Making marketing count
Campaign: End-to-end redevelopment of Combo’s combined sales and marketing engine
Combo is a leader in providing innovative IT solutions to growing small-to-medium businesses throughout Victoria, serving over 100 clients.
After a solid start in 2002, Combo experienced rapid growth, featuring in the prestigious BRW Fast 100 list for three consecutive years. Despite this success, David Markus, founder and managing director, was troubled about the performance of Combo’s combined sales and marketing engine.
“Traditionally, we’d used under-skilled internal people for marketing, who lacked strategic marketing experience and were really only executing at a tactical level,” he says. “They did what they were told, but not very well; and our results reflected that.
“We’d put a lot of energy into marketing, but it was in bits – we’d regularly just run with whichever new idea captured our attention. And while we were doing things like sending newsletters and telemarketing, these weren’t gaining any traction because they weren’t consistent – from one to the next – and weren’t supported by a clear strategy.
“Although we were starting to build a profile through the awards that we were winning, we lacked a consistent corporate identity. There was nothing special or memorable about our business, and we had no clear message or focus.
“Because we had adopted a piecemeal approach to marketing, it didn’t gel together well. We were attracting the wrong clients, and alienating the larger companies who saw us as too immature and trivial to deal with. The sales guys were having to do all their own spadework, as we couldn’t rely on marketing to generate demand.
“What resulted was noise, rather than revenue. We had spent a fortune on marketing, but none of it was doing any good.”
Combo knew that it lacked the strategy to give direction to its marketing and the resources to execute that strategy. And it became clear that it wasn’t going to find this in-house.
“We ask other people to outsource non-core activities – that is, IT – to us, because we believe you should stick to the things that you’re really good at. In many cases, our clients come to us because they’re struggling with an in-house IT person who lacks the technical breadth and depth, and the strategic experience to take their business to the next level. And yet, here we were, an IT company attempting – and failing – to do marketing in-house.
“Suddenly, it all made sense to me – we needed to eat our own dog food.”
With ambitious goals to grow the business tenfold over the next four years, Combo knew that it needed a drastic change in the way it approached marketing. “Rather than hiring another limited in-house marketer, what we really needed was a marketing partner who could offer both strategic marketing leadership and tactical execution.
“Previously, I had spoken to a number of contract marketing agencies who couldn’t wait to spend my money on the latest, whiz-bang marketing idea. But, they lacked a strategic focus – and a proven methodology.”
Combo knew that before it could focus on go-to-market execution, it needed a strategic plan to bring structure to its sales and marketing processes.
B2B marketing consultancy, MathMarketing, echoed Combo’s view that planning should come before execution. Once Combo had engaged MathMarketing, “We kicked off with MathMarketing’s planning process, Funnel Camp. This required some background work, and a tough three-day wrestle to form the plan. But at the end of the three days, our team of sales, operations, board advisers and our new marketing partner emerged with blistering clarity on the problem that we solve better than our competitors, and what sort of companies were most affected by that problem.
“Like us, our clients are focused on growth, and we’ve always been passionate about making sure IT doesn’t get in the way of growth. By focusing on solving this problem, we rebuilt our strategy around buyers who were held back by their in-house IT, and were able to clearly articulate who our buyers were, how to reach them and how to solve that problem. We modelled our funnel for the next three years, and built tactics to progress buyers through the funnel at the required velocity.
“Ultimately, I walked away with a sales and marketing team aligned around a common problem, and a clear plan for growth on one page. It was a real turning point for our business.”
To ensure that the plan was diligently executed, MathMarketing committed a senior member of its Marketing Services team to serve as Combo’s outsourced marketing manager, who quickly set to work on laying the foundation for Combo’s anticipated growth.
They agreed that Combo’s existing corporate identity did a poor job of demonstrating its IT capabilities, and built a language and visual representation that honoured the problem and Combo’s unique ability to solve it. The first manifestation of this identity was a new logo and tagline – ‘When IT’s about growth’ – to reflect Combo’s new focus. They then coordinated a company-wide overhaul of all branded elements to present a consistent image and message, helping Combo to look the part of an IT consultancy that was serious about clients’ growth.
Another area that had troubled Markus was Combo’s website. “Our website didn’t clearly communicate what we did, and looked unprofessional. We knew it had to go. MathMarketing oversaw the end-to-end redevelopment of the site, building copy and liaising with designers and developers to launch a site that more accurately reflected who we are, and how we help businesses.”
MathMarketing understood, however, that marketing’s role extended further than simply focusing on environmental marketing – even when Markus himself didn’t. “I had always thought that the point of marketing was to keep wasting money until something worked. But I quickly discovered that MathMarketing didn’t share this view. They firmly believed that marketing should be held accountable to results and, specifically, to sales.”
It was a philosophy that Markus soon adopted, and one MathMarketing quickly committed to delivering. To maximise marketing’s contribution to revenue, it put Combo through a comprehensive sales enablement program. “They worked with us to put Miller Heiman’s selling processes in place, and coached us on getting really diligent about execution, to ensure that our sales team was fully aligned to the strategy and plan that we had built, and that we were always on-message.
“They also took ownership of developing phone scripts, proposal templates and sales collateral. Essentially, they did as much as they could to support sales, and make success highly repeatable.”
With those key gaps addressed, MathMarketing turned its focus to the final part of the marketing equation – demand generation. It devised a number of outbound campaigns specifically directed at Combo’s target market, including a simple yet effective direct mail and follow-up call campaign around Combo’s Hosted Services offering. Executed on a rhythmic basis, these campaigns helped Combo to drive discipline through its team, and enabled it to get better at communicating its ability to solve the problem of IT impeding growth.
Recognising the importance of rhythmic communication to position with buyers, and of nurturing buyers who aren’t ready to commit to sale, MathMarketing developed an engine to ‘recycle’ leaked prospects back into Combo’s sales funnel. Combo’s previously unsuccessful newsletter was transformed into an insightful thought leadership series around IT facilitating growth, sent as a sharply-branded fortnightly enewsletter to prospects.
This series is promoted across a variety of online channels, including the renowned SmartCompany website. This helped to position Markus as a thought leader in the IT space, and led to frequent media appearances in BRW and other publications.
Now, two years down the track, MathMarketing continues to make a significant contribution to Combo’s business. “Without a doubt, outsourcing marketing has made a real difference to our bottom line,” says Markus.
”We’re now going to market with a cohesive marketing message around the problem we solve for buyers, and confidently walking into larger organisations with well-developed collateral and a structured sales process. This means our salespeople are able to conduct the same discussion time and time again, and achieve consistent success. We’re closing better quality clients than we ever have.
“The other truly extraordinary result is the extent to which this process has changed the way we run our whole business. For instance, we’ve recently made significant internal changes to more effectively align the delivery side of our business with the problem we solve for customers.
“This has enabled us to build a business model that’s supported by high-quality technology in the backend, and a solid sales and marketing process to drive growth. We’re now working to package and license this out to other IT service providers Australia-wide.
“For the first time in four years, we are ahead of our sales budget, and in the last two months, our new business sales are equivalent to the sales we made in the last 12 months put together. Services revenue has increased by 30 percent, while EBIT [earnings before interest and taxes] has increased by 250 percent.
“MathMarketing has taught us the value of measurable marketing, and holding sales and marketing accountable to results. Its end-to-end process has delivered more than we ever expected it would.”