Integrated digital and PR strategy helps business solutions review platform secure $45 million in funding and grow by 2,000 percent.
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million acquisition by Paychex
revenue growth in 7 years
Michael D. Alter, president and co-founder
SurePayroll provides online payroll services to small- and medium-sized businesses. Powered in no small part by Walker Sands’ public relations and marketing assistance, the company quickly grew from a startup to a mature and successful payroll industry leader. In 2011, having grown to more than 35,000 small business customers and processing $12 billion in payroll payments annually, SurePayroll was acquired by public company Paychex (PAYX) for $115 million.
The relationship began at a breakfast, where SurePayroll’s then-president and CEO, Michael Alter, laid out the key challenges SurePayroll was facing.
SurePayroll was the first company to offer an online payroll service designed exclusively to meet the needs of small businesses. But small business owners were skeptical of trying something new. Their owners preferred to play it safe and outsource payroll to a well-known company, like ADP and Paychex, even if it meant paying more for an inferior service. Additionally, many small businesses were processing payroll in-house without any help from a payroll outsourcing company. Both groups needed to understand the value SurePayroll could bring to their businesses.
With backing from venture capitalists, Alter had created a strong sales engine to grow SurePayroll and had secured a useful partnership with Wells Fargo. But growth was slower than desired, as outbound calls to small businesses hit up against the objection that so often stunts market traction for high-potential tech companies. Moreover, inbound buyer calls were few and far between.
Alter challenged Walker Sands to help establish SurePayroll’s online solution as a credible and well-regarded alternative for payroll processing. His goal was to be considered in line with major players such as ADP and Paychex.
Every good solution starts by fully understanding the problem at hand. Our team took a deep dive into the payroll industry, the small business market and SurePayroll’s operations. We were given a front row seat at SurePayroll’s weekly management team meetings, spoke at length with sales reps and interviewed prospects and customers. To a certain extent, we got to know the company and the industry as well as anyone on SurePayroll’s staff and quickly were viewed as a trusted partner to the company.
After gaining an understanding of the company’s goals, objectives and direction, we launched our initiative by reaching out to relevant media outlets and publications. Our team worked closely with SurePayroll to craft a list of targets in specific publications read by small business owners. Variations on a bylined article by Michael Alter titled “Not Your Father’s Payroll Service” ran in dozens of publications. The phones lit up, and new customers were acquired. From that initial joint win, Walker Sands and SurePayroll subsequently partnered on numerous marketing and PR initiatives for many years as part of a monthly retainer arrangement. On the PR front, the novelty of simple online payroll processing allowed us to generate media placements in national outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur.
Two years after that first breakfast meeting, we furthered our partnership by developing a data-driven PR campaign that engaged SurePayroll’s data around small business payrolls to come up with economic statistics that would be of interest to business reporters. First, we garnered many high-profile stories based on a statistic that indicates whether small businesses were becoming more reliant on independent contractors. This led to the creation of a full-blown set of economic indices, branded as the SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard, a monthly report published just prior to the release of the government’s job and employment statistics. The success of these efforts led to a PR program with guaranteed monthly placements.
The brand visibility generated by the Scorecard, coupled with other strategic moves by Walker Sands and Alter’s team, allowed SurePayroll to gain the same consideration as ADP and Paychex, a main goal from the beginning. Once it was in the mix, SurePayroll was able to win the business it needed; it eventually landed on the Inc. 500 list of successful fast-growth companies for multiple years.
With $17 million in venture capital, a strong founding team and a great concept, there was still no guarantee of success for this ambitious venture. While the idiom “success has many fathers” comes to mind whenever a company hits it big, the founders of SurePayroll and other key stakeholders fully acknowledge the important role Walker Sands played in its eventual $115 million sales to Paychex.
Our team takes great pride in knowing that we helped SurePayroll reach a tipping point as a large driver of its ultimate success. The partnership is the kind of ride we live for, and it’s part of our entrepreneurial ethic that requires us to work every day as if our success was exclusively linked to the success of our clients.
A chance encounter between Gary Swartwood, a former SurePayroll sales rep, and one of our Walker Sands team members says it all. Gary said, “Whenever we saw you guys show up, the sales guys and I would literally give each other high fives. We knew that whatever you were up to on the marketing front, it meant that the phones would soon be ringing and that good sales leads would soon be coming in. We definitely couldn’t have done what we did [at SurePayroll] without you.”
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