How To Ramp Up Results Even When Your Industry Lags With Ted Horan From RDO Equipment [AMP 145]

Different industries directly impact the marketing processes, tactics, and tools that prevent marketers from being productive, organized, and focused. Is your industry leading or lagging in marketing and technology consumption? Today’s guest is Ted Horan, vice president of marketing in eCommerce at RDO Equipment Company. Ted describes how the company overcomes makeshift marketing to be a leader in the construction and agriculture industry. 

Some of the highlights of the show include:
  • Candid CoSchedule Customer: What works and what doesn’t with tool
  • Farmer to Founder: Ron Offutt’s entrepreneurial spirit for equipment business
  • Evolution of Equipment Industry: Sales-heavy, outdated, one-man operation
  • Catch up vs. Keep up: Create a digital presence to sell more and be relevant 
  • Ultimate Goal: Become a strategic partner with those driving revenue every day
  • Ever-changing Tech Environment: Rely on tools to react, pivot, and adapt
  • Pop-up Projects: Prioritizing flow of ideas and fire drills depends on budget, resources, and capacity
  • Qualifiers: Find tools to manage/optimize workflow in a way that makes sense
  • Are you winning? Surround yourself with a strong team and necessary skill sets 
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How To Ramp Up Results Even When Your Industry Lags With Ted Horan From @rdoequipment

