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Marketing Post-Covid: Bob Graham, Executive Vice President at Facility Solutions Group

Brian Erickson:
Thanks for joining the Cardwell Beach Marketing Podcast. My name is Brian Erickson, Chief Strategy Officer and Partner at Cardwell Beach. In this series, we’re interviewing senior marketers across industries to develop perspective on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

Today’s guest is Bob Graham, Executive Vice President at Facility Solutions Group, a major national provider of lighting and electrical products and energy services to commercial businesses, retailers, developers, and other industries in all 50 states.

Bob, thanks so much for joining us today.

Bob Graham:
Thank you for inviting me.

Brian Erickson:
Great. Well, weathering the storm and facilities is certainly an interesting space. COVID-19 has brought much change across industries that you operate in, including retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. At FSG, you’ve pivoted your value proposition to serve businesses who are looking to reopen safely with products such as UV lighting and some of the clear protective shields we see at many retail establishments.

Obviously, FSG has always taken pride in its ability to assess market needs and adjust course quickly to fulfill customer demand. You were able to really leverage some of that capability and production ability in both lighting and signage to turn on a dime and roll out some new products. Can you talk about how you’ve been able to build this type of market-driven culture?

Bob Graham:
Sure. At FSG, we’ve been at it for about 37 years now, and we’ve always led with promoting new technologies, the focus of where that value is for our customers. So as we all enter this COVID age, it is changing the way we’re doing business and some of the product development as well. We quickly realized the protective shields would be adopted by many of our customers, and we have a sign OEM division where we manage the design process, the fabrication and production capabilities.

So, it was easy decision for us to really think about our customers first and how we could help with this deployment, and it’s worked out very well for us. We’ve seen good demand, and especially with the customization services that we offer, our customers get exactly what they want each time.

The other area certainly creating a lot of conversations and discussions around is UV lighting. That UV germicidal lighting has been around for many, many years. This is a particular area that’s right in the center of our wheelhouse in lighting equipment and lighting products. So we see ourselves in this situation filling that trusted advisor role, vetting the various product technologies and really protecting our customer interest here. When LEDs came about 10 to 15 years ago, it was sort of the Wild Wild West. We see this new UVG phenomenon the same way, so it’s going to be exciting to see how that develops.

Brian Erickson:
In a certain way, I mean, obviously this is not going to be the bulk of your business and hopefully this pandemic ends and it’s not something that you have to really remain focused on in a big way long-term. But in a certain way, it’s really a service you’re providing to your customers, right, and a way to doors and start new conversations. Is that a fair assessment?

Bob Graham:
Well, it’s absolutely a service. I think part of this initiative is going to be what are they doing proactively to protect the environment for the people that they serve that could be employees, but also patrons? That’s a motivator for them, whether it works or not. At the same time, I think having some confirmation that it’s doing something is just as important.

We don’t know yet, but I think it could find its way into some building code applications or certainly some requirements down the road where certain municipalities might be requiring some kind of technology. It’s too early to tell, that’s how we see it today.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah, it definitely makes sense. So, you’ve rolled out these new products in a matter of days and weeks. I guess, how did the core of your unique selling proposition change, if at all, as you’re going out and having these conversations?

Bob Graham:
Well, at FSG, these products and services are still predominantly promoted by our direct sellers and account managers. That’s how we built the company and we are adapting with a more robust digital marketing strategy. That was pre-COVID. It’s working well, and we believe this is going to grow across all of our business types in the future.

Brian Erickson:
Playing off of some of those direct sellers and account managers, right? I mean, you are a senior leader in a relatively large sales organization and you also oversee the marketing arm of FSG. The product aspect of this is one way that you had to be super responsive, but you also had to drive the messaging down across quite a large organization that’s going out and having these conversations. How were you able to communicate changes in your sales and marketing approaches internally? How did you get each layer of the organization aligned? Because I know you have the branch model and you have a lot of different moving parts.

Bob Graham:
It’s a challenge. Even during the evolution of FSG, it’s always been heads down, work hard. We’ve been blessed with good people now with our growth, and we do have a decentralized business model. So, communication today really is managed three different ways. We’ve started with good consistency, having leadership calls weekly, and the focus there is strategy and alignment. But then we are with our expansion in the marketing group and other communications, email.

Then we built an internal portal, it’s called FSG Resource Center. It’s been a big step forward for us, because it houses all of this information that we’re disseminating, whether it’s sales campaigns or marketing material or training materials. So, our people can self-serve there and search for these marketing materials and video collateral, which we’re also doing a lot more of. That’s at a high level how we’re managing communication today.

