From standard best marketing practices to the role of social media in sales, this month’s panel has a lot to say about sales and marketing best practices in 2019.

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Where are you investing the most marketing dollars this year?

Elizabeth Billington: We’re investing heavily in content-driven tactics, which include content creation, optimization and distribution. We took a hard look at our trade show schedule and decided we could spend our marketing dollars more economically with a higher ROI than our trade shows have produced traditionally. In the past we’ve executed our social media strategies organically without boosting them with marketing dollars. This year, we’re going to test out a few emerging trends with social media and see where it takes us. We anticipate our future customers will be using these platforms more in the next few years and we want to be sure we’re established in these spaces.

Aaron Dyck: We are focused on inbound marketing this year, bringing our marketing and sales teams closer together. We are investing in video, optimized content and data marketing automation through HubSpot. We have integrated HubSpot with our CRM and now we can seamlessly link sales with marketing to drive new sales opportunities. These investments allow us to measure the marketing ROI of all of our campaigns, driving more traffic to our website and converting site visitors into sales leads.

Kate Kingston: I find that sharing useful industry tips and tools has been the most successful and cost-effective marketing strategy. I began by creating and delivering a weekly prospecting sales tip to my prospects as well as my current and past clients, basically everyone in my CRM. While cost-effective, it does take time as I have to research and create new content each week, but I can’t tell you how many people have written back to me on my sales tips. It definitely helps generate business; every month I have some dealership call me and say they are ready to hire us because they have been reading and implementing the tips I send out to them every Wednesday morning. I have suggested to business technology dealerships across the country that creating and sending a bimonthly technology tip to current customers and prospects in their CRM will change the face of their marketing strategy for their company. They will then be perceived as an educational resource instead of just a sales organization. However, these technology tips cannot be an advertisement for your dealership; they really have to be bringing an informative or interesting idea to the table, and in my experience, the best time to send them would be the first and third Wednesday morning of each month. That is the best-used marketing time and investment that KTG has ever made.

Brent Martin: Industry events/shows and third-party advertising are our largest areas of marketing spend in 2019, and much of that is due to our recent rebranding. Our focus remains on the continued education value surrounding the ARLINGTON rebranding and a certain level of saturation that requires us to invest more in these areas this year. Although we see an increase in our inbound digital marketing, the largest spend is certainly centered around the importance of face-to-face interaction with the reseller community at events.

Michelle Speranza: We’ve always been very forward-thinking in this regard, and we devote considerable resources to staying at the leading edge of marketing technology. As part of that ongoing investment, in 2019 we’ll add additional marketing automation capabilities that continue to enhance delivery of personalized content to customers at all points of their journey. As customers take increasing control of the sales process, our marketing automation platform provides the resources they need, when they need them, from the first flicker of interest in equipment financing to final decision-making and everything in between. We’re also working to further streamline our sales and marketing workflows as inbound opportunities increase.

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

Billington: In my opinion, this is a trick question. There will never be a one-size-fits-all scenario where a specific media source will consistently be the breadwinner. There may be a source that produces better than other sources for a short while, but with constantly shifting marketing and technology trends, the most effective avenue is to A/B test all sources all the time and be agile enough to adapt your strategies as the trends ebb and flow.

Phil Boatman: Nothing is better than face-to-face marketing. We continue to invest in the dealer community to ensure we’re providing better face-to-face coverage and marketing than any other manufacturer. In 2019, we’ve added another team of sales reps to help our dealers win larger deals. By providing a cross-functional team of sales coverage that includes vertical market expertise, systems engineers, midmarket specialists and executive management, we believe we can “market” to our dealers with a meaningful, direct and effective approach. We also leverage social media as a path to communicate to dealers. LinkedIn has become a mainstay for many in the office equipment industry, providing a consistent on-ramp for daily “marketing” and opening windows for further communication.

Martin: Outbound email marketing has been our most effective method for reaching our customers year over year for the past decade; however, we are also seeing a shift and trend of increased repeat inbound traffic to our e-commerce site. We have identified an increased number of dealers that are finding the digital advertisements, promotions and retail-facing digital marketing collateral we make available and we are seeing habitual trends in returning traffic to these digital assets and solutions. We are continually trying to find new ways to make our customer portal a destination site for solutions and indispensable resources.

Speranza: We take an integrated omnichannel approach to marketing. Each individual channel has a role to play in generating and sustaining interest and promoting action, and they work together interactively, adhering to a shared, consistent messaging and branding strategy. But for us, email marketing is still the linchpin at the center of it all, even in 2019. However, as the customer journey has become more self-directed, the way we use email has evolved to recognize and support that, guiding customers to the relevant, helpful resources they need at any given point in the cycle.

How do you keep your website at the top of search engines? Can you share some tips?

Billington: We constantly strive to create new content that Google deems to be relevant for people searching through their web browser. Recent Google updates put heavy emphasis on topic experts, so creating dedicated and fresh material helps to build creditability and to send you straight to the top of the search engine results page.

We also continuously optimize our site. SEO is never a “one and done” endeavor. If you think of your site as a consistently updated wealth of knowledge and capitalize on relevant search terms, you’ll land amongst the top search results and maybe even land the coveted “snippet” definition.

