From standard best marketing practices to the importance of hiring millennials as salespeople, this month’s panel has a lot to say about sales and marketing best practices in 2017. Find out why data is king, whether traditional copier salespeople can sell solutions, and where some of the industry’s leaders plan to invest this year.

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Where are you investing the most marketing dollars this year?

Siddhartha Bhattacharya: The ever-increasing flood of data and how we manage it is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses in the 21st century, but it is also one of the greatest opportunities. We are investing heavily in people, processes and technologies across many functions, including marketing. This includes a brand-new website for our Information Management division using state-of-the-art web design platforms and tools that allows us to better tailor our content to the specific needs of our customers and prospects. Studies have shown that customers are now 60 to 70 percent of the way through their buying journey before they even talk to a sales rep. People are searching for ways to solve business process challenges in areas like mailroom automation, forms processing, records management, accounts payable processing, and customer onboarding. All of these areas are now represented on our website. Prospects can connect with us during the purchasing processes, and we will connect them with the right partners to support them in these areas. In addition, our global marketing campaign focused on distributed capture (DC) will target both end users and partners in financial services, insurance, IT, and government. Distributed capture is characterized by transactional scanning applications that are geared toward business process improvement at the point where documents and information enter an organization. Companies over the years have been moving capture processes for business documents from back office mail rooms to branches, to departments and now down to the office worker’s desk. Finally, for business process outsourcers (BPOs), we have launched a new campaign with the theme of “Redefining Science.” Much of the success that BPOs have historically enjoyed has been related to providing a reliable service but, like everyone else, they are now dealing with larger market trends like cloud and mobile. Their customers are looking to them for new services in these areas, and we’d like to help them transition from where they are now to being mobile and cloud ready.

Kay Du Fernandez: We continue to increase our investment on expanding our digital marketing and customer experience strategies. This allows us to directly target customers to increase our online visibility and brand. Research has also shown that users want more self-service options. The concept of “normal business hours” is no longer recognized by customers. Seventy-five percent of them believe it takes too long to reach a live person, so the speed of service and instant, on-demand access is critical. The new normal isn’t 8 to 5 p.m., it’s when the customer wants to engage. The workplace of the future is about working anywhere at any time, so our job is to provide information that is easily accessible and available 24/7. Marketing and the customer experience are all within the digital space.

Aaron Dyck: I am seeing a lot of businesses investing in their websites and improving their online brand awareness and communication.  They are focused on driving SEO value through organic search, leveraging video content, social media and blogs to educate their customers and build trust. Most imaging dealers are not generating sales leads from their website today and I am seeing this as a major initiative in 2017.

Josh Lane: This year we will be attending more industry, dealer and OEM shows and events than ever before in support of our partners. We’ve invested in inbound marketing tools, dynamic content creation, business intelligence, and a rewards program. But the majority of our marketing spend in 2017 will be dedicated to investing in our people; they are by far the most valuable marketing tool we have at our disposal. Communications specialists, professional support engineers, technical support engineers and project coordinators are just a few of the areas where we have added experience. Many organizations don’t consider their employees a marketing outlet, but our team builds our brand better than any brochure I have ever seen.

Do you find a vertical marketing approach to be an effective tool in this channel?

Du Fernandez: Different industries have very different and unique business challenges. The ability to understand these challenges allows us to connect with our audience and buyer. Developing content marketing for vertical markets helps us to engage in conversations that are relevant and informative. It’s not about promoting the depth and breadth of our technology, solutions, and services portfolio but more about educating our buyers and providing examples of how we’ve helped solve business challenges within their industry.

Dyck: Absolutely, tailoring your marketing messaging to each vertical you are selling to can be very effective. Through social media and corporate websites, organizations that focus their content on their audience will begin to build customer trust and be seen as thought leaders. By doing this you are speaking to the motivations, expectations and goals of each vertical market you are selling to. I also think this becomes important when you look to expand on products and services like managed print, document management or managed IT. When verticalizing your marketing messages you are able to showcase your understanding of the challenges and opportunities each vertical has, as it relates to the products and services you sell.

