30 Sep The Leap to Digital Marketing

the leap to digital marketingOur digital marketing project is one of the pillars of our strategy to reinvent Qualifirst Foods. This is how we will change how we distribute and sell gourmet foods. It was a long journey of discovery for me and it took a great deal of thought, research, and conversation to realize how important this is. It started seven years ago when I saw we had to reinvent how we do sales.

When looking for the roadblocks to our progress, I looked first at the sales team. Over a five year period, we had worked with consultants and coaches, seeking new methods, but nothing proved overly effective.

Building the New Framework

I next discovered the concept of online data. This opened up a world of automated intelligence process that could help in the decision-making and prioritization process on a daily basis, for our sales force. However I soon discovered that to make this work, I would have to install the framework myself. I found there to be too much time wastage in small things such as logging-in and report generation. I felt all data should be accessible in one place, like an inbox.

So I built a framework consisting of a digital marketing platform, an ecommerce website, and a plan. These three tools would help us execute sales like a modern company, rather than a 60-year old food distributor.

Discovering the Constraints

With the physical processes in place, I looked next at my personal management challenges. I discovered my specific current constraints to be my mindset, my time, and the sheer complexity of processes.

My first constraint is mindset. Building in this new procedural framework involves changing processes in every area of the company, including approaches to sales, customer service, wholesale pricing rules, and the organizational and time management skills of our salespeople. The evolution of a collective mindset towards these new targets takes time, and we found, once again that external coaches and consultants just could not accommodate.

Time was the next constraint, specifically, my time. I worked with a consulting company to help impart and deploy my vision, but after 8 months, I realized they simply did not understand it – and worse, they were distracted by their other customers, which left us further behind. This contributed in great part to my decision to take over the job myself.

The complexity of the transition became my third constraint. Our different customer categories, multiple price levels, along with over 1,500 products managed from two warehouses, makes every step of the process complicated and difficult. Our ecommerce web site has to be correspondingly sophisticated if it is to handle all this properly. Our goal is to move forward quickly, but the complexity of our business is holding us back.

It’s Up To Us Now

To address these various constraints, especially mindset, I realize we must involve all of our team members, and this includes making all the people involved in this project part of our team. In this way, the mindset will grow collectively. By setting a standard of working with people, both employees and external contractors, who can work at least 20 hours a week on our project, we will be able to grow the collective mindset.

To allow me to focus my time and energy on the transformation, I have cleared as much of my agenda as I can, placing my trust in my staff to run the company day-to-day. I invested the month of July in working from my home office, and from this I was able to make a year’s progress in just four weeks. The next step is to assign 50% of my time to the project until the end of 2015. At this point, it should be up and running.

The complexity of our project has only one solution, and that is us. It would be convenient to outsource the IT aspect, but we cannot find a suitable match after many attempts. But since technology is a core aspect of our business, that explains why we have failed to outsource it. My challenge – and opportunity – becomes the affordable “Insourcing” of IT. A key solution will be to break free of the notion that the entire IT team needs to exist at the same location. We will focus instead on connecting our existing team members wherever they happen to live and work.

Challenger Sales via Email

Our new Digital Marketing project will include a series of challenger email messages. We are also building a great deal of content for our customers to use to run their own businesses better. There is great value in this content. The payoff in this is that when a restaurant opens, they will think of Qualifirst as the place to go to first – not just for food selection, but for business-related strategies such as assembling a cocktail menu, or leveraging social media for greater exposure. Similarly for retail food stores, they will come to us for strategies on how to start selling prepared foods.

This is part of the larger Qualifirst vision that moves beyond the constraint of having to deliver a physical product. This moves us into the service channel, as so many other organizations in other industries are doing: for us, essentially food-as-a-service. A store or a restaurant that has strong ambitions to become a premier destination will think of Qualifirst and will happily subscribe to a paid service subscription to start them on their journey. This is what the next step of a great challenger digital marketing project looks like to me.

Clarity of Vision

Getting granular, and focusing on specific details is critical for getting all of these pieces in place. The high-level view is great for far-reaching vision, of course, but I know I have to keep my head down and work on one part at a time. My commitment is to have the digital marketing project up and running by the end of the year.