Editor’s note: Richard M. Hoffman founded the R.M. Hoffman Company in 1959 by as a manufacturer’s representative specializing in clutches and brakes. In the last six decades, the company has grown and expanded to include distribution, product modification, custom design, and manufacturing. Peter Hoffman, VP of sales and marketing for the company, sat down with Paige Musto, Act-On’s director of communications, to discuss how a traditional firm infused new digital marketing techniques into its day-to-day business activities. This transcript of their conversation has been edited for length.
ACT-ON: Tell us what your role is with RM Hoffman?
HOFFMAN: I provide leadership around marketing, sales, and company strategy. Our primary objective, from the marketing perspective, is to build trust with our current and future customers. During my 8 years with Apple corporate marketing, I had the opportunity to learn about branding and messaging from one of the best in the business. Even in a small- to medium-sized company there are a lot of moving parts. Aligning everything, getting everything moving in the same direction, is really important…. the overall company brand, messaging, and an understanding who are customers are and what they care about. I think often companies assume that they really have that nailed down, and they don’t. Starting to building marketing tactics before understanding the needs and interests of customers is critical.
ACT-ON: Tell us more what you mean by a layer approach to marketing?
HOFFMAN: When I started with the company, I had a lot I wanted to do quickly and I knew I’d have limited resources. This situation is pretty typical for any small to medium-sized business. My approach was to add functionality and marketing capacity, one step at a time, in what I think of as a layered approach. I’m sure I’ll miss some of what we did, but let me take you through it. We started by building a core team consensus around goals, values, mission, target markets, thinking our own strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Over a year period of team, we successively focused on improving website SEO and Pay Per Click. We added the Zoho CRM, Act-On marketing automation, LinkedIn marketing, web real-time chat, and a content marketing and social media plan which includes a blog and curated news site. With our small marketing team, the only way we could do so much was to add the functionality one step at a time.
ACT-ON: Let’s talk a little bit about the before and after picture. Would you describe Hoffman as more of a sales-driven organization than a marketing-driven one?
HOFFMAN: The Company goes back almost 60 years. My father started it in ’59. My brother Tom took over as president and CEO about 25 years ago. Until I got involved a year and a half ago we were very much sales driven; we didn’t have a strong focus on marketing. The Company’s roots was in representing manufacturers as a distributor or manufacturer’s representative; There wasn’t as much need to market earlier in our company’s history. Our manufacturers did the marketing. They would send us the leads. We’d follow-up.
Design engineers are our primary customer. Trade shows used to be an important way for engineers to get information; they’re not so important anymore for engineers. Magazines used to carry reader interest cards at the back; people would use them to send requests for information. Again, not so much any more. The Internet has changed everything.
We now do our own marketing; we have to establish value for our company and we have to be competitive. For companies like ours, we either get with the program of using technology well or we’re going to become a dinosaur. For us, Act-On has been a part of an overall strategy to effectively use technology, allowing us to better build trust and serve our customers.
Information leads to segmentation
ACT-ON: Can you walk me through a typical nurturing program for Hoffman?
HOFFMAN: We have three different areas of our company, each with different sorts of customers, product life cycles, products, etc. The first area is engineered and custom applications. Design engineers come to us with an engineering problem related to motion control for equipment that they’re building. Our sales engineers work closely with these engineers in the design of these machines. Second, we sell grease that’s specially formulated for automation and robotics. And third, we sell standardized motion products to the automation and packaging industries.
All three of these areas are quite different. Within the custom area, we’ve segmented our market into about a dozen different types of industries. This segmentation is important. For instance, if you’re in the medical device industry, you have a different set of interests than someone who’s in the semiconductor industry. Act-On allows us to segment our list and target our messaging directly to he interests of different groups of customers.
Website visitor tracking leads to sales
HOFFMAN: When someone clicks on one of our bulk emails, we have the ability to know what they’re been looking at on our site. We’re better able to serve our customers because we know what they’re interested in. Act-On assigns lead scores so allow our sales team to better assess different levels of interest.
Our sales team uses lead scoring every day to help identify high potential leads. Act-On also sends us alerts when certain companies come onto the website. Act-On’s lead scoring system has becomes a critical way for our sales team to be able to prioritize their time.