Brian Erickson:
So really, you’re providing a solid pool of resources, you’re standardizing how that message should come across. Everybody’s going to be facing different selling situations and they can pull what’s relevant to them.

Bob Graham:
Exactly. We don’t command and control. These resources can be for any particular customer, we all understand how that works.

Brian Erickson:
So I guess in terms of just tone and the overall marketing outreach process during this pandemic, I imagine there’s been a significant amount of change where you have some businesses who are eager to reopen, others that are much more cautious and in higher risk sorts of industries. I guess, how have you empowered the decentralized organization and individual teams to walk that line between making customers aware of essential products and services that you guys offer and also balancing coming across as insensitive to the situation, and let’s call it commission breath? How do you balance that line, being an essential business without coming across as trying to sell during the crisis?

Bob Graham:
I like commission breath, I’m going to write that one down. But our outreach has been hampered in a significant way, it’s one of the large concerns I have the further this thing goes down. It’s a result of, you look at the hospitality retail segment of our business on our national account, that’s 40%, 45% of the revenue. Customer furloughs, the people that we’re interacting with are furloughed, and the fact that people are just focused on things that are within their control, not the unknowns. There’s so many unknowns now, it has everybody flat-footed.

That’s probably a good and bad situation. Our active customer base relying on us, and they’re probably not speaking to anybody new, and negative is the reverse of that. You do make a good point, we’re learning lessons along the way, and our customers are very sensitive to the fact that they don’t want to be sold right now, they want to be supported. We’ve communicated that to all of our people, making sure that we just want to be there for our customers and be patient during this cycle. I think that’s very important.

Brian Erickson:
So, you mentioned that you’ve been gradually making this shift from an outbound approach to peppering in some inbound activities. Has this pandemic accelerated that shift at all? Are you finding that that’s becoming a bigger part of your mix, is finding people and identifying folks that are in-market and drawing them into you?

Bob Graham:
That really falls into the category of we are strategically making a shift to be a more marketing-oriented company. I would say that investment has started paying off really within the last 18 to 24 months. So, that’s a new initiative. It’s warming up opportunities for our sales people, so it’s not a direct cold call, if you will. We’ve seen good results and we’re going to continue to invest in that.

So we have outreach in the social media environment and advertising on Google and some things that we’re just experimenting around, just in the whole digital marketing world versus the organic leads that we’ve generally built the company with. That has created some incoming activity. It’s too early to tell from a percentage standpoint, it’s still a small percentage, but we see that growing in the future.

Brian Erickson:
Sales-driven organizations and business to business organizations like FSG have traditionally relied on having a one-to-one conversation, right? You need to educate folks about the product and it’s complicated and it’s potentially, in certain instances, a high ticket item or expensive. I guess just for the sake of example, are there any sorts of projects that were surprising to you as you’ve started to make this shift that you were able to generate leads for in a digital marketing fashion? I mean, when you talk about advertising for B2B, anything that sticks out to you as a notable lead?

Bob Graham:
I don’t want to specifically reference one particular lead versus another. I think if we had to categorize this incoming activity, it’s number one, high level executives or procurement organizations that are looking to identify companies that could potentially fit well for their initiative. So, most of this activity falls in an area which is welcomed. We’re getting ready to work on an RFP for this, and would your company be interested in participating?

I don’t think that kind of activity’s new, doing web search has been the way that’s probably been mostly populated by the B2B stakeholders. But with our investment in that space, we’re more recognizable now, we’re blog posting, we’re posting videos, we’re changing web content on a regular basis. So as you’re probably aware, Google, if you will, likes that kind of activity, so we’ve seen good success, plus we have inbound landing pages that make that process easier.

Then we have other types of leads that are generated, that’s the second bucket, is we are producing blogs and campaigning in the digital space and asking for us to be contacted. Those are producing as well, so we’re excited about it. It’s not something that FSG has embraced up until recently. I don’t want to call this old school mentality, but in our property owner, the stakeholders, it’s really all about the real estate on the products and services that we promote, building that real estate, maintaining that real estate and the lighting, electrical technology, IOT infrastructure, signage, if you will. That whole vertical integration of those products and services, we all need.

People are still going to do business with people, they’re going to want to talk to them, they’re going to want to see them. I think people generally try to do business with people that they like and respect, so I don’t personally see that changing. So this advantage, these additional marketing efforts are just going to make that connection with those people perhaps a little bit easier. That’s the primary advantage, I think, so we’re going to embrace it and continue to invest in it.

Brian Erickson:
That’s great. It sounds like it’s moving from something that for many firms has long been a curiosity, but maybe not something they’ve seen as potential for a serious revenue driver. So, glad to hear that you guys are making that shift successfully.

