Marketing Lessons From the Executive Connection Summit

When I found out my company would be the title sponsor of the Executive Connection Summit (ECS) in January 2022, I thought it was an exciting and bold move. What I didn’t realize was how many lessons in marketing it would teach and refresh us on in the process. 

My whole career has been focused on B2B marketing: initially, in software marketing, and then as a “virtual VP of marketing” for scalable, entrepreneurial companies in our state at the Entrepreneurial Development Center, and now for the past decade at GreatAmerica in the office technology space. 

Continued digitization has transformed the way businesses reach their prospects and customers, and buyers are now in the driver’s seat. Today, there are thousands of marketing tools for marketers to choose from. In fact, the martech landscape has grown 5,233% in the last 10 years to over 8,000 marketing technology solutions in 2020 (ChiefMarTech.com).  When I first started in business, there really was no “digital marketing.” Clearly, marketing has changed radically in so many ways in that time, yet the fundamentals have remained. 

There’s a lot to be said for the 4 Ps I learned about in college: Product, Price, Promotion and Place — or even the expanded 7 Ps, including People, Process and Physical Evidence. The customer, their pain points and what is valued by them remains at the core of effective marketing as much today as it did 30 years ago.

Marketing Lessons Learned

The marketing lessons we learned from ECS start with the fundamentals of marketing, yet also touch on new tactics. Here are a few that stuck out to me: 

Listen and Seize Opportunity

ECS had not been held in a few years for a variety of reasons, and the organizers had a lot of conversations and listening sessions with industry partners and providers in our channel. They heard common themes around business challenges and the need for business agility and innovation. In your business, what conversations are you and your team having with your customers? Are you listening carefully and understanding their challenges? Is this helping you come up with solutions and creative ways to help them overcome those challenges and deliver value? What opportunities can you seize by listening? Providing a space for listening and collaboration can only help you overcome challenges as they arise. 

Bring Resources Together to Help Common Customers

The ECS event was intended to inspire innovation and business agility for common customers of members of The Consortium group (office technology providers). The past couple of years have been tough on nearly all businesses, and suppliers in our industry wanted to work together to help everyone in the industry succeed. Do you have solid relationships with other suppliers with common customers that could pull together in innovative ways to help the “rising tide lift all boats”?  It could be an educational event, much like ECS, or it could be the formation of a coalition like The Consortium, or just a new marketing or referral arrangement with one other business to help each other with common customers. 

Business alliances can be a great way to accomplish new and innovative things that a single entity would not be capable of on its own. These relationships can also provide fresh new value to your customers and solidify you as an innovative, trusted business partner. 

Consider Sponsorships

The ECS could not have happened without support from sponsors. The event required major sponsors to make the event affordable for all stakeholders and participants. Have you considered your relationship with suppliers in your market and the value you can bring together when bringing solutions, education and events to your common customers, or even to help grow your audience? 

Your marketing budget can be expanded when leveraging the financial strength of other aligned companies to reach common customers. Consider a lunch and learn event focused on security if you offer managed IT services. Is there a business that aligns with your security offering, maybe a physical security partner, or a software or infrastructure partner, that would want to sponsor your event to reach your audience, too? This isn’t new: it’s not just Taco Bell and Doritos that can make a great new combination that benefits customers. From co-branding to simple sponsorships, there can be magic in collaboration. 

Don’t Underestimate Social Media

In the office imaging space, LinkedIn is a strong forum for sharing information and connecting with others. Research from the Content Marketing Institute shows 89% of B2B marketers use social media platforms to organically distribute their content; what’s more, 96% of them are using LinkedIn to promote that content. Those promoting the ECS event on LinkedIn kept some best practices in mind: tagging other influencers, using video and visuals when possible, employing meaningful hashtags, encouraging others to share to amplify the message and asking questions to solicit engagement and excitement. 

What social media platforms do your customers use to hang out and learn about new products and services?  As with any other marketing tactics, do your research, establish goals, objectives and a plan, and your results will be more worth the time invested.  

Revisit Email and Personalization

ECS attracted an elite group of solution providers. While we give due credit to the allure of our good speaker lineup and the strong friendships and influence of the organizers, I also witnessed our personalized approach to promoting registration. Most invites were sent with personalized emails (or phone calls) to prospective attendees. There’s something to be learned here: the show exceeded attendance goals, and I believe personalization played a big part. 

