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The Digital Evolution

At the 2018 MHEDA Convention, MHEDA hosted a Member Panel Discussion on The Digital Evolution. The discussion was comprised of digital marketing experts: Lisa Brink, Marketing Director, Riekes Equipment, Brian Bluff, CEO and co-founder of Site-Seeker, Mike Edmonds, Director of Marketing/Business Dev., Eastern Lift Truck Company, Inc., David Steinberg, Co-Founder of Adpearance, and Scott Stone, Director of Marketing, Cisco-Eagle, Inc. We asked each of the participants a couple of questions related to their expertise. Their answers are below. We thank each of these participants for their contribution.

Lisa Brink, Marketing Director, Riekes Equipment

TMJ: How do we compete with overseas ecommerce or Amazons of the world?

This is all about the customer journey and digging into every customer touchpoint. Whether it is the shipping experience, invoices or how we route calls in the phone system, interacting with your company needs to become a seamless experience, so you are 100% customer centric. The last statistic I saw was that there is $62 billion lost each year because of poor customer service. To be competitive, we must remove the obstacles that make it hard to do business with us and maximize our value proposition. In fact, the 2020 Walker Report predicts that by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator and we need to be ready for that.

At Riekes and Bublitz, we have a performance guarantee that we openly share with our customers. We have identified 10 areas of our business that impact our customers’ operations and we drew a hard line in the sand. We have made a commitment to certain service levels in those areas – and if we miss it – regardless of why – we comp a portion of the cost to make it right. Not only does this create a loyal customer, but it allows us to analyze an issue and fix it before it impacts the next customer.

Convenience and value will also be critical to setting ourselves apart and making the buying process less about price. At the end of the day, buyers will pay 25% more for a better experience, but to create that experience we need to understand our customers better.

Let’s look at buying on Amazon. When you place an order, they immediately confirm it is being processed, and then send email communicating every step of the shipping. Then, as if my magic, Alexa alerts you that it has arrived within minutes of it being placed on your front step. In addition, people are used to Amazon anticipating their needs with recommendations for products and automatic reorders.

To compete we need to make sure we are proactively communicating at the points that are important for the customer. We need to use our customer data to anticipate their needs and questions before even they know them.

TMJ: How does technology change E-commerce?

People use technology to make life easier and over time portable electronics have become an important part of our everyday lives.

There is probably not a person reading this that doesn’t own a smart phone and most of you have used that device at some time to research and purchase products. On top of that, wearable electronics like iWatch and the growing number of real – time apps make information and ecommerce literally at our fingertips all hours of the day. As a result, people want more data and constant communication which has made ‘personalization’ an expected standard.

And of course, all this technology makes it very easy to compare prices. You aren’t just competing with the company down the street. With social media, online reviews and theme–based websites, every small brand in the world has a chance to get in front of the consumer. What does this mean for the ecommerce process?

  • We need to utilize online chat to connect with buyers during their research and discovery process… literally at the moment they are considering a purchase. Having online chat not only boosts sales, but also forges better relationships with customers.
  • We need to increase communication. People want more data and constant communication throughout the buying process. When I buy something today new tracking technology emails me updates at every stage in the shipping process. We need to look at how we take the mystery out of our buying processes with communication – both on and offline.
  • As technology grows, so does the need to support new and advanced payment methods. People want to pay in a way that is convenient for them. Buyers can swipe a card at the farmer’s market and expect that same simplicity when they buy online.
  • And finally, we must leverage data as a single source of truth sharing customer information throughout our companies, so ecommerce relationship is connected to the offline one and both experiences are 100% personalized.

Brian Bluff, CEO and Co-Founder, Site-Seeker

TMJ: What are some of the easily correctable pitfalls or mistakes you see dealers making in executing a digital strategy?

