Our overall brand perceptions are invariably shaped by our experiences. And loyal customer relationships can be severed in moments by a negative service interaction.
When blueApache’s general manager of marketing, Darron Hutchison, joined the IT services provider two years ago, the company had no dedicated marketing or sales resources on staff.
“The company had engaged one consultant to write an elevator pitch years ago that was no longer relevant. There was no collateral, the business cards were designed by the managing director and printed at Vistaprint, there was no branding campaigns,” Hutchison told CMO.
“The MD was in charge of business development, most proposals for prospective clients were done by him in InDesign, there was no advertising undertaken, and limited processes or policies around how to go to market.”
Despite this, blueApache had become a successful managed service provider (MSP), recording 30 per cent growth per annum and operating across offices in Melbourne and Sydney.
“I was looking at 16-year-old startup at least from a marketing perspective, that was cashflow positive, profitable and had an extraordinary product suite,” Hutchison said.
Two years in, and with quite a bit of help from marketing, blueApache has since expanded from 30 staff to 75, launched a Brisbane office, and is chalking up nearly $20 million in annual revenue.
It’s not the first time Hutchison has worked in building a business. He started his career in sales, before earning his B2C and B2B marketing stripes in retail with light retailer, Beacon Lighting, working as the company grew from eight to 20 stores. From there, he joined ISP, Primus, to launch iPrimus in Australia, then became marketing manager for application services provider, Multiemedia.com, developing SaaS applications, heading up European distribution channels, and launching products in Europe, Australia and Asia.
So how did Hutchison help chart the course for ongoing growth at blueApache and prove marketing’s value along the way?
Unify the products and services
A differentiation point for blueApache has been building its own enterprise-grade cloud infrastructure in Australia to deliver MPLS carrier-grade network services and telephony platforms all onshore. Thanks to local support services, the business also boasts a 90 per cent first-call resolution rate.
However, up until Hutchison’s arrival, product offerings were siloed, with clients either buying network services or cloud, or telephony. One of his first priorities coming on-board was to take these product concepts and converge them.
“Having all these converged services means customers can take as many or a little as they want, and we can deliver as a single, consolidated service with one lot of billing, support and reporting,” he said.
Align with an emerging industry trend
Another step forward has been positioning blueApache’s offering in terms of the emerging IT-as-a-service trend gaining momentum in Australia. Today, the company offers ITaaS across all of its services including disaster recovery, identity management, and security, through to cloud services, voice and managed network connections.
For Hutchison, that ensured the go-to-market model was coherent, and helped the team better focus on what it’s trying to achieve for clients.
Identify the low-hanging fruit while working on the big stuff
While the blueApache team knew they needed marketing, they didn’t understand what marketing was. As a result, a huge amount of education needed to take place, Hutchison said. Key to this was demonstrating short-term and long-term value.
“If they didn’t understand there was value, they weren’t going to continue,” he said. “It was a case of identifying the low-hanging fruit that could make a significant change to the business quickly and ideally, something that’s tangible so people could feel and touch it. Then in the background, start building longer-term programs that were going to add value.”
First on the list for Hutchison was branding, so he worked to articulate blueApache’s unique sales proposition, issue new business cards, collateral and paint the building. All of this was aimed at ensuring staff could see changes were starting to happen while ensuring everything was uniform, he said.
“I’m a big believer in a single brand voice, so carrying this across everything we did was critical,” Hutchison said.
In the background, Hutchison created lost opportunity registers, as well as lead nurturing systems using marketing automation, and built a CRM database. Work also started around customer analysis to better understand and identify trends and commonalities that can help blueApache find similar prospects.
Launch highly targeted and strategic campaigns
“We didn’t have $5m or $10m for awareness campaigns, so we’ve focused on targeted activities that have been below-the-line typically,” Hutchison continued. “But there is still a lot of strategic marketing going on.”
A recent example was with an RFP that represented a very good match to blueApache’s value proposition, he said.
“We identified a key risk was a lack of awareness of us at an executive level. So we targeted every lift in that client’s building and local cafés in the area with an awareness campaign for two months prior to the RFP,” he said. “We also do a bit of leaking targeted PR and release information to select companies.”
With a target of just 8000 organisations in Australia, Hutchison said having case studies and PR it can pitch to individuals within those organisations is more valuable than investing in broader awareness of advertising campaigns.
“For example, we used LinkedIn Sales navigator as one of our tools, and staff are able to identify individuals then leak information to them,” he said.
