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Ten Minutes with Kim Messerschmitt - Marketing Maverick

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Launching a new brand? EquaTerra’s Marketing Director for North America shares her experience with building internal and external communications to deliver targeted messaging and support the launch of a new company.

You have more than 20+ years experience in marketing for in the IT, business process outsourcing and professional services markets. Tell me about your career path and any key milestones or achievements.

I graduated in 1985 from Oklahoma State University with a major in Management Science and Computer Systems. I was hired by EDS and worked as a programmer for about a year, but didn’t enjoy it. I quit on a Friday and then got rehired on a Monday to do recruitment communications in the same company. 

I did recruitment marketing for two years and then spent the next decade doing employee communications. In the late nineties, I made the leap within EDS marketing to start up a new group doing Y2K services. They had to bring people together, train them and build new sales, marketing, operations, and HR teams. They did everything right from the ground floor up and our sales went from $35 million in year one to about $150 million in year two. It was a fad market, but 500 percent growth in one year was a great learning experience and a fun thing to be part of.

I left to go to Sprint where they were trying to start an ASP (application service provider) organization, but that did not take off. I was rehired again by EDS with a promotion to manage a business process outsourcing marketing team and that one took off.

EDS was pursuing a large outsourcing deal with Towers Perrin. As part of this deal they decided that Towers Perrin would sell EDS its benefits administration business and we would form a joint venture company, ExcellerateHRO. I became the marketing lead to define the brand and future marketing organization for this joint venture company, with the support of a talented cross functional team. It was an exciting time and a lot of hard work and little sleep.

Since it's a joint venture, I had to bring together key decision makers from both parent companies, EDS and Towers Perrin, and the leadership team for the new company and get them to agree on what we were going to call it, how we are were going to position it, the budget to launch the company and the budget to run the marketing going forward. We also needed to think about how much staff we would need, what kind of support we’d provide, what the Web site would look and feel like, etc.- everything you need to get a company going from the ground up.

I joined EquaTerra two years ago and run marketing for their North America operations. We have brand name Fortune 1000 clients like American Airlines, the FBI, and BP.I have a small team of people and we do everything from Web sites and lead generation campaigns to writing white papers to speaking events - the entire marketing mix and PR, too.

You established ExcellerateHRO’s marketing operation in an “accelerated” time frame. What were the critical elements for success and what did you learn from that experience?

For one thing, you can't do it by yourself. You have to have a good team of talented people and they aren't necessarily people that are dedicated to your project. I look for the best and brightest I can get to help me and have those people come forward with their ideas for making things work.

I knew what I had to achieve, when I had to achieve it by, and gave people the responsibility for making their parts happen. You can get help from unexpected places at times, but you have to be willing to ask for the help. I had been at EDS a long time and part of marketing and internal communications so I knew a lot of the ins and outs but the other part of the equation was that I formed a good relationship with the head of marketing for Towers Perrin and with her help we formed a great working relationship to get the company launched.

Once we launched the company we put our efforts around rallying the troops to get everyone on board with who we are, how we were different and how they could live the brand. I did a lot of communicating to go over the brand and tell everybody the story so that they could then own it for themselves. The other thing we had was an executive leader who was very good at communicating and he put himself out there with both the media externally and with the employee base. That's key when you're launching a new brand - having a visionary leader who can articulate the vision and get people to follow him.

How does an organization’s approach to marketing need to change to succeed in these challenging times?

Reading the news, there's a lot of layoffs, restructuring, and major brand names closing their doors. A lot of companies are in survival mode and a lot of decision-making is paralyzed. If they've laid-off a significant number of people they're probably reorganizing internally and if you've been selling into a certain place, that person may not be there anymore or they may have a different job. These are very interesting times.

What does it mean for me and my peers as marketers? What we're focused on is making sure our messages and offerings are relevant. We're making sure we know exactly what the client's pain points are and then targeting the message and offer to that. Also we're trying to be very quick to react to changes in the market. If some news is announced or some big major shift happens in the market, we try to be there in front of it with our thought leadership on how companies should react to that in terms of their back office services.

Another thing in my world is that the existing client base tends to account for the majority of the revenue. So, you really do need to be in touch with your clients. We're working closely with our sales and account management teams to help them in their one-to-one efforts with these clients. We try to have really good data so we can help with our relevancy and so we have more clues as to what that person or client is most interested in. When a sales person picks up the phone, they have a reason to talk to them.

It's a lot more effective to be laser-focused with your efforts so that you're winning more often and improving that win rate. Right now lead generation is critical. We know what our sales targets need to be and we monitor our win rate in our sales pipeline so that we know how many leads we have to get in to win enough business to meet our targets. In the outsourcing market right now the deal sizes are shrinking. What that means for the outsourcers themselves is we have to go out and sell more business because it's a larger quantity, smaller deal. The bottom line is we have to prioritize in these tough times. You have to know what those things are that are going to touch the direct revenue and let the nice to haves fall by the wayside.

What strategies would you recommend to take a marketing operation to the next level, achieve optimum efficiency and improve bottom line results?

Don’t take the status quo for granted. We are always challenging ourselves with how can we do things better and not taking things for granted because they seem to be performing well.

We always are looking at new technologies and how that can help us be smarter and faster. We're always realigning what we're doing to the business strategy and the direction the business is taking. Then we make the plan, implement the plan, measure the plan, and act on any adjustments that need to be made. It's that 1980s quality control stuff but it really does work and if you live by it you can take your business to the next level.

Every year Lake Superior State University releases a list of words to be banished for misuse or overuse. What words or phrases do you think are overused in business communication?

Words do go in and out of vogue, especially business jargon. The word we are not using this year is transformation. No one knows what it means, and it sounds expensive. If you're a consulting firm, I recommend against using that word.