Level Up Your Cleaning Business with Lisa Macqueen

Simon chats with Lisa Macqueen, CEO of Cleancorp.

Show Notes

Cleancorp caters to property servicing of low, medium and hi-rise commercial buildings, retail centres, call centres, industrial complexes and large scale Green Star rated buildings.

You can contact Lisa Macqueen here

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Contact the team at www.cemoh.com or Simon here.

If you think you have a great story for the podcast, contact our producer at [email protected]

And find out more about our sound engineer Gilberto here: www.thepodcastboss.com


Simon Dell: So, welcome to the Cemoh Marketing Podcast, Lisa Macqueen down in Sydney. You are the CEO of Cleancorp, so I’m led to believe. Tell me a little bit about Cleancorp. What do you do? I mean, most people are going to be able to guess, but tell us anyway.

Lisa Macqueen: Yeah. There are no prizes to guessing, right? Thanks for having me, Simon. It’s great to be here. I am the CEO of Cleancorp. And as the name would have you believe, we are a cleaning company and we’re a commercial cleaning company. So, we provide cleaning services right around Australia and New Zealand to some of the world’s best-known brands, our clients, and we’ve been doing this for… We’ve just had our 25th anniversary, so we’ve been at this for quite a while.

Simon Dell: Right. When you say big brands, I guess you’re doing big buildings. You’re doing tail blocks and the whole shebang. It’s not just a little office emptying the bins, you’re doing the whole thing.

Lisa Macqueen: That’s right.

Simon Dell: I guess logistically, you have a lot of people working for you. So, what’s the size of the company? What sort of numbers are you looking at?

Lisa Macqueen: So, we run very lean. In our office here, we have 10 people working in the office, and that runs the entire operation from a management perspective. And then obviously, out in the field, we have hundreds of cleaning operatives who are situated all around the country and in New Zealand. We’re not the biggest cleaning company in Australia, but we’re certainly the fastest growing.

Simon Dell: Now, you’ve come up the ranks in the business, haven’t you? But it was a family business. So, give us the history of how all that happened.

Lisa Macqueen: My background is I’ve always worked in sales and marketing, and worked for international hotels, been in the travelling industry for 20 years. And I love that. I had reached a wonderful level in my career where I was being really well-paid, working for great companies, travelling around the world. Staying in really freaking amazing hotels, and then my husband said to me, “Why don’t you bring all of those sales and marketing skills to Cleancorp and see what we can do with the business?”

And it took a lot of convincing. And I said it so many times, he literally dragged me from my job screaming. I really didn’t want to do that, and to be honest with you, I didn’t think I’d be any good at it. I thought I’ve got this whole sales and marketing. How am I going to sell cleaning services? But you know, when there’s a will, there’s a way.

And it is our family business, and once I jumped into Cleancorp, I realized that I had to – I had to bring it because one, I wanted to show him what I could do. And two, now, our entire family income was dependent on one source. So, yeah.

Simon Dell: Was he the CEO at the time and you’ve displaced him?

Lisa Macqueen: Yeah. He’s always worked with the title of Managing Director and been really comfortable with that. But little by little, I think that his passion for Cleancorp and what he does is – he loves being out with the people, out with the clients out there. And our office, we needed someone who was here managing things and moving the needle. And so, that more and more became my role. I said it a thousand times. I’m your best second-in-charge, but last year, it really became, “Okay, I’m feeling like taking on this role is where I want to be.”

And I’ve been working a lot on my own leadership skills and developing that. So, I took the helm and my husband’s pretty happy about it to be honest.

Simon Dell: How does that affect the relationship at home?

Lisa Macqueen: Not at all. I think he’s really happy to be able to sit in the pocket that he loves within the business and allow me to take over the strategic vision and really develop that side of it. Because that’s much more my native genius than what it is his. So, I think the way that we’ve divided is the way that we’re conquering, going with our natural strengths.

Simon Dell: You’re a B2B business. When you came into that sales and marketing role, B2B businesses are very different beasts from selling something to the end user, to the consumer. What’s been the biggest challenge from a marketing perspective, trying to grow this company?

