An interview between Marie Rourke and Julie Heinrich
In times of challenge and crisis, the power of community is powerful. Since the beginning of widespread lockdowns in March, Ingram Micro Trust X Alliance members have come together once a week to share experiences and best practices established in response to COVID-19.
We interviewed Julie Heinrich, marketing and business development coordinator for CTSI, a fast-growing MSP in Lubbock, TX, who shares how they’ve changed their approach to sales and marketing to be more fluid, digital, and personalized to meet the needs of their clients, and their community, during this unprecedented time. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: Julie, what actions have you been taking with your customers around COVID-19?
Julie: Our account managers really took this all to heart and personally reached out, either via email or phone call, to every single one of their clients.
Every conversation was around, “How are you? How is your family? Are you guys staying healthy?” There were no sales conversations. It was all about letting them know that we care about them and that “we're here …we're still operating 24/7 …and if you need us, please call us.” That resonated a lot. We talk about being in the relationship business. But at the end of the day, you need to demonstrate that you actually ARE in relationship with clients.
Q: Recognizing this isn’t the “new normal,” what have you been doing to help clients keep focus on the future?
Julie: We’re continuing our focus on strategic IT planning for the short- and long-term, asking our clients: “What does your business look like after this? How are you being impacted now, and how might you be impacted in the future? What's your workforce going to look like when this is over? Will you continue to allow employees to work from home?” Based on their answers, we are making sure that we have what they need in place and are ready for the next move.
A top priority in all of this is to help our clients address what is currently happening and keep them thinking forward. We can’t stand still. MSPs need to work with their clients as much as possible, and be able to shift and readjust as needed.
Q: Talk to us about what you are doing today to stay connected to clients.
Julie: We have always been in the “relationship business,” which really resonates even more so now. So, we are drilling down into that, putting people first, putting the client first. We are not only having conversations with them about how they are doing personally, but also how their business is doing and how we can impact their business. We are also helping them to think long-term because even while we're all in this situation today, it won’t last forever.
We are working with clients on strategic IT planning, to support where they are and where they want to go. What priorities need to shift in order to succeed in the “new normal?” And how can we help their workforce adapt and work effectively? With a plan in place, it's not so scary and they can be more prepared for what’s ahead. This empowers them to make decisions, and gives them insight into what is coming and the best way to respond and take advantage of opportunities.
Q: What advice would you have for your peers, other MSPs and marketers?
Julie: First and foremost: Don't be silent. This is not a time to be quiet or go under the radar. This is the time to let people know that you are still there for them, and you're up and operating. And while things might be a bit slower (or even at a standstill), you have to find ways to move forward, engage your team and your clients—letting them know you are there to support them and have their backs, so they can focus on their core business …on their employees …and on doing what they need to do to get through this.
Q: Clearly this isn’t the time to hard-sell anyone. What are you doing differently around customer engagement?
Julie: From a marketing standpoint, we are working to educate our clients. We’ve been doing a drip campaign focused on how they can put a plan in place while they work from home, what that looks like, what they need to consider. We walk them through the process. And this isn't just for clients. This is for businesses that maybe don't have an MSP, or maybe they have an IT department with only a couple of people who just aren't sure what to do next. We want to connect with them and guide them, so they have what they need to plan and execute well. Having a plan gives them a roadmap for moving forward, and a tool to reference should something similar happen again. And, that gives us an opportunity to let them to know that we are here if they need us.
We also work to educate them via our communications. We usually do about one a week. That way we can continue to stay current, relevant, top-of-mind.
Q: You mentioned being a lot more flexible with your marketing game plan. What are you doing differently today?
Julie: It used to be that we’d start planning months in advance. Now, we are taking a week-to-week approach to execution. Depending on current events, we can adjust what we do, what we say, and who we target. With everything changing day-to-day, you must be fluid with the design and details of your marketing messaging. You have to be able to make adjustments quickly. Stay true to the brand, but make sure you can be agile and responsive wherever possible to reflect the times. We have designed our campaigns so that we can easily change things up. From video to email drip campaigns, everything must be easy to edit moving forward.
Q: From a marketer’s perspective, what else has changed?
Julie: Front and center for me is building more of a digital presence. I am a marketer based in a small West Texas town, where we're very “face-to-face.” We love to have one-on-one conversations. When I go to shows, my marketing is a lot more personal. Now we’re shifting to connecting digitally, and that is a transformation for me. I have a sticky note on my monitor to remind me every day to “be digitally present.” As marketers, we need to stay dialed in to what's going on in the world. Granted, we are not having face-to-face interactions at the moment, but again, we can’t go silent. Social media use is tracking at an all-time high--screen time has increased about 40%--we have to be more digitally present and embrace social selling from home and when we get back to the office.
