Agency Breakout Summit/2020: How to Sell Enterprise Clients on WordPress

What’s your angle? Is it scalability, security, administrative capabilities, all of the above? In this video, CrowdFavorite (CEO, Karim Marucchi) and Maark (Founder & CEO, Michael Colombo) give us winning strategies for selling their enterprise clients on WordPress.

Video recording of session


  • Moderator: Ryan Ashby, Senior Director of Partnerships at WP Engine 
  • Karim Marucchi, CEO at Crowd Favorite 
  • Michael Colombo, Founder & CEO at Maark

We need to be the idea people. If we’re the idea people and we’re leading with ideas, we’re attaching ourselves to strategy, we’re attaching ourselves to marketers and the business.

—Mike Colombo, Maark

Panel discusses: 

  • How do you move WordPress into the enterprise? 
  • How do you move from a CMS-only for WordPress to a full Digital Experience (DXP)? 
  • How do you choose a platform like AEM vs WordPress or the multiple point solutions that are out there?
  • Advice for agencies starting out and eager to start selling to the enterprise.

“It becomes about scaling the solution, not creating the solution from scratch.”

—Karim Marucchi, Crowd Favorite

Full text transcript



– Hello friends, my name is Ryan Ashby. I lead the agency practice here at WP Engine. Today we have a very special session on how to sell enterprise clients on WordPress.


WordPress and enterprise, two words that have a correlation of, or a perception of oil and water. Yin-and-yang, “But is that perception an actual reality?”  Our data is beginning to tell us otherwise.


We’ve recently commissioned research on the role of CMS within the enterprise. We talked to 300 IT and marketing professionals with the majority making, coming from a billion-plus revenue organizations.


The data states that 66% of organizations leveraged WordPress for digital experiences today.


36% actually leverage WordPress as its primary CMS.


Here to talk a little bit more about that, we have a couple of our strategic partners from Crowd Favorite and Maark.


And joining us is Karim Marucchi, who’s the CEO and founder of Crowd Favorite. And then Michael Colombo, CEO and founder of Maark.


To get things kicked off, I’d like you have you guys introducing yourselves.  Maybe Mike, tell us a little about yourself.



– Awesome, thanks Ryan. Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. My name is Mike Colombo. I’m the CEO and founder as you mentioned of Maark up here in my bunker in Boston.


And I’ve been with the agency, we started about almost two decades now at this point. And our goal really is kinda to provide an end-to-end transformation service for our clients.


And that means that we’re doing everything from sort of the idea and the strategy through to the design and the development and the integration and even, sort of the measurement management afterwards.


It been a quite wild ride over the last two decades, but we’re having a lot of fun.



– Awesome, Karim?



– Hi, I’m Karim Marucchi from Crowd Favorite. Crowd Favorite was originally started by Alex King. In 2007, he really was attracted to trying to figure out how to scale WordPress into the enterprise.


And he created such a wonderful reputation for Crowd Favorite in being able to do that.


I joined, and am CEO because of my enterprise experience over the last many years of trying to really bring solutions to clients, both in digital strategy and implementation, and fell in love with

WordPress and open source, and wanted to really join this community back in 2010.


So it’s been an incredible, incredible sort of rise of what WordPress has done as you said.


It’s not always been seen as synonymous in the enterprise, but we love what we’re doing, and we’re really happy to be here with you Ryan, thank you.



– Thank you both Mike and Karim. We really appreciate it. Both Crowd Favorite and Mark has had a pretty solid foundation in working with the enterprise.


I think it would be great to start with a little bit of dialogue in regards to how you move WordPress into the enterprise. Mike, it would be great to start with you.



– Yeah, sure. Unlike my friend Karim here, maybe I don’t know that I love any technology right?


So, I’ve worked with a million platforms, a million different technologies. I’m not really religious when it comes to anything I don’t think. I think at the end of the day to me it’s about value, right?


It’s about the capabilities that we’re bringing. And so, I think whether it’s WordPress or the Adobe Stack, we do a good bit of work on, that we’re, whatever it is, I feel like right now, we need to really focus on “What is the solution, what are the benefits, what are the capabilities that we’re bringing as a part of that solution?”


So for me, WordPress in the enterprise would then, talking about, when I’m talking about benefits, when I’m talking about what capabilities I’m bringing, it’s got a lot to do with obviously, we’re in a cost-sensitive environment. So there’s a cost element there.