Lisa Macqueen: The biggest challenge has been to clearly differentiate ourselves in the market. Because anyone can go to their local hardware store, buy a mop, a bucket, and a vacuum and call themselves the commercial cleaner. So, we have literally – at last count, there were over 32,000 cleaning businesses in Australia. There’s a lot of competition there.

So, the first thing was to decide who we are. Who are we and who do we want to work with? And we’ve honed it and honed it over the years, and we’re very intentional now about who we would like to work with. And if a new client comes on board that just doesn’t feel like it’s right, then we will make some changes and adjustments to make sure that it is. Having said that, sometimes it isn’t. It just isn’t the right fit, and we’ve also made the tough business decision to go our different ways.

But I think doing that and being very clear on our own vision has helped us to differentiate ourselves in the eyes of our prospects and in the eyes of our clients so that they can see the difference between Cleancorp and what Cleancorp offers over here. And everybody else over there.

And if you look at the marketing we’ve done and the messaging that we’ve put out there, it is very different.

Simon Dell: Because I guess to a certain degree for some people, it’s a commodity product. Cleaning an office is cleaning an office. It doesn’t matter who does it as long as it gets cleaned. And I guess it’s very easy in your industry to potentially cut your price until everybody’s making no money whatsoever. So, you obviously wanted to go in there and whole price, and talk about values, and brand, and all those kind of things. If I went and talked to some of your key customers, those you’ve had a long time, why would they say that they would never switch from you? What would be their one reason for staying with you?

Lisa Macqueen: The main reason would be communication and great service. That is really the key to what we do. We have in place – because a lot of companies, particularly in the cleaning space, once they get your business, you really don’t ever hear from them. You get an invoice once a month, the cleaner company, but there is no impact on the customer’s life in any real way. They don’t know who you are, so they don’t care who you are.

And so, I think with us, we have always worked on having the relationships with our clients and having that relationship where we can catch up with them. We can have a conversation with them. I can ring them and have an open and honest conversation. So, that’s one of our key strengths, I think, having that there.

Simon Dell: Do you use any kind of systems for that communication? If I was a customer of yours, how am I hearing from you? What do you do that’s different to the competition out there?

Lisa Macqueen: You’re hearing from us in a multitude of ways, actually. So, naturally, over the phone by email, but everybody can do that. So, we have a system that we use, and that system is – it kind of connects all the dots. It connects Cleancorp, the customer, the cleaning operative all in one place. And it creates an environment where it’s very easy to quickly and easily have a conversation about something that you need or something that you’d like to see happen, so that that’s there.

But then we also do other touches as well, Simon. So, you know, things that – we’ll send a little something to a client. If we’ve noticed something in the media about them that’s really cool, we pay attention, and I think that’s the difference. We pay attention and we’re watching.

Simon Dell: That system that you have, is that something that you guys built for yourself, or is that something you sort of found off the shelf? Was it just like a little piece of software? How did that come about?

Lisa Macqueen: I feel like we built it, but we didn’t. I really do feel like we built it because we were so instrumental in the development of this particular product. And when we took it on, it was relatively new. I think we were the first company in Australia to take this product on. And so, we gave a lot of feedback and a lot of input on where we saw the need, and we’re very grateful that the developers were very onboard with that and they actually strengthened their own product by using us almost like their test case.

Simon Dell: Was that an Australian product or an overseas product?

Lisa Macqueen: No, it’s a Canadian product.

Simon Dell: Okay, just to delve into that a little bit more, did you kind of go through… A lot of small businesses want to try and find things that help systemize and process their business or create processes within their business. And I guess a little piece of software like that takes – kills a huge amount of manhours in terms of that communication and all those kind of things. Did you just happen to find one or stumble on it, or did you go through a process of looking for something that was going to fit with your business?

Lisa Macqueen: I had been looking for something, and I did find a product, an Australian product, that we started working with. Unfortunately, that product, it just wasn’t quite there. And so, we were finding that rather than being a time saver, it was a bit of a time fuck.

