Customer Engagement: It’s About Growth

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Phil Akin and I’m the President of Leverage and the Chief Marketing Officer at Clickstop.

I started out as an entrepreneur; I opened a business that became a chain over time and built about 120 stores in 30 US states. From there I became an officer at Advanced Auto Parts, and during the time I was there we built over 2,000 locations and grew by 2 and a half billion in sales – all in a 5-year time frame. After that I became the CEO of an advertising agency called Hellman and, more recently, I was a CEO coach for an organization called Vistage. And this last year I joined Clickstop as the CMO and through that position we have launched Leverage.

How did the opportunity to work for Clickstop and to create Leverage arise?

I had been a CEO coach for about 5 years and in that role I got a chance to know Tim Guenther, the founder of Clickstop. We worked together over the last few years to develop his strategy and bring best practices as he was growing his company and I just became fascinated with Clickstop, with the people, and I became very appreciative of the culture he had created. One day Tim and I were talking and he said, “Why don’t you quit telling me what to do and just come here and do it?” And I said, “Well, okay.” And I was kind of joking and I thought he was joking and then it was kind of like we locked eyes and we knew it was real, and we wanted to have a more permanent relationship. It was like okay well let’s go steady now. So, we got engaged, and then we got married in July. Ha!

What is it about Leverage that excites you?

It’s not often you have the opportunity to start something in a way that literally can be anything you want it to be. When I was the CEO of a traditional ad agency it had a lot of built-in legacy issues that made it hard to be exactly what we wanted to be. Here at Leverage, we have the chance to start with new systems, new people, new creative, new processes. We can be relevant to current and future marketing needs, not just hung up on investments from the past. Tim bought into the vision that we had and has been so supportive with giving us the resources and team we need to really make an impact. This is an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

What does “customer engagement” really mean?

Summarizing the meaning of customer engagement is really simple: it’s about growth. We help grow organizations, grow entities, maybe even help the person we’re working with grow personally. We think that comes from understanding how to get inside the mind of the customer and how to get them to a tipping point where they will engage. And that might mean in the form of a sale, that might mean an action online, that might mean somebody making a career change, it could mean a lot of things! But nowadays engagement/connection is probably the single biggest opportunity that most companies have to become relevant. I like to say, focus is the new IQ. I mean, people are distracted by everything. So how do we create engaging conversations with people who might interact with us? It’s a tall order, there’s a lot of distraction out there, but we have a lot of creative people here and I think we’ve proven that we can do and it and we can share it with others.

What do you see for the future of Leverage?

The thing that gets me jazzed every morning, personally, is that I’m working with a group of people who are excited about what they do and want to help others with the knowledge they have. We’re looking for companies and clients who are saying, “what I have isn’t quite working. I think I know what I would like to do, but I’m not quite sure how to do it,” and I believe the team we’ve assembled can help all kinds of companies move forward. Quite frankly, I think what we’re going to do is help companies grow which is going to help the local economy grow too. And beyond just Iowa. With Clickstop behind us, I think we could be helping people all over the world figure out how to sell more, how to reduce expenses, how to increase conversion, how to increase awareness. I just know we’re going to keep doing the right thing for the right reason and I think that’s going to take us pretty far.

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