A lot of B2B companies, including MHEDA member companies make the same mistakes when it comes to their digital marketing strategy. Here are my top three digital marketing pitfalls:

  1. Mistake #1: No strategy. Too many companies take a tactical approach to digital marketing and don’t consider the big picture. SEO is a tactic that many dealers mistake as a strategy. So many people tell me that “we already rank…”, but I’m never sure what that means. What keywords do you rank for? In what geographic area? Are the keywords you rank for searched often and if they are, does traffic from those keywords, result in leads? Don’t get me wrong SEO can be part of a great digital strategy, but alone it leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s say you are an equipment dealer serving the Phoenix area. It would be important to know that in Phoenix, Google traffic for your important keywords is flat – no growth; but that 55% of that traffic came from mobile devices. Armed with these facts, you might look at the mobile experience your website delivers. How do conversion rates compare to the desktop version? Is your website slow and if so what percent of visitors are leaving your website because waiting for it to load is like watching paint dry? In general, your strategy should deliver the right traffic to your buyer personas as they progress through their buying process. The content they consume on your website should serve as an indicator as to where they are in that buying process and be used to deliver additional appropriately sequenced content. Digital marketing is not a one and done deal, it takes continuous effort.
  2. Wrong skill set on the project. When we first started in the digital marketing business back in the early 2000’s, it was relatively simple. If you knew a little code and could use excel, you could own your slice of the digital space.Today, nothing could be further from the truth. You still need to know code and have strong excel skills, but you also need to be able to write, shoot video, create cool graphics, understand website analytics (Google Analytics, Google Search Console, etc.) and have so many other skill sets. If your team has limited skills, you’ll find yourself approaching every challenge with the same solution – and that does not work!
  1. Advertising Adverse. For fifteen years I’ve heard people tell me that advertising digitally was a waste of money, that nobody clicks on those ads and that pay-per-click traffic was somehow less valuable than the traffic for the same keywords a few listings down the page. My answer to this argument today is the same as it was back then – nonsense! In fact, thinking about my Phoenix example, our research shows that for terms important to equipment dealers, the number of Google ads shown increased by 41% and the total number of ad clicks increased by 23%. So what does this mean? It means that the days of ignoring search engine advertising are in your rearview mirror and that you need to start including search engine marketing as part of your digital mix.

TMJ: How do you know which digital marketing tactics apply to your situation? 

Planning is the key!

To get your arms around which tactics to include in your digital marketing plan, you really need to understand your prospects’ buying process. Map it out. Start with a process like this – identification of a problem, search for solutions, evaluate options, purchase and rebuy. Next identify all the people involved in buying from you by job title. Then take this list and think about how each group (or buyer persona), prefers to consume information. Are they most likely to use search engines or social media? Where do they get their industry news? Is their mobile phone in their hand 24×7?

For each persona, identify the most common questions asked at each stage in their buying process. Then scour your online content and determine if you have addressed all of their questions? If not, create a list and start developing content. The last step is to map out your tactics. I like creating a gnatt chart-like schedule in Excel. If you are like most B2B companies, the tactics that make the most sense include:

  • Search – SEO and paid,
  • Email marketing (better yet Lead Nurturing),
  • Social media,
  • Other digital advertising – remarketing, creating custom audiences, and programmatic ad buying, and
  • Content creation and marketing.

The last thing you should know is that without an aggressive measurement and testing program, you can never maximize your results. You need to do away with favorite or protected programs and let the numbers talk. If something isn’t working, fix it or move on.

Mike Edmonds, Director of Marketing/Business Dev., Eastern Lift Truck Company, Inc.

TMJ: What advice would you offer to a company looking to expand their online / digital presence?

Start with an honest assessment of your current digital efforts. Determine what is and is not working and what you want to improve or expand. Set realistic goals based on your budget, time and talents and try to think in terms of how you can set your company apart from the competition, while creating new and meaningful connections.

Obviously, your digital presence should be built upon a dynamic and responsive (mobile friendly) website, filled with fresh and engaging content. It you don’t have a good website, you must start there.

The next step is website marketing which is defined by two (often confused) acronyms: SEO and SEM.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the so-called organic promotion of a website, developed through the use of keyword insertion, optimized web pages, well-formatted URLs, and links to other reputable websites. Stuff like that. SEO requires know-how and patience, as results accumulate over time.