So, I had my reticular activating system on looking for something else to replace it with, and I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’ve done a lot of speaking and a lot of marketing for businesses in the US and Canada. And so, when I was at an event in Michigan, I met someone, and they sort of put this in front of me. I started to look into it more and more thought, “Okay, this is – I think this one might be worth investing in and really getting in on board with.”

It has turned out to be a terrific partnership with them.

Simon Dell: Now, when you took over, were you operating in all the states, and New Zealand, and everything? So, you already sort of had that reach. This’ll sort of be a question back in the past, but how do you operate remotely? How do you operate in other cities and things like that? Because obviously, the challenge is you have a certain service level. Your husband has a certain service level. And if anything goes wrong in Sydney, you guys can go and fix, sort that out. How do you take that to Brisbane, and to Melbourne, and to New Zealand? How do you make sure, maintain that service level?

Lisa Macqueen: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think from a marketer’s perspective and certainly from a business owner’s perspective, how you’re able to sell your business becomes a key performance indicator in many ways. So, we had to get it right in Sydney first so that we were able to replicate that out to the other states.

And that’s what we did. Hamish, my husband, had been running the business for 13 years before I joined, and he fine-tuned a lot of the organization. And then I came in, and systemized, and created a business that is… We are so process-driven it’s not funny. I think you would scour the world to find a training company that is as highly processed and systemized as we are. And we embrace technology very early on. We’re a super early adopter in many new technologies.

So, that part, getting that right was the first thing. And then once we feel that we were starting to get scale with that, then we had clients who had an office in Sydney and Melbourne. So, we were able to… You know, when it made sense to do so, we were able to then get boots on the ground in those other states and train those teams in the Cleancorp way.

And today, we have the Cleancorp Training Academy. And everybody that works for Cleancorp has to go through the Cleancorp Training Academy. And that’s how we maintain the consistency. Because if we win a national contract, that national contract has to be cleaned at the same level, whether it’s Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, it has to be the same. So, that’s how we’ve been able to achieve it.

Simon Dell: Let’s talk about those clients. You’ve got a background in sales and marketing, which is more important?

Lisa Macqueen: Marketing. Definitely marketing.

Simon Dell: Funny you should say that, because I did a podcast when I was the guest yesterday or Wednesday, and he asked me the same question. And I actually said sales even though I’m in marketing, but anyway… So, why do you think it’s important?

Lisa Macqueen: I think it’s because the marketing that we do is what attracts the sales opportunities. So, for me, the marketing is how we set the tone and the look and the feel of what our service offering is and why we would be beneficial to a prospect. If I said to sales, “How do we get to the sale without the marketing?” is kind of how I think.

And also, again, going back to what I said earlier, knowing that we’ve got over 32,000 competitors out there, we don’t want to be a commodity. So, our marketing assists us really heavily in creating that difference and making people go, “Ooh, I want to work with them because they get me, they understand me.” So yeah.

Simon Dell: If you had the chance of a new national contract, would you be going at yourself still to this day? Would you be the one that sort of goes and sort of maybe has the initial meeting and then introduce yourself and everything, or do you send your husband now?

Lisa Macqueen: No. At this point, we have a national sales manager, Sally Hunt. And Sally takes the lead on all national contracts. And then generally speaking, we make the decision… It may be Sally and I. It may be Hamish and Sally. It depends on the client, the requirements, but yeah, I’m very hands-on.

Simon Dell: What’s your conversion rate when you’re in front of a customer?

Lisa Macqueen: Pretty high. [laughs]

Simon Dell: I know you’re going to get 100%. Of course.

Lisa Macqueen: I’m never going to say that, but yes, it is pretty high.

Simon Dell: So, go back to the marketing side of things. If you were sitting down in front of a service-based business now, not necessarily in the cleaning industry, but in a similar kind of industry, and looking at targeting the same sort of people, what has worked from a marketing perspective the best for you? What gets you or Sally in front of those customers? What’s the best channels for you?

Lisa Macqueen: The best channels for us are obviously using online marketing, pay-per-click SEO. I think also, being visible and being out there in the world. So, LinkedIn, we do a lot on LinkedIn. And we’re a work in progress right now, but if I was a service-based business, no matter what the service was, I’d be looking at where are my clients, where are my prospects, where are they hanging out, and then that would be where I start my marketing.

