Paragon of virtuous growth

Juli Spottiswood

Parago President and CEO Juli Spottiswood believes in the importance of corporate change and adaptation to benefit businesses and customers alike.

Her company, founded in 1999, aimed to reinvent a broken industry in need of innovation and efficiency. Within the promotions and incentives marketplace, Parago’s competitors had not figured out how to use technology to improve the process companies used to offer rewards to customers.

Parago sought to improve customers’ experiences by making savings easier and more accessible, and did so notably by moving companies from the mail-in rebate system to online submissions.

“It’s the retailers and service providers that are the source of revenue for us, and yet we are touching millions of customers every year,” Spottiswood said. “They happen to be the customers of our clients. We treat both as our customer base.”

Smart Business sat down with Spottiswood to talk about innovation and its effect on growth.

What innovations have you seen in the fragmented industry?

We did things like bring paperless innovation to the marketplace so that customers didn’t have to mail in, clip out, write in — they go online. We integrate with retailers to validate rebates.

We also wanted to bring down the cost structure of the industry for our clients so that they could offer more savings to their customers, so we built an infrastructure that’s worldwide that enables us to take advantage of different labor markets and reduce the cost of our servicing.

I would say that what has been one of the biggest innovations in the last two years has been to bring the use of prepaid cards … as payment vehicles for the consumer rebates.

When you meet with a customer, what’s the first question you ask them?

What are your objectives? What are you trying to achieve? If an objective is just to bring up a program to marketplace for the lowest cost and they don’t really care about the customer impact, that’s not really a good client relationship for us. We like to understand what their objectives are and hope that one of those is to bring a great experience to their customers.

Where do you find great, innovative ideas?

I have an excellent executive team, a great combination of the best strategic thinkers that can execute. … I drive home every day (and) I go to bed every night thinking about what’s next. We spend every Monday in staff meetings talking about what’s next. But it goes beyond the executive team. It’s listening to customers, it’s talking to our clients (and) it’s actually following the blogs. We get a lot of great ideas from seeing what customers are saying.

What do you think is the greatest challenge that you are facing today?

We see that with consumer spending down and some consumer confidence down, insuring (clients) stay true to their corporate objectives and not make quick, knee-jerk reactions is probably our biggest challenge at Paragon. (The challenge is) to insure our clients stay true to the course, listen to ideas and collaborate with us on how they can help build sales (and) retain their customers through the use of promotions and incentives.

Is that different than how it was a couple of years ago?

Absolutely, people would have a strategy and they’d stick to it. I think that a lot of companies are looking to change, and I think change is incredibly important. In fact, our motto is “Don’t stand still.” Don’t accept things the way they’ve always been, look for new innovative ways to talk to your customers. However, I think that change is happening at a much more rapid pace today and sometimes we can be left in the dark.

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