But you know, I think it’s really about getting to market quickly. Like we need to really identify and be laser-focused on, “What capabilities do we need, how much of it do we need, what’s the least we can spend, and how do we get there quick?”


And so, if I’m leading with that story, then I feel like bringing up WordPress in that context, and bringing it into the enterprise is pretty easy.


I tend to just generally avoid kinda the old tropes, right, the kinda religious argument of open-source versus not, or is it secure enough or, it’s really about what’s the value we’re delivering, how quickly can we deliver that value, what are the best tools to do it.


And WordPress has a real role to play in the current climate in the current conversation I think.



– Awesome. Thank you very much, Karim?



– Yeah, Ryan, hi. At Crowd Favorite, we’re seeing that clients start coming to us with, that they had looked at something like AEM or Sitecore full platform.


But more often than not, whether it’s because of our open-source reputation or not, we’re seeing a lot of clients who are saying, “It’s not just about not going with a license solution, but also trying to find where are they gonna go from what used to be just CMS.”


The conversation of “now we need to integrate all these different platforms, all these different services features, how we’re doing that.”


So open-source in WordPress, they’re having conversations with us about it, being sort of a hub for the spoke of all the possible Martech and Marcom features.



– Awesome. And you know, I wanna bring it back a little bit too. Great points, both Karim and Michael. We started off a little bit around capabilities and time to value and speed.



– Yeah, I can jump in here. I think you know as much as possible, that we wanna attach ourselves to the business, right. We wanna work with marketers, and we wanna dive in as deep as possible in order to be, so what we’re trying to do is really kinda grab that high-ground, right.


So when we’re talking about capabilities, we’re talking about it to the marketers, we’re talking about it to the business.


We’re saying, “What capabilities are we gonna deliver to the business?”


That means in order to do that, we need to dive in as deep as possible to understand the business.


That’s kind of one of the things that we really pride ourselves on is you know right out of the gates, we’re gonna get in as deep as we can to the business domain, what the problem is, how do we understand where the business is going.


Because we need to be the idea people. If we’re the idea people and we’re leading with ideas, we’re attaching ourselves to strategy, we’re attaching ourselves to marketers and the business. Then the solution that follows is just so much easier to sell, so much easier to communicate, because at that point, we’re not talking about software, we’re talking about, “What does the business get out of the software?”


So for me, if we can lead that conversation that way, if Maark, the agency, can attach itself to the real problem, become the idea guy, grab that strategic high-ground, then saying, “And we think the best way for you to get there in the time we have, and the cost we have, is to use WordPress and to use these other pieces, you know, open-source pieces, etc.”


It’s a lot easier conversation to have because we’re starting from the idea.


I think that’s what I mean by capabilities is start from the idea, don’t start from the technology.


If you’re starting from the technology, and you’re selling directly into IT for instance and then trying to back your way into a business value, or back your way into a business enabler capability, it’s a lot harder conversation to have because you’re starting almost defensively.


“Why is the technology worth considering?” versus “How do we bring value, how do we bring ideas, how do we really transform the business?”


Starting there I think is a lot easier path down to what the solution ends up being.



– That’s great. So starting with the idea, leading into the solution. Capabilities driven first. And then the capability to deliver within a time frame that delivers value.


Karim are you seeing the same?



– Yeah. I feel like Mike is completely right. It is about approaching it as a feature instead of, “How can I use my hammer particularly to fix any nail I see,” so to speak.


That’s where we’re starting. What’s really become something that we’ve been able to focus on, is really understanding the, from what Mike said time to value also, is the value of where you start.


And with WordPress and with the open-source pieces that are coming around it, to really try and become a feature rich DXP, what you have is instead of starting completely bespoke, we’re starting from a platform.


You really have the best of both worlds. You can quite literally create completely bespoke solutions. But at the same time, you also have these off-the-shelf components that get you a very quick start.


So it becomes about scaling the solution, not creating the solution from scratch.


And that’s been a big advantage when we’re going up against these complete platforms that say they can do a to z from day one.



– I think that’s pretty compelling to me. And it really kicks off the discussion as we talk about WordPress, as a digital experienced platform.


The question between bespoke and off the rack and solving for the capabilities that Mike was talking about, it becomes more muddy, more difficult.


The latest marketing technology landscape Scott Brinker put together actually had, somewhere around 8,000 different types of technology within it.


So you know, how do you make sense of an ecosystem like that? How do you move from a CMS-only for WordPress to the full DXP?



