How this industrial supplies retailer used marketing automation to keep up with customers

Bunzl, an industrial and safety supplies provider, shares the steps taken to deliver more relevant and timely customer communications and engagement

When Covid first hit, essential business services and products company, Bunzl, knew its need to elevate email marketing with up-to-date personalised messaging had suddenly become urgent.

Delivering goods in the topsy-turvy world of Covid lockdowns was difficult for most businesses. But Bunzl’s huge range encompassing cleaning, hygiene, healthcare, hospitality, food processing, packaging, as well as industrial and safety goods and services was highly relevant to Covid and therefore more pressured than most.

With an inventory of 20,000 key units online and another 20,000 items including customised products, plus customers and warehouses across A/NZ, Bunzl presents as a one-stop shop for business essentials. The company had used the Lite version of ActiveCampaign’s email automation since 2014 before Bunzl’s head of marketing and ecommerce, Fiona Corsie, joined the firm. As Covid forced the mass transition to remote living and working in different areas at different times, she realised upgrading to the next level of personalised marketing automation would be critical on more than one front.

“As a B2B, we work on a long sales cycle and are aware of typical customer orders and timing. But because of the environment we were suddenly in, with states coming in and out of lockdowns, that all changed,” Corsie said. “One day you’d be considering, ‘Do we have too many face masks?’. Within two days, we’d be asking: ‘Have we enough face masks?’.”

Reacting to news of lockdowns and trying to pre-empt orders meant Bunzl had to be on top of evolving public health news, clients’ likely stock, last orders and likely imminent needs.

“You also needed to communicate so quickly. If I wrote a press release in the afternoon and it got approved that night to distribute the next morning – by then it was old news,” Corsie said. “We had to become immediate, with a sense of urgency about servicing the customer.”

Corsie knew a marketing automation platform based on good CRM and segmentation tools to integrate with Bunzl’s enterprise resource manager (ERP) would make the most of its client data. Bunzl’s ERP already segmented customers, including down to verticals nuances such has healthcare, aged care, independent and government.

Email marketing emphasis

The relevance of emails was increasingly important not only externally for fast-tracking supplies, orders and deliveries but also because so few people were doing business in-person. Lack of face-to-face meetings also meant CRM data on customers’ journeys was more important to salespeople.  

“Everyone’s inboxes were suddenly so full. To cut through the volume and fatigue, you had to be serving just the right content for a customer,” said Corsie.

Bunzl already had good open rates for email messaging. Corsie and her 14-strong marketing team are pleased that, since integration, segmentation across all customer data has boosted open rates by 10 per cent.

“We know the customer is interested in what they’re receiving from us,” she said. “Connecting online with the customer in the right way is everything these days and we did 10 years of digital transformation in two months - the whole world did.”

The existing relationship with ActiveCampaign counted in its favour. Yet it was not a fait accompli that Bunzl would continue with the martech vendor, and Corsie compressed scoping and research in keeping with the urgency of transition. One all-singing, all-dancing platform was considered but found to take up to five times longer to get running.

“At a time when IT was already dealing with transition to working from home, we had no capacity for a major, six-month project,” Corsie said.  Another more middle-of-the-road platform was investigated but still considered too complex to implement.

Bunzl’s conversations with other ActiveCampaign customers helped ticked most boxes. “They resoundingly said the level of support was excellent. You do need great support and it was becoming more and more important as we became more and more remote,” said Corsie.

During implementation and early use of the integrated system, Bunzl relied on ActiveCampaign’s local support team.

“We’d get a response within the hour,” said Corsie. “Once, when we couldn’t get the answer, we were put straight in touch with the US guru on the topic and they set up a video conference and went through it. We needed reasonable, not heavy, IT support. Then we were up and running, part of that worldwide digital transformation accelerated by Covid.”

This was an implementation where the surprises were good across support, training and scalability. “I was surprised with the ease of it - I didn't know it was so scalable and that definitely appealed to me,” said Corsie. “The ease of it has been refreshing because you're so often told ‘Oh no, everything is easy and it plugs in but then it usually doesn't.”

Different aspects of transformation happened in parallel including development on the ERP hub to enable customer identification and segmentation. Integration between ERP and CRM took two of Bunzl’s IT people about six weeks. Bunzl could accelerate quickly because its customer list and credibility with its email provider were ongoing. The data clean-up took several months to ensure obsolete information wasn’t transferred into ActiveCampaign’s CRM.

Once they knew the size of the database, Corsie also decided the best value was to move to an annual fee based on number of database contacts. ActiveCampaign’s enterprise level came with top-level training and support.

Granular view

Corsie said intelligence now on offer has seen Bunzl’s communications take a significant leap forward. Particularly useful is the way segmentation shows which emails elicit a response and which links a customer has followed to the website.

“We can get more granular with messaging, getting that funnel view of the customer and what it is they’re interested in,” said Corsie. “That really targeted, personalised approach enables you to work your way down the funnel. You’re driving people to specific pieces of product information, getting them at an important time in their decision making and can sway them on a product. Because we're B2B, we work closely with our sales team who see the emails so they can then pick up the conversation with the customer.”

One key insight has been how customers engage with Bunzl and how it takes to open an email. “This is all about meeting customers’ behaviour rather than just doing push communication. They're all valuable learnings,” Corsie continued.

Bunzl gained expanded reporting function and a system that integrates with Google Analytics for website activity reports. Bunzl is also using SurveyMonkey, one of more than 870 apps which plug into ActiveCampaign via Zapier. Others plugged in include Web chat tools, content management, Shopify, Nudgify messaging, Countdown Mall and ecommerce apps including Yondo and Limespot.  

“We're moving into automations and starting to use plug-in apps. Every app brings another level of functionality. A lot of it is about getting better vision on the customer and their behaviour, which again allows us to respond with what they need,” Corsie said. 

The next cab off the rank is another B2B website for sales to SMBs.

"If you ask me again in a year’s time what I'm doing with ActiveCampaign, it will be a different conversation again because ActiveCampaign gives the scalability and latitude for future plans,” she added.

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