Pairing Optimism with Technology to Ride Out a Pandemic
When it came to deciding how to handle the many unique challenges presented over the past 16 months, Pepper Hastings said there was only one choice for Innovative-IDM: staying optimistic.
"It was crazy, right? We all saw it. So many new issues came up every day. You could decide to hit it head-on or not. We chose the optimistic approach," Hastings, the marketing director at Innovative-IDM, headquartered in Lewisville, Texas, said. "We saw what we were facing pretty early on. We knew if we didn't adapt, we were going to lose a lot of business. So, our leadership team identified steps to take that would not only support customers but maintain employee morale, while also giving back to the community."
Those steps included accelerating the company’s use of technology to keep key audiences engaged. From April to mid-June last year, Innovative-IDM produced nearly 100 demo videos sent via email from individual sales engineers to their customer base, and created www.safespaceppe.com to promote and sell a newly-created line of pandemic-related aluminum extrusion protection equipment for industrial facilities.
“These efforts kept our name and our sales people in front of the customer. It kept Yaskawa in front of the customer. In fact, it was the perfect time for us to promote the GA500 and GA800,” Hastings explained. “We also saw it as an opportunity to continue to educate our customers on products. And, we were able to create training and sales opportunities that actually helped our staff to grow, as well.”
“We also created a comical employee video that we sent to employees and customers to help them keep a positive attitude during some really challenging times.”
The proactive positive approach taken by the team at Innovative-IDM is representative of how Yaskawa distributors reacted to the tremendous challenges businesses faced nearly every day.
Brendan Fritz, president at Automated Drives Systems in Omaha, Nebraska, called the last year-plus a great opportunity to leverage digital sales and marketing efforts.
“One of the focuses for a lot of distributors during the pandemic was turning more to digital. People didn’t have as much free time to meet, or couldn’t meet. But, they will always make time for something they perceive is valuable to them. The trick finding the right message to interrupt their day. We tried to find ways to educate them and get them interested in what we had to offer.”
Fritz’s team turned largely to technology to create marketing and sales approaches that kept the company's sales team in front of customers when face-to-face meetings were not possible.
"We found that the people that used to give us just a little time actually had more time for us,” Fritz said. “They wanted to talk about their problems more. Even though it happened virtually, it gave us an opportunity to take a consultative approach with our customers. We found out what hurt, so we could do a better job at being needs-based for them. Give them solutions to think about and act on.”
“It also gave us an opportunity to communicate our value proposition and build a bond in the face of a challenge. I’m a Zig Ziglar fan. He has the concept that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Our customers seemed much more willing to open up to us during the pandemic because we were able to reach out more frequently and help them address their pain points,” he added.
Yaskawa also leveraged digital marketing efforts by through engaging social media activity. Upgrading the design and content of its e-newsletter, increased use of webinars and more virtual training were used educate and engage a remote customer base.
“The pandemic forced us to be more creative. Some folks had to adapt to media that may have been pretty new to them,” Ralph Gasperoni, sales engineer at Yaskawa, said. “LinkedIn, Twitter. Facebook. They’re the new cold call. If you don’t embrace that idea, you could be missing out on huge opportunities. That’s especially true as we look to communicate with younger generations that have been using these platforms since high school.”
Gasperoni credited a recent Yaskawa social media campaign for gaining a new customer.
“The influx of social media we generated through ‘Beat the Clock’ created a great result for me personally,” he said “I had a customer of another company call me. He was using lines that came from posts used in the campaign. US manufacturer. Quality. Easy connectivity. The best meantime between failure. He was repeating the content we put out there. He was basically selling himself.”
In fact, the “UpClose” e-newsletter will evolve along with much of Yaskawa’s marketing communications efforts, as it trends toward more digital activity. Starting with the July issue, it will arrive in email boxes under a new name - UpClose & Personal - with a more streamlined design.
A lot of the lessons learned during the pandemic will carry on, as the country starts to open up again.
“We learned a lot about what works well when you can’t be with the customer. We found ways to be in front of them without being there. We’ll just keep being optimistic and look for ways to continue those efforts,” Hastings said.