Embed marketing in all parts of the organisation
Marketing at blueApache is contributing to everything and anything, from strategic direction through to individual RFP responses. The team has grown from one person to two with additional outsourced support, and the goal is to bring on a third staff member shortly.
RFPs have been a big win in particular. Hutchison noted that in the tech sector, companies usually experience a 10-20 per cent success rate. BlueApache, meanwhile, is operating at about a 70 per cent success rate. Those RFPs are coming through marketing for design.
“We ensure sales, pre-sales and engineering teams are focused on the value we are providing, then we carry that through, making sure documents look good, and topology diagrams and schematics are presented in a way that’s professionally done,” Hutchison said. “That helps us with our credibility in the marketplace.”
Invest in content
Hutchison’s marketing coordinator is focused on content strategy, making sure messaging is positioned correctly and consistently, blogs are regularly updated with fresh material, and website collateral is up to date and modernised. Again, the objective is to ensure information provides credibility and references for the brand, rather than just for lead generation purposes.
More recently, blueApache has focused on in-depth focus articles, aimed at educating potential clients, and is also investigating video.
Be flexible with budget planning
For Hutchison, the hardest thing is getting budget approval and he admitted the company doesn’t understand the need for a set marketing budget.
“They’re more than happy to spend money but they want a clear business case approach, so we business case everything,” he said. “That gives us flexibility as things chop and change. We commit to a marketing strategy each year but not necessarily to the financial investment we are going to be making.”
Importantly, Hutchison said marketers must show the value of programs to the business team at every stage of the journey. “Everything has to have a value and generate an impact,” he said.
“The good thing is it starts to free up resources. We get greater support from the business to invest in nurturing campaigns, in content and so on.”
Cross-functional collaboration and utilising partnerships
There have been multiple phases to realising marketing’s value across the business, Hutchison said. One he highlighted was when blueApache started running events featuring key global industry experts.
In this instance, marketing partnered with the commercial team to find and showcase vendor speakers to clients. Hutchison and the GM of commercial jointly head up vendor relationship management and product management.
“One of these was having an international ex-military specialist come to a roundtable lunch for clients, who raved about the event for some time,” he said.
Another example of utilising vendor partnerships was with HP global. In this instance, Hutchison campaigned for case studies written about blueApache’s work with clients in Australia.
“The purpose was to add validity to what we were doing and credibility,” he said.
Listen to the customer
Hutchison points to ongoing work to improve customer experience. BlueApache has adopted the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and is focused on improving how it measures and acts on these customer scores.
“It’s all very well to have an NPS survey at the end of a phone call, but people aren’t going to be make referrals directing after they get off the phone to your service centre, so we’re looking at regularity, individual responses and so on,” he said.
Ensure marketing gets a seat at the executive table
Since Hutchison joined the company, blueApache has created a new organisational structure. Its executive group covers the six main areas of the business: New business opportunities, commercial, finance, operations, engineering and marketing.
“Marketing is seen as one of the key pillars for growth,” Hutchison said. “My responsibility as the marketing leader is to make sure if I disagree, I can articulate that properly. It’s a very consultative environment, which is great. It’s not hierarchical.”
Invest in appropriate nurturing tools
Hutchison was also quick to invest in marketing automation tools and has been using Autopilot’s offering for most of the past two years to nurture customers and prospects.
Among his next priorities is building the nurture campaigns and he’s looking at additional technology investment.
“Our business development managers don’t need new leads, but we still want to nurture prospects on our books and continue to work with them to educate them on why, when the time comes, they need to transition to us,” Hutchison said.
Empower the rest of the business
It’s not just marketing doing the job themselves, either. Empowerment is one of three core metrics and objectives this year.
“If we can’t automate it, we’re looking at how we empower others to do it themselves,” Hutchison said. “We’re doing a lot of templating, all the icons for topology, sales and marketing materials now in Visio, so teams can all can built their own things. We’re also refining style guides, improving Sharepoint portals and asset libraries.
“The last thing we want is to be a barrier, we want to be an enabler.”
Read more in our series of CMO profiles on marketing leaders changing the game:
- Why this marketing and creative chief switched from global brands to local startup
- How Curtin University’s marketing chief uses test and learn to cope with complexity
- Why Bupa’s John Moore is all about the experience
- Why HCF's CMO is focusing on people first, martech second
- How Amaysim built its customer credentials as a challenger brand