In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
Keeping tabs on a growing range of brand activations, and improving customer data management across sales teams nationally, are just two of the benefits SouthTrade International has realised from a database overhaul.
The Australian premium spirits importer has been operating for the past 15 years and maintains a Sydney head office, along with state offices and sales teams across the country.
Brand manager, James Johnson, told CMO one of the big challenges the marketing team faced was transparency around brand activities. For each of the more than 40 brands international brands it represents, the SouthTrade team creates campaigns and promotions, such as giveaways of TVs and holidays for every case sold into bars and clubs.
“We were spending lots of money on TVs, and prizes that were being given away, but we couldn’t track them,” he explained. “Times that by 40 brands, and it was big investment from head office. When the international brand owners asked us about how giveaways had gone, we didn’t have much of an answer, and it all was based on trust.
“With our company growing so quickly, we needed to find a way to better report on where TVs were going, how many cases were sold as a result, and provide visual images to include in reports we’d send back to the brand owners.”
At the same time, sales teams and the national head office were wasting weeks every year updating and synchronising customer databases, which were previously based on Microsoft Access. As well as spending up to a week every year updating the master file, each state had its own version for day-to-day use and the national office often lacked up-to-date visibility as a result.
Recognising a solution had to be found, the sales and marketing teams, with Johnson as project lead, partnered up to invest in a new technology platform and deployed FileMaker’s relationship database application two years ago. Core selling points included customisation capabilities, as well as the vendor’s ongoing advice and support, Johnson said.
Stage one was undertaken at SouthTrade’s Sydney head office and across its NSW sales force, and involved a six-month test to identify further requirements and needs. From there, the company deployed the technology to two further states for testing, followed by another two states. At its national conference, SouthTrade then launched the offering nationally and ran training sessions for all staff.
As part of the platform set-up, sales staff and state managers have different levels of access, with sales teams only able to see clients assigned to them. Marketing can’t see named customer data, but has access to reporting on sales, promotions and activations, as well as where brands are being sold.
“The important thing for us was segregating sales and marketing’s access levels – it’s always a sensitive relationship, and we wanted to make sure we minimised that friction,” Johnson commented.
The FileMaker platform can be used on mobile devices and has a built-in sync button for sales teams to access information and work offline, a particularly important feature in regional areas, Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the platform has saved SouthTrade at least 10 hours per week on reporting alone. It’s also halved the time it takes to run monthly sales meetings, and increased sales call rates by 10 per cent nationally.
“We used to have to spend every Friday filling in database information - I can’t stress enough the pain that was there for employees before,” Johnson said.
In addition, 40 per cent of SouthTrade’s workforce is now working remotely, and the company hopes to increase this to 50 per cent by the end of 2016.
One welcome surprise has been discovering FileMaker’s integration capabilities with SouthTrade’s in-house Citrix solution, which is used for all call sales data and invoice information. As a consequence, Johnson’s next plan is to integrate the two platforms to provide a more holistic customer view and reporting mechanism.
“That will provide huge benefits for the company and improve efficiencies further,” he said.
On the marketing front, the biggest win has been the management and reporting around brand activations, which occur every two months.
“We brief all the state managers about these and they then brief their teams. Two months later, we ask them about how things went and if they reached their targets, plus what challenges they had,” Johnson said. “What marketing do now is as they sell these into accounts, they record it in FileMaker, they write descriptions and notes and importantly, they take photos. What it means is before a meeting, we can run reports on those activations and know exactly how they went, any issues they faced, and importantly, if they hit their targets or not. It’s an incredible level of transparency we have never had before.
“It’s making a difference with our brands as well as internally.”
With expectations that SouthTrade’s headcount could rise to as many as 70 people next year, Johnson said the technology also offers the flexibility for growth.
“This has saved us a lot of emotional time and effort from our sales force and marketing team; it’s almost been a relationship builder for us,” he added. “The constant hassling marketing had to do with sales, and the constant reporting sales had to do for marketing, has been replaced by pressing a button.”