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March 13, 2015 Article 3 min read
Many of today’s companies have become unintentional collectors of data. They have such a massive amount of it — and more coming in all the time — that it almost paralyzes them. Then there’s Imperial Marketing.

Located in Southfield, Mich., Imperial Marketing is a comprehensive sales and marketing organization that strategically blends skilled personnel, seamless processes, and real-time intelligence to offer customized brand-building solutions that achieve results. Owners Mike Hefner and Joe Lilla recently sat down with us to discuss the company’s strategy and how they transform the data that paralyzes most companies into something actionable and consumable.

Tell me how your strategy has evolved into what it is today.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Imperial Marketing was a promotional items company — T-shirts, hats, things like that. It was a commodity business, and if you’re a commodity, you have to make sure you have offerings beyond that product. Our strategy was to become a strategic partner to our clients. Over the years that’s evolved into handling their marketing and incentive programs. By integrating all aspects of the client's field sales and marketing business with our agency rather than spreading it around to multiple agencies, it allows us to act more efficiently and to become a seamless extension of their company.

Tell me more about what it means to be a strategic partner.

We don't just represent a client's product to a given set of retailers. We drill deep into the business environment to establish a complete understanding of the client’s market. We uncover challenges, continuously evaluate progress, and closely track results. And our technology automatically alerts us of any deviation in a client’s ability to achieve pre-established goals. We make sure that failure is not an option.

How have you leveraged data analytics to better serve your customers?

Our customers have all the data — they just have such a massive amount of it that it becomes difficult and expensive for them to filter it, store it, and turn it into something meaningful. That’s where we come in. We understand the marketplace and demographics, and we help our clients formulate a strategy by efficiently using their data, which we revisit quarterly to ensure we’re achieving their results. For example, our team runs incentive programs for a large automotive manufacturer. We develop the strategy behind the programs and then design and execute them. We build the website, monitor hits, and do outbound sales calls to make sure all of our customers are doing the right things and hitting their targets. If anyone is falling behind, we alert our team, who follows up with the customer. We make sure everyone is marching in the right direction together, and that’s how we get our record numbers.

How do you make data consumable and actionable for your clients?

This means different things for different clients. We might work with the financial and insurance team to ensure they’re selling the right extended service contracts on the right vehicles to the right number of people. We might meet with the general manager and salespeople to talk about driving behaviors and how to tee up customers. Or we might talk to the service department about opportunities there. In Michigan, for example, the roads are terrible. Dealers are selling a lot of tire and wheel programs; this saves their customers a lot of heartache. We home in on what drives the customer and customer behavior and develop different programs to help them out.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

We just had a yearlong competition between us and one of the biggest financial services companies in the nation. They’ve been in the finance business for decades and, as a Tier One supplier, we've provided a field salesforce focused on financial products for 26 years. It seemed like a pretty fair matchup. We went head-to-head in 28 categories based on revenue and products. Our competition was very confident and thought it was a joke — we even saw emails where they said, “This should be fun to watch.” The result: we annihilated them — so much so that the client called off the competition before it was over. And it wasn’t because we had more people or better people. (In fact, we had fewer people.) It was because they were running blind, and we knew exactly where we were going and how we were going to get there. If that’s not strategy, I don’t know what is.