by Allison Banko
Wheels were up and Texas glimmered on the horizon. A team from Blue Pillar, a critical power technology company, was headed for what was expected to be a promising business meeting with a sizable health care system. The appointment was orchestrated by a third-party lead gen company.
But when the Blue Pillar group arrived, they discovered everything was, in fact, bigger in Texas — including the disappointment. The meeting was actually scheduled with an assistant who had no decision-making power. Blue Pillar had flown in its president from Indiana for a scheduled sit-down that turned out to be a wasted meeting.
What went wrong? The issue was rooted in something all too familiar for Blue Pillar: failure to reach the right people within its target companies.
"We were clearly missing our mark," admitted Bob Birge, Director of Marketing and Public Affairs, Blue Pillar. "There was something flawed with what we were doing."
Blue Pillar works with hospitals and health systems all across the country as its digital energy network manages thousands of energy assets. Birge explained that identifying which employee fit the following criteria was the biggest challenge:
- Who is our best potential buyer?
- Who is going to understand what we do?
- Who is going to understand our technology?
- Who has the need that we want to fill?
This position varies from company to company, however, those that use the technology are generally engineers and facility managers. Birge said when Blue Pillar tried to go in through these offices, the team was shut out because of a lack of budget and decision-making abilities.
Blue Pillar needed a way to get in through the front door — to the decision makers, the budget controllers. In other words, the team sought out the C-suite to point Blue Pillar in the right direction within their health organization. But CEOs and executives are extremely busy with overflowing email inboxes, rendering Blue Pillar’s email campaigns unresponsive.
Birge said Blue Pillar sent emails to CEOs, requesting the opportunity to tell the company's story. The campaign resulted in zero responses.
"While email campaigns work very well for certain industries, in this area, we were just striking out," he explained.
Blue Pillar's challenge was finding a way to grab the attention of the higher-ups. It needed a chance to step up to the plate.
The modern business person is pummeled with plenty of email, but Birge was inspired by letters delivered hand to hand.
He described findings from a recent study, illustrating the average businessperson receives an excess of 100 emails per day. However, the study showed that same businessperson, receives a personal letter once every seven weeks.
To grab the attention it desired, Blue Pillar centered its campaign on physical mail sent to the C-suite of hospitals and health care systems.
"They don't get a lot of mail these days," Birge said. "Did you get any personal letters this week? Did you get any last week? Step back and think about that — and that's at home. Then, take it to your work. How often do you get a personal letter?"
Blue Pillar knew this direct mail campaign needed a special hook. The team developed the "At-Bat" campaign featuring a mini Louisville Slugger baseball bat etched with the Blue Pillar name in hopes of scoring brand awareness at the C-suite level.
"We were really just looking for an at-bat," Birge explained. "We have found that when we get a chance to go to the plate, we always seem to get a hit because what we have is what people seem to need."
The baseball theme was especially timely because efforts kicked off in the summer months — the heart of baseball season. The team began with mailing the bats along with a personalized letter invoking the baseball theme to tell Blue Pillar's story.
Next, they followed up with phone calls to confirm that the package was received, establishing a connection and collecting email addresses. The final step of the campaign was scheduling those executive briefings and introductory calls through email correspondence. The campaign targeted 58 individuals from 22 health systems.
"They don't know who we are, so by targeting who we wanted to reach, it was a way to successfully get in front of the right person," Birge said.
Step #1. Build the list based on a top-down mentality
From previous efforts, the Blue Pillar team was used to hearing, "I don't have any budget" and, "I can't make those decisions," so creating a list of individuals who do have a budget and can make those decisions propelled the first pitch.
Through what Birge called a "top-down mentality," Blue Pillar developed a list of 58 people in the C-suite of 22 health systems. First, Birge compiled names of the largest health care systems in the country based on:
- Geographic location
- Previous interaction (if any) with Blue Pillar
After collecting this information, the next step was to look at these organizations' websites, directories and leadership to collect names and contact information. This information was all organized into a spreadsheet by names, phone numbers, titles, email addresses and mailing addresses.
Blue Pillar sought out three to five individuals per organization because of differing internal company structures and in hopes of maximizing exposure.
Because the list was manageable at less than 60 names, this was a process Birge completed manually.
"I'm not afraid to dig in and to do some of that research myself," he said. "I think a lot of times, when you do that, you get more current and reliable data."
Step #2. Send personal direct mail to targets
The lineup was set and the delivery of the physical mail was on deck. Packages
sent to the list included the following:
- A mini Louisville Slugger baseball bat
- A personalized letter
- A Blue Pillar brochure
The miniature bat
was chosen as the "hook," stemming from Birge's keen eye for behavioral patterns.