– First, it’s transitioned away from the idea of looking at one solution. I’m sure Mike is finding the same thing, that instead of saying, “We have one platform that can do everything for you,” we know that’s not true.


So people are taking a look at that Martech field and saying, “How can we take advantage of this?”


And we feel like we’ve created a process when we work that we say, “How can we plug into some of those Martech solutions that are out there hat are best-of-breed?” 


But how do we also create and focus on which tools do the best things?


And with a focus on open-source and how we’re using WordPress sort of as a hub.


We can reach out and use some of that Martech stack when we need to, and other times, we can say, “Hey, this open-source solution or WordPress does this part better.”



– And Michael following the same line of thinking, how do you look at solutions, how do you choose a platform like AEM versus WordPress or the multiple point solutions that are out there? I mean, what’s your point of view?



– Yeah, I love Karim’s point. I think the silver lining in the 8,000 Martech companies is that it means that clients are open to solutions.


At the end of day, we’re trying to solve a problem. And I think it goes back to, you know what I was saying is if we’re starting with the problem.


If we’re starting with the experience. And working our way back from the experience. I mean that’s how we kinda think of it first is the product in the end is the experience.


That’s what the marketer needs to attach themselves to is delivering world-class digital experiences. And then working your way back to the solution, from that perspective it gives you that freedom to say, “Yeah, we’re gonna use best-of-breed, we think that this is the best thing to use to meet this need, and this is the best thing to use to meet this need.”


Because at the end of the day, we’re delivering this, right guys? We’re all delivering this. We’re all very focused on what that end-user experiences is.


And I think that is like cobbled together is that whole Martech field can be and can feel.


You know, I think what that does mean is that you do have the freedom if you’re from that sort of high-ground and that end-user experience, that strategic win, then I think there is room there to say, “Everything’s not gonna come to us out of the box, everything’s not gonna be off the shelf.”


“There are some things we’ll need to do, custom or integrate custom, but we do have experience and we do have pieces in place that we can leverage in scale.


“But if there’s an area where there’s not a piece, or there’s not a good enough piece to get to that experience you want, you have options and you have the ability to innovate.”


I think that’s what it means to me. It means that clients, by and large, are open to innovation.


If you can attach your innovation to real business value, you should be able to have that conversation.



– Absolutely. And thanks for sharing that. That was good feedback. Karim, do you have anything more that you’d like to expand on that?



– I honestly think that Mike covered that beautifully.


For us, both our agencies are basically saying to the clients and the brands out there, not only do you have choices of saying, “Hey, we don’t necessarily to go with this giant platform that wants to be all things to all people,” but we can also go with saying, “You don’t have to try and manage that Martech 8,000.”


“We can help you bring that together into one fluid movement. And the idea here is really, how do we bring that together into a user-experience that on the website guest site, side works very well, so for the guests of the brands that are coming to their websites.


But also more importantly, sometimes on the editing teams.


The teams that are actually creating the content on the back end that they don’t have to use eight, nine, ten different tools to get something live.


How do you integrate that experience? And with tools like WordPress on platforms like WP Engine, we can actually do that now.



– That’s incredible. I really appreciate that. You know, as we look at wrapping up this conversation today, I know that we touched quite a bit on valuable experiences that each of you have had in regards to working with the enterprise and taking a capabilities first approach,

what it means to deliver value on a timely basis. 


Karim jumping into the amazing capabilities and the limits that you’re pushing WordPress to, and the ability to create these digital experiences.


There’s a lot of aspiring agencies, growing agencies that are probably joining us here today. It would be great if you can just share a little bit of wisdom, some words of wisdom.


And maybe starting Michael with you on, what is one piece of advice? You’ve had sustainability and success in working with the enterprise. What would be your one piece of advice to the folks that are out here watching today on how to be successful in selling to the enterprise?


– Yeah, it’s a, (laughs) it’s a lot pressure thanks —

(all laugh)


My one piece of advice I guess is think about your culture.


Think about your culture and your business model. The solutions flow from that.


I mean if you’re differentiating yourself, if you’re trying to differentiate yourself just on technology, that’s hard to do, that’s really hard to do.


You’re gonna find that there’s a lot of people delivering WordPress.


You’re gonna find that there’s a lot of people saying they’re great at AEM or great at this or great at that.


Differentiate yourself on your culture. Be that sort of solution-first agency, be that experience-led agency.


Really kinda try to build that business that, you know where you can say that, “We’re about the result first, and we’re about jumping in and digging in with you and understanding your business,” and doing those things.