Q: How has being physically distant changed your routine and your approach?
Julie: It is definitely something that's been an adjustment for me, but I've been able to hear and see (virtually) more from my friends, my family, my community, and my clients. The whole thing has made me more present with (and for) them. I am listening more intently now to conversations and what everyone has to say...and I love that.
Marie Rourke & Victoria Rose, originally published for Alliance of Channel Women
Participating in a run of virtual, screen-to-screen, meetings from the comfort or chaos of your home is a new game for many of us. And whether it’s via Zoom, Teams or Skype, the high-profile fails of what not to do are playing out on morning and late-night talk shows, as well as in the mainstream media making everyone a little more paranoid and some desperate for guidance. Well, good news for those who want it! Here’s a simple list to help your screen time style:
Stay Dressed for Success & Keep a Schedule
We’ve all seen it, and many of us have done it … Half-dressed, sporting the ball cap, or worse doing both isn’t cool for the office and isn’t the best pick for work at home either. Finding a healthy, daily routine that gets you in the right headspace is essential for the workweek (and for those who’ve lost count, the workweek here in the U.S. is typically Monday through Friday). So our advice: Find a rhythm, stay dressed for success and be camera-ready. You never know – especially right now – when a future customer might beam in or a boss may call and want to see how you’re doing.
Remember, Camera Angles & Natural Lighting
First, a good web camera goes a long way. We recommend a Logitech HD webcam with a built-in privacy screen just to be safe.
Second, your camera should be at or around eye level, between your eyebrows and original hairline is a great target. A camera that is too low can be distracting and brings folks on the other end too close for anyone’s comfort. And despite what we see each and every day, you never want the camera angled up into your chest, your chin or worse your nostrils. (A bat in the cave is not what the camera or the audience is there to see.)
Third, if there’s room, put about a couple feet between you and the camera. This gives you and the audience some breathing room. Nature light hitting your face is also a good cosmetic move. Having big windows behind you with light beaming in, not so much. If you’d like to buy a Selfie Light Ring (aka as a glam light), we use QIAYA — just be sure if you wear glasses it’s not reflecting on your lenses (been there, done that!).
Be Mindful of Your Background
In today’s work-from-home chaos, everyone gets a pass and the occasional oops – a cat, a kid, a dog, a family member in their PJs walking by – is bound to happen. But the backdrop matters, which is why we have options: DIY, blur the background or pick one from the screen menu in advance – and we’re not talking Tiger King, albeit fun for virtual happy hours.
As best you can, make like a good realtor and stage your space to avoid distraction and keep people focused on what you have to say, not what is or isn’t happening behind you. If you’re not sure, video call with a friend and ask them what they see and thinks works best.
Look into the Lens, not at the Screen
It does not feel natural, and few are doing it, but we have to stop looking down at the screen and start looking into the lens. Think about your local TV news… talk to and through the camera — look at the light! If we keep looking down at the “Brady Bunch” screen, or worse watch ourselves, we may as well write a message on our eyelids (anyone remember that from Indiana Jones?) because that’s all anyone is going to see. A hack that helps: Place a happy hour drink coaster over your corner of the screen, so at minimum, you stop watching you. Another tip: Use a Post-It Note behind your camera to remind you to “LOOK HERE” instead.
A few more tips:
Nicole Reisberg, originally published on The Social Haven
The headlines are getting more and more serious by the minute. Most businesses have implemented a work-from-home policy, schools are closing, and toilet paper has been placed on the endangered species list.
As a social media lead for many organizations worldwide, I've been faced with the challenge of what my clients should be saying, and not saying, on an organizational level during a pandemic such as COVID-19. After many discussions with clients and colleagues, I thought I would share a few general guidelines that should keep your business relevant, while sensitive to the crisis.
Keep it positive!
Post photos and videos of your team members keeping a positive attitude during this time. Below is a great example of a company post showing a team making the most of the unfortunate situation. Kudos to ARG!
Show that business is still up and running. Don't go dark on social.
If you're on a work-from-home schedule, have team members share photos or videos their virtual workspaces and technology.
Promote virtual events in the absence of in-person. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn now all have Live broadcast features. You can schedule and promote a Live, Virtual event, where attendees can log into and interact in real time.
Continue your usual social media listening practices. Don't ignore the platforms, and respond to questions and comments as quickly as you typically would (same day!).
Offer relevant resources and updates.
Consider how you can help your employees, partners and clients stay connected and working during this time. Some of my clients are offering resources around tips for remote workers, Coronavirus-related threat advisories, etc...