Prior to this effort, Birge had a mini wooden bat on his desk from a past event. When people would walk into his office, Birge noticed they would grab the bat, and fiddle with it or tap it against their palms. When printed with the Blue Pillar name, these bats could score awareness the company sought.
Baseball carried over perfectly into the personalized letter, which was one page and outlined the "strikes" or problems the health system may be facing. The sports analogies were sprinkled throughout the piece as Blue Pillar used the letter to discuss what it had to offer. Through research, the team personalized each letter with company-centric anecdotes so targets would know it wasn't a mass mail piece.
"There are two or three spots within each letter that speak specifically to them," Birge said.
Step #3. Follow-up with calls to confirm direct mail delivery and collect email addresses
Within two weeks of sending the direct mail, Blue Pillar conducted follow-up calls with its targets. The team reached out to the CEO or president, knowing good and well they wouldn't get to speak to that person. However, the person answering the phone would be the same person who receives the mail. Typically, it's the executive assistant.
"When I first get hold of them, it's often with a little bit of resistance because these are people who work for the top people in the organization," Birge explained. "So they're getting beat up all the time with sales calls and, I'm sure, flooded with email."
However, opening the phone conversation with a question about the delivery of the mini bat served as an excellent icebreaker for Blue Pillar. Birge said these folks always remember the package and the bat.
Think about it, he challenged, how many black mini Louisville Slugger baseball bats have they received in the mail over the last three weeks?
"Immediately, the light goes on," Birge said. "Rather than getting, 'Thanks but no thanks,' and getting off the phone right away, now we've connected."
Often, Birge said, these people will share stories about playful disputes surrounding who got to keep the bat. The conversation then develops into identifying who the best person is in the organization to speak with Blue Pillar — whoever is in charge of the operations and the critical care facilities at a high level. Blue Pillar then collects this information to schedule executive briefings.
These briefings are 15-to-20-minute calls in which Blue Pillar discusses its digital energy network and insight from a thought leadership standpoint.
"We want to bring value right out of the box," Birge explained. "We have things that we know, that we have seen in the field, things that they will find interesting when it comes to compliance, energy consumption, things like that they're all interested in."
With sponsorship and introduction through the C-suite, Blue Pillar has credibility when contacting the targets.
"Instead of being an ask, it's more of an, 'I'm calling to schedule the appointment.' We've talked to the chairman's office and that's how I got your name and we're to schedule a briefing with our president and yourself,'" Birge said. "That's a lot tougher to say no to than if I'm calling the same person out of the blue."
That physical mail piece with the bat as the hook served as a way for Blue Pillar to connect with its target companies in the beginning, eventually gaining introductions to the right people — a flaw in Blue Pillar's previous approach.
Step #4. Utilize email to confirm next steps and schedule briefing calls
Whereas email once served as the starter for its campaigns, Blue Pillar found it more valuable as a closer.
After sending physical mail and making phone calls, the team used email to round out its game by confirming the scheduling of executive briefings and passing along PDFs of the brochure, letter and other collateral pieces.
By the time Blue Pillar hits the inbox on the computer screen, it has already developed a personal relationship with the recipient as opposed to utilizing email as the initial contact point.
"If I were to ask the question, 'Hey, I sent you an email two weeks ago. Did you get it?' I think we know what that answer would be," Birge said.
Blue Pillar's At-Bat campaign knocked in briefings with 15 of the 22 target health systems through its multichannel play of personalization through direct mail, phone calls and emails.
Heading straight to the top of the target organization to gain credibility and garner valuable relationships was one of the keys to success, according to Birge.
"I think people are sometimes afraid to go after those folks," he said. "But, they're just like you and me in the sense that they're not getting the same kind of personal mail that they did five or 10 years ago — that's where things have changed."
Collectively, the physical mail package cost $10 a unit. Going after a bit more than 50 targets, the campaign totaled around $500, something Birge said was well worth it because they were reaching those people they needed to by way of gaining access to a higher office.
The attention grabber, the connection piece of the bat, proved to be Blue Pillar's MVP. The company has put this game plan into play for other campaigns, as well.
While the At-Bat campaign was centered on baseball during the fall, it ran a campaign on teamwork with a miniature football as its hook in alignment with football season. These campaigns have lifted Blue Pillar to a success rate above 50%.
"When it's something refreshing, they'll remember it," Birge said. "It's really, for us, wanting to get on the radar and help them with a serious problem that many of them have. It's a way of getting attention." See Bob Birge's keynote presentation, "P-Mail Marketing: How a tech company increased briefing calls 50% by combining direct mail and email," at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014, held Feb. 17 through 20 at the Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas.
- Direct mail package
- Mini Louisville Slugger baseball bat
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