Build that culture, and I think the solution with my experiences is the solution with clients and even your teams.


You’re trying to get your team to learn different technologies and different things and you can get them excited and up to speed.


If you’re making kick-ass work, people are gonna want it. I think the technology can be secondary to that.


So I guess that’d just be my, my one piece of advice is focus on your culture.



– Absolutely. That’s great feedback. Focus on the culture, build winning experiences, and that will shine with your clients. How about you, Karim?



– Ryan, I was struck by how you started the session, you talked about the various audiences that we have here at Summit this year. And I really wanna say, I really wanna talk to the two different sides of the audiences.


For some of the agencies who have come into WordPress from already being in the enterprise or working on other platforms, I just wanna say, remember why WordPress became

popular in the first place.


WordPress became popular in the first place, not just because it was open-source.


There’s a lot of things out there that are open-source, but because of the ease of use.


The interface, the ease of getting people up and running, the onboarding when it comes to bringing your editors into it.


As these sites get more complex, and as we work at the enterprise, these sites in their back end and in the way that we use them are getting so complex, that a lot of time we’re losing that focus.


So remember the UX, remember the interface, remember the content makers that are out there when you’re creating these systems, because we’re gonna be competing against some of these larger systems and platforms.


But also you wanna make it easy for them, as we have all these new features and DXPs, and all these personalization things that are coming out. We really wanna be able to focus on that.


And for those of you in the second class of audience who have been in the WordPress community for many, many years, let’s not fight yesterday’s battles.


Let’s look forward, with especially this UX. Let’s look forward in bringing in other pieces of software and really integrating, extending the API, extending Headless and what we can do. Let’s look forward and not back, and let’s really speed up what we can use WordPress as a hub in the enterprise.



– That’s great. So as complex as servicing the enterprise can get and the complexities of the technology, just remember that reason why WordPress is 60 plus percentage of usage within the enterprise is because it’s easy to use.


Combine that with an awesome culture, and you got a recipe for success.


So that wraps us up here for our conversation today with Karim and Michael. Please join us for questions here shortly.Thank you.

Q&A Session


All right, welcome back live and direct to the Q&A session of our agency track. Thank you very much Karim and Mike for the discussion around how to sell an enterprise on WordPress.


We are taking questions from the audience, we’ll get going here in just one second.


So apologize for the audio broke in the last session, but we’re ready to go and got it fixed and ready to go.


One of the first questions that we have from the audience and was submitted in the previous track, and Karim I think this is probably best directed towards you is, “Have you ever built an intranet or a company, based on WordPress?”



– Yes, we have actually. This was for a service company that provided employees to a large chain who are product experts to walk around the chain and explain on products.


And they had employees all over the country, so some of the big challenges around an intranet was the integration of some of the HR systems but also, just like we face with remote customers, sort of creating that client culture, sorry that employee culture in that case where you actually have employees who maybe have never met, are actually gonna interact.


So the one key thing that client did that really made a good difference is, they had two full-time people in HR who, for a company of well over a thousand,  were interacting in their interactive chat channels, this was before Slack, and some other channels they had to really make people feel like they could speak up and interact with people they’ve never met before.



– Inventing the Slack before the Slack.


(all laugh)


There was a lot of references in the agency chat to IRC. Definitely thought of HB and show and so, very good to see all of that.


And I think this next question we got from the audience, Mike I’m gonna serve up to you, but initially, “What are the best-of-breed Martech solutions that you like to work with, to innovate and integrate?”



– Boy, I think we talked about in the session what a massive world it is.


I think our, man it was lovely to answer that question. I think reasonably we’ve had our head in the CDP space a lot. Doing a lot of work there with companies like Segment and then

Particle and folks like that. Pretty innovative, pretty awesome.


I think on that train as well orchestration, companies like Braize are doing a really awesome job with that.


That’s really the challenge, I think, that if you can simplify it, make it easy use from the UX standpoint, then I think you could get a whole bunch more value out of it.


We obviously use quite a bit in the WordPress side. Also we do a lot of work on the Adobe side and that whole stacks, so we’re familiar with it, familiarity I think, it can bring contempt, but also I think we learn to love it as well.


So we do a lot with the market automation tools like Marketo and Campaign and all those. But yeah, I guess you know, some of the stuff happening and in CDP and the orchestration I think may be worth mentioning as far as coolness factor goes.



Yeah, it all comes back to the data. Hearing a lot about the CDP so good stuff. And Karim I would love you have you take a shot at the question as well.