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) includes SEO and paid search, which provides more immediate results. Expand your PPC (pay-per-click) program, launch a digital display ad with a specific goal. Try running a remarketing ad (those cookie-based ads that seem to follow you around on the internet.)

Got a handle on all that? Great! Now, consider expanding other forms of digital marketing:

  1. Content Marketing. Customers expect easy access to content about our products and services. Share bitesized, relevant information on your website, blog and social media channels. Avoid the overt sales pitch. If you are consistent and do a good job, you will earn respect and trust. Figure out what resonates and do more of that.
  2. Email Marketing. Sending targeted emails to prospective customers has long been a favorite practice of the value-conscious marketer and rightly so, as these campaigns are a cost-effective way to create awareness. However, email marketing has its challenges. The email open and click-through rates for our industry are lower than most and everyone must deal with high email address attrition (churn rates). Still, getting a few solid leads from an email campaign can make it all worthwhile. Use an “opt-in” system, adhere to CAN-SPAM regulations (in U.S.) and figure out how to capture more email subscribers. Share good content (notice a trend here?) including images, video and at least one solid CTA (call-to-action).
  3. Social Media Marketing. The use of social media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and Instagram has opened up new ways of connecting with customers, vendors, friends and employees. Much may be accomplished for free as long as you are willing to invest the time. Paid target campaigns are available. At Eastern Lift Truck Co., we use social media to share our company culture and values, educational and historical content and for recruitment.

Regardless of what you work on, always keep an eye on mobile. Most website traffic is now derived from smartphones and tablets. Everything in your digital world should look good and perform well on a mobile device.

Here are a few quick thoughts on digital interaction. Perhaps one of the more interesting and untapped aspects of our “brave new digital world” is how to deal with and analyze all the interactions that occur as a result of our company’s digital presence. Big Data is a popular term for this. But I find the phrase a little too sterile. I prefer “interaction” – a term that suggests mutual effect and leaves room for human emotion.

As you expand your digital presence, be prepared for the steady stream (um, maybe flood) of interactions. These very human insights, from customers, suppliers and employees, will arrive on your digital doorstep in the form of online comments and reviews, social media posts and shares, completed customer surveys, phone calls generated by digital ads, clicked email links, and much more. How you deal with these interactions are an important part of your digital strategy.

I’ll close with some questions meant to provoke additional thought….

Has your company made it easy or difficult for your customers/followers to provide insights? How does your company respond to digital interaction and are you able to keep pace? Do all reviews get forwarded up the chain-of-command, or just the feel-good ones? Do you have a plan for capturing and reviewing trends? Is your company prepared to change things that need changed?

I wish everyone all the best in their digital journey. See you online.

TMJ: What are some of the surprises and unforeseen challenges that you have uncovered during your digital evolution?

One challenge I think most of us share is the massive investment in time and energy required to create and sustain an even flow of quality content. I would not say this was an unforeseen challenge. In my case at least, I may have under-estimated the challenge, when we first began content marketing.

Most of our incredible manufacturers offer invaluable assistance. However, much of our preferred content is specific to our dealership and is created in-house. This takes time. Also, in order to keep our messaging “on point,” we purposely limit the number of people involved in the final creative process. These practices (creating unique content in-house and limiting involvement) creates the tension. One solution that I have attempted to implement is a content calendar with a goal of becoming a more proactive marketer. This is easier said than done.

One surprise that happened to us about five years ago came when I implemented a “click-to-chat” feature on easternlifttruck.com. We had no expectations of how it would be received. I only knew that I wanted to try it. So, I assigned myself and a few other people to act as chat agents and we launched the program. It took off like a rocket! Things got a bit crazy until I could get additional support in place. Lessons learned: be prepared for anything and if it works, find a way to keep it going.

