Marketing has been recognized for years by office technology providers as an important part of their future growth. Even before the pandemic, there was increasing acknowledgment by owner principals that, to meet the digital buyer where their buyer journey starts (online search), marketing needs to step up and provide relevant and trusted content. 

According to author Marcus Sheridan, up to 80% of the buyer journey is completed by the time a prospect reaches out to your sales team. Given the awareness of this critical buyer behavior evolution, many dealers started adding resources and tools like new websites or marketing automation platforms. These new websites served as more than a digital brochure, which was a common default at one time. Office technology providers started subscribing to inbound marketing principles and Sheridan’s first book, “They Ask. You Answer” was embraced as he traveled around and presented to many peer group meetings and dealer locations. His proven philosophy is that if you create trust with your prospects and customers by providing the content they are looking for and the answers to the questions they are seeking, you will speed up the sales cycle and reach your growth objectives. 

The pandemic served as a digital marketing accelerator, yet distractions ensued

The pandemic served as both a springboard for new digital initiatives and a challenging distraction for sales and marketing. 

The sudden shift to work from home caused nearly everything in our world to go digital and catapulted marketing within the C-suite as a driver of digital transformation.

Our teams suddenly embraced video selling and using CRMs more effectively. Digital content marketing became imperative. Sales and marketing teams had to adapt to more modern and digital ways of communicating, educating and selling. Some used the time to build up their online skills and become more proficient with the available modern tools like Zoom and Vidyard for video meetings and video 1:1 selling. Content marketing platform adoption, such as Hubspot, also increased. 

With a national average annual turnover of 57.3%, according to Zippia, and increasing hiring challenges, companies are struggling to keep a consistent strategy in place. Add to that competing priorities and the operational challenge of a lean workforce, and many marketers found themselves in survival mode. It can be easy to lose marketing momentum and experience mixed results, especially if you’ve experienced turnover and everyone isn’t on the same page anymore. 

Marketing momentum is strategic and comes from the top

Like anything strategic, change needs to come with support from the top. Leader buy-in for your sales and marketing strategy will impact long-term success. If your marketing goals align with business objectives and tie to measurable key performance indicators (KPIs), your leadership team will connect the dots and provide greater support. The C-suite can help you with sales and marketing alignment, holding both functions accountable as you work together to establish growth goals and communicate regularly.  

Gary Harouff, President of AIS in Las Vegas, focused on investing in his company’s marketing for several years and evolved from more traditional marketing to an inbound philosophy. He says he believes in keeping the marketing momentum going at AIS because he understands that it is the path to having a successful future in our new economy. “I believe business owners need to think about how they like to buy, and how their customers like to buy, and then apply that same logic to their business. The ‘take’ is that our industry is different and that it won’t work. Because we haven’t had an inbound marketing focus in the past, they are too quick to toss it away.”  

Harouff continued, “The most important thing business owners need to understand is that consumer buying habits have changed and that consumers are now more informed and in control of their buying decisions. This has shifted the focus from interruption-based marketing to permission-based marketing, and businesses must now focus on creating content that resonates with their target audience and engaging with customers on their own terms.”

Without this kind of buy-in, alignment, and constant communication, it’s easy to default to what’s comfortable or reactive. Sales and marketing team members will find themselves reacting to an urgent need for a specific territory or customer, and in the end the activities don’t have as much impact. Instead of prioritizing and focusing on key activities, the slew of miscellaneous tasks keeps marketing on the hamster wheel, unable to reserve energy for the top needle-moving initiatives that drive growth opportunities and keep marketing evolving.  

Clear strategic initiatives should be identified, understood, and embraced by sales leadership. Without this understanding firmly in place, marketers can become order takers, which hinders the effectiveness of sales enablement and the effort it takes to evolve marketing practices. Leadership that holds the team accountable keeps them aligned with broader company goals.

Time to go back to the fundamentals 

What are you to do if you find yourself in this situation described above? Go back to the fundamentals. This starts with a marketing review and marketing plan. 

Start with a marketing review. For example, if you had momentum leading up to the pandemic, review your past marketing performance. What activities and initiatives were you executing that were successful and where were the gaps? What kind of data and KPIs have you tracked? If you were not tracking, make note of what you need to track going forward. If any of these marketing initiatives were successful or you think still could have value if tweaked and improved, make note of them.