And the marketing would be very much on building not so much the company side of things, but probably starting to build personal brand so there’s a voice to the organization.

Simon Dell: I’d imagine if you’re focusing on things like SEO, pay-per-click and all those kind of things, that you potentially attract the rats and mice inquiries, the ones that aren’t big enough for you. Is there some sort of gateway before they get to you that kind of stops them getting to you, or are you dealing with those ones as well?

Lisa Macqueen: We deal with all inquiries that come in in the same way, and that is to build initially, irrespective of whether they’re going to become a client or not, we want them to have a great experience with us. So, when someone calls the office here, they’re going to have a good experience either way. And if they come in and they want a service that we don’t offer such as residential cleaning for example, we’ll ask them, “Where do you live? Maybe we know someone we can recommend to you. I can send you a link to their website.”

We try and be good citizens and be helpful rather than just saying, “Yeah no, we don’t do it.” So, I think – because that’s future-proofing our marketing, because that person who wanted their house cleaned may run a company, may be responsible for buying decisions.

Simon Dell: I had the same conversation with someone the other day who was scared of being in the B2C market. She was a product-based business and she said, “I don’t really want to be in the B2C market.” And I was like, “Well, you know, if you sell your product to 20 potential consumers, one of them is potentially a B2B customer.” And you might spend $10 or $20 or make a $10 or $20 sale in the consumer market, but your B2B market is $50,000 – $60,000 job.

You can almost treat the B2C market or the smaller ones as marketing themselves. They don’t necessarily have to make any money. Obviously, you want them to make money, but they’re a great opportunity for you to meet potential bigger customers, facilities, managers, those kind of people, I guess.

Lisa Macqueen: Absolutely. And that last year is the perfect example of that. Going through COVID, being a cleaning business, a commercial cleaning business, going through a pandemic, hundreds of phone calls a day, and every single phone call had the same experience. The same experience.

And interestingly, many of them didn’t become clients for a multitude of reasons. As they come back to us, they’re coming back and saying, “Now we’re ready. We’ve got our teams that are coming back into the site. We’d like to get a quote on getting everything done.” So, that is – it is marketing. It’s just a bit more of a subtle way.

Simon Dell: What have you found that doesn’t work for you? Where have you potentially spent money in marketing in the past and gone, “Well, that was a waste of time.” Is there anything that’s not worked?

Lisa Macqueen: Print media.

Simon Dell: What did you try? Newspapers or magazines?

Lisa Macqueen: We tried magazines. We tried newspapers and they were just a big old donut, big old dud. It definitely did not work. We tried radio advertising, and radio advertising, we got some really lovely brand awareness from that but that might be something that I’ll revisit. But really, the bang for the buck is for us all in the online space, and it’s also connecting…

We’ve got an amazing database, so it’s just connecting with the people that have already been in some way connected to Cleancorp and providing value to them.

Simon Dell: Just on that database stuff. Presumably, you’ve got a lot of businesses, a lot of… Who are you dealing with? Is it facilities managers or building managers, that kind of thing?

Lisa Macqueen: Yes, that kind of thing. I mean, primaries are you’d be looking at an office manager, facility manager, building manager, commercial real estate agent. And then also, some business owners, and more and more, particularly through COVID, we were dealing with a lot of HR people. So, yeah. So, that’s kind of our main client base.

Simon Dell: And I guess in those industries, there’s a danger that if you ignore your database for 6 months, suddenly 10% of it is out of date, that people have moved on, and emails start bouncing and things like that. Is there a lot of cleaning, ironically, down with the database as well? How often are you trying to stay on top of that?

Lisa Macqueen: We’re staying on top of it all the time because that database that we have is our way of bringing people back to work and our way of reaching out to people. So, it’s very much a wide thing within our business, and we’re always working on it and making sure that – we get a hard bounce somewhere, we’re going to try and find out where that person’s gone, reconnect with them and bring them back on.