– Well, we’re currently working with a client whose trying to integrate Creatio and some of their new products in. And that’s interesting because they have a different take on creating their API.


And besides that, just like Mike talked about, all the usual suspects from SalesForce on down.



– Absolutely. And next question is, Karim I’ll toss this one up to you, “What are the biggest challenges you’re seeing for enterprises in the rapidly evolving digital age?”



– Well earlier, Robert, our keynote speaker today, spoke about how things have changed so quickly since COVID. I think everybody, every single one of our clients in one way or the other has constantly been surprised at how quickly the need for change is at the moment.


That’s been the biggest upset is not just, “Okay, I need to be remote. Or I need to figure out Zoom.” But really, “How do I bring my policies to — a lot of our clients aren’t going back to their offices until after January 1st, then what?”



– Yeah, yeah. Very, very true. Mike I’m gonna pass this one off to you. And you know, “Based on your decades of experience.”


(Mike and Ryan laugh)


It’s the beard, I mean it’s got that–Sort of energy and experience so.


Based on your decades of experience, what are the biggest changes you are seeing for the enterprise now versus then?



– Let’s see. So I think there’s a whole bunch of challenges. I think, again, the fundamental challenge, the biggest challenge to transformation to change.


You know we’ve been talking about digital transformation, all that for a long time.


Biggest challenge is always gonna be cultural. It’s gonna be getting over themselves, as far as enterprises go.


I think another challenge, specifically to the marketers we deal with to the CMOs we deal with, is just how broad marketing scope is getting.


So as the line continues to blur between product and marketing, and the marketing scope continues to explode to include more and more of the customer experience, which again, translates to a digital experience.


I think that challenge, the old models inside the enterprise of like build versus run, and you’re partnering with IT, and they’re not really a digital product creator in a lot of ways, and they have old school thinking about how products get iterated on and all that kind of stuff — that’s a massive challenge.


And again, it probably all goes back to culture, really.


It goes back to how teams are organized, and then what skills exist inside the enterprise to address sort of the modern consumer, whether that’s a B2B consumer, or a B2C consumer, similar challenges.


But I think broadly it’s culture, but it comes down to, that breaks down into a whole bunch of challenges.



Yeah, and in the presentation you talked and discussed a little bit about a shift in what you’re seeing now is time to value. 


With that shift to time to value, you feel like that culture is being more open to kind of that old school mentality. You see it more and more, and you see that trend continuing as things recover in the market as well.



– Yeah, that’s right. I was thinking just the other day, you know we saw Hertz, huge enterprise,

declare bankruptcy. I think there’s this great anecdote of 2009, Uber came out, and Hertz, it was in economic crisis, and Hertz started to tank around that time.


And as Uber was coming out and reinventing the way we move, Hertz’s big innovation

at the time in 2009, they worked on two things.


One was putting XM satellite radio in the car, and two was creating a new camera system that would allow them to more easily nav people for dinging fenders when they pulled in.


So they were adding to like the list of things we hate, and they were putting new radio in the car, while companies were innovating.


So they had that decade. We saw that decade, and now they’re facing the consequence.


I think a lot of companies are looking at that going, “Man, I don’t want to be that company.”


– Didn’t learn in the last time around. Karim, we have time for one more question that jumped in here. We got a couple minutes left, but I think this is really speaks to your DXP expertise around WordPress, “But what extensions, plugins, tools, etc. do you use with the majority of the clients when you build up that WordPress DXP?”



– So, not being commercial about it, but really, we work with all of the product companies that reach out to us and say, “We’re interested in creating good code. We are willing to do our

PSR-12 validation checks. We are willing to check our JavaScript. We’re willing to make sure our code can scale.”


And just to name a couple, these aren’t all of them, but just a couple.


Our good friends over at Gravity Forms, our good friends over at Beaver Builder. Those folks really know how to create quality code. I’m really impressed with what PublishPress is doing these days. So, those are some good plugins for the client-side.


And then of course, for tools and things is our friends over at Delicious Brains. These people really focus on, “How do I scale the code?”


And they invite, “How could we make the product better to agencies like ours?”



– That’s great, yeah very good. So, I think that does it for time here. I really wanna thank Karim Marucchi and Michael Colombo for joining us and talking about their experiences within the enterprise. Thank you very much, and we’ll catch everybody next time.


Get started.

Build faster, protect your brand, and grow your business with a WordPress platform built to power remarkable online experiences.