You know, if a sales person calls someone and ask the generic question, “Can I help you?”, they’re likely to get a “no.” But if that same sales person knows what someone is interest in from their previous web behavior, and calls and says, “I’m calling to see if I could help you solve a problem related to a given product or engineering issue”, they’re much more likely to be successful. Our sales success is dependent on having conversations with the right type of customers at the moment in time that those customers are trying to solve a problem. The info we gain from knowing what they are interested in makes a big difference. Act-On’s visitor data allows us to be much more helpful to the customer. And ultimately, that’s good for sales.
For us, this is not an incidental issue. We believe that we significantly increase the likelihood of getting a sale if we have the FIRST conversation. We all know that the early bird gets the worm. In order to be proactive and reach out to customers, we depend on the intelligence we get from Act-On. For us it’s the total solution of targeted emails along with visitor recognition that gives us this tremendous advantage.
ACT-ON: How did you begin implementing technology?
HOFFMAN: The first thing engineers do when he or she wants info is to go to the web and do a search. A strong web presence is critical. For us, it made sense to start by improving our organic and paid search. Then we put our CRM, Zoho, in place so we could track and internally share conversations, sales pipelines, emails, and next steps. Previously that had been done on pieces of paper. Next we added Act-On, with an integration between Act-On, Zoho and our website. Each layer of the marketing program is built on what had been done previously.
From 0 to 60 with email
ACT-ON: How has it been to go from limited email marketing to having a platform?
HOFFMAN: Emails previously were only sent on a case-by-case basis to customers, and tracked through the individual salesman. We had not done bulk email before, so we had a lot to learn. It started with better targeting our lists of leads and contacts. As we’ve gotten into this, we’ve gotten better and better. We do AB testing. We look at where people click in the email. Then based on the analytics, we see what works best.
Our open rates are typically over 20 percent; the last email we sent had a 25 percent open rate. The click-through was almost 4 percent, which was terrific. We use this approach of analyzing the results of our campaigns in everything we do. It’s helps us determine where to put our time and money in the future.
ACT-ON: You said when you first came back to Hoffman and took over marketing, there was a lot of paperwork involved that was very hands on.
HOFFMAN: It was transactional based and analog. It’s hard to do relationship-based marketing when you’re a company with as many customers as we have and you don’t have great technology to support you. Sometimes people say, “Oh, technology makes you less personal,” or it gets in the middle of relationships. I think often for businesses, it’s the opposite. Technology allows you to remember what’s important to people and therefore be better at relationships.
ACT-ON: How has your industry responded the increase in technical marketing?
HOFFMAN: Let’s look at this question from the perspective of the customer. We’re talking about design engineers. They have a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure. They want the facts. They don’t want to engage and have a lot of conversations that are not necessary. They want to get to the results and dive in, so the Internet is perfect. If they can get a PDF, if they can get a white paper, if they can do it themselves, that’s ideal for them.
But our business is based on understanding and helping our customer’s solve their engineering problems. We can’t do that if we’re not talking to them. When they come to our website, we provide them access to relevant information about products, solutions and even topics of general interest to an engineer. We want to make it as easy as possible for customers to tell us who they are, so we can reach out to them.
ACT-ON: That answers my question about how you’re able to engage with them. And it sounds like the way that your website is set up and the way you’re using Act-On a perfect way to grow your customer base.
HOFFMAN: We make it very easy. People can call. They can email. They can send a web form. They can do a web chat. We want to lower the barrier of communication so can engage on whatever way is best for our customer.
ACT-ON: What kind of results are you getting?
HOFFMAN: Our web traffic is up about 50 percent year-over-year. Is that web traffic a result of Act-On? Some increase might be due to Act-On, but not most of it. Does Act-On help us take advantage of the increased traffic we’re getting? Absolutely. Leads are up by 33 percent. Revenue is up 15 percent.
ACT-ON: That’s great. Do you have any final thoughts to share?
HOFFMAN: Here’s the thing: If you spend the time and money to improve PPC and organic search, you’re going to see a benefit. People will still contact you and email you. But if you don’t know who’s on your site, you’re missing a huge opportunity. There’s all that traffic that isn’t being captured.
Marketing is a team sport. You have to have multiple strategies in place, and they all leverage each other. We use email well. We’re doing content marketing. We regularly push out content in our blog and “News in Motion” site. That content then is going into LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. All these strategies come together, each one reinforcing the other. Act-On has been a really critical tool for us as a part of a larger suite of technology.
Download the case study to learn more about how R.M. Hoffman revitalized their marketing with Act-On Software.
Or take a video tour of Act-On, to see how marketing automation can help you engage your audience across the entire buyer’s journey with automated email drips, simple social publishing, powerful reporting and so much more!