As the marketing events manager at Perq LLC, Marcia Deem, CTSM, has contributed more than three times the expected return on investment for events. She also currently serves as the community relations vice president of the American Marketing Association (AMA) Indy board and the events chair of the Agile Marketing Indy board. She received MeetingsNet's 2018 Changemaker recognition for creating an event-marketing program from the ground up with an eye for transparency.
Launching an existing product into a different market is never easy. But trying to get a foothold in a new-to-you industry, where existing relationships are paramount and trust in an "outsider" is as rare as a scandal-free politician, is grueling. Pair these hurdles with a first-year $3 million revenue goal despite a 12-month sales cycle, and that grueling marketing challenge becomes a colossal obstacle. Nevertheless, management at Perq LLC tasked its marketing events manager, Marcia Deem, CTSM, with this enormous endeavor.
To fully comprehend Deem's mission and her resulting strategy, one must first understand the company and market she represents. Launched in 2001, Perq offers software that boosts website conversion through guided shopping solutions. When added to clients' websites, the product employs artificial intelligence (AI) to craft personalized shopping experiences. While website visitors are guided through customized online encounters, the software gathers their lead and preference information, ultimately offering clients higher website conversion rates and more qualified buyers. Prior to 2017, Perq targeted only the automobile dealership and retail home-furnishings markets. However, with a constant eye toward expansion, the firm began eyeballing the multifamily industry, which comprises property-rental firms, in 2016.
"Our product is geared toward industries in which consumers typically do a considerable amount of online research first and then visit a brick-and-mortar store to finalize the purchase," Deem says. "The multifamily industry fits this bill, as renters usually spend time researching properties online before they go sign a lease." Although Perq's product would be the first of its kind in this industry, which would add another layer of difficulty to the expansion and require the company to educate the market initially, the industry and product were an ideal match.
So in 2017 Perq soft-launched its product to the multifamily market in a regional rollout that targeted its home turf of Indianapolis. Given its near-immediate success, stakeholders opted to take the expansion national in 2018 and set a sky-high bar of $3 million in first-year sales.
Certainly, $3 million is a lofty goal, but several other factors made it almost preposterous, chief among them being Perq's sales cycle. "We found that it usually takes us about a year to gain trust in a new industry and start to see regular sales," Deem says. In addition, product expansion – i.e., upselling or cross-selling products to existing clients – is a huge part of Perq's strategy. "If a firm spends $15,000 on an initial contract, for example, we might strive to turn that purchase into a $45,000 investment over time," Deem says.
Marcia Deem, CTSM, used a trio of face-to-face marketing opportunities to introduce Perq LLC's product to a new market.
1. The Perq Advisory Panel in Las Vegas helped break the ice with industry influencers.
2. Appearances at two key industry events brought Perq's message to the masses.
3. Sponsored hospitality events allowed Perq reps to form relationships with prospects.
The key words here, however, are "over time," and time was not on the side of Perq's salespeople. In order to meet the sales goal, they didn't need to simply hit the ground running; they had to touch down at a full-on sprint. But the very nature of the multifamily industry turned this dash into a slog through a mud bog.
Through their experience in the Indianapolis market, Perq stakeholders discovered that the multifamily industry is extremely relationship-focused. Perq was targeting the marketing and website professionals within property management firms, and stakeholders soon realized that these people stick with companies they know and trust. This fact was further enforced as Perq began hiring salespeople and a new vice president of sales to head up the expansion, most of whom it recruited from the multifamily industry. Based on their direct experience, these sales professionals reiterated the importance of relationships and warned that a traditional hard sell would fall flat with this audience.
"This industry is one big family," Deem says. "Once you're in, you're in. But getting in is far from easy. So we intended to leverage our salespeople to aid the process." That's because Perq's new salespeople, who were in effect multifamily "deserters" or distant relatives that came from industry-related software firms, were still considered kin. So salespeople's metaphorical familial connections allowed them to at least poke a couple of toes in the door. Deem's job, then, was to help the sales team establish a foothold in the market by building relationships and trust in an authentic yet lightning-fast manner.
Courting the Elders
"As I assessed the challenge, I knew that the best way to forge and foster relationships was via face-to-face experiences, and to target a few key property professionals that might later influence other members of the industry," Deem says. In a way, she decided to target this family's matriarchs and patriarchs, i.e., highly respected marketing and website-development professionals from well-recognized firms, all of whom could sway the larger industry via their acceptance of the product, personal testimonials, and informal word of mouth. To woo this crowd while also generating industrywide awareness, Deem devised a four-month, three-part strategy.
