Few people can look around their office in 2024 and see the same dynamic they did even five years ago. It’s not just technology that’s evolving — but the entire composition of the companies we call on.
Workplaces have changed, and buyers have changed. In 2019, “remote” and “hybrid” work arrangements were niche models; now they’re something nearly all companies are facing. Younger generations continue to control more and more of the buying power, and their priorities are distinct from the Boomers and Gen-Xers who previously controlled the decision-making process.
These changes have been monumental in our industry, and fully understanding them is fundamental to an effective sales and marketing strategy. The terms “solution sales” and “consultative selling” are getting long in the tooth, but the reality of their importance is not. We should be transforming qualifying questions to match the needs of our customers: “How is hiring and recruiting going?” “Have you shifted to remote or hybrid work, and how has it affected your business?”
If the company is using a remote or hybrid model, how are they sharing information with remote workers or saving information to be accessed later? As long-tenured employees retire from the workforce and are replaced by newcomers working in the new model—outside the physical office—how does the company replicate older cycles of mentorship and address knowledge transfer? These can be existential questions for any business. We’ve found that by staying client-centric, and listening to specific needs, we have the opportunity to expand our own footprint and help our customers gain a competitive advantage.
When you provide a client with a solution, you create a raving fan. They appreciate that you’ve improved their day-to-day in some way, and can again. The more aspects of their business for which you demonstrate an understanding, the more you build trust. Not only do you create opportunities to expand your client relationship and transform the way they operate, but you give yourself a story—a case study—to lean on when you’re approaching new prospects.
These shifts should only be viewed as opportunities. We recognize the changing needs of our clients as a chance to expand our own business and provide our partners with valuable ancillary products and services. The benefit of being an independent dealership is our agility. When new services fit our model and solve today’s business challenges, we can quickly adopt them into our portfolio and transition our discovery and qualifying questions to fit solutions that are needed now.
There’s only one way to get to know a customer, and that’s a real human-to-human connection. A 360-degree strategy is going to be crucial for any sales and marketing campaign. We go to great lengths to produce effective marketing campaigns, direct mail, AI and chat support, and other “top of funnel” prospecting strategies. But in the end, sales are made by real people to real people. If we want our industry to truly embrace the conceptual sale of changing how businesses operate, it can only be human to human.
POA has always been a relationship company, built by outstanding salespeople and the care they put into making sure their clients were taken care of. Everyone is price sensitive, but over time, “relationship currency” wins out over “performance currency.” While there are many effective uses for e-commerce platforms, clients are typically more willing to place a budget with a partner they can trust, someone who will join them in the trenches.
This has been our philosophy from the very beginning. Back in 1991, POA entered into its first sports-marketing partnership with the Portland Trail Blazers — primarily to get our clients out of the typical office setting so we could interact with them on a human level. As our business has grown, so have our community initiatives, and we’ve benefited from becoming deeply enmeshed with the people and businesses in the cities and towns where we operate.
We’ve been able to scale up these programs and organize events like our Community Givebacks. At last year’s Portland Grand Prix, we not only had the chance to introduce racing fans across the country to our company, but we were able to take 70 students from Portland Public Schools behind the scenes, opening their minds to potential careers in sports, science, and technology.
Sports have been a major component of our community outreach. Skills developed through athletics translate to valuable social attributes later in life—how to handle success, how to cope with a loss, and how to work as a team. Studies show there’s a direct link between playing sports in school and salary earnings later in life. We’re passionate about creating more access and equality in sports and positively impacting the lives of youth, but the company also saw sports as an opportunity to get to know our communities and give our communities a chance to know us. The key is to use a company’s genuine values and ideals as a jumping-off point to find authentic connections.
We currently support seven university athletic programs along with high school sports in 10 states. We now have more than 30 partnerships with professional franchises and universities across the West. University partnerships have the added benefit of introducing us to the next generation of entrepreneurs. At the University of Washington, Oregon State University, and Cal State, we’ve partnered with business schools to introduce our philosophy and help remove any stigma that comes with a career in sales, framing it as the exciting and mission-critical field that it is.
Corporate brands don’t resonate as well anymore. Again: people want to buy from people. As such, it’s crucial to put an authentic, human face on your business. Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in social media. Clients—and prospective clients—want to see the human side of a company, especially as so many of our experiences are now mediated by technology and, increasingly, AI-generated services. Customers want to see that we’re familiar with their business sector, and social media gives us a chance to show that we understand the pressures they’re under and that we can be proactive consultants.
Our strategy over the past few years has been to shift away from agency-run social media to internal, organic content. We try to share images, video, and text that are personal, meaningful, and will stick with the viewer. By showing them who we really are—that we’re a company where employees feel good about coming in each day—we can create a powerful association that they, too, will be taken care of. By highlighting our various partnerships and community events, we cement for our customers that we’re the kind of company they want to be in business with.
It’s clear now that community impact helps the bottom line. Millennials have upwards of $200B in buying power and are 50% more likely to purchase from a brand that supports a cause. According to the Harvard Business School, 77% of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world a better place. This generation is more likely to support a business that does good in their community and stands for something.
We provide monetary donations, products, services, and charitable time to a great variety of causes—among them toy drives, food drives, and providing joy to children facing terminal illness. We utilize our resources and the skills of our workforce to give back to our communities. By jointly contributing with our friends, partners, and customers, we can have a greater impact on society. Many of our customers are in the healthcare or non-profit space, and supporting our customer’s missions also serves to strengthen those relationships.
It’s crucial to remember that we all face a flood of information, and this deluge means that companies need to position their brand in front of a buyer nearly 20 times before their name is even recognized. For any of these strategies to achieve maximum impact, sales and marketing have to work in lockstep. That means community outreach and social media teams building a broader awareness of who we are and what we do. It means our sales team communicating needs and gaps they’re seeing among clients in the field so that marketing knows what to emphasize in direct mail, in email marketing, and on social media. It means marketing keeping the sales teams informed about upcoming campaigns so that sales can tailor their approach and maximize revenue. But ultimately, it means putting aside faceless B2B and B2C models and relying on hand-to-hand, face-to-face, human-to-human connection.
Christie Wakefield joined the industry in 2009 with Ikon Office Solutions. She began her career in sales and progressed from an individual contributor to selling manager, sales manager, then to regional responsibility over multiple locations for Ricoh’s direct side. As Ricoh began to expand their dealer division, she transitioned to Field Marketing Manager for the dealer channel supporting Ricoh’s West Region in 2015, then Dealer Business Manager in 2019, before joining Pacific Office Automation in 2021 as Director of Marketing.