Martin: Fresh content, blogging, and use of Google assets (like ads, business pages, etc.) are key to keeping ourselves high in search results. Linking from third-party ads, partner sites, social media and email campaigns helps, and creating content and multipage layers of content has improved our site visit times and conversion. I would suggest you do whatever you can to keep your message fresh and incorporate your latest news, solutions and promotions into blog content. If you are using social media, link content regularly to your site and take advantage of Google Business, LinkedIn and other free resources to drive traffic to your website. It should go without saying that every business operating a website should be utilizing Google Analytics to get a clearer understanding of who’s visiting your site, what appeals to those visitors on your site, and how to improve conversion of sales through your company website.

Speranza: Search engine algorithms are always evolving, so the most important thing we do is always use the most up-to-date techniques for optimization. Right now, those techniques include standbys like optimizing keywords, metadata and sitemaps, as well as taking advantage of rich snippet integrations with our external review platform. Additionally, we offer our audiences a continuous stream of valuable, relevant content delivered across the site using ContentAI and real-time personalization and shared across social channels. This helps to ensure that visitors are always getting what they need when they need it. That, in turn, helps to keep us ranking well in search engines, which look for indications that your company and its content continue to be relevant. With the use of various mobile devices, it is also important for a site to not only provide a responsive user experience but one that is fast and efficient so that visitors can access your site whenever and wherever they are.

Is inbound marketing a part of your program and if so, what impact is it having?

Billington: Creating content to get in front of prospects before they make a buying decision, and creating content to help guide a decision is more impactful than an unwanted cold call. The buying cycle has shifted. Gone are the days of going to a car dealership and allowing the salesman to talk you into a vehicle you had no intention of buying. These days, buyers are doing their research at home before ever stepping onto a car lot. Buyers are also heavily relying on product reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations, which all happen to be inbound marketing. The beauty of inbound marketing is that it compounds over time. When a pay-per-click ad spends its budget, it stops momentum. A blog post, web page or content piece will continue to produce results over time, regardless of budget. In 2018, 77 percent of our new business was attributed to inbound marketing tactics.

Boatman: We do incorporate inbound marketing via social media, SEO and program incentives. With dealer mindshare at a premium, we recognize the need to use multiple means of capturing the attention of dealers (both prospective and current) and bringing a high-value message that drives behavior back to the Lexmark brand. This translates into increased consideration and ultimately participation. Measuring organic growth as well as existing dealer growth are mutually important, and we target both via inbound marketing.

Dyck: Inbound marketing is a huge part of our strategy this year and going forward. We are investing in our website, video, social media, social media advertising and optimized content to drive sales leads. We partnered with HubSpot to automate our content distribution and measure the ROI of our marketing activities. In 2017, we built an inbound marketing agency where we provide marketing services to independent technology dealers. We are helping them understand how to use inbound marketing for their business and create strategies for getting new sales opportunities. Clover Imaging Group and our Amplify customers are seeing a significant impact on the business measured by increased website traffic and new sales leads.

Martin: Absolutely, inbound marketing is a key part of our 2019 marketing plan. As outbound marketing competes with competitive content, we have found ourselves creating exclusive content for our customers available only on our eStorefront portal behind username and password credentials. We have noticed an upward trend in our customer’s habitual behavior as we’ve increased exclusive promotional content available on eStorefront. We’ve learned that good active clients are finding value in our digital marketing and finding their way to the content. Building awareness of this content and our value-add is also key to capturing new inbound business development opportunities.

What is the most important quality you look for in a salesperson when you are hiring?

Billington: Our marketing team works hand-in-hand with sales. Marketing and sales are involved in each other’s weekly meetings to ensure we’re all on the same page. When we’re looking to hire an additional sales team member, marketing has a say in the process. It’s important to us that our future customers have the same helpful experience, from visiting our website and participating in a demo to signing a contract with our sales team, and everything that comes after. To ensure this process runs smoothly, our sales team members must have compassion and empathy but also a sense of urgency. Our sales team must be helpful first, and relationship-based selling must be their forte.

Boatman: Simply stated – “polish” is near the top of the list for most important quality to look for in a salesperson. While technical knowledge (e.g., speeds, feeds, systems architecture, etc.) has a bearing, a Harvard study found that nearly 85 percent of an individual’s success can be tied to how well they present themselves to others. The ability to build meaningful relationships has a direct bearing on the ability to be successful in sales. Of course, there are other traits you can’t teach like drive, determination and a winning attitude.

Kingston: There is a star, or “it” quality, that resonates from a true salesperson. It’s a certain je ne sais quoi that can’t be taught, they just have it. However, there is one quality that must be present — perseverance. That day-to-day grind of sales prospecting is truly what will determine the success of any sales executive. You can test their perseverance and prospecting skills by establishing several interview steps in your hiring process — for example, include a phone pitch portion of the interview. Ask them to leave you a two-minute voice mail on why they want to work at your dealership. When you listen to their voice mail, you can grade it not only on the vocal quality, but also on if they added any research they might have done about your company, if they kept to the timing, and if they included an action step on when they would like to speak or come in and meet with you. If they do not include these techniques in their two-minute phone message, you can be assured they are not experts at prospecting and that will mean they are not ready to schedule net new meetings right out of the gate.

