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When most people think of marketing, they think of advertising. Yes, advertising is an important element of marketing (it falls under the “promotion” category of the produce-price-place-promotion marketing mix). But marketing is much, much more than a great logo, a flashy website or killer social media. Particularly in the business-to-business (or B2B) realm, casting a broad brush when it comes to marketing can lead to significant success.

Do you ask your customers what they think and then listen — really listen — to what they have to say, instead of insisting that “you know what they need”?

Would you consider joining forces with a competitor in the spirit of abundance, trusting that there’s enough business out there for both of you, even if you’re in a competitive and quickly-changing industry?

Are you leveraging all of the networking opportunities available to you, even when a connection doesn’t immediately seem to represent “real value”?

These are just some of the techniques that successful B2B marketers in the Chippewa Valley are using to boost their marketing effectiveness.

The value of listening

Stephanie Butero is CEO of Gold Cross Courier Service. While a member of the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, she met Susan Marcott, CEO of Applied Data Consultants, Inc. (ADC). They struck up what turned out to be a mutually beneficial conversation in the parking lot while leaving a meeting.

“She came up and introduced herself to me after one of the board meetings,” says Butero. “We just got to talking about what they do and what we do and, from that, set up a meeting with her and Jim.”

Jim Ward is president and founder of ADC. One of the company’s products is a real-time, online dispatch and GPS tracking tool. The tool had already been launched in a number of markets, says Ward, but the company was interested in moving into the courier market. “The best way of doing that is finding an expert in the industry and learning from them,” he says. Gold Cross offered an opportunity to do that locally.

It’s been a successful partnership, says Butero. “They told us what they had to offer. We told them what we were looking for as far as a courier service and mapping programs. And then they said they’d be willing to work with us on building it so that they could then sell it to other courier companies.” (ADC also established similar partnerships with courier organizations in Quebec and Kentucky.)

“It’s a giant industry and one we’ve always known we wanted to move our software into, but it represented some challenges from a logistics and supply chain standpoint,” says Ward. He knew they needed knowledge that simply didn’t exist within their organization. Too often, he says, companies are too internally focused and unwilling to go out and listen to their customers. Consequently, he says, they’ll build a product, launch it, and watch it fail. “Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you’re the expert,” he cautions.

Key takeaway: Listen to your customers!

Listening to — and learning from — competitors is another best practice.

Partnering with the competition

There’s an old saying that goes: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” In some regards, that’s exactly what Dale Zwiefelhofer and Tyler Widen have done. Zweifelhofer is president of Rooney Printing Company and Widen is the founder and owner of ColorPath.

The companies are admittedly competitors, yet they operate out of the same facility (Widen rents space from Zwiefelhofer in a new addition that was built for his use), work together on some projects and often refer customers to each other. It’s a partnership that, although it has had some tense times, they say works.

Initially, the relationship developed because of their different areas of specialty. ColorPath was an early entrant to the short-run, digital printing market and Rooney was a traditional offset printing shop. “So, we basically developed a relationship with ColorPath, farming out some work to them,” says Zwiefelhofer.

And, they learned from each other. Widen learned about the traditional offset world — about paper and die-cutting and finishing. Zwiefelhofer learned about the emerging world of digital printing. The relationship worked well. Then, Zwiefelhofer decided to get into the digital printing market as well.

“When we signed this deal originally, I remember saying to Tyler, ‘Well, someday I may bring this in-house myself.’ To be honest with you, it came in-house faster than I thought it would,” Zwiefelhofer said.

While Widen wasn’t particularly delighted about his partner now competing head-on with him, he handled it well, says Zwiefelhofer. “If you can’t get beyond it, you can’t move forward,” ways Widen.

Still, despite the fact that they sometimes compete for the same clients, they are also respectful of certain boundaries. “I’m not going to go out and call on one of Tyler’s big accounts,” says Zwiefelhofer. Widen takes the same approach. In fact, they say, they both benefit from referrals from each other, from partnering together on certain projects and from the education and information that both have to share.

“We both realize there’s plenty of work out there,” says Widen. “We can’t be all things to everybody.”

That perspective is unique but important, says Luke Kempen, CPA, director of the Small Business Development Center at UW-Eau Claire. Concern about competition is a common barrier for businesses concerned about the risk of revealing trade secrets or other proprietary information they consider highly confidential, he says. But he adds: “Most of the time the barriers as far as concerns for confidentiality can be overcome because of the benefits of collaboration and working together on advancing both company’s products — benefiting both companies.”

Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with competitors that may lead to collaboration.

In fact, that is just one example of how being open to unique networking opportunities can bring great results for B2B marketers.

Open-minded networking

Networking is important in the B2B world. Connections made at local events, and relationships built with local businesspeople, can reap rewards not only in terms of new clients or customers, but also in terms of business knowledge to help develop new products and services, and creative collaborations to fuel business growth.

“My biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to network with people that you don’t know,” says Butero. “Until I met Susan I actually didn’t even know what Applied Data was!”

Ward agrees. “Certainly when you do business locally it’s so easy to know people who know people.” These networks, he says, lead to insights about companies that have good, and sometimes perhaps not-so-good, reputations — to those that are reliable and those that may not yet have proven themselves.

Kempen agrees that networking is important for B2B marketers and adds that part of what he does in his role is help to make these types of connections. “We’ve seen some good synergies develop,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Most people want to work together and benefit each other.”

The key takeaway for B2B businesses in the Chippewa Valley: There may be opportunities for you in areas you may not have even considered. Being willing to acknowledge that you just may not know everything about what your customers need, keeping an open mind to the potential benefits that competitors may bring to you, and casting a wide net in your networking efforts can boost your marketing effectively.

No, it’s not advertising, but it is marketing — and it works!

Even joining forces
with a competitor can produce benefits

Linda Pophal is a marketing communication consultant, business journalist and the owner of Strategic Communications, LLC, in Chippewa Falls. She can be reached at 715-723-2395 or at linda@stratcommunications.com.

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