DLT Solutions' Christine Schaefer on the Benefits of Cross-Training Your Marketing Team
Realizing a more than 20 percent year-over-year growth in revenue during the past three years—bringing in $612 million in 2009. Generating more than 40,000 leads in 2009. Forecasting even more leads and higher sales revenue in 2010.
Who wouldn't like those numbers? Those are the figures Herndon, Va.-based information technology product and service reseller DLT Solutions saw after its vice president of marketing, Christine Schaefer, implemented what she calls the "marketing factory model."
What that means is Schaefer organized her marketing team around DLT's clients' needs, ensuring that that the cross-trained team could perform direct marketing tasks interchangeably, as required. Here are the details of the process, including how a dashboard plays a central role.
Target Marketing: How did DLT reorganize its employees through its dashboard?
Christine Schaefer: In response to the demands of supporting six different sales divisions, all with different peaks and valleys in their selling cycles, I organized the DLT marketing department in an agency-like fashion—with account owners and others charged with account support—and then instituted practices within my division that transformed it into what I now call my demand generation "marketing factory," specializing in producing leads for sales through direct marketing.
My team is the machine at the heart of the factory's success. I strategically hire marketing generalists and train them to market for multiple divisions. Because the factory must be able to respond to the needs of so many different clients, it had to have parts (people) that could be interchangeable—able to produce leads for any client without fail. In that way, we meet the challenges of cyclical account demands without needing to increase staffing. Instead, we just adjust the machine by reassigning account team members to change the results. To manage that very complex factory model, I designed an integrated custom workflow and marketing activity monitoring system. That system allows me, a well as account owners and all of the sales division leaders, to see all marketing activities for the six different sales divisions and the work needed to execute those activities in one dashboard. The dashboard format allows the team to make real-time decisions on how to invest resources in order to achieve the desired output.
TM: How does DLT determine what its sales goals are? How are the expectations for them incrementally increased? What is marketing asked to do to meet those goals?
CS: The sales division leaders set their revenue goals for each fiscal year, calendarized. They then share that information with marketing, which uses historical conversion metrics to determine the number of leads needed at the beginning of the sales cycle in order to achieve the sales goals.
A strategic marketing plan is created and tactical marketing activities entered into the system to calculate lead forecasts. If the forecast is insufficient to hit the lead generation goals, then the plan is adjusted and additional tactics are added to the plan. Similarly, as the campaign is under way, actual results (for example, Web hits) for individual activities are compared against predicted outcomes. If there is a shortfall, the campaign is then adjusted again to ensure success in achieving targets. Post-campaign lead conversion is monitored in real-time through the sales process to evaluate campaign effectiveness. Data on lead conversion from direct marketing campaigns that underperform are used to determine whether that campaign will be repeated again. Because the DLT marketing team is supporting multiple sales divisions, various campaigns and activities are starting and stopping at different points. Typically, campaigns run from three to six months. Because of the length of the sales cycle for most DLT products and services—whether it's Autodesk, Oracle, Google or any of our other brands—campaign effectiveness typically can't be measured until at least that much time has passed.
With thousands of marketing activities being completed by the team throughout the year, I have found that treating the marketing department like a factory (with input/output forecasting, real-time monitoring and production changes) has made their results very consistent in our lead generation from direct marketing. Leads are generated and processed through the sales cycle at a steady rate with rare peaks and valleys.
TM: Why did DLT approach its direct marketing strategy this way? How much has DLT been able to increase the number of leads for its vendor partners?
CS: Like many marketing organizations today, my team and I are challenged to demonstrate that our direct marketing is more than overhead; it drives revenue and contributes to the bottom line. By monitoring each activity for effectiveness [in] real-time, resources are pulled from activities and channels that are not producing and reallocated to ones that are. Ultimately, that means a better bottom line.
For example, a couple of years ago, my team produced a monthly newsletter for a certain division. For many years, it was effective in generating Web hits, which converted into leads. Then, the account team saw the response rates drop one month. It only took a couple more issues of the newsletter production to see a downward trend. At the same time, we saw an upward trend in the effectiveness of a direct mail program. The funds and the man-hours for the newsletter were quickly reallocated to the more effective tactic.
Similarly, I have been able to effortlessly allocate man-hours of my team members to accounts that need additional support to take advantage of unexpected opportunities—a new market opportunity, a new partner, an industry trend or similar event that can be leveraged for additional sales. This is not unlike a factory making quick modifications to respond to new customer orders.
DLT works hand-in-hand with partners—our flagship partners include Autodesk, Google, NetApp, Oracle, Quest Software, Red Hat and Solarwinds—to help them with their government sales and marketing, acting as an extension of their own team. … My marketing team needs to not only produce results, but also be able to communicate those results (we share our dashboard reports with vendor partners) and repeat them reliably …