Deem knew that traditional sales calls or even in-booth trade show meetings wouldn't cut it with industry influencers. While trade shows would aid awareness and move these key prospects through the sales cycle later on, some type of personal, one-on-one experience would be necessary straight out of the gate. As such, Deem crafted the first-ever Perq Advisory Panel, held March 2, 2018, at the Monte Carlo Hotel in Las Vegas (now known as the Park MGM). "The purpose of this event was to introduce Perq to the multifamily industry and to make strong, authentic connections with its influencers," Deem says. "We had to condense a year's worth of trade show meetings and in-person office visits into 24 hours. But it was also about spending real time getting to know one another on a personal and professional level, having a shared experience, and building trust."
Roughly one month before the event, Perq's newly hired vice president of sales for the multifamily industry, along with various members of the sales team, reached out to 33 targeted influencers. Their goal was to get reps from eight different companies (25 percent of targeted prospects) to attend the event. The occasion was framed as a chance for attendees to learn about Perq, get in on the ground level of an industry-changing technology, and advise the company to help formulate the best possible product.
To lure these distrusting prospects to Vegas, however, Deem relied on several factors, the first of which was salespeople's kinship. "The people we invited either knew or knew of many members of our new sales team, and they recognized the names of many firms where our salespeople used to work," Deem says. "So they were no doubt intrigued about why salespeople left prior companies to work for Perq." As such, there was a curiosity factor and a kernel of trust right from the get-go.
Deem also assumed the Vegas locale would be another draw, as it offered myriad entertainment options and the chance for guests to meet with their peers in a fun, neutral environment. Plus, these professionals strive to stay atop industry trends, so Deem figured that if the salespeople's invites instilled even a little bit of familial trust, these key prospects would make the trip to Sin City simply to keep abreast of what was coming down the pipe.
Friends with Benefits
In the end, Deem's assumptions were spot on, as 10 prospects from eight companies (a figure in line with Perq's goal) agreed to attend. Perq covered their airfare and one- or two-night stays at the Monte Carlo, and the event kicked off at noon when guests met in a Perq-branded hotel suite.
Here, three wall-inset monitors offered continuous product content peppered with testimonials, and an informal theater was set up for presentations and group discussions. Upon guests' arrival, Perq staff, which comprised Deem, the new vice president, the company's CEO/co-founder, and three other members of the executive team, welcomed each participant and offered him or her a custom purple pocket square or scarf featuring icons representing various housing units.
Rather than jumping straight into business, the day commenced with a casual lunch, which allowed people to talk shop with their peers and get to know Perq staff. After the meal, guests moved to the theater area. Here, interspersed with scheduled breaks, executives offered an overview of various online engagement tools, Perq's use of AI, product demos, technical software information, past and projected results, and more.
"Throughout the day, people actively engaged with the experience," Deem says. "We asked them questions about how to best tailor the product to their specific needs, but they posed a ton of questions as well and queried each other about technology uses." By the end of the formal presentations, the 10 VIP guests had spent half a day not only consuming product info but also establishing real relationships with Perq representatives.
The experience continued well into the evening, but the soft-sell vibe faded away as relationship building moved to the forefront. Perq staff walked attendees to Mastro's Ocean Club for a private dinner, which was followed by a trip to Planet Hollywood to see Jennifer Lopez in concert. While some people turned in after the show, others hit the casinos with Perq reps. After a full day together, attendees' perceptions of Perq staff no doubt morphed from mere salespeople and executives to newfound friends – and perhaps even potential members of the clan.
Marketing to the Masses
According to both Deem and Perq executives, the Las Vegas event was a smashing success. However, merely getting friendly with key prospects doesn't move you closer to a $3 million goal unless three things happen: 1) You continue to nurture those relationships and ultimately convert some to sales, 2) these new evangelists sing your praises to the industry, and 3) you leverage the relationships and existing industry events to market to the masses.
So while salespeople continued to nurture these VIP prospects, Deem established a presence at two of the industry's largest face-to-face marketing events: the Apartment Internet Marketing Conference (AIM) and Apartmentalize, hosted by the National Apartment Association. Since most of the prospects from the Vegas experience attended both events, salespeople vigilantly scheduled meetings, set up dinners, developed demos specific to each prospect's website, and more to foster the burgeoning relationships.