Buyers have come to expect relevant and personalized content. Did you know that research by Experian shows emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened than those without?  Additionally, email is the most efficient and effective marketing method, with a 36-to-1 return on investment, according to Litmus. It’s where buyers spend their time! According to the 2019 Adobe Email Usage study, Americans spend an average of 143 minutes each weekday checking email. 

The Litmus study also showed that campaigns were more engaging when emails were personalized with relevant content such as videos or surveys. Marcus Sheridan agrees. The number one factor behind whether someone opens an email is the subject line. According to Sheridan, national open rates linger around 18%; one way to dramatically increase open rate is by including the person’s name, the word “video” (assuming you’re including a 1:1 video in your email) and something tailored to that person, such as a topic you know they are interested in or something about their business or position. Give this tip to your sales team and watch your open rates soar!

While AI and machine learning are increasingly available technologies to aid in sophisticated and automated personalization, marketers can start maximizing personalization by leveraging existing tools in tandem with current data and content before committing to new technologies. Simply starting with a review of your email subject lines could provide a good boost!

Lead With an Educational Approach

Wasn’t it Zig Ziggler who said, “Stop Selling. Start Helping”? One of the reasons ECS resonated with attendees was that it offered fresh perspectives — many from outside our industry — that could help them gain knowledge to overcome barriers and capture new opportunities. Were The Consortium members there hoping to eventually sell providers on their solutions? Of course they were. But their genuine interest in helping each other and our industry came through loud and clear in education efforts. If you pay more attention to the pain points of your customers and share ways they can be even more successful, eventually their success boomerangs back to you. This matches well with the “They Ask. You Answer” approach to content marketing. Your prospects have questions: if you can provide the content on your website, in the form of blogs, video, white papers, etc., you can become their trusted source. 

Buyers appreciate the ability to find answers and research solutions. How has your company provided help to its customers and prospects? Are there webinars, blogs, videos, events or other content or methods you can focus on to help your customers win?

Remember the Media

While today everyone is suddenly a publisher due to the internet, there is still benefit to a third party showcasing your message. During a press conference at the ECS event, several of The Consortium members announced new offerings and shared areas of new focus. It was a good reminder that media coverage is a valued part of solid marketing and communications plans. 

It can be easy to forget to reach out to your local TV stations, newspapers, business journal or Chamber of Commerce to share a new product launch, big customer announcement, philanthropic effort or business alliance, but the value they provide is worth the effort. What ways are you pushing news to your local market media sources? Keep this in mind as part of your integrated marketing plan and be sure to think about visuals to make coverage more visually interesting. Many of you have amazing showrooms. When is the last time you invited the local TV station to showcase your newest line of products or emphasized the importance of security, given recent security breaches in the news?  Be sure to have a goal, and don’t just send an ambiguous press release out over the wire. Follow up with editors personally to make sure your pitch is understood and stands out. 

Summing it Up

Inspiration for innovation is all around us if we just take a moment to notice. Even your marketing can get a boost from witnessing and applying fresh ideas to your unique business and market dynamics. Whether you’re considering a new look at one of the tactics mentioned or doubling down on what you’re already committed to, just keep in mind a couple of important key takeaways: remain customer focused and really listen to understand the needs of your customers as you develop your solutions and communication approach. Then, set your marketing goals and objectives in alignment with your business strategy and sales goals. 

While the buyer may have changed, so many things have remained the same over time. If you pause and evaluate what your customers need most, you might hit your next creative efforts out of the park like The Consortium did with ECS! Here’s to your marketing agility in 2022! 

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is director, strategic marketing for the Office Equipment Group at GreatAmerica Financial Services. Using over 20 years of marketing experience, she helps guide the strategic marketing direction of the Office Equipment Group, and is responsible for the marketing and public relations planning and execution for the business unit.

Josie Heskje

is director, strategic marketing for the Office Equipment Group at GreatAmerica Financial Services. Using over 20 years of marketing experience, she helps guide the strategic marketing direction of the Office Equipment Group, and is responsible for the marketing and public relations planning and execution for the business unit.