On-line Rating Systems – As marketers we are called to act as the watchdogs for our brands. Unfortunately, I continued to be surprised (more frustrated, really) that most on-line rating systems continue to lack accountability. Facebook (which is under its own scrutiny as I write this piece) and Google, which use 5-star systems, allow nearly anyone to provide a rating without substantiation. We have been “awarded” several 1-star reviews from competitors. Surprise – they don’t like us! One time we received a 1-star review from the owner of a retail business – someone who had never done any business with us. After engaging this person, they admitted to giving us a low rating only because one of our employees had given their business a low rating. It takes time to deal with these issues and is difficult to have invalid reviews removed.

Here are three final areas that I think challenge all digital marketers in our industry:

Strategy – I work for larger dealership (about 850 people) and I like to review our digital strategy with colleagues from other departments. Once again, the challenge is time-management. However, the additional insights are worth the effort.

Staffing – Few material handling equipment distributors, even the larger ones, have a complete staff of marketing specialists. A full team may include: Marketing Executive, Marketing Manager(s), Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Web Developer, Content and Pay-Per-Click Specialists, Data and Reporting Analysts and a SEO Specialist. The challenge is to round up a complete team or connect with a trusted digital vendor staffed with specialists who understand your company’s digital goals.

Metrics, Benchmarking, ROI and Conversion Rates – After launching a few digital campaigns, you will want to review your web metrics, ROI and conversion rates. Web metrics are fairly straightforward. However, benchmarking, ROI and conversion rates tend to be a bit more challenging. It is not always easy to connect the dots between digital initiatives, RFQs, won business and gross profit margins. This requires a degree of sophistication and sharing of data between marketing, sales and operations. Often this involves a business system that is tied into a CRM (Customer Relations Management) platform.

David Steinberg, Co-Founder of Adpearance

TMJ: What information have you learned from your sales optimization technology, Foureyes, that has shaped or changed what you thought about how dealers should execute a digital strategy?

I love what we call the world’s simplest sales formula: Sales = Marketing x Sales Process. To drive sales, you have to address both parts of the equation.

It’s really common for businesses to focus all of their attention on marketing. The top of the funnel can feel easier, like “More Leads = More Sales.” But what we’ve learned from Foureyes, our software that can track a lead from website visit to phone call to sale, is that real issues are different than perceived issues. So businesses can think “More Leads = More Sales” but that doesn’t happen if every new lead that comes in gets messed up during the sales process.

Looking at the most common problems that negatively affect sales numbers, Foureyes data would point to:

  1. Not having or not using a CRM. If you are not using one, you basically have no assurance a real follow up process is being followed. We know that making follow up a 100% arbitrary decision by the salesperson leads to lower sales.
  2. Leads not making it into your CRM. This has been a bigger contributor to losing sales than we initially anticipated. Clients will set up a CRM but fail to realize, for example, that 30% of prospects don’t make it in. That 30% is mostly going unworked.
  3. Leads being created, but no real follow-up happening or being recorded. This goes back to accountability. Again, if leads are being created but not handled of course it’s a sales process issue.

When Foureyes presents these issues in ways that are actionable to salespeople and enable training and accountability at the leadership level, we see tremendously positive changes in sales performance.

TMJ: What do you see as the role of the salesperson as our industry embraces e-commerce?

As a tech guy, I firmly believe that salespeople are here to stay. But their jobs have not been helped by technology, and the toolset they need to achieve results needs to change. Companies that are truly fighting off the “amazonificaton of everything” are the ones that are leveraging their salespeople as an asset rather than a liability.

Today, customers have access to the information they need online, and they are researching thoroughly before reaching out to sales and not looking to salespeople for education as they did in the past. As a result, the job we’ve had salespeople doing for years is becoming more difficult to achieve the same results. Customers make more calls, texts, and emails, but they are much more unresponsive.

I believe, to be successful, we need to change how we think about sales and set up teams to sell successfully. That means showing your salespeople how individual buyers are interacting with your websites and media to inform them of who they need to follow up with and the content they should be delivering.

Scott Stone, Director of Marketing, Cisco-Eagle, Inc.

TMJ: How do you use content to drive customer conversions?

