One of the main criteria a company looks for in adding a sales and marketing representative to their team is their ability to market what the company offers. Beyond selling a customer, they have to be able to establish a relationship and partnership effectively and to the mutual benefit to each party, and keep it growing strong.
Vendors need to market their edge
In today's competitive market, vendors require more than basics. Meeting the bare minimum just doesn't cut it anymore. This month, we talked to those in the trenches-marketing and sales experts for some of the leading solutions developers and systems integrators in the 'biz'-for their thoughts on the sales and marketing approach. We asked about their strategies, how they approach customers, what resources and tools they use to market their brand and what systems integrators and resellers should look for before adding a marketing and sales representative to their personal team.
What makes for a great marketing representative in this industry?
Lee Caswell, founder and chief marketing officer, Pivot3, Austin, Texas: We have a two-pronged approach to meet the convergence in the industry. First, we hire sales people with long-standing relationships in the security industry. This industry continues to have a relationship focus that is key to building trust since projects can have many twists and turns along the way and customers look to work with people that they trust. Second, we hire sales support engineers from the IT space who are work through the technical details of deployments and satisfy the demanding needs of IT organizations that are increasingly becoming involved in the buying and support of surveillance systems.
Jumbi Edulbehram, vice president of Business Development, Next Level Security Systems, Carlsbad, Calif.: We look for individuals who have successfully developed relationships with technology partners and channel partners. Second, we need people who are completely responsive to customer needs and have the ability to sell based on value, rather than price. Last, and most important, we need representatives to understand the value of the network and the benefits of IP-based technologies.
Justin Smith, senior marketing manager, Siemens Industry Inc., Security Solutions Business Unit, Buffalo Grove, Ill.: We look for creativity and the individual's ability to employ critical thinking. Technologies and marketing media are evolving at an incredibly fast pace. This evolution is rapidly changing the marketing mix and the how and where we reach our customers. We can't afford to throw money after every latest or greatest technology to reach the customer-we expect our marketing professionals to be driven by their analysis of quantifiable metrics before making a marketing investment.
Kourtney Govro, chief executive officer and owner, Sphere3, Kansas City, Kan.: We want someone who is personable and looking for a pain that they can solve. We go back and forth on the need to be a security "expert" in this role. While general knowledge is important we view the Subject Matter Expert (SME) as a separate role than the primary salesperson. The salesperson's role is to create relationships, drive understanding of the customer's pain and provide a solution that meets the client's criteria. They have to balance relationship with budget and technology. Marketing is completely different than sales in the sense that person is a coordinator of information flow from our office to the outside world-they don't close deals. I really do encourage other integrators to take a look at having this role. It can provide a great opportunity to your community to bring someone fresh out of college into the organization. These individuals are usually ready, willing and able to learn the new technology and promote it in ways we industry elite don't understand. They bring a lot of value in identifying new ways to promote the company outside the norm. We made a conscious decision to hire a separate marketing person a year or so ago. This individual works with the sales team to drive our message to the market via social media, contact with "non-buyers" such as architects and engineers (A&E) and manage the marketing campaigns through the year.
How has the economy affected the ways in which technology providers, resellers and integrators foster public awareness of their company?
Caswell: It's all about return on investment (ROI) now. Customers are eagerly looking for new technologies that can simplify deployment, reduce support costs and provide long-term investment protection. These goals are satisfied by open systems and new virtualization technologies that are offered by specialized vendors, not by conventional integrated suppliers that are offering yesterday's technologies at 1990s' prices.
Edulbehram: The economy has lead to shrinking budgets, so there is less money available for traditional marketing. There is greater emphasis on viral marketing strategies and social media engagement. We also look to maximize joint marketing with our partners, which enables us to split marketing dollars when possible.
Smith: With the slow economic recovery and reduced budgets, marketers of technology providers, resellers and integrators are forced to be creative in how they spend their limited funds and maintain the same, if not increased, level of exposure. Traditional media has taken a back seat to digital and social media. Siemens actively engages social media and recently launched Plantville, a free, interactive online game that simulates a plant manager's experience-challenging players to increase productivity, sustainability and the overall health of their plant. Security is addressed in this virtual world as part of a total building solution which provides inputs to the customer for better overall business process management-it's not just about security.