Use social media as a communication tool to update team members of office closures and event cancelations.
Share only credible, relevant, industry news. Be very careful of sharing false information.
Limit promotional activity and opt for sensitivity and compassion.
While it's important to stay positive, do not make light of the situation...i.e. second-guess the Corona beer jokes.
Do not take a side, politically. Keep your voice neutral.
Stop and review all scheduled posts. Be sure that all are appropriate given the current circumstances.
Show support for local businesses that are still open. See below for a great example, courtesy of my local mayor here in Long Beach, CA.
Take advantage of the social media uptick.
People will be more active than ever on social media during this time. Take advantage of their presence by helping them get to know your team. Consider sharing team member features a couple times per week, with a photo and fun fact about each team member.
Keep up with staff birthdays, anniversaries and holidays with dedicated posts on social media.
If you're managing social media for a business, whether internally or as an agency, the above guidelines are important to keep in mind. Stay safe out there!
Nicole Reisberg, originally published on The Social Haven
How to Stay Connected to Customers in the Age of Coronavirus
1. Don’t pause your online advertisements, just shift to a brand awareness objective.
There are more eyes on social media than ever before. Everyone is turning to digital, not only for national and local news, but to stay connected to their family and friends. The opportunity for your ads to reach more people is at an all-time high. Though, don’t hit people with a hard sell. Focus on brand awareness and educational resources. Capture their attention now in a real way, and you’ll have the trusted opportunity to sell to them in the future.
**NEWS: Google just pledged $340 million in Google Ad credits to small businesses, as part of its pandemic relief package. Click here to learn more about taking advantage of this credit.
2. Use email marketing for an added connection point.
Email marketing tools like MailChimp make it easier than ever to connect with your audience through their email boxes. A few things to keep in mind when it comes to marketing via email:
3. Reach out to your customers or clients to offer your support
.If you have the ability to contact your clients directly, do so. Let them know that you are here for them during this time, without selling them anything. A quick call, or card in the mail to show your appreciation, can go a long way when it comes to the client making follow-on buying decisions later on.
4. Make sure all of the online elements of your business are up to date.
As stated above, there are more people turning to the web than ever before. Take this time to check in on all of your business’ online platforms to be sure they are up to date. This includes:
5. Keep creating content and pushing it out to your audience.
Now is not the time to go dark. If you aren’t blogging already, it’s time to start. Your blog is the primary space to offer educational content, and with all the right SEO elements included, blogs can be a major driver of visits to your website.
So, start with creating a list of blog topics that your audience would find interesting, educational or entertaining. You can even poll your clients to ask what they want you to write about! Then, create a schedule to put out new blogs bi-weekly, weekly or even more often. Remember, don’t just post the blog and leave it. Use your email and social media channels to let your audience know that a new blog is live. This will drive traffic to your site, resulting in increased brand awareness and position you as a thought leader in your industry.
Marie Rourke, originally published on SmarterMSP
We have all heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” And the truth is both are equally important. Yet, there’s another question that many ignore, and that’s the why behind the comments we make — not to mention the when, where, and to whom.
The fact is everyone knows someone who loves to hear themselves talk or really only listens to find a break in the conversation so they can start talking (again in many cases) and tell their story. It happens in our personal and professional lives, over drinks, on a conference call, and especially in those infamous “who called this meeting anyway” corporate brain drains.
But—and that’s an intentional use of the word—here’s the thing. Aren’t we all a little guilty of being THAT person sometimes? Maybe we just don’t realize it because it’s not something we do every day. Or maybe we don’t do it verbally, but we do it when we write emails or communicate with our customers or create marketing collateral. Imagine how much more valuable and respected we’d become if we just slowed down and gave our words—and our actions—a bit more thought.
Always Listen, Then Talk and Listen Again
Leadership, Marketing, Sales, and Career 101 typically begins with the advice to “Listen more than you talk.” Although I totally agree, listening alone won’t get you to the relevance we all should seek when engaging with others.
When it’s time to take the lead in a conversation or “weigh in” as we say in Corporate America, don’t just lean in and listen. Breathe and reflect on what’s happening and what’s being said. Take the moment to consider not only what it is you’re about to say, but again:
Don’t Agree With or Be Like Everyone Else
Another piece of advice: When it comes time to talk or write for that matter, don’t sell yourself (or your company) short by agreeing with the last statement or playing off what someone else said or did. Own your words. Make them count.