Lane: Absolutely. Defining and understanding the needs of different vertical markets allows us to communicate the advantages of our solutions on a granular level to our partners. We can help them identify the pain points and obstacles in particular markets and work with them to create a talk track about our solutions that is straightforward and repeatable. The more the partner can talk about specifics concerning the end user’s industry, and less in generalities, the more successful they are going to be. 

Leah Quesada: In the copier/print market, a sales approach that starts with understanding the customer and his business challenges is the only way to create differentiation. A vertical market approach acknowledges that the way information flows is similar in like businesses. For example, patient admission and the paper trail in a doctor’s office is likely similar to another business of the same kind. Once a channel partner has effectively implemented an improvement on a customer’s document flow — thereby allowing productivity, cost savings, security or mobility — he could apply that same knowledge in another business of the same kind. This type of customization or personalization allows the channel partner not only to be viewed as a credible solution provider but also create customer “stickiness,” loyalty and dependence on his customized workflow solution. The same holds true for horizontal markets. Examples are workflows related to lines of businesses (LOBs) like finance, marketing and accounting.

How are you attracting good salespeople to join your team?

Josie Heskje: We are fortunate to have an excellent company culture and positive reputation to help us attract top talent. From the day our company was founded over 24 years ago, our founder Tony Golobic was very intentional in creating a culture of trust, excellence and innovation and hiring only individuals who aligned with his strong values. Over time, this has held true and has often caused candidates to proactively reach out to us, making the search for good salespeople easier. Today we see dealers becoming more aware of the connection between their ability to attract top talent and the strength of their company culture. We also have a mentality of “Always Be Recruiting.” According to research from CEB, a management and technology consultancy, the average time to hire for white-collar positions is now 68 business days, which is 26 days longer than it was in 2010. This is tough on any business, and I think of our dealers and how rough that must be in their competitive environments too. While we do have a talent acquisition leader, every employee helps with recruiting. In fact, our number one referral source is from our own employees.  We also have strong ties with our local universities and colleges. Our sales leaders speak to classes, student organizations and attend career fairs to identify future talent. In addition to proactively recruiting to help shorten hiring, we have put a rep-in-training program in place to help ensure we have solid bench strength when a sales position opens up. This also aids in providing the least amount of disruption to our dealers as new leadership opportunities open up and current sales reps make changes. 

Quesada: The workforce dynamic is heavily influenced by incoming millennials, professionals 24-35 years old. Today, they are not only the sellers but 62 percent of them are also buyer decision makers. It becomes imperative to be able to attract this age group, not only because there are more young professionals in this pool, but also knowing that in hiring them, it allows forging new relationships in a channel partner’s client base. To attract millennials means more than just providing them financial job benefits. It means understanding their values and having a company that fits their value system. Millennials seek professional development while being keen on keeping a balance of work and personal life. Any flexibility in time management is quite important. They seek mentorship, so more senior members of the team should be available for this. Although they work for a company, there is a high sense of “entrepreneurship” — seeking independence to pursue projects that help the over-all growth of the business. A channel partner needs to think of effective techniques to attract, hire and retain millennials. Part of attracting millennials is being present and actively engaged in social media, like LinkedIn. Having a great website is a litmus test on whether the company even “gets it” when it comes to digital presence and marketing. Retaining millennials means living up to the promises of a career built on need for flexibility, independence, team work and mentorship.

What do you find is the most effective marketing media to reach your end customer?

Bhattacharya: There’s no silver bullet or single tactic that will deliver foolproof results across a business. What has proven to be effective is spending time up front in the planning process to map tactics against the buying journeys and key concerns for the different stakeholders in a purchase decision. You can build the best, most insightful content in the world, but it’s only really useful if it’s written at the right altitude for your audience, and placed in media that they’re using every day. For that reason, we spend a lot of time triangulating customer needs, content forms and distribution channels. Gone are the days of one-to-many communication: our marketing efforts find the best return when they’re micro-targeted to the right audience, at the right time in their buying journey. Our targeting efforts get an assist from the tight technology integration between our inbound, social, marketing automation, CRM and website platforms. Having a better end-to-end view of our prospect’s buying journeys continues to refine our marketing approach and the ROI of individual tactics, so we can drive better results for our business.  

