When he accepted the position of chief information officer for Geiger in 2011, Dale Denham knew he needed to transform the technology his sales team was using if he was going to help the Lewistown, Maine-based company remain one of the largest family-owned distributors in the promotional-products industry.
“When I joined Geiger, we bought websites from the Advertising Specialty Institute, the place that I used to work for, and we were using the same e-commerce engine that thousands of our competitors, including very small firms, were using,” he recalls. “We had the same user experience that essentially every other distributor had, and really, it was a shopping engine. It was not a true e-commerce site.”
When people checked out, they may have gotten a call from a salesperson saying, “Oh, by the way, that product is out of stock,” or “There’s an additional charge on that product,” or “That color is not really what it says.” Because promotional products were complex, that made sense in the early 2000s. A decade later, however, it’s not such a savvy formula.
“My staff has helped me realize the more I listen, the better decisions I make.”
With literally one million different variations of promotional products available, and each product with its own attributes, most distributors don’t invest in a product database, but Denham knew it was necessary. With e-commerce growing rapidly, Geiger wanted to give its salespeople the tools to allow them to compete with the rapidly growing online distributors.
“We built our product database, and we built an e-commerce engine to deliver that product database to our customers, and we built that primarily for our e-commerce business and then made it available to every single sales partner. That really is kind of the secret for Geiger,” Denham says. “I believe that the bridging of the salesperson’s relationship, while allowing the e-commerce experience for people who want to buy or interact with their salesperson via e-commerce, is a key to the future of this sales industry, and so we enabled that through our product database and e-commerce platform.”
Recognizing the Team
At Geiger, strategic-planning processes utilize lean methodology and an X-matrix document. Senior leadership gets together and different ideas show up on the business X matrix. Ideas are prioritized and everyone works together toward common goals.
Denham, who was selected as a Premier 100 Leader by ComputerWorld this year, emphasizes the value of people and relationships in Geiger’s e-commerce strategy and says everyone works together to solve a problem, noting that the recognition is reflective of his team and his peers.
“By definition, a leadership award indicates a great team of people, and this recognition extends to the entire group of people I work with who have accomplished so much in such a short time,” he says. “My staff has helped me realize the more I listen, the better decisions I make, and so I encourage people to challenge me, and in doing so I make fewer mistakes. It’s a little more painful in the initial process, but we get a lot more done and we get it done better.”
Geiger supplies promotional products to many Fortune 100 companies as well as small and medium-sized businesses.
“We have some very large clients for whom we go through a several-week process to build a customized site. They choose maybe 100 products pre-dedicated with their logo on them, so their marketing department, as well as their customers, can buy these approved products,” Denham says. “On the rest of our sites, you see a default logo, so whether it’s the Home Depot logo or Lowes logo—and you’re Ace Hardware—you’re seeing a logo that isn’t personal to you.”
Denham knew not to solicit heavy-hitting clients in this way, so one of his most successful initiatives has been working with LiquidPixels to create virtual logos, which sales reps can now bring to potential clients and then create instant online stores to show them what their products could look like.
“We’re building pop-up stores so our sales partners can build a store with no IT involvement in under fifteeen minutes,” Denham says. “So, the sales partner picks from our product database the products that they want to showcase, and in less than fifteen minutes the site is live. We’re using the technology from LiquidPixels to apply the logo to the items.”
Geiger is building the platform “as a service,” so the same virtual-logo technology is going to be embedded in all the different tools that Geiger offers, whether it’s making presentations, or checking out on the site and seeing the logo on it.
While there are other virtual logo tools out there today, Denham points out that it’s less common for a business to visit a site and have its logo automatically and properly applied to every item.
“And having those items being hand-picked by a salesperson who’s usually not that technologically savvy but really understands your business, and really understands marketing,” he says, “lets them create a really valuable shopping experience.”