Coming out of COVID whenever that may happen, hopefully sooner than later, let’s take a little bit of a forward-looking lens at this. One of FSG’s goals is to help companies get back to business as usual, as safely as possible. Outside the obvious changes of working remotely, what do you think business as usual will look like for sales teams over the next six to 18 months? What types of messaging might be effective? What sales and marketing channels will remain a bigger part of our lives coming out of this?

Bob Graham:
Well, certainly I think it’s going to be a migration to more teleconferencing. We were trying that to try to save on travel costs, increase productivity. Do you really need to get on a plane and fly two to three hours or more for a meeting? That’s always been effective. It’s always been more productive if that can be arranged in the cost of doing business. But I think this whole phenomenon that we’ve been is going to be more business is normal, so I think that’s going to be a much bigger part of our strategy, and it will result in some productivity enhancement. So, that’s a good thing.

Then back to it is going to be less expensive and hopefully more productive in digital marketing and social media and coming up with those tools and resources to accomplish a lot more. So we’re having these face-to-face meetings, everything is more productive and hopefully the quantities also grow.

Brian Erickson:
Playing off of that, FSG often serves as a guide for customers who might be unfamiliar with the exact products that they need. This is certainly the case with some of the newer products that you’re promoting now in UV lighting and disinfection and some of the shields. How have you educated the marketplace about these new products and their uses, and are there new tactics that you’ve brought into the mix that support some of that education effort?

Bob Graham:
We believe it’s critical to learn and discover before we promote. I mean, that’s the ideal type of setting. Our education recommendation is going to happen in that order. That’s founded, of course, in that direct sale person-to-person interface where we can have a programming meeting or a discovery meeting.

That said, we are posting educational content on our website, we’re doing much more video, two- to three-minute video documentaries and educational content and pushing it out, we’re hosting digital meetings, webinars. So, that’s really our strategy around positioning us as a trusted advisor in education to people that may not know us and creates interest in FSG.

Brian Erickson:
The spirit of creating trust. So, who knows what the actual numbers are going to be, but we are definitely nearing some potentially record-breaking unemployment and many sales and marketing professionals are going to find themselves as free agents right now. What skills would you say are most important for salespeople to emphasize to remain competitive and stand out when they might be seeking employment?

Bob Graham:
Well, there’s a lot of them, one size doesn’t fit all. But I think at the core of that is high energy, commitment to self-learning, being customer-oriented. We are representing that customer, it’s not about commission breath, to steal a term I just learned. The sense of urgency, always taking the time to confirm the value proposition. Those are what I always come back to as I’m talking to somebody, is that’s the foundation. Confirming the value proposition is not just passing information on, it’s just really as a business developer and a trusted advisor, owning that at the same time. That’s always important, I think.

Brian Erickson:
How do you identify that or screen for that? Are there any specific things that someone could do to stick out and really showcase those qualities?

Bob Graham:
Spending time with that person over a period of time is a key, having that person interact with people that they’re going to be counting on for support to get their opinions, to cultural fit, having them interact with their peers, business development staff, using that information. We don’t rely on the testing as an absolute, big believer in that. So we have a testing strategy around not only personality profile, but also what motivates. Everybody’s motivated by something different, so we put those two pieces of information together with those others and try and make the best decision that we can.

Brian Erickson:
Commission breath, smell test, I’m glad we got that term in one more time on this. So if you were to give one piece of marketing advice to some of the smaller players in your industry, looking at the rest of 2020 and into ’21, what would you say is important to stay focused on coming out of this?

Bob Graham:
Well, now more than ever is activity, there’s no time to sit around. That’s always the catalyst to success, promote what you value and points of differentiation arts. It’s not about your company, it’s not about you, it’s really what is that value that you’re going to be able to provide for the target audience and how are you different from your competition? So actively promote that in a variety of ways to your target market, that would be the most important thing.

Brian Erickson:
First and foremost, you got to get out there, right? It doesn’t matter how differentiated you are, if you’re not getting in front of people. It’s easy to be paralyzed in this sort of situation, right? It’s a lot of unknowns, and in the sense of being sensitive to the situation, you might feel that you don’t want to interrupt people or bother them, but ultimately, you got to get out there and act.

Bob Graham:
Got to have activity and you have to be sensitive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be active.

Brian Erickson:
Sensitive, not sedentary, right? So-

Bob Graham:
Yep, yep.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. Well, Bob, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

Bob Graham:
You’re welcome. Again, thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

Brian Erickson:
This is Brian Erickson with Cardwell Beach. Thanks again for listening, and please make sure to check back for more senior marketers sharing their perspectives on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

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