Du Fernandez: It’s not limited to one. We use a combination of all marketing tactics. We work to employ between eight and 10 touch points – print, online, social, advertising, events, trade shows, etc. Video is particularly great for brand engagement on social media. We strive to have engaging content that is relevant, timely and continually updated.

Heskje: Our end customer is the office technology dealer. It’s our goal to help them keep their customers for life. I am a proponent of understanding the new buyer’s journey—the fact that consumers do more of their own research and engage with more content than ever to aid in their decision making before they even make contact with a company. (Forrester says 70 to 90 percent of the buyer’s journey is complete prior to engaging a vendor.) To that end, we have focused more on making useful content available, such as blog articles, infographics and videos. Because of our commitment to the industry and the belief in training, education and best practice sharing, we are also very supportive of our industry trades. We hear comments regularly about articles we’ve authored or been quoted in, and appreciate the platform for knowledge these publications craft and deliver. There still is no better way to develop strong relationships than getting in front of our dealers. Our presence in the office technology industry has been strong for many years and we value our time interacting face-to-face, whether that is through customer visits or industry events at which we attend, exhibit or speak.

Quesada: Today’s buyer is a self-directed buyer, with propensity to self-educate — mostly digitally — before they contact a salesperson. Today’s marketer has to be more savvy in navigating the digital sphere. They need to be able to reach customers at arm’s length, not exactly knowing who they are, but offering up information that customer wants as he self-educates digitally. Digital presence starts with having a great website — one that articulates the value a company brings to their clients and how they solve their problems. Everyone’s home page is Google, so it’s quite important to invest in paid search and display so your website can be found. Thirdly, social media engagement engages customers and starts conversation. But social media engagement is only as good as the content your business conveys. Content that informs, teaches and educates establishes a channel partner’s business as a viable consultant to solve its client’s problems. To effectively engage, your business must be where the digital conversations are happening. No one single social media is a silver bullet. To engage customers, creating blogs that educate are base ingredients to success. Blog content is atomized to reach through Twitter or Facebook (depending on type of business Instagram has worked well too). LinkedIn is great to establish a network of contacts. With LinkedIn Sales Navigator, salespeople can even go as far as actively engaging prospects in the early stages of the buyer journey — awareness and consideration. Keeping your content fresh and regular is key in a steady stream of engagement, building credibility amongst your prospect base.

What are you struggling with most when trying to market your products and services?

Bhattacharya: When a customer decides they need to add a new piece of technology to their business process, they are overwhelmed and often confused about their first step. We don’t think that they necessarily pick the best product, but rather the company or salesperson they feel most comfortable with – the one that they feel they really connect with and understands their needs. It’s emotional. Customers want to be approached from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” Customer-centric marketing means less company “ego” and more messages on how we will help customers solve their business challenges. So we strive to make it personal, because we understand their struggles with reining in data chaos. This requires marketing and sales to speak in a different way.  It requires marketing to capture the “truth” of what our company offers from a holistic, big picture point of view and start our conversation from there — not from purely a hardware or solution perspective. And that is what we are after: not to be a hardware vendor anymore, nor a software vendor for that matter. We want to be a systems company. For that to happen, a lot of levers need to turn at the right time. This will have to happen from a market-facing perspective, as well as internally. It might take some time, but it will set us up for a strong future.

Du Fernandez: Brand positioning the depth and breadth of our portfolio and marketing in multiple vertical segments can be a challenge. Relevancy is key. What we want to say versus what our audience is interested in is a continual balance. We focus our messaging on the space where these overlap. It’s not enough to understand what we sell but we have to understand our buyer’s industry trends, key legislation that impacts their business, and industry threats. Our job is to understand our market to create meaningful messaging that helps communicate our expertise. 