Simon Dell: Just back to… It was Sally, wasn’t it? The national sales manager?

Lisa Macqueen: Yes.

Simon Dell: Obviously, you’ve got the SEO and pay-per-click LinkedIn, which is potentially generating incoming leads. Does she do anything like knocking on doors, or cold phone calls, or cold emails, or that sort of thing? How much of that marketing is split between the inbound and the outbound?

Lisa Macqueen: The inbound is high. It’s very high. What Sally does is she is listening to the market. If she’s out seeing someone and there’s another building next door, she’ll be talking to them as well. So right now, the cold calling is not our top priority because we prefer to have a little bit of a relationship beforehand, and that seems to have had a very beneficial effect on the sales that we’ve made.

Having said that, as we bring on more and more salespeople, obviously, the cold calling will go up exponentially.

Simon Dell: And again, how do you get them tempted to come and have a chat with you? Obviously, you’ve got the brand. You’re doing a fantastic job in your communication. Potentially, they’re coming to talk to you. Do you do any kind of… I hate to use these words, but offers or ‘let us do one room, we’ll show you how we…’ But how do you potentially… Because no matter how good your sales and marketing are, sometimes you want to do something to potentially push them over the line.

Is there anything that you’re doing in that, or are you just letting the natural relationship happen?

Lisa Macqueen: We’re very much relational-based, very much. So, we don’t… In the old days, and you asked me before what hasn’t worked. That hasn’t worked having [INAUDIBLE 00:23:57]. So, to really building a relationship and showing that we’re real people rather than we’re just a company that does cleaning, we’re so much more than that. And I think that’s what our prospects really feel when they’re interacting with us. They’re feeling that, and that feels different to everything else they’re feeling out there with other cleaning companies. I think that’s the key thing. We feel different.

Simon Dell: Going back to the database very quickly, just – this’ll be a nerdy, technical question. Is that all being done within the same software that you’re using to manage everything, or is there a different CRM that does things like send emails?

Lisa Macqueen: It’s a different CRM.

Simon Dell: What do you guys use from a CRM perspective?

Lisa Macqueen: We’re using Infusionsoft. We’ve used Infusionsoft since 2008. I believe we’re the first company in Australia to use Infusionsoft. So again, an early adopter, yeah. In fact, I won the Infusionsoft Ultimate Marketer Award in the US in 2014.

Simon Dell: I did see you had quite a few little Infusionsoft badges on your LinkedIn page, you know?

Lisa Macqueen: Yeah. I’m a bit of a fan, I’m not going to lie. And it’s enabled us to be able to leverage in all different areas with the business and to be able to do it in a way that is authentic to us in our voice and to really reach out to prospects and clients. It’s been very, very helpful.

Simon Dell: I have to say, everyone I ever talked to about – because there’s a love-hate relationship with Infusionsoft in the industry. There is nobody in the middle ground. There’s either people who love it or there’s people who go, “Never mention that word to me again.” This is probably unfair because they’ve probably developed and improved over the years, but yeah, it was a polarizing product.

Much like Salesforce and things like that. People love or hate Salesforce, and Magento, and applications like that. Do you produce any content? I mean, I presume you use that database to potentially email out to customers as well and do newsletters and things like that. What have you got in a newsletter content-wise? What do people want to hear?

Lisa Macqueen: Because we are B2B, our clients want to hear about other businesses. They want to hear about leadership. They want to hear about culture and fit and things like that. They do not want to hear about cleaning. It’s so fucking boring. They really don’t. So, honestly…

Simon Dell: And you said you weren’t going to drop the F bomb.

Lisa Macqueen: You said I could. [laughs] I think it would be remiss of me as the marketing here in Cleancorp to think that our clients, or anyone on our database, is particularly enthralled by cleaning. They don’t care. They don’t get out of bed and get excited about buying a cleaning contract. All they want is to go to work and it be clean and fresh. So, respecting that and understanding that is part of thinking like a client, right?

So, any information that I’m going to put in front of them is pretty much 100% of the time is not going to be talking about cleaning. And anyone who follows me anywhere on any social media channel will see that and probably, my competitors are probably going, “She never talks about cleaning.” But that’s super intentional from our perspective.