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Eric: Question. How does the industry that you’re in directly impact the marketing processes, tactics, and tools that you use everyday as a marketer? Not that I think about this much. For myself, I have been in the technology industry almost my entire career at Microsoft and at ABM—a digital agency—now here at CoSchedule. We’ve been on the bleeding edge of all of these things, with companies I’ve been with and never had to think about it. But what if you were in an industry that may be a bit more traditional? That may be behind that leading edge of marketing and technology consumption? It’s a good question, one that I need to make sure to put myself in the shoes as a marketer because we may not all be experiencing the same type of landscape when we are marketing the same challenges. That’s the question I want to dive into on this episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. My next guest is fantastic. His name is Ted Horan. He’s the Vice-President of Marketing in Ecommerce at RDO Equipment, and they’re one of the leaders in the construction and agriculture industry. Talk about a 180 from the type of individuals and marketers that I typically talk to. I think it will be tons of learning about how that industry impacts their processes, how they stay organized, how they go to market and the campaigns that they plan, based on how their consumers and customers are open to responding in those types of new mediums and channels. Good stuff. It’s a fun conversation with Ted. I know you will learn a ton. My name is Eric Piela. I’m the host of the Actionable Marketing Podcast and the Brand and Buzz Manager here at CoSchedule. Can’t wait to jump in. All right, buckle up because it’s time to get AMPed. Hey, everyone. Welcome to another action-packed episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I’m excited about today’s episode. I do a lot of interviews and I interview a lot of different marketers throughout the world, but today, I am just extremely excited because I’m talking to someone in my own backyard. We have Ted Horan. He’s the Vice-President of Marketing and Ecommerce at RDO Equipment. Ted, welcome to the show. Ted: Hey, thanks. I appreciate it. Eric: You bet. Now, you’re in Fargo. You’re across the river in Moorhead. Ted: Yeah. I’m in Moorhead, actually. We have a couple of office buildings in town until we moved to our new headquarters in about a year. I’m in a small office strip mall in Moorhead. Eric: There you go. We’re only about five miles away, but we’re in different states at the same time. Ted: Pretty cool. Eric: Very cool indeed. Hey, Ted. This will be a lot of fun. We are continuing our mini-series here on makeshift marketing and we’re talking to everyday marketers like yourself and trying to figure out what are the obstacles and barriers that are preventing marketers from being productive, for being organized, from being focused, and really achieving some of the success and goals they want. This will be a lot of fun, Ted. You’re actually happened to be a newer CoSchedule customer, so this is really great as well. It’s always fun when I can talk to some individuals who are leveraging our tool, but just to hear really your expertise in this and what’s working for you. Again, you can be candid, what’s not working or wasn’t working initially that you’ve found some resolution with. It’s going to be a fun one. Before we get into the weeds of all the fun stuff around makeshift marketing, I think it’s fun to let out listeners know a little bit about yourself, your journey at RDO, obviously, as VP of Marketing. You’ve got a lot of things that you’re trying to accomplish and I think you’re in an interesting industry that we haven’t had on the show before, which is the construction, the agriculture equipment industry. I’d love to hear about what you do there, maybe a day in the life of, and what your organization provides. Ted: RDO Equipment Company is one of John Deere’s largest equipment dealers in the world. We are a unique equipment company because not only do we sell John Deere agriculture equipment, we also sell John Deere construction equipment. We also are one of the largest dealers of Vermeer equipment. The unique thing about my condition is not only do we have B2B marketing strategy, we also have a significant B2C business in our consumer side with lawn and garden, the equipment that we use to mow our yards. It’s a fantastic organization that was built right here in the Red River Valley. One of the reasons why I chose to come to RDO Equipment Company was this idea of this entrepreneurial spirit that lives here. We inside the business talk about that all the time, but when Ron Offutt, the founder of this business, decided to get into the equipment business, it was really out of necessity. Our business just celebrated 50 years last year. Ron Offutt was a farmer who rented tractors from a small dealership in [...] Casselton, North Dakota. When the owner of that dealership came to Ron and said, “You know, I’m going to retire and the new owners of this business aren’t going to rent tractors to you,” and that was an essential part of Ron’s business model. Ron went to work to figure out how could he buy that dealership. That entrepreneurial spirit that led him to that approach, that led him to the business, still lives here today and it’s an exciting organization to be a part of. Eric: I love that. Before we actually were on the call, we were talking a little bit about what marketing looks like in your industry and you talked about how it felt really sales-heavy, maybe a bit antiquated from some of the more modern marketing. How is that been both an excitement and a challenge for you there, Ted? Ted: I would say that in the equipment industry, it’s not uncommon to find a marketer at a local dealership that would not only be the person who is creating printed flyers, but also maybe answering the phone, also responsible for the website back in the day. They were likely the webmaster. Marketing has evolved out of necessity, really. I would say that when the getting was good, we think about the days when corn and soybean prices were so high, and oil was high, selling equipment wasn’t very difficult because there was significant demand in the marketplace. When those commodity prices dipped, oil, soybean, corn, it created a perfect storm. I think in many industries, it exposed opportunities. One would be marketing. We entered into this digital age, no longer about creating a website than just biographical of who we are. It’s creating a digital presence that allows us to sell more. At RDO, we had a situation where marketing was supplying stores what they needed to be relevant locally, but we’re missing the boat centrally. We were missing the boat from a standpoint of how do we manage our digital presence? How do we take advantage of this incredible growth? How do we become real partners with the sales organization and not so much just sort of catching or working to catch up or to keep up? My whole goal was to be a strategic partner with those that are driving revenue every single day. I’m a revenue guy. I refer to myself as a revenue guy before I speak about marketing. That’s where we’re at today is we’re experiencing this massive transformation technologically and it’s super exciting. Eric: I love that you actually refer yourself as a revenue guy because we talked about that on the show is like our goals as marketers, there’s so many tools and different tactics, but at the end of the day, our goal is to drive revenue. It’s great to hear that you think of your role in that way and you’re thinking about things that you can do. When I hear about your story, it’s interesting. Every industry is a little different, obviously, your cultural industry we talked about. There are some outside factors that tightens the screws somewhere in a business organization that makes you have to be more innovative. It makes you have to think more about how marketing can be an active role. I think the pressure is search the mount on marketing shoulders on how to do that. If we get to some of these questions here, Ted, if we’re thinking about a strategy, you look at 2019 for RDO. You’re developing a marketing strategy, you’re developing marketing goals, do you try and plan that out for the entire year? Then you say, “Okay, here’s our plan for the entire year,” or do you set more agile, smaller strategy goals, and try to look at what’s performing and pivot and shift as needed? Does your business allow you to do that? Or what did you found works best for you? Ted: I want to come up with a one key answer, but the reality is that marketing is just not clean like that. When I think about what we’re doing and our strategy, we certainly have a documented strategy and we look at business from that lens. But it’s important to be agile. It’s important to be in a position where you can quickly adapt to the changing business environment. Our environment changes. It requires us to adapt. It requires us to be nimble. It requires us to be in a position where we can shift. While yes, we have a documented strategy and we have a strategy about serving our stores, we’re a distributed system. Meaning, we have 80 locations across the western United States, that all need to be relevant locally, that all need to be able to put signs on the building, to have decals on their equipment, to have a “Congratulations, graduate” ad in the local newspaper, but at the same time, we have a very important central strategy where that website, our digital presence needs to serve all of it. That’s how we approach things. I would say it’s messy, challenging, but I think that as a group, we are pretty confident that we’re moving in a good direction because of that stated strategy but also because we put tools in place to adapt quickly. Eric: Do you have the freedom that in role to say, “You know what? We need to shift our focus this way,” or, “We’re getting a really good traction here. Let’s do more of that.” How does that work and then what are some of the tools you’re employing or able to do so, Ted? Ted: I would say we definitely have the ability to react. The cool thing about RDO, I mentioned the entrepreneurial spirit, one of the things that I love most about RDO Equipment is that we have empowered our local leaders to manage and operate their business. We’ll never as much about Pasco, Washington or Yuma, Arizona or Austin, Texas. We’ll never know as much as those communities as our local managers. We rely heavily on our local management to really drive strategy, not only from a sales position but also from [...] of visibility position. Yes, I have the ability to be nimble and to make changes, and the team does as well, but we do rely on our source to come to us and to throw us a little curve ball. A couple of things about the way I look at marketing at RDO. We have some agencies that assist us. My goal is for our team from the marketing component of RDO Equipment Company to be a core competency of the organization. For us to do that, we need to be the practitioners, we need to be the people that know marketing, are pulling the levels, and making those choices, because we’re super passionate about what we do. To that end, we do all of our own digital advertising. We don’t do all of it, some of the agency work on our John Deere, so I won’t go into that. We do the line share of our digital [...]. It helps. We have to utilize quite a few different tools to make that happen. One of the other pieces of our mission and our vision is the fact that we also need to be technologically responsible. What I mean by that is, with all the marketing technologies that exist, we could spend—as you know—a ton of money. In my opinion, we’re only as good and these tools are only as important as the capacity we have to use them. We got some tools that we use, but