We drive everything through a prism of customer need. They don’t care that we are one of the thousands of companies on the internet who can sell them material handling equipment. That’s not valuable information—and it’s certainly not news—so you have to flip your perspective and try to answer this question: How can I help them do their job better?

Some ways we do that:

  • Blog
  • Videos
  • Buyer’s Guides
  • Ecommerce

Blog: Our blog has been continuously updated since 2007 with 4-8 articles a month and nearly 600 total published articles (and counting). Key takeaway for people who want to blog: your company’s blog isn’t about your company. It’s about your customers and their needs. It’s not a selling space, it’s a telling space.

Videos: Everything you do should be short, sweet and to the point. People have little patience for fluff in business videos. Don’t show 15 seconds of cool graphics. Don’t recite your company history; customers don’t care. Ask yourself why a customer would watch this, and what does she need from it? Like your blog, your videos are not about you. They aren’t TV ads on a smaller screen.

Buyer’s Guides: We publish a large number of guides on our products. How to buy them, how to specify them, etc. Those can be web pages or PDF downloads or both. These focus on specific equipment and specific needs. These guides begin to focus on selling.

Ecommerce pages: Our website’s ecommerce pages are built for detail. We have over 120 spec fields per SKU to try to help answer all questions. We calculate taxes and shipping in the cart. We provide as much information as quickly as possible.

The real question is how you turn those non-promotional pieces of content into dollars. We have some blog articles that were done in 2012 that draw 2,000 people every month to our site. They help us a couple of ways (1) A percentage of those visitors will contact us. (2) a percentage of those visitors might link to that article, which increases our website’s total visibility and boosts its search engine rankings. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it positions us as thought leaders. We’re people who can answer your questions, consult with you on your needs and help you find your way through a difficult process.

One of my favorite movies is “Catch Me if You Can”. In that movie, the main character Frank Abergnale explains to someone that “people only know what you tell them.” In 2018, what you tell them starts almost exclusively on your website. Demonstrating expertise is critical in separating yourself from the thousands of other companies that do the same things you do.

That brings us to leveraging all the content you will create…

TMJ: How can you maintain a “mind share” presence with key decision makers through digital channels?

A long time ago, a salesman told me this: The big issue in our business is that most of our customers don’t need most of what we do most of the time. If they are a plant manager, they’re not adding a new assembly line every day. There isn’t a constant need for new racks. Our most important customers may not know the scope of what we do or how we do it.

Our customers forget about us if we don’t remind them of what we do—if we don’t maintain “mind share”.

Two common mindshare issues:

1) That sounds like a fancy marketing term, but it really just boils down to this: If you only buy something once or twice a year, it’s easy to forget about your vendors. Customers work with us on projects, then when those projects are complete they may not need us for months or even years.

2) Also, there is the issue of “being in a box.” You’ve all probably had customers who placed significant orders with a competitor because they did not know you provided that equipment.

Good salespeople can help with both these issues, but it’s my belief that this is inadequate. As a company, what can you do to help that busy salesperson build that relationship? I believe digital channels can help you keep critical mindshare with your clients. Here are some solutions we utilize:

Social media:

We mostly think of social media as a marketing device, but that’s selling it short. In particular, we like the LinkedIn platform for mindshare. Since we already create original content, we urge our sales force to do the following:

1) Have an excellent, informative profile with a good photo.

2) Connect to your customers.

3) Share things frequently. Our website is full of sharable contents, but you can also use general industry news.

Sharing this way requires almost no time and customers can and do use the LinkedIn tool. We are experimenting with using a digital sharing tool to distribute content to all of our salespeople’s LinkedIn accounts to make this even more painless.

Digital marketing:

We retarget website visitors with relevant content through Google and other ad networks. This allows us to “follow” a customer around on the web and display ads on various sites.

We utilize marketing automation to distribute content to customers based on their interests and their past history. So the content we create is retasked to help us connect over time with our clients. We create long term, structured programs to distribute our content over time.

Our CRM is set up to help us capture and identify the needs of customers in segmentable data that lets us work toward informing those customers of our capabilities over time.