Simon Dell: And who does your content? Are you writing it or is this someone else producing it?

Lisa Macqueen: Me. I do it.

Simon Dell: Last question I have for you today: With staff all over the country, how do you guys celebrate? How do you make them feel like they’re part of a team when you’ve got someone that could be stuck on the 17th floor of a building block on a Tuesday morning, miles away from anybody else? How do you make them still part of the Cleancorp corp?

Lisa Macqueen: There’s a couple of ways. We do shoutouts. We have a huddle each morning. [INAUDIBLE 00:27:43] and we do shoutouts at the huddle. We do shoutouts using our online system so that every single cleaning operative, whether they’re in Australia or in New Zealand sees the shoutouts.

And what’s the beautiful part about using that particular platform is that then they’re all going, “Yeah, great work John! Congratulations!” We might’ve just had a bit of a testimonial on Google or something like that. It will not go unnoticed. We do amazing Christmas parties and things like that. So, we work very hard on trying to make sure everybody feels part of it. And last night, actually, one of our team leaders, Dan, in Melbourne was up and the senior management team, we all went out to dinner with him.

And he said to me – he’s been in the business, in cleaning for 22 years. And he said to me, “I’ve never in 22 years worked for a company that cares about me as much as Cleancorp.” And that’s not by accident, that’s by design. That’s how we want our people to feel. So, that was really gratifying.

Simon Dell: Just to go slightly further into that one. Talk to me how the huddle works because it’s actually something we started 6 months ago, and I have to say, I still don’t have – we obviously have a lot smaller numbers of staff, but we have the same issues that there could be absolutely anywhere. How do you do that and make that a success? What are you doing it on? Are you doing it on Zoom?

Lisa Macqueen: We do it on Zoom so that no matter where you are, you can just jump online very quickly and easily. And the idea behind it is so that we can share high-level stuff quickly. We also do a weekly meeting. There’s too much time that elapses between from one week to the next. So, what we do is we just have the messaging that’s going out from sales, or finance, marketing, and we’re basically collating that information into a 15-minute meeting so everybody is across it.

Simon Dell: Okay, alright. Does everyone dial in? How do you encourage them to do that? Is it something that they have to do? Even if they’re in the middle of a job, they sort of put down the mop or bucket and pick up the phone and dial in?

Lisa Macqueen: No. They don’t have to do it because it’s a bit difficult when we’ve got cleaning operatives – especially if they’re on site, when the clients are on site. They don’t have to. It’s something that they can do if they want to. Some people are there every day. Some people are – we also do – for our cleaning operatives, we have another separate meeting which is the toolbox talk that’s specifically for them. And we get a high attendance for that.

So, it’s really putting the control in their hands of what they want to get. But obviously, really key information is shared in the moment using our platform.

Simon Dell: Last couple of questions for you. Where do you take Cleancorp from here? You’ve worked your way up. You’re now the CEO. You’re already across Australia. You’re already in New Zealand. Where’s the future lie for you guys?

Lisa Macqueen: I think for us, the future is going to pretty much stay with Australia and New Zealand. We’ve had some outreach from companies in Asia who would like to partner up with us, and that’s certainly something that’s on my mind. I’ve also had similar conversation with people in the US. Right now, I just want to make sure that we are as toned and lean as we can be so that we’re really exceeding expectations for our clients, our cleaning operatives, the people that work in this office, our suppliers, in every way.

I think right now, I’m just making sure everything works really well and keeping the ship steady.

Simon Dell: Okay, awesome. Last question: If someone wants to get in contact with you, what’s the best way of going to have a chat with Lisa?

Lisa Macqueen: Best way to contact me is probably on LinkedIn. I’m very active on LinkedIn, Lisa Macqueen, or you can send me an email. [email protected]. Either way, you’ll find me in either place.

Simon Dell: Awesome, fantastic. Thank you very much for being on the show today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Have a fantastic rest of your day and a great weekend.

Lisa Macqueen: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me, Simon. It’s greatly appreciated.


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