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CRM Marketing: Key to Strategic Growth: February 1, 2022

Many critical topics came to the surface during the 2020-21 pandemic. It was mandatory for office technology dealers to adjust selling tactics; place significant focus on software, solutions, and services (replacing aftermarket revenues); and put more emphasis on marketing support (email marketing, social media, etc.).

Through these efforts, the CRM platform gained much more visibility than in previous years.  Most dealers state a percentage of customer retention in the mid 90s, as lease contract and service agreement renewals have historically been well managed.  In fact, the imaging business model and sales behavior were built around contract expirations.  

Many dealers cite sales strategies such as “wider and deeper into accounts,” “off-cycle selling,” “change the imaging discussion to a business discussion,” “quarterly/periodic account business reviews,” and “if it is not in the CRM, it did not occur.” A couple of questions arise from these sales strategies: 1) How does management measure against its sales strategy?  2) How effective is sales at selling “wider and deeper” or conducting QBRs?  3) What is the software, solutions and services pipeline/forecast based on these selling activities? 4) What is marketing’s role in supporting and enabling these sales efforts? The answers to all of these should involve your CRM; however, most dealer CRM platforms are not aligned with sales and marketing strategies.

Here is the reason why:

The CRM was introduced to the dealer channel, primarily as a sales tool, to support the imaging business model previously mentioned.  ERP uploads to the CRM provided critical data, such as MFP models, volumes, and contract expirations to monitor and manage the transactional side of the business model.  Proposal writing, model configurators, pricing, and opportunities creation are key components in the CRM system that provided sales forecasts. Sales activities and selling cycles can also be monitored, as long as sales reps input the data. Since marketing did not play a significant role inside dealerships when the early CRMs were deployed to the channel, there were little to no marketing components within the CRM. For dealers who had marketing resources in 2015, very few had a CRM seat license.

In my opinion, the dealer channel was never truly exposed to or educated on the meaning of the CRM tool, which stands for Customer Relationship Management. Case in point, the term “data marketing’ was never used within the channel, which is a fundamental component of the CRM. Again, the imaging business model did not significantly change over the past 20 years and long-term copier sales reps never needed to depend on the CRM for their continued success over the years … until now.

So, let’s fast forward through the 2020-21 activities. We’re now in 2022, and many dealers have placed emphasis on marketing to support sales efforts, such as direct marketing and indirect marketing, including social media.  Website refreshes, SEO focus and video content have improved dealer branding efforts. Many dealers conducted email blasts directly to its customer base and net new accounts over the past two years, since it was difficult to meet face to face in many markets across the country. Through these efforts, sales and marketing alignment have become an important theme, as some dealers started this trend prior to 2020, and many are now adopting this direction.

The 2020-21 sales and marketing activities also exposed holes in CRM functionality:

1) Account records did not have adequate decision-maker email addresses, hence the expanded discussions on methods to obtain good email addresses. 

2) Broad messages to broad audiences are not effective, per marketing 101: The right message to the right audience at the right time. 

3) Marketing automation was not integrated into the CRM, therefore, no effective means to measure marketing qualified leads (MQLs). The bottom line: marketing and sales were not aligned, nor could sales results from marketing campaigns be measured effectively.

So how can a dealer better leverage its CRM platform? 

We conducted a CRM “best practices” dealer panel discussion at last year’s ITEX.  There were four dealer case studies reviewed, using a variety of CRM platforms, marketing automation tools, some conducting these tactics in-house, and some outsourcing some of the marketing services functions. In each case, the dealer shared their status and provided a summary of their best practices, which we’ll outline here:

Customer data import to CRM: Dealers are not taking advantage of its customer data, where the data marketing function can occur. The customer relationship definition includes data analysis about customers’ history to improve business relationships with customers, specifically focusing on customer retention and ultimately driving sales growth. The data marketing function targets specific markets and segments (sweet spots) where the dealership brings unique value, and they then market to that specific value (relevant message to the appropriate audience).

Sales/growth strategy: The first strategy is to implement, manage and monitor the stated sales strategy, within your CRM platform (e.g., capture X number of net new/prospect adds per month, X number of QBRs, X number of proposals, or pipeline minimums). Sales dashboards and reports must be created to align with sales strategies. The CRM sales process must be put in place to align marketing processes to support the sales effort.

Hold sales accountable for CRM usage: CRM usage requires a change in the sales-led imaging culture, going back to the previous imaging business model comment. Behavior change is required. Salespeople do not like to enter data into a CRM, which is universal in B2B/outside sales models. I witnessed this resistance in the early CRM days back in 1998. This reluctance has been a common topic with corporate sales and marketing peer-to-peer groups since the inception of the CRM. The No. 1 marketing issue has long been lack of alignment with sales. Additionally, management needs to allow marketing to assist in the revenue generation process versus its traditional role of coordinating events and providing content. Remember, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Sales/marketing processes must be aligned through CRM: Create a marketing strategy to assist in driving targeted revenue growth. Treat marketing as a revenue growth engine. Aligning sales and marketing strategies is where it begins. The CRM plays a huge role in the alignment of sales and marketing tactics. As dealers begin to target specific market segments, they will determine more advantageous environments to position value added offerings such as managed print services, production, managed IT services, or content management. The CRM platform allows for a true alignment with sales and marketing to identify real opportunities and target specific markets which are proven to be the highest probability of success. Remember, sales and marketing integration occurs within the CRM.

Manage business/processes through the CRM: First, define the sales and marketing processes, implement via the CRM functionality, and create the reports to manage and monitor results.  There is currently little to no methodology in place to measure ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment). The CRM platform can conduct this function. Secondly, owners/sales leadership must adopt and lead the behavior change. CRM dashboards and reports should be used to monitor all aspects of sales activities/results on a weekly basis. Manage sales activities, pipelines, and forecasts every Monday morning, along with sales management one on ones, and your culture will change. Incentive programs measured through the CRM will also drive usage adoption. 

Each of the dealers on the ITEX CRM panel saw a positive impact within the first six months of this process, however, it took up to 24 months to truly embrace a true customer relationship management model. The CRM marketing results stated in each of the four case studies include, 1) $329,000 in sales from 2020, 2) $315,000 Docuware pipeline created with four sales in 2021, 3) $440,00 in MITS proposals and $152,000 in MITS sales, and 4) $271,000 in solutions sales, each coming from MQLs in an integrated data marketing approach.  Most dealers currently have a similar infrastructure and components in place as the dealers on this CRM panel.  Most dealers can establish a productive marketing engine, including the integration of the customer ERP data into its CRM platform, the use of marketing automation, leveraging its website and developing a MQL process. 

The CRM topic is very relevant as dealer owners recognize their customer account records are not as accurate and complete as necessary. Sales rep turnover compounds this issue, as a new account owner assigned to customers basically starts from scratch, with limited decision-maker contact information — in some cases up to 75% of their CRM account records. On the other hand, customers do not know their new representative due to turnover. The result: customers are not aware of the value-added messaging offerings of the dealership. As more dealers reposition their brand messaging from copier dealer to technology/services provider, it is critical for marketing to assist sales by continually touching its customer base, including decision-makers, influencers, and coaches.  With much more reliance on marketing activity within the dealer channel, the CRM platform is the most efficient and powerful way to align marketing efforts with sales strategies to grow revenues. It is a matter of aligning sales and marketing strategies, capturing the appropriate customer data, and putting a CRM process in place to gain a better return on the components already in place.