Govro: The economy caused integrators to pull back from the investment. When times are tough you don't cut the person programming the systems-you cut the overhead. That's why it's critical to create an ROI plan for the marketing individual on the team. We have been working on that for the last few months and it is challenging, however, we are finding that our top of mind awareness is increasing with the A/E firms. The person is also used as a support role to the sales department.
What marketing and sales tactics work in today's economy?; which don't?
Caswell: Financial ROI analyses, customer success stories and exceptional support-they all work. What doesn't work is glitz, over-promising and shoddy support. Most importantly, working with today's resellers works because they have experience that is not yet comprehended by IT resellers and integrators. Some larger IT organizations learned this the hard way.
Edulbehram: What works is social media-LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook-and electronic media like the Web and E-newsletters; on-line information material (e.g. YouTube); selling and marketing to specific segments with targeted messaging; being responsive to customer needs; and being a true partner to the customer (i.e., meeting customer needs rather than simply selling a particular solution). What doesn't work is paper mailings and booth babes at trade shows.
Smith: The tactic that continues to work is employing sales executives that consistently deliver a consultative approach to help solve customers' business needs. These reps know that they're not selling products or systems, but solutions. If, conversely, the sales representatives approach a customer from a product-centric perspective, we're faced with a race to the bottom line where no explicit "value" can be sold.
Govro: This one is tricky. Without solid ROI numbers it's challenging to identify what works and what doesn't work. We redesigned our Web site to better describe what we are doing in the market. We adjusted our messaging strategy to be about what we do for customers, not what products we sell. When you are a product-centric company it decreases the overall value of the company. We are a solutions-centric company and understand the pains of specific verticals. If that means we don't sell them more stuff and instead, just show them how to use their stuff better, that's ok with us.
What tools do you use to brand your company and connect with customers?
Caswell: We offer all of the standard tools you would expect-A&E specifications, configuration tools and competitive information. But customers and resellers have responded most to our willingness to ensure the installation is successful. That's key in the open system market since you don't always know beforehand what issues you might see. We see other proprietary companies charging special integration fees and penalizing customers for trying to get access to the latest technologies. Companies that tried that in the IT space were Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), Prime Computer, Wang Laboratories and Unisys. Where are those companies now? Exactly where the larger proprietary players in the security market will be in a few years.
Edulbehram: We leverage all the tools that work well in this industry and the ones that work best include social and electronic media, tailoring marketing messages to specific segments of the market, strong customer support and building a long-term partnership with partners and customers. A mixture of all of these tactics makes for a strong marketing program.
Smith: We connect with customers by training our sales representatives to understand the customers' business vertical-by-vertical. By having a strong knowledge of the industry in which our customers work, we know what drives their need for security but also how security will be sold within their respective companies.
Govro: We provide marketing materials and training to our staff to encourage selling the line card. We created marketing campaigns that include materials, constant-contact emails, blogs, Twitter posts and other updates to our clients. We work to create client relationships where they can take ownership of their technology. We provide training for our service contract clients, allowing them to be first responders. You need to be a social media junkie. We can intercept bad press just by being engaged in social media. When a product is having an issue we can usually intercept the "chatter" and relay it inside the organization. Social media allow us to push information to drive awareness of our brand. This is hard to track in ROI but critical to the growth of an organization. We have driven all awareness of our services, product, and intelligence via social media. I also use LinkedIn to get to the person I want to meet. while not all decision-makers use the Web site, it can be a great linking tool to reach people.
What benefits or incentives, if any, does your company offer to keep your clients?
Caswell: There are no gimmicks that work here. We look at every installation as a new opportunity to prove that open systems are the answer to this industry's need for innovation, improved manageability and cost efficiency. I learned early in my career at GE that the vendor who works to fix a problem creates a stronger bond with a customer than a vendor who never has a problem. We work to build long-term relationships. That is the secret to scaling sales and creating long-term value for our customers and our investors.
Edulbehram: The main incentive we offer is superior customer service.
Smith: We offer customers low-rate financing and savings when you bundle products across our divisions and business units. For example, your business needs may include security cameras, an upgraded HVAC system and solar panels. Siemens simplifies the process and eliminates the need to contact multiple companies.
Govro: we offer training but we don't offer incentives other than manufacturer incentives. We strive to be excellent at all we do and work to provide high value at a fair price.