and I think it’s been really refreshing to hear people across the board, whether it’s this type of industry or that, saying what story can you help us tell? 

Because, in my opinion, I think that is the real value. Because it’s not just pushing an ad, it’s not just having a menu board. It’s what story can you tell, which will then inflict some type of behavior or feeling for the consumers, and if we do that well, then you’re going to see all the good things such as higher retention rates, probably higher sales at point of sale, et cetera.

When you’re talking to particularly the IT Services people who lead with that sort of thing, what are the questions they’re asking and how are they sorting through who they want to partner with? Because I’m guessing things like security come up as being quite important to them. 

Jimmy Hunt: Oh, so I would say security is number one. I would say scale and not just scale within, again, there’s scale in a campus. There’s also, if it’s a multi location franchise that has locations all over the world or all over the country, can you reproduce this in 500 different cities? I think that in itself is a challenge. I think the installation piece and the survey piece is super important. Again, going back to the infrastructure of how something is built, whether it’s a a financial service, it’s going to be different than a college campus and that will be different than an attorney’s office. So having the ability to not just be pigeonholed to one vertical is super important for us. 

And do you have to, particular running channels, be careful about how you are establishing what your lane is and how you stay in it? Because there are lots of software and solutions companies out there who describe what they do as turnkey. “We can do the deployment, we can do the framing and consulting. We can do whatever you need us to do.” But if you have partners, that’s what they want they do.

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, I guess that’s been one of the positive challenges and roadblocks that we’ve had with growth. We start to have a little bit of growth in a particular industry or vertical with a certain reseller type, then you want to pursue that, but it all has to run in parallel to the overall goals, objective of Spectrio. So I would say, outside of my world, we’re pretty aligned and locked in. 

I would say with the channel and the resellers, first and foremost, we will always want to lead with being a software company. We want to provide the best CMS. But I think to your point, understanding where we can be flexible and be more fluid with particular partner requests or types, and it could be anything from, how we receive the orders. It can be that simple. It could be, “Hey, we have a certain CRM or some type of software tool that we use to capture orders and send out orders or, billing, et cetera.” But it’s being very careful about how we move forward. I think, again, that when we first started the channel partner program officially in Q3, we still have more of a shotgun approach, and that was purposeful. That was a strategy that I wanted to pursue at first, just make sure I was covering all my bases to understand that we didn’t leave anything out, and from then that focus has been more and more narrow. 

So now we are hyper-focused on providing the best partnership experience to AV/IT, media and agencies, as well as those hardware providers.

Spectrio started out as doing stuff like music on hold, when people used landline phones and things like that, and in-store music, all those sorts of things, and those still exist within the company. Are they helpful in rounding out the offer for some of the jobs to try to do particularly in retail?

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll answer that in two ways. First a 100 percent, we were started as this in-store on-hold music and messaging company and that allowed us to scale and scale quickly, and then it is still a really big part of our business today, especially when COVID hit it was hard for us to pick up the phone and try to sell signage when a lot of locations were closed, but there were certain products and services such as the on-hold that went through the roof, and it was because everyone was picking up the phone and trying to figure out if their local pharmacy was open or if their favorite restaurant had changed business hours, and people really trying to take advantage of that, saying, “Okay this is one way that we can actually continue to communicate, update our clients with some type of messaging.”

But then I think now, to your point, yes, a 100 percent, if we can offer a more holistic solution, a full suite of services to our partners and to their clients, we absolutely do and I think taking a look at the broader partner world, the ones that are consuming multiple products are the ones that are staying longer, that have lower churn, that have higher ASP, that have higher overall MRR with us, and it just makes sense again, and that kind of goes back to how we started this. 

Let’s start the conversation with discovery. Let’s understand what the pain points are and though signage may be the sharp end of the spear, what typically happens if we’re being a good partner, if we’re providing that training and collateral, not just sometimes, but all of our products and services. At some point, I bet we’ll have a shot at selling in music or selling in content or selling in WiFi. That’s been a charge from day one is let’s win the business with what makes the most sense, which is 99% of the time signage. But also having the ability to go, what are you doing for music? And isn’t that a pain point, and then really trying to find the commonalities between our products and services. 

Yeah, and I assume your resellers and your end user customers are happy as clams if they ask that question, can you do in-store audio too and you say, yeah, we can, because if you don’t, they have to go out and find another vendor. 

Jimmy Hunt: Oh, yeah. You’re a 100 percent correct there and it’s been interesting talking to some of these some of the leaders in the space. Most of our conversations is around signage, but it’s always interesting to see their perspective and to hear their delight saying, hey, obviously we’re going to keep the conversations around players and signage, but oh, by the way this client or reseller is asking about music, can you also provide? 

And from my perspective, again, it goes back to being a good partner, but what it does for our partners is it allows them product and vendor consolidation, which sounds just like a simple thing on paper, but it’s really not because every vendor a partner brings on, that’s typically another individual, another workflow, another billing unit, another escalation point, and so if we can help our resellers and their clients consolidate their vendors, that’s sometimes is enough just to win the business. Then obviously the second thing that we really lean on in terms of multiple products and services is product diversification. So again, partnering with Spectrio allows, let’s say just a typical AV/IT reseller to go, okay we can give you a signage, we can give you software. But now we can also provide you with music. We can now also provide you with content, and that was a big play for me in the media space, because you think others in the space, they started obviously selling just radio, just TV, just print, but over the years have gone digital and, having that digital component can encompass a lot of different things. So having us provide one or multiple products or services allows our partners just an easier path to success.

Last question: we’re now starting to do trade shows again. Finally, I’ve actually got airplane tickets to a trade show for the first time in two-plus years. Where will people in the signage industry be able to find you guys in the next few months? 

Jimmy Hunt: We’ve been very active. Again, it’s been a challenge across the industry. I think people are starting to get more and more in tune and okay with getting back on the road, rightfully so. It was a devastating, challenging time for everyone and every single industry for two years, and it still is. So we’ve been super-active. I would say future focus, we will be at DSE. We’ll be at InfoComm, and then we are in the very near term, there’s a media event out in LA called Localogy, and I’ll be speaking on that. I’ll be speaking on a panel about content and digital signage and how to bridge the gap between the two, and it’s interesting, that is typically a media publisher conference, but we’ve actually invited a lot of our friends over at Sony and Brightsign. 

My selfish goal is to help blend these two industries saying, these are some of the largest media companies in the world, and I selfishly want them to be in tune with digital signage, and here are some of the brightest and sharpest individuals in the AV/IT digital signage space, let’s actually step out and blend the two. So I’m very excited about that. We’ll have a presence at several more, but I’d say InfoComm, DSE and Localogy are the three that we’re going to really double down on and we hope to see everyone there. 

Absolutely. All right, Jimmy, thank you so much for taking some time with me.

Jimmy Hunt: Dave, thank you so much. This has been great. Being a fan of it for so long and now hopping onboard has been great.

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