Martin: Integrity. We are blessed to have an extremely long-tenured sales department and we want to keep our employees and create a career destination for each of our sales representatives. I feel that the integrity an individual possesses enables them to focus on the task of growing their business with our customer’s business through hard work, personal growth and maturity. This characteristic also leads to better co-workers and salespeople who are committed to the company’s vision and goals.

Some experts claim cold calling is dead, but others maintain it is alive and well. What’s your opinion?

Kingston: Experts who claim cold calling is dead are just not good at cold calling. However, in some ways, I do agree that cold calling is not where successful prospecting lies in 2019. What sales executives need to do is warm calling. They need to research the prospects, know what their industry does with technology, understand the compliance, executive responsibility and the names of the documents that are being printed, faxed, archived, scanned and retrieved, and how to secure these documents and information. Having the knowledge base of your prospect’s industry will turn up the heat on your cold calling. Prospecting in 2019 and beyond is knowing your customer and where your product plugs in. This is the lifeblood of every dealership’s success. That high-level deliverable creates net new opportunities across the board in every vertical. Prospecting at the C level with a vertical focus is alive and well and driving profitable market share.

Martin: Cold calling is not dead but the manner in which we are accustomed to dealing with others in our culture has inevitably changed. Many of us have adopted habits and preferences relating to the way we do business on our terms and at our convenience. Additionally, we see increased individual workloads for small and large business owners and employees alike, and the disruption of current tasks by a cold call in a caller ID world is certainly a difficult obstacle to overcome.

Is social media an effective platform for sales?

Boatman: Social media as a sales platform has made many a millionaire. That number will continue to grow. Social media provides an immediate path to an ever-expanding audience. Effective sales reps today are investing in how to effectively leverage social media. LinkedIn has proven to create better sales lead generation and a shortened prospecting process. Social media also makes building and maintaining relationships easier by giving people an avenue to find common ground, keep up with one another and reconnect.

Dyck: Social media is a big part our marketing efforts for every company promotion and campaign. We use it to promote our corporate culture and it is great for recruiting the best people in the industry. In regards to sales, we use social media as the distribution source or vehicle to get our content out to the market. It is a great way to draw attention to our business, bring more people to our website and educate our visitors on who we are and how we can help — plus it is free. People are only online for two reasons: 1) be entertained and 2) be informed. We use social media to help our visitors accomplish both. The top companies I am working with are focused on investing in their websites and using social media to bring awareness to their organizations. This strategy showcases their company culture, educates the candidates about their business and the reasons why people like working there. Just like attracting new customers to your business, your website and social media can be used to educate and inform potential candidates and allow them to see if your business is the right fit for them.

Speranza: Social media is a part of our omnichannel strategy, though I wouldn’t say it’s a primary sales platform. For us it serves more of a supporting role, helping to communicate our brand, gain visibility, and deliver content appropriate to various stages of the customer journey. The real power of social media is in the way it serves to enhance and amplify other parts of our marketing efforts.

Kingston: I do think it is naïve to expect your LinkedIn connections to do all your “heavy lifting” and consistently make introductions for you. LinkedIn is a great tool for finding prospects and a useful researching tool when trying to learn something about the prospect to add into your conversations, whether it’s to schedule the new meeting or in that meeting, to prove you researched them and the company. There are great tools like Sales Navigator, which is an additional higher-level paid offering that helps you research large accounts and filter and scan through thousands of LinkedIn profiles quickly. I use that myself to help identify prospects that I want to add to my funnel. I also use Lusha, which is a Google Chrome add-on that can help you identify the email and phone number for anyone while you are on their LinkedIn profile.

Martin: Social media is a great tool to expand your offering, share your value proposition, interact with your customers, and ultimately complete those steps that lead to transactional business. I constantly encourage our brick-and-mortar resellers to invest time in building their social media presence to grow their brands, promote events, sales and real-life solutions to improve their brand. It can be a very cost-effective method of growing your brand.

One of the top challenges for companies is recruiting good salespeople. What methods have worked for you?

Boatman: Recruiting top talent requires a constant awareness of the talent pool available. I collect resumes from people I know directly or through others as often as possible. This allows me to create a “bench” of talent from which to pull when a hiring need arises – either personally or for a colleague. LinkedIn has become quite effective in attracting quality candidates, as the connections to others generally lead to someone with talent and the need to apply those talents to the right career. Ultimately, personal references continue to be the best source for recruiting, as this provides a direct line of visibility to a qualified candidate and shortens the hiring process.

Martin: Good old-fashioned networking. We don’t ever poach our competition for their best employees, but we try our best to maintain a very positive culture that’s attractive to others working in our industry and we’ve found that many find us through former colleagues that are now working for us, or chance encounters at past trade shows. We keep our LinkedIn company page updated with fresh content in hopes to gather followers employed in our industry and also keep employment opportunities posted on our company website. Our industry is filled with a lot of salespeople who have been working in this field for a long time and we try our best to find those who have had success previous to working for us.