Q&A: BlueAlly Marketing VP On Switching To ConnectWise, Leveraging HPE Resources And Maintaining 'Personal Touch' In The Digital Era

The 'Human Element' Is Key

For a team of four employees, the BlueAlly marketing department certainly manages to pack a punch.

The Vienna, Va.-based managed service provider, No. 159 on the CRN Solution Provider 500, has quickly climbed the recognition ladder thanks to the strength of its consulting, converged infrastructure and managed staffing solutions. The company again cracked CRN's Fast Growth 150 list this year (No. 52) and earned Elite 150 MSP honors, as well.

BlueAlly's robust marketing strategy has played an integral role in that success, incorporating an array of tactics that blends automation software, digital tools, and content campaigns enabled by third-party collaborators with traditional methods. Amid the wave of digitization that has swept the space, however, Vice President of Marketing Patty Apple also emphasized that the "human element" will always remain a key part of her philosophical approach.

In the Q&A that follows, Apple discusses how BlueAlly is using digital marketing to drive net-new business and feed bottom-line growth.

BlueAlly has achieved some impressive growth in recent years. How has marketing contributed to that upward trajectory?

We're the inner workings of all that. Our salespeople are very dedicated and know their customers extremely well. They have to take care of their customers. We try to go out and find net-new business. Anything that we can come up with through[(marketing intelligence solution] Rain King. Information we find across different headlines, which we can share with them or create a campaign around it. Or try to get face-to-face appointments in and introduce BlueAlly to a net-new company.

Has BlueAlly begun emphasizing digital marketing more as you've grown?

We have. We see it all the time. We have a LinkedIn page. We have a Facebook page. We do search engine marketing, social media marketing. We're involved with many of our distributors that have social media platforms that we leverage. It is a big part of what we do. They take an idea and put it down as a storyboard, create the artwork and give it a flow that's incredible. Those go in all of the social and digital marketing platforms that we use.

How has your marketing approach evolved as the company has grown? Do you anticipate any expansion of your team?

We started as a two-person marketing team. All we did was hold an event or do a campaign in a box that was offered through one of our partners. We branched out to creating our own campaigns and collateral. Then building events that are two and three parts, or two and three days long – networking events that create an atmosphere of conversation and business at the same time. I do not anticipate the marketing team getting any bigger. I've hired top-of-the-field people. They're new and they're young and they're bringing all kinds of fresh ideas to the table. And we're using those.

Which digital tools or software platforms have you found to be most useful?

We use Act-On for our software and communications. To send out mass emails and create HTML in the amounts that we do, we have to have that Act-On tool. We're also moving from a CRM platform to a ConnectWise platform. We need to be able to track what went out the door, who it went to, when they got it, which rep was involved, what's coming back, when did the opportunity set, did it close – we need to track every piece of that. That's why we have ConnectWise. Even at events: Who showed up? How did we follow up? What did we do later? Don't let them fall into a dormant category. We make sure we're front and center and constantly communicating with net-new customers.

Which metrics or KPIs do you most frequently rely on?

When we do a campaign, if we're doing a lot of phone call appointments, we track which appointments are converting to face-to-face appointments. Then there's call-backs and a possibility of what the solution might be. The plan starts to take effect, and then the opportunity shows up. If we've gotten four or five opportunities for face-to-face that lead to an opportunity, we've done very well. But we have to track every bit of that.

How would you go about tracking those opportunities at an event or a trade show?

You spend time watching who talked to who and whether they're going to book an appointment. Then we have to find out from the reps, did you get the appointment? When is it? We're like a dog with a bone. We've got to be able to show return on investment to our partners. I've got to be able to show that not only did 17 people show up for this very intimate networking social and dinner, but the conversations that occurred, what these customers were looking for and the three opportunities that are coming from that event. We have to be very specific.

Which vendors have best empowered you from a digital standpoint, and why have they been effective?

HPE has been big in this type of marketing and has really helped lead the way. You've got Aruba. You've got storage. The different partner units, each have funding within them. We have a partner business manager who helps us determine what are those numbers going to be. We plan what's going to happen with that funding six months to a year in advance. The last two years we have really concentrated on search engine marketing, social media marketing and a couple different digital platforms. We had to experiment, because we didn't know how it would work. How does the changing landscape of storage look with all these possibilities out there? How do we stand out from the rest of these [solution providers]? We show new partners and customers how that's done. There's always a new topic or pain point we need to address. We leverage that funding to do that.

As leader of a smaller team, have you relied on any third-party agencies or partners to help carry the marketing workload?

We have to be very cognizant of where our funding is going, what we're spending, how are we getting everything for our dollar. That's why we use every partners' portal. We use the marketing development funds, so everything can be done in a way that we're actually driving business. One of the resources we do leverage is The Channel Company [parent company of CRN]. If we have a pain point, they are a great resource for us.

How have you leveraged their marketing services?

We've been able to leverage them for campaigns and to drive different events. They've done videos, 30-second or 1-minute videos, that we've been able to put these on our website, LinkedIn, social media accounts. Currently we're working on a SimpliVity campaign. That's going to be a couple new videos. We're working on a case study video with one of our largest customers that bought a solution. They have a lot of tools that we do not have and cannot afford.

Outside digital marketing, what are some effective ways BlueAlly has been able to attract net-new customers?

We still believe in a handwritten thank-you note. A rep goes on an appointment and we are still that marketing department that sends a Starbucks card and something with BlueAlly on it to says, 'Thank you for the appointment. Hope you can have a cup of coffee with us over the next appointment.' I asked one of the largest customers at an event, 'When is our rep coming to see you?' He said he's coming next week. I said we need to put a little something in the mail to him. He's taking the appointment, he's talking about it. This is a real opportunity.

I like that personal touch. I like that human element. I do not want to lose that. I don't think any of us want to lose that.