Last November, Debbie Schwake was named CMO for BLM Technologies (BLMTech), a Plymouth-based provider of turnkey technology services for financial services, health care organizations, and other sectors. Having served a little over three years as the company’s vice president of marketing, “I had this expectation that it would business as usual,” Schwake says. “Then suddenly, you have a global pandemic.”
BLMTech, she adds, was “financially strong going into this.” That gave Schwake and her company a solid foundation for reinventing the types of services BLMTech provides. TCB talked with her about how she and her company went through that reinvention.
TCB | Before Covid-19, what had changed at BLMTech during your marketing career there?
Schwake | We’ve gone from a product organization where the primary offering was selling hardware products to financial institutions toward a service organization where we’ve added IT support, repair services, and IT-related services. The primary offering is all about services to customers supported with hardware sales.
In the days of marketing products, you talked about features. But now when you’re trying to appeal to an organization with a service, and you’re trying to appeal to today’s buyer, you have to begin with the challenge that they’re faced with. And it’s about them, and not your product.
Q | How did your company’s work change when the pandemic hit?
A| Our primary pre-Covid line of business was sending technicians into organizations to help them do IT work. When Covid hit, you can imagine what happened. We had to take a step back and help navigate with our customers, because no one knew what their new priorities were, and how long this was going to last.
So we started brainstorming with our customers about different ways we could be supportive and be helpful to them. In some cases, we sent people to our customers to help them move desks apart, to help them move equipment farther apart. In one case, we went in and helped them hand out monitors in a drive-through type of set-up so that their team members could work from home.
As it was for everyone, it was a fast and furious situation. Financial institutions in particular weren’t so prepared to have people working from home. It’s easy to control the security within the walls of your organization. But now you’re sending your employees on home networks. How do you manage that security task? Our role immediately became more consultative.
Q | How did your work change with Covid-19, and how did the company respond?
A | We have been an essential business throughout this process. We had to take a step back and categorize what services and products are even more important to our customers, and how we could get in front of our customers now and say, ‘We know you’re an essential business. You need to social-distance within your organization. How can we help you move those desks around? How can we help your organization set up all the laptops for people working away from the office? And image those computers you have in the office so that you’re ready to get those computers sent home with your people?’
And we put up an immediate change on our website: ‘These are services you may need some help with.’
Q| Are your technicians able to work remotely?
A | Most of our team went remote at the beginning of March. Our repair technicians remain in the office and are set up with new distancing measures. When our technicians go on a customer’s site, we make sure they’re following safety guidelines–for their safety and for our customer’s safety.
We have another area of our repair business called Depot Repair. These are BLMTech facilities where customers can send us their devices for repair—then we send them back. We can repair devices weighing up to 50 pounds. This program provides contactless repair to our customers.
Q| What other Covid-related support has BLMTech been providing its customers?
A | We took the approach of considering two categories: customers with newly remote employees, and those who were still in the office. For the newly remote, most customers needed help getting these employees ready quickly. And we made sure we could ship technology devices direct to their employees’ homes.
For critical business customers with team members still in the office, we helped create physical distance by moving desks and workstations. And in some cases, we offered temporary team member support to cover extra projects that came about with the sudden change in business.
We began offering some new areas of business that emerged as a result of the pandemic. For example, we discovered that one of our banking customers had trouble distributing PPE supplies to their branches. We could offer help because we are a fulfillment provider. We do a great deal of technology device and equipment fulfillment for customers, such as check scanners, receipt printers, and office equipment. In other words, we can warehouse and store equipment for our customers, then we can ship on demand to their customers or end users. So we stepped in and said, ‘We’ve never actually fulfilled masks and hand sanitizer, but we know how to box things up, we can warehouse, and we can pick, pack, and ship.’
We also started offering thermal devices that take your temperature when you come through the door, and other safety equipment like workstation shields and UV cleaning devices.
Q | Any other thoughts on marketing during these strange and complicated times?
A | If I’ve learned anything about messaging in this crisis, it’s that now is not the time to be generic in your message—like, ‘is there anything I can help you with?’ Instead, we say, ‘Can I help you with X, Y, or Z?’ We are all struggling not knowing what to do. But when you give people a choice, it makes decisions much easier for them.
So many of us [marketing professionals] have templates, formats and campaigns that are already in a box. All of that went out the door when the entire environment changed. We’re now inventing it as we go.