Workplace360: Nigel, congratulations on ICM’s 20th anniversary late last year. Quite a milestone. How did it all begin?
Nigel Busby: Thank you! It all started in 2002 when Integra Business Solutions asked me to look at 100 members to see how many had a (decent) website. The results revealed over 90% either didn’t have a website or if they did, it was best described as poor. Back then, the big debate around digital marketing was whether to invest in a website and how to climb Google rankings. It was an evident opportunity and a need, so we commissioned our first channel-specific software and went live in November 2003.
Technology was limited to basic web shops, brochure-style websites, and Google searches. There was virtually no e-commerce – it was more like: “Here’s what we do, and hopefully someone finds us.” For some, things haven’t changed!
We’ve always wanted to be channel-specific, so developed a content management system equipped with product files, descriptions and image libraries so dealers could be far more in charge of their own marketing. That said, imagine handing some dealers a blank canvas; some outcomes weren’t exactly elegant, but we were up and running. If we look at what a good number of dealers do now, they’re fabulous. From there, it was non-stop – travelling thousands of miles yearly, discussing marketing (or rugby) with people who have come to be lifelong friends.
W360: Did you offer the technology as a one-off sale to the dealers, or was it more of a fee-based service?
NB: In the early days, it was a combination of a lump sum upfront and a recurring monthly fee revenue model, but as we shifted away from websites to email marketing, it moved more towards a pure subscription model. Our focus has always been on recurring revenues, although as we do more bespoke work, we can feel the model flexing. The offer has always been geared towards providing what dealers will use and not over-engineering the platform, so the subscription cost is minimal compared to what could be spent on marketing software.
We’ve always aspired to help dealers, wholesalers, groups and, more latterly, vendors identify the difference between cost and value. People often don’t perceive the value unless it’s explicitly communicated, and this was a real focus in 2023 and will continue to be so. Measurable communication to a dealer’s customer is a significant journey – to shift mindsets from seeing the cost of outbound marketing or seeing it as an investment that genuinely delivers real value.
W360: You must have witnessed substantial changes in the marketing landscape over the past two decades.
NB: Initially, hardly any reseller had a website. Those who did barely invested in Google or understood the power of its underlying analytics. E-commerce struggled because it faced a trust barrier, but the landscape expanded with the shift from dial-up to broadband. Brochure-based websites were supplanted by dealers with webstores, integrated with back office systems.
The ability to attract big investment brought players like Amazon, Intuit, Salesforce, MailChimp and HubSpot into the market. Webstores are essential, but they need to be found, so email and social media are now key to driving engagement.
Social media sucked in investment and needed to morph into commercial propositions, so data and ads all came to the fore. Google notably was always based on its ability to swallow and analyse data, hence its power as a search platform and now AI. Changes to cookie usage and tracking will be interesting for 2024, on top of legislative changes with GDPR and Brexit. What was once simple has become so much more complicated.
For ICM, the future lies in integration with back office systems, CRMs and webstores manifesting itself with automation and personalisation, but fundamentally all geared towards increasing relevance.
Identifying and solving problems for everyone in the business supplies ecosystem brings relevance that generic solution suppliers can’t match or attain. Relevant content to relevant people at relevant times has become the ICM mantra, and increased collaboration is essential to achieving it in any meaningful way.
Changes in tech over 20 years are one thing, but evolving mindsets, goals, aspirations and culture are equally important. As dealers expand their offerings, training is and will continue to be imperative. Aspects of our platform lends itself to storing, sharing and measurably disseminating training materials, as it currently does marketing materials.
In terms of communications, we’ve come a long way but there’s a long way to go. One aspect is more clarity around who you’re speaking to, what you want to say and what medium to use to communicate it to them. It’s improved to no end but equally become increasingly complex and resource-hungry.
We’ve all seemingly adopted the term ‘campaign’ for a single email and it’s fundamentally wrong. A campaign implies a consistent series of communications over a period and is increasingly important as we introduce new categories and higher-value, more complex sales. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
W360: How has ICM managed to keep pace with such rapid development?
NB: I’m not sure we have. For years, we simply did what we were told by our paymasters. This changed during the pandemic and we morphed away from being a tech company to more of a marketing agency. It drove our costs and impacted our offering, so the learning curve has been steep and challenging.
In the early days, collateral came from wholesalers and dealer groups, but now, more content is sourced directly from vendors or produced in-house through our studio. There’s never been a greater need for resellers to communicate as the sands shift under their feet. Some dealers craft their own marketing, others don’t. We can cater for all demands on that continuum.
There’s an ever-increasing requirement for lead generation, customer acquisition, sales growth, loyalty enhancement, churn reduction and re-engagement. It’s a perpetual cycle, using customer, sales and product data of various forms to continually shape strategies and campaigns.
Our software supports three primary components. A Self-Serve library to store, share and send collateral, a ‘Create Your Own’ area, giving dealers a simple-to-use drag-and-drop editor to craft their own campaigns, using channel-specific, regularly updated Asset Libraries and FusionPlus catalogues, and a Managed Service for dealers that want some or all of it done for them.
We have clear objectives and all come around to doing the same thing – we want to help the channel market itself better. I go back to the goals of continual improvements to integration, automation and personalisation, so in terms of the software development and the content, we’ll keep pushing our strategy of 90-day measurable goals in this direction.
It feels like a proper mission, but it’s incredibly enjoyable in a strange sort of way.
W360: What lies ahead for ICM?
NB: To deliver and expand on everything I just mentioned. There’s so much we can do that it can be daunting, but we’ve got a great team, an increasing number of supporters and a broad understanding of what we’re all about.
There’s still too much blanket mailing, which leads to a fundamental need to help dealers with their data. It’s a huge source of growth but too often overlooked and in truth behind the curve, so we must drive change there.
W360: What is the granular level of that data?
NB: Good analytics tell a story. ICM’s analytics span from the delivery and the open rate, through to clicks leading to visits to the dealer’s website. Webstore links can now be directed to a product, a product with variants or a category. We can go to a landing page with a feedback form, a survey, a video or a download.
We can see trends over time and can categorise and personalise who the emails are from and who it’s going to. We can run triggered and sequenced emails, loyalty schemes, credit control and back-order info. Engagements are good leads, so we can pass these over to sales to drive productivity. We can send emails to individuals, small groups or full-on lists of thousands.
Outbound communications largely drive traffic to a website. It really is that simple. When we talk about better data, content and more functionality, it’s all about pushing traffic and letting the website handle it.
Video and TikTok are on the radar because we know the figures are good. Consider this: an email with a simple image connecting to a YouTube landing page can trigger remarkable engagement rates. But how many vendors create videos that remain untouched, collecting digital dust? Not all products need videos, although, for those requiring an explanation or demonstration, they’re invaluable as we all need a little guidance on understanding what we offer and how it is delivered.
Thinking in terms of the sales funnel and starting from the top with prospects we don’t know, this is where social media enters the picture. Combining social media with video content – one of our upcoming developments – is instrumental in drawing in potential customers. It’s about offering something in exchange for their information, like an enticing promotion or a valuable resource. Once we have their details, the aim is to market to them specifically and tailor the approach based on their preferences and behaviours.
However, vendors often fall short in the initial stages of the sales funnel and overlook or miss providing content that assists dealers in nurturing prospects. They tend to focus solely on marketing only once they have the contact details and miss crucial stages of engagement and any leads to conversion.
W360: Any final thoughts?
NB: Dealers need to prioritise marketing because the Amazons of this world most definitely are. If it feels like a struggle, we’re here to help. Diversification is key to our industry’s success and ICM will continue to diversify along with it.