What marketing technologies does your team have access to? Are they integrated with your CRM? Does your marketing personnel have access to your CRM? And if you do have technology tools, has your staff had the proper training to get the most out of the technology? After all, having a Porsche that you can only drive to the neighborhood grocery store and back at 25 miles per hour really isn’t a good use of that investment. More tools aren’t necessarily better — unless you can unleash their potential and tie to desired business outcomes.

What has been your company’s understanding of marketing’s role including leadership commitment, how marketing interfaces with sales, and your desired future roles? Does marketing have a seat at the strategic planning table? Is marketing invited to participate in sales meetings? Are there strategic initiatives that marketing has the responsibility to execute on and that align with company and sales strategy?

Many office technology companies are amazing sales organizations. That said, a sales-centric company culture can be a challenge to evolve. Tenured sales reps may hesitate to embrace new ways of selling and this can lessen marketing’s impact. It is good to assess your culture and understand what kind of change management will be necessary to evolve. Both leaders and team members must be willing to champion sales and marketing alignment efforts before this evolution can take place.

Build a marketing strategy

Hopefully your organization has a strategic planning process and a corresponding number of strategic initiatives. Aligning your marketing initiatives with company and sales goals is imperative. Your marketing approach will depend on where your office technology business sees its greatest growth opportunities. Taking the time to involve leadership stakeholders, especially sales leadership and even a few key sales representatives, in the process of determining the right marketing initiatives for the year will help ensure everyone is on the same page and increase the likelihood growth objectives will receive the focus they deserve. 

There are many components of a marketing strategy, and one key piece is understanding your target audience. Identifying your ideal customer profile, or the types of companies that are most likely to buy your offering, is critical. Next, take that a step further and understand your buyer personas. This helps personalize your marketing content for greater engagement and results. As you zero in on which campaigns and initiatives will align best with your company and sales goals, a deeper understanding of your customers and prospects will elevate your efforts through a more personalized experience. Of course, the cleanliness of your CRM data will be key to providing a truly personalized experience. 

KPIs: Figure out what and how to measure

To align with company and sales goals, you need to figure out what metrics will be most helpful to measure. Be cautious and only focus on a few. If you’re new to measuring marketing efforts, you may only have vanity metrics like views, likes and open rates. It’s nice to understand your engagement with prospects and customers, but those metrics don’t really translate and tie to revenue. If you’re working on net new revenue, you may want to track conversions, leads, sales qualified leads and/or marketing qualified leads. If your sales and marketing platforms don’t integrate or don’t integrate properly, it can be a challenge to track things like this automatically. At first, you may need to manually track and measure. Finally, if you’re tracking, don’t forget to share the success stories with your sales team and report out the results periodically to help keep momentum going as you learn and tweak your strategy. 

Industry marketing consultant Dominic Pontrelli has worked with industry CRM platforms to help create better ways to track the right metrics and close the sales and marketing loop. 

“Being able to measure helps with the leadership commitment. In most organizations, leads come in but there is no way to close the loop and understand if they become customers. Or, with current customers, how to track if they purchase ancillary products and services,” says Pontrelli.

Ideally your systems would track this seamlessly for you. Both sales and marketing would be able to look at a dashboard to gauge effectiveness of both teams’ efforts. Whether it’s a campaign to current customers or true inbound marketing to prospects, understanding marketing attribution can help with buy-in, ultimately driving increased energy and investment around marketing activities. 

Pontrelli continues, “I saw the need to close the sales and marketing loop and knew the CRM is where that was going to need to happen. We now have a fully automated process that connects the dots for office technology providers from lead to revenue generation.” 

Having the right marketing strategic initiatives associated with meaningful KPIs can serve as a compass. The marketing team likes it because it helps ensure they are working on the right things. Leadership likes it because they can connect the dots from marketing efforts to business outcomes. 

There’s no time like the present to hit the marketing reset button

When it comes to current digital buyer trends, the genie is out of the bottle. If marketing doesn’t play an active role in the buyer journey, we are leaving opportunity on the table. Not all marketing results will hit the mark; treat results as lessons learned rather than failures to evolve and improve. Marketing can be a strategic component in business growth, but it will only be truly effective if you pause and assess your current efforts, align your marketing plans with company and sales goals, and give yourself the opportunity to learn from each initiative. 

Josie Heskje

is director, strategic marketing for the Office Equipment Group at GreatAmerica Financial Services. Using over 20 years of marketing experience, she helps guide the strategic marketing direction of the Office Equipment Group, and is responsible for the marketing and public relations planning and execution for the business unit.