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Marketing Conversations Yield Conversions at Ricoh

Every day seems to bring marketers big new challenges. Ricoh is looking at several:

  1. We need to keep increasing our sales performance despite a flat office equipment market.
  2. Budgets are tight and our traditional advertising spend is limited.
  3. We have a broad solution portfolio that keeps getting broader. That’s a wonderful “problem” to have, but it’s a challenge for us to reach all of our targets at once.

So, like you, we need ways to spend our limited marketing dollars smarter and more creatively. We’ve tackled this imperative by focusing on creating personalized, two-way conversations with prospects (vs. sending out one-way email messages). We’ve automated these conversations wherever we can. As it turns out, there are a lot more places to automate than we knew.

Context
At the outset of our automation initiative, we took stock. We had a staggering array of offerings for a host of customer needs, sizes and budgets, so we quickly realized we needed to carry on multiple customized conversations at once. And while we’re a household name in Tokyo, we’re still building brand recognition in the United States. That wasn’t good because our research indicated that customers were moving more than halfway through their purchasing decision before ever talking to a vendor. We desperately needed to get in front of them earlier in their decision cycle than ever. And by get in front of them, I mean in a credible way, through two-way, highly interactive exchanges.

But that was difficult. Sales leads weren’t always making it to our sales team’s CRM system (Salesforce.com). That meant our reps couldn’t always get a clear, timely picture of the customer or prospect’s online activity with us in marketing. They couldn’t tell who opened an email, clicked a link and filled out a form. Meanwhile, we in marketing needed a better handle on who from Ricoh sent what message to which customer when, and how the customer responded.

The need to nurture
It was a big challenge, and I’m happy to say we’ve dramatically transformed our marketing organization: we’re starting conversations, nurturing prospects and providing our sales force with qualified prospects that are ready to purchase. Here are the principles of our plan, laid out in gentle directives for anyone who’d like to follow our lead:

Educate– Prospects don’t want to be pitched; they want information to help them decide on a solution to their business problems. Use compelling educational content to support your prospect through the buyer’s journey. Offer them white papers, articles, case studies, events, webinars and infographics.

Automate– Find a system (we use Marketo) that lets you run multiple ongoing personalized campaigns. The campaigns should differ not only by segment but also according to how the customer responds. So…

Create “Nurture Tracks”– If a prospect opens your initial campaign email and, say, downloads the white paper you offered, your next automated contact might come a lot sooner than if he or she ignored your message. The tone and content of the follow-up messages will differ as well. These are interactions – conversations – versus one-way communications.

Integrate– We’ve integrated Marketo with Salesforce.com to sync campaign information and update contacts every five minutes. Sales reps can see exactly what marketing is doing to create demand and how prospects are engaging. There’s a Marketo tab in our Salesforce.com software that flags our potentially hottest prospects based on online interest they’ve shown.

Consolidate– We get leads from a lot of places (our website, service technicians, our 800 number, among others). We consolidate these leads on the front end for efficiency.

Score– As prospects engage without our communications through opening, clicking and downloading, we automatically score them this activity. For example:

A new lead comes into Marketo identified as being in the mid-market. It gets 25 points because it’s a C-level contact.  On the mid-market nurture track, he or she would receive and download a whitepaper.

Three weeks later they receive an invitation to a webinar. Three weeks later they receive a case study.

Because they download the case study, a week later they receive an email with an infographic.

If they view the infographic, they reach our point threshold, which automatically creates an official sales lead in Salesforce.com.

Validate– For various reasons, it’s sometimes hard for sales forces to trust leads delivered by marketing divisions. We’ve addressed this challenge by creating a telephone team to contact promising prospects to verify they were ready for a face-to-face meeting. This team has paid for itself in increased conversion rates, so we’re expanding it.

Stay realistic– We’re thrilled with how far we’ve come and how fast, but it takes time. For example, implementing marketing automation in an enterprise size organization will take a minimum of six months. 

Build relationships– We worked hard to involve sales and IT in our transformation without burdening them. This is essential.

Align marketing and sales– We need each other, and we know that. Work on the relationship as well as the software. We commit our responsibilities in writing in the form of a service level agreement.

Give them dashboards– We have huge volumes of valuable prospect and customer data that we know how to find, organize and manage. It’s important to funnel it into a dashboard that every different user can act on.

Using a strategy with elements like these, you, too, can begin having conversations with prospects and turning conversations into conversions. You will be listening, interacting and problem solving. Your new customers will appreciate it.

SuzannePayer (suzanne.payer@ricoh-usa.com) is Director of New Media, Ricoh Americas Corporation.