Krista Kotrla, Vice President, Marketing for Block Imaging International
The “B2B Social Spotlight” interview series profiles B2B marketers who are putting social to work to elevate commoditized products and services.
Where do used MRI machines, PET/CT scanners and Digital X-Ray gear go as newer models come on the market? Like any other piece of used equipment, some are refurbished and sold to new owners, typically located in smaller domestic operations and developing markets all over the globe.
One of the biggest providers of pre-owned and refurbished medical imaging equipment worldwide is Block Imaging International a 75-person firm operating in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Krista Kotrla, vice president of marketing for the company, worked her way from an administrative assistant to her current post over the last decade. She sees the company more than just a sales conduit for a secondary market. The medical imaging machines get a second chance to give people a second chance.
While Block Imaging’s headquarters is located in Lansing, Michigan, Krista works out of her home in Lewisville, Texas, with her husband and two kids. She’s expecting her third child later this year.
When it comes to marketing Block Imaging, what did you intentionally set out to do differently and how did social media/marketing fit in?
Last summer we were in the midst of what was turning out to be a not great sales year and morale was low. I knew there were things that we could do to change our direction, but it meant involving everybody and getting people excited that we were going to aggressively pursue growth the through content marketing.
The more that I learned from seeing how businesses were starting to utilize social media for business purposes, I was just fascinated to think that those could be powerful mediums to reach more people. Knowing the expertise that our team possessed, Block Imaging could be very effective at it if we just had a better way of making it easy for our employees to participate. Not just to give them the tools, but show them how to reach out to people and help them empower and educate buyers.
What did you do?
We decided that if the company went all in together as a team instead of just a few people being responsible, we could get out ahead of the pack by leaps and bounds very quickly.
Last summer we were planning a two-day company retreat and I pitched our management team about devoting the entire time to launching this new culture of content marketing. We brought in Marcus Sheridan to lead the entire first day, where he not only explained content marketing but most importantly, helped our team catch the vision and enthusiastically buy-in to team participation. Day 2 was hands-on workshops and activities that helped everyone dive in and get their hands dirty practicing what we just learned from Marcus. We brainstormed blog titles, began developing personal brands by learning how to inject some personality into our content, as well as getting comfortable with video. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
How does Block Imaging target its social outreach?
At first, we let people blog about anything that would answer the broad range of common customer questions and supplying how-to tips on service, maintenance and trouble-shooting. The strategy now is advancing our use of HubSpot to know where the best strategic opportunities to blog about are next, based on the high volume of search traffic for a particular phrase. Knowing how difficult it is, competition wise, to rank consistently high on the first page (of Google), we build layers of information around those key word phrases and extend it to our content.
Social is about producing business outcomes, but it begins with developing relationships. What is Block doing to build dialogue?
It’s been eight months now building relationships though our content. Even as early as last November, we were at our biggest tradeshow of the year and people already perceived us to be a much larger company than we really actually are and that was within one month of starting to blog every workday. We have a lot more leads coming in now and the quality of leads is remarkably different.
Through our content, we’ve found our web visitors have been educating themselves for weeks or months, already trust us as the source that they want to buy from, and know that we’re not going to be the cheapest option but that’s okay because we have already provided them value on the front end and they are confident in our expertise and capabilities.
Give me an example of how you’re connecting with prospects.
You know, we have to understand what problems they are facing or what questions they are asking to even be able to serve them better and provide them better products and services. It’s a big cultural shift in so many ways.
There is a random, obscure component of a C-Arm (a c-shaped mobile x-ray system used in orthopedic and surgery centers) that we taught people how to troubleshoot and identify if this part was the cause of their system boot-up problems. The manufacturer was telling one facility to just junk their entire system and upgrade to a newer $150,000.00 system. Prospects found our blog article where we showed them how to troubleshoot it. They talked to one of our engineers to confirm it and ordered what was only a $1,500.00 part to fix their system that is now back up and running versus writing the manufacturer a huge and unnecessary check.
Within three weeks, that one blog about that very obscure part and troubleshooting delivered leads of people who were ready to buy that part right away. Before then, we had no idea how many we had sold previously.
What online tools do you rely on everyday?
We work through Twitter and have mainly focused on Linked-In. It is the one other place where we find lots of people from our industry talking and participating in groups. One tactic that is particularly helpful was showing our team how to identify the key word phrases that they would want to be known for and how to build that out in their profiles so that they would start showing up in searches if people were looking in Linked-In for help.
How have your social media activities influenced the firm and its bottom line?
Let’s start with traffic. Since we started team blogging last September, organic search traffic went from averaging less than 4,000 visits a month to now over 10,000 visits. And it’s still growing. The team has helped author over 100 blog posts and have had 40+ team members participate in authoring blogs. We are still building momentum as we figure out how to turn this into a well-oiled blogging machine.
Culturally, we make sure to have a lot of fun celebrating milestones along the way. We announce two Inbound Marketing Super Hero awards every two weeks at the all-team meeting and describe a little bit about why each person was awarded. It is a great opportunity for recognizing people and reminding people of ways to participate/contribute, tell them what’s working, and hopefully motivate late adopters.
As for sales, the volume and quality of leads has grown so much that we’ve hired several new sales people and we’re also experiencing dramatically shorter sales cycles.
What hasn’t worked using social media?
Attending Social Slam last month confirmed that we’re actually doing a lot right. Overall, I’d say I wish we had done it earlier.
I also wish that I had invested sooner in developing a dedicated person to carry more weight in helping overseeing our blogging machine. One of our own employees emerged as the perfect SEO copywriter who loves writing and can take a very rough draft or even just an outline provided by a sales person or an engineer and he develops it out into a much more blog-like, informative article. He’s also incredibly funny so there is some crazy weird humor injected in what would otherwise be a very information-heavy piece. I love the personality that now also comes through on many of our blog posts.
What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?
I realized Block has a purpose bigger than ourselves in what we do and knowing that the equipment we sell can help people around the world. Last summer, as I was preparing the social media pitch to our leadership team for our retreat, I found out that I had cancer in one of my abdominal muscles. I was able to have surgery within a month after they found it and they got all of it out. At the time, my baby boy was only six-months old and something about that experience helped shape my passion for our industry because it was imaging equipment that identified this tumor in the first place.
I had access to all of this equipment and great doctors and surgeons, but many people don’t. What about the mom with the little six-month-old boy in Africa or some remote town in South America? As a company, we have this opportunity to try to reach more people across the globe and give this equipment a second chance at life to do what it was designed for. For me, personally, it was a second chance at life for me to kind of go through that and realize that the equipment we provide can help many more people by getting these early diagnosis. It’s more than just job now… it’s a mission.
What three blogs would you recommend?
The Sales Lion
Mark Schaefer’s Grow Blog
Thoughts from an 8pm Warrior
How can people connect with you?
Webpage – http://info.blockimaging.com/krista-kotrla/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/#!/kristakotrla
LinkedIn – http://www.linkedin.com/in/kristakotrla
Google+ – https://plus.google.com/109257208954119446067/posts
Instagram – @kotrla
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating social media? I want to talk to them. Send me a note at email@example.com or via Twitter @RAReed.