By leading off your statement with “I agree with Jane,” or even worse “To Jane’s point …” you’ve inadvertently made whatever you say next less important. (Side note: Using the word “but” does the same thing and more. Unless you’re using it with intent, try to replace “but” with “and” where you can.)
This ‘group shared think’ runs rampant in Corporate America and plays out in panels (and debates) where a line of power players will sit on stage and agree with one another on all the great points they are making. The audience and viewers walk away with nothing. And the reporters do too, so they start making up things to write about … oh wait, that’s a PR person’s job. The point is no one wins, except maybe whoever said the same thing everyone else said but a little better. #SoundBite
Don’t be paranoid, and don’t be passive about it either. Stand up and stand out by choosing your words carefully so that no one questions why you’re saying what you saying and everyone —or at least those you care about—see the value in what’s being said, written, or marketed for that matter.
Marie Rourke, originally published for Smarter MSP
As a successful MSP, you look to your peers for validation of a vendor, specific technology, or a new service model. Your customers do the same, and when they’re happy, business is good—and your marketing should be even better!
There are a number of best practices for integrating happy customers into your marketing program and using their voices and experience to more effectively market and sell your services. Here are a handful of our clients’ top picks:
Before the Internet, blogging, and social media, businesses relied heavily on advertising and public relations to build brand awareness. The joke among marketing leaders to clients was, “You either pray for space or pay for space—or both.”
Fast forward from Mad Men to 2018, and advertising still plays an important role in the marketing mix and social media’s relevance is undeniable. Yet for many, it’s the “earned” media placements secured by PR that businesses covet the most. Why? Because it’s not perceived as pay for play.
A feature article or mention of your company in a newspaper or magazine can provide external validation for the products, solutions, and/or services you provide. Furthermore, these earned media placements tend to boost company rankings in popular search engines, such as Google, and Yahoo!, as they carry more weight than paid or placed media, including press releases and company blogs. And last, but not least, when placed properly, these articles and placements are read and seen by customers and prospects, which results in increased relevance and could lead to more business or new relationships.
So, how do you go about engaging the press and getting your name and the company brand out there? My first recommendation, hire an expert. If you can’t afford one now, make it a priority for next year. Whether it’s an in-house hire, an outsourced firm, or a freelancer, the investment should be easy to measure. In the meantime, if you’re going to go DIY, here are a few tips:
Two final considerations, or best practices, before you talk to the press:
Avoid the pass, anticipate the ask, and have a closing statement ready that reiterates what you want to communicate to the readers. Once you’re done, be done. Resist the urge to talk more, and simply say thank you to the reporter and let them know you’ll be on the lookout for the coverage.
Purpose-driven marketing is making headlines, differentiating companies and influencing deals daily. Take a look at the “Helpful Honda” campaign, or the “American Express Small Business” campaign. Both deliver a halo-effect around the respective brands and for good reason. What they are doing is having a positive impact on their target audience.
By definition, purpose-driven marketing connects businesses with their prospects and customers by focusing on shared desires, philosophies, and interests. A great example of building around a shared or desired philosophy is the “Life is Good” brand. Jake, the main stick in the brand, has a half glass full view of the world – something millions of people want and need. The two founders, who happen to be brothers, capitalized on the emotional tie and built a business from inside their van, aka their temporary home for two years. Today, this triple digit million-dollar company and foundation continues to markets its mission, not its products, and has found other ways to elevate its purpose and share its success.
Why am I sharing this? Because marketing your mission, your purpose is what most IT service providers absolutely do not do. By default the IT channel markets the solution, the service or simply what’s for sale. Yes, those are relevant lines of discussion, but nine times out of 10, they do not differentiate one brand from the next.
Successful MSPs market the experience and the energy built around the customers, the community and the culture. It’s a careful game of show and tell that must be genuine to gain traction and resonate with the audiences they serve.
So, here’s the big Q you’ve been waiting for: What’s your purpose?
It’s one of the single most important questions every business must answer in order to effectively market, differentiate and stay relevant in today’s experience-driven, purpose-driven marketplace. Here are a few Qs to noodle on in your next team meeting – throw out the Qs, write down the As on the whiteboard and see what sticks.
– What do we do and why do we do it?
– How does what we do benefit others?
– What is the best way to communicate who we are and what we do to them?
If you want to summarize what you’ve heard, here’s an easy sketch to lift from marketing expert David Mayer of Lippincott, a world-renowned branding company:
Three Ways We Deliver It:
I’ve said it before, but here it goes again… If you are struggling with the answers and want to get to the heart of what makes you unique and why people do business with you – ask! Ask your associates. Ask your partners. And most importantly, ask your customers. They want you to succeed and nine times out of ten will be open to spending a few minutes on the phone to Q&A about what you do and why it is valuable to them.