By the time AIM opened its doors on May 6 in Huntington Beach, CA, Perq's top 10 prospects were already on the company's bandwagon. "They'd already spoken to other prospects within the industry because the latter came to our preset meetings having already heard about the product firsthand or in conference educational sessions led or attended by our influencers," Deem says.
At AIM, which offered only meeting and sponsorship options as opposed to a trade show floor, Deem focused on establishing overall awareness for the software and brand. She purchased the exclusive Wi-Fi sponsorship, which included branded promotional pieces throughout the venue, and developed a pre-show email campaign and corresponding landing page where people could schedule meetings with Perq reps. In addition, the company sponsored a happy-hour event at a nearby beach.
Thanks to salespeople's persistence and influencers' efforts, Perq had some serious momentum going when the doors at Apartmentalize swung wide on June 13 in San Diego. Featuring a trade show floor as well as traditional conference trappings, Apartmentalize allowed Deem to reach even more prospects. Here, she organized her efforts around a central theme: Supercharge Your Website with Artificial Intelligence. Themed elements included an email campaign with branded signatures and a landing page for attendees to schedule appointments with staff.
All pre-show correspondence also announced a traffic builder within Perq's 10-by-10 booth. "Since we were a new exhibitor, we had a less-than-ideal location in the back of the hall," Deem says. "To lure people to our space, we brought in a barista who used a specialized machine to transform cappuccino foam into a selfie of each caffeine-starved attendee."
The booth also featured a Perq-purple back wall and two monitors that displayed product demos and testimonials. Plus, Deem scored a speaking engagement for the new vice president in the Learning Zone theater located on the show floor. The opportunity provided additional awareness for the company and helped erase Perq's outside-the-family status.
Deem's three-part event strategy set the groundwork for Perq to meet its lofty goal of $3 million in sales within one year.
➤ Revenue directly attributed to Deem's endeavors totaled more than $400,000 at the end of the third quarter of 2018.
➤ Despite a total spend of only $57,413, Deem's program raked in an average return of $7 for each dollar spent.
➤ Perq's sales team closed 16 accounts representing $4 million in projected expansion revenue.
However, it was Perq's staff, rather than its promotional and speaking tactics, that seemed to garner the most attention from showgoers. Approaching prospects in much the same way executives did at the Perq Advisory Panel event, staffers offered product information and educated attendees about the technology, but they also spent time getting to know visitors and worked to establish relationships and trust first – and sales second. The team was so successful at soft selling that out of 550 exhibitors, Perq took home the show's one and only Best Booth Staff award.
To top it all off, Perq also sponsored a show-wide hospitality event at the USS Midway Museum. While a handful of other companies participated in the sponsorship, it was a valuable way for the newcomer to generate further awareness and name recognition at a trade show filled with larger and more established brands.
By the time Deem's three-event marketing push was complete, the sales staff had the momentum and industry awareness it needed to hit the ground running. Perq hoped to close sales with half of the eight companies represented at the Perq Advisory Panel event. When this article went to press, Perq had already buttoned up deals with three of them and established progressive sales-focused dialogues with another four. In addition, the company hoped to present customized demos – comprising real examples of Perq's product integrated into each unique website – to the eight target companies, all of which viewed and considered these demos within a few weeks of the Las Vegas event.
As a result of Deem's efforts, salespeople closed 16 key accounts representing $4 million in projected expansion revenue (i.e., the amount of money Perq expects to earn from these accounts if they expand their purchases at a pace and manner similar to its other clients). In fact, all key sales accounts the company has closed have been influenced by one or more of Deem's trio of marketing events.
What's more, Deem delivered a notable return on investment that All-Star Awards judges touted as "remarkable." Across all three events, Deem spent a scant $57,413. However, at the close of the third quarter of 2018, revenue directly attributed to these endeavors totaled $401,666, which amounts to an average return of $7 for every dollar spent. At AIM, which cost only $15,000 and brought in $190,742 of revenue, she racked up an ROI of $12.72. "Given the amount of revenue and in-process sales in the pipeline, not to mention the massive expansion opportunities, we're in a position to meet or exceed our $3 million goal by the end of the year," Deem says.
While judges lauded Deem's ROI results, they also praised her out-of-the-gate marketing drive. "Rather than wait for industry events that would help stoke sales, she created her own experiences and targeted the key players necessary to ensure success. In effect, she didn't wait for the leads to come to her. She identified them, worked her way into the fold, and turned them into Perq evangelists." E