“Listen, I’m going to be straight with you.” I remember the recruitment consultant saying, “Going by track record, you’re my strongest candidate, but you won’t get the job if you dress like a tramp (or a bum for all you American readers).”
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I realised I had made a basic error – not understanding everything there is to know about my target audience, in this case, the company I wanted to work for. My job at the time, PR & Marketing for the Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre, had never involved a tie (I thought “tramp” was a bit harsh as I had worn a blazer that day).
So after a visit to Marks & Spencer’s clothing department, I set out to interview for the job of Marketing Assistant at Xenith Document Systems, a leading Xerox channel partner in London. But I had also done a bit of other preparation – I checked out the company, and people I would be meeting on LinkedIn, Google news, and their website. I learned that Justin, the MPS Director at the time (now Managing Director) had been to the same university as I had, which I thought would make a good ice breaker.
I prepared case studies of things I had accomplished, and drew commonalities with the company’s objectives. I thought of new ideas to help them meet their goals with or without my services and prepared to share information and ideas with them freely, in the hope that I would be seen as a proactive and knowledgeable person.
Thus prepared, I headed to the interview. I thought it was all going very well, until the Managing Director (now Chairman) looked me straight in the eyes, deadly seriously, and said “This is a tough role. Are you tough enough to handle it?” I remember doing the only thing anyone in my position could do – I ignored the ominous if rather cinematic air to the moment. Then, with as much confidence as I could muster, looked him straight back in the eyes, and said “Of course!”
Looking back at the last 6 years at Xenith, I realised the he had been entirely correct – integrating a marketing function in a company that had been sales-led for the last thirty years was not the easiest thing to do, compounded by the fact that most of the sales people were at least twenty years my senior and being new, I had little starting budget with which to do anything meaningful.
Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to create a firm brand identity on which to build your lead generation activity. There is an element of faith involved – it’s easy to measure ROI with lead generation, but much harder to do in terms of the brand awareness and identity which must precede it.
I imagine lots of channel partners are in a similar position today. Even though this blog article is far from rocket-science, it may contain some tips of value, or serve as a reminder for things you already know – all of which I’ve gathered since that interview six years ago:
- Tell your story and add value to your audience while you’re at it.
Xenith has always had a style of ‘consultative selling’. The vision of the board – one shared by our partner, Xerox – has always been to sell by understanding the problems faced by our prospects, and designing a solution for them before even signing a contract. To do this, Xenith draws on a pool of talent internally, including many individuals who have worked there for over twenty years.
Why not leverage their experience, and engage our target segment by talking about their problems, objectives, and possible solutions online? We set out to share ideas freely on our blog and through customer case studies – essentially, the online equivalent of consultative selling, now also known as ‘content’ or ‘inbound’ marketing.
But, much like the story at the start of this blog, you also have to form a narrative and an emotional connection, while being relevant and interesting, if at all possible. In exchange, be recognised as a thought leader, and stay in front of mind of customers.A note of caution though – the inbound marketing process has a lot of moving parts, requires a varied skill set, and lots of attention to detail. Further, merely creating great content and amplifying it on social may not be enough – you will have to think of targeted ways get it across to the portion of your audience that may be interested in them!
- Be personable, and also, be personal.
I don’t mean customising emails with Dear <First_Name>, although it’s good to do that too. We live in times that allow us to be exceedingly targeted in B2B. Automation technology, paid social, retargeting and big data all allow us to understand the requirements and interests of the individual and approach the market with personalised and targeted messaging at an individual level.
Just like I researched Xenith before my interview, so should we research each and every prospect on our new logo customer target lists before formulating personalised messaging. In inbound channels, your automation software will often do this for you, using browsing data and gated information from your website.You can leverage case studies of similar problems your company has solved in the past, draw commonalities with their possible objectives. Think of new ideas to help them meet their goals and diplomatically point out what you think they could immediately fix as well – with or without your services.
- Don’t limit yourself to one targeted communications channel – use many.
My opinion on communication channels, and some may beg to differ, is just as you have to be targeted and personalised with your messaging, you should go as broad as possible with the relevant communication channels you use to get that message across to that particular target audience., Just be sure all the channels are singing from the same hymn sheet and the content is relevant to the audience.
With multiple decision makers on multiple devices and shorter attention spans, it often takes up to 7 or 8 touchpoints before a meeting is booked anyway – so why not use every possible relevant way to extend reach, be it social, paid, search, email, post, PR, syndication, the telephone or all of the above? At Xenith we use a combination of push and pull, inbound and outbound, online and offline to meet different objectives.Sounds expensive? Some of it is, but most of it just takes time. Don’t forget, paid social can be done on a pay per click basis. Also, with automation tools and social scheduling tools in place, a lot of it can be done with less manpower than you think.
- Align marketing with sales and business objectives.
It was David Ogilvy who said that advertising is a ‘salesman in disguise’, and I think the same applies to lots of marketing communication besides advertising – especially if the salesman engages in consultative selling. It’s imperative that marketing professionals understand sales targets and objectives and formulate plans to support them. Equally, you may also think of new ways to reach business objectives and need support from sales to do this.
It took me a while to realise that salespeople are a bit like new business prospects. By no means do I have this figured out, but I find that for any marketing action required from sales, you would do well to first show them what’s in it for them (thanks Dale Carnegie). And secondly, make it as easy as possible for them to do it. Sometimes, neither of these will be possible.
- Never do it “just because it’s the way it’s always been done.”
This one isn’t mine – I stole it outright from Xenith’s Managing Director, Justin Milligan, and it’s a philosophy that flows through the whole organisation. From sales (every customer is different and requires a different solution) to Account Management (if we provide the same service and solution at the end of the contract, as we did at the start, we haven’t done our job to evolve with the customer’s needs) to Operations (there is always a better way to approach an existing process).
However, nowhere is it as relevant as marketing, where your success is dependent on breaking through the clutter, by standing out, by being different or, as Justin says, by never doing it just because it’s the way it’s always been done. This could apply to marketing strategy or to marketing tactics and operations.
- Use all possible resources to win.
I use a number of different suppliers/agencies for different purposes or for different parts of the marketing funnel, and I don’t hesitate to ask stupid questions, defer to their judgement, or tell them if I think they are wrong. I also ask my wife’s fitness instructor how she grows her business, and speak to the local café owner about how they engage with their corporate customers. I question our helpdesk and salespeople on customer challenges and objectives. I chat with fellow marketers over beer at the pub or on social media, and sometimes listen to marketing podcasts when I’m jogging.
However I have to say, one of my best resources is our partner, Xerox. It isn’t just the amazing tools they provide on the channel partner portal, or the vast amount of knowledge they hold that I can tap into, or the amazing skill-sets that reside in their marketing department and the rest of the organisation – It’s the fact that they often run partner marketing days, where they aggregate and collect knowledge and best practises to share with their channel partners. It’s a great chance to catch up with other partners, trade ideas and generally get your marketing geek on. To add to that there are stimulating discussions and external speakers – the last meet had speakers from Google and HubSpot.
All in all, I came away with 17 immediate actions to apply to my current marketing strategy and tactics – that says it all, don’t you think?
To learn more about upcoming events, or about taking advantage of these resources as a Xerox Channel Partner, contact your Xerox account manager today.