Dyck: I think the hardest part of marketing is coming up with content for each target market on a consistent basis. We are seeing companies struggle to develop new and relevant customer-centric content that people and search engines love. That said, we are starting to see companies focus more time and money on content marketing through monthly blogging, social activity, video, white papers and e-books to address this challenge.

Heskje: Our sales reps are focused on providing customized programs to meet the needs of our dealers. We also have a wide and deep offering of products and services to help our dealers succeed. For these reasons, it can be a challenge to ensure that prospects and customers are aware of all that we have to offer.  One approach we’ve taken to help overcome this challenge has been to engage in more targeted marketing efforts, be it by manufacturer line, ancillary product (like MPS or managed IT) or some other segmentation method. This means you have to have clean and accurate data in your CRM, which brings up another challenge! As dealers in our industry add more services to their arsenals, I believe they are running into the same challenge.

Can a traditional copier salesperson transition to a solutions-led sales approach or do you need different people for different roles?

Dyck: Anything is possible; however, I think it depends on the person making the transition. Customers today are not looking for a sales rep to present features and benefits of a product — they can get that information from the internet. Customers are looking for business professionals to help them understand the challenges and opportunities their business is facing and how they will be able to help them. The solutions-led sales approach requires the sales rep to have an in-depth understanding of their customer’s business and will require the sales professional to bring incredible value to the conversation. Neil Rackman once asked, “Is your sales call so valuable your client would write you a check for your visit?” I think that is something the solutions-led sales rep will need to consider when dealing with today’s buyers, and if you are a traditional copier salesperson making the transition, can you bring that kind of value to each call?

Heskje: It’s certainly possible, but not overly common, for a traditional copier salesperson to transition to a solutions-led sales approach. It depends on their natural behaviors and characteristics. Our HR services team actually did a study on this very issue. They found that the natural behaviors do vary depending upon whether the sales rep is in a solutions, inside, hybrid or inside prospecting sales role. Natural behaviors to seek if you’re looking for a rep to fill a solutions-led sales role include: natural curiosity, proactive problem-solving, good listener, good at asking both what and why, easily connects the dots between what business-related challenges they hear and what a solution could be, and slightly more process- and detail-oriented. They tend to earn customer respect early in the sales process because of their consultative and thoughtful sales approach. If a dealer is looking to add solutions selling to their business, before they look outside they may want to evaluate their current copier sales reps related to these natural behaviors. That said, it’s not fair to make the assumption that every traditional copier salesperson can make the conversion to solutions-led selling.  

Lane: They should, but will they? Because we sell hardware and software, our team takes a “solutions-led” approach to all prospective accounts. In the end, solutions are what matter, not the whether it is hardware or software. Identifying and understanding your customers’ needs is paramount in selling anything. Of course, commissioning your sales team on a portion of the sale; e.g., hardware and not software, can be detrimental to growth. That is why the solutions-led approach must start from the top down. Tying success to numbers tends to provoke a greater understanding and familiarity of products that otherwise the sales team may never truly speak to.

Quesada: It depends. A solutions-led sales approach is one that starts with understanding the customer first — understanding the customer’s bigger business issues and seeing how document management done better could solve his problems. With a commoditized copier/print market, it is almost impossible to sell simply by speeds and feeds. The world has moved on to where MFPs have become part of the connected world — allowing mobility, cloud printing, seamless paper to digital (and back) workflow instruments. A solutions led approach starts with customer intimacy. The “solution” could be a hardware device or hardware/software/workflow. Any good salesperson knows that it always starts with understanding the customer. When a channel partner company endeavors more in a solutions-led sales approach, it is also usually prepared to have the additional tools to make this happen: print and workflow assessment tools, packaged workflow solutions, some vertical market expertise, etc. And it assures that its sales reps and its supporting team members are trained well in the conversations that engage the customer. So, in my opinion, a traditional copier sales rep could transition depending on his will to learn the different tools in his new trade box. These days, unwillingness to learn usually leads to extinction. 

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Imaging Channel.