Finding your purpose is pivotal to differentiating your brand and making connections with people that will have a positive impact on your business.
Marketing isn’t a series of check boxes. It’s a way to engage, empower, and take actions that will create an exceptional experience and exceed business goals. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it done right. What is required, though, is initiative, time, drive, and consistency. Oh, and a solid plan.
A good marketing plan keeps the business focused on achieving its goals and communicating its differentiated value. It uncovers new opportunities, inspires discussion, encourages engagement, and fuels the corporate culture. Marketing also drives sales leads and can help close the deal with the right content and collateral in play.
So what makes for a good MSP marketing plan?
The topic was white hot at ChannelCon and XChange this year and for good reason. The fact is the industry’s most successful MSPs are often the same ones who made the time to invest in marketing. They didn’t go crazy with the plan or break the bank on spend. What they did and continue to do is make marketing a priority throughout the entire company — from the bottom up and the top down.
Invest in planningBlasting out emails, sharing a newsletter, and hosting events are tactics, not a plan. What’s guiding the organization? What makes the business different, not just better? A marketing plan states the business objectives and supports them. It lays out the goals clearly and concisely and includes measurement. It doesn’t guess at the target audience; it defines it in detail.
Segmenting customers by size alone is nearly useless. An MSP is better off focusing the profile on the vertical and business needs. Get granular. Avoid generalities. This will aid in quickly identifying the decision-makers and influencers and what they need to meet their goals.
Next, lay out a plan for reaching these audiences. This is where tactics come into play, but avoid making a to-do list. Focus on building a consistent engagement plan that showcases the experience customers can expect. All roads lead to the website, so ensure that it’s up to par and ready for primetime.
Research shows that prospects and existing customers continue to vet businesses by looking at their website and social media sites. Don’t miss the opportunity to make and maintain a good impression online, as well as in person.
Align with business objectivesOnce the groundwork is laid, make certain the plan aligns with your brand promise:
Similar to business plans, a marketing plan will change over time. Continue to review it for best results, and be sure to measure and share the success achieved within and around the organization. Many of the best marketers for IT service providers are staff members, current customers, and partners, including distributors and vendors.
In the late 1990s, what began as a way for people to keep an online diary of happenings in their personal lives blossomed into what is now referred to as “blogging.” Largely fueled by the decline in print journalism, organizations of all sizes, from Fortune 100 companies to start-ups, saw blogging as a way to harness the power of the online journal to share ideas, promote thought leadership, and communicate with key stakeholders about their businesses in ways they never could before.
Today, while there are thousands of blogs to be found online, organizations of all sizes still struggle when it comes to filling the content funnel, and IT solution providers and MSPs are no exception. While there are those who are very good at providing weekly, or in some cases daily, updates, many are hard-pressed to come up with bi-monthly or even monthly posts. We know that limited time and resources are what keeps organizations from creating timely and relevant blog content, and this is especially true for SMBs.
The fact is, while blogs are a great way to grow your business and communicate with key stakeholders including employees, customers, and vendor partners, without regular updates and fresh content, the blog can quickly become irrelevant and may drive traffic away from your website and to that of your competitors.
Regardless of whether you’re a novice or experienced blogger, or simply strapped for time and resources, there are four simple things you can do to ensure that your blog is dynamic, relevant, and drives interest in your business.
1. Don’t supersize it.The beauty of a blog post is that it doesn’t have to be lengthy. We’re all on information overload, so brevity is always welcome. For example, three to four short paragraphs with your insights on an article you read in a trade magazine, a new development with a vendor, or a trend emerging in your industry is often all it takes to position yourself as a thought leader.
2. Use images when possible.Infographics, for example, are awesome for blogs, and your vendor partners may have images that you can repurpose for your blog. Adding a paragraph or two of your perspective to introduce the infographic helps you to demonstrate your breadth of knowledge and insights on the topic at hand, and shows how the content is relevant to your audience.
3. Repurpose content.Infographics aren’t the only content that can be repurposed for your blog. Many vendors offer syndicated content services or encourage their channel partners to leverage content they provide. Take advantage of materials that are already available to ensure the relevancy and timeliness of your blog.
4. Socialize.Once you’ve created content on your blog, share it on your company and personal Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or other social media channels. By socializing your blog, you’ll drive more traffic to it and ensure that your key stakeholders are aware of the new content. You can also repurpose blog post to fuel your company newsletter. And, don’t forget to offer a subscription feature on your blog so your audiences are notified right away when new content is available.
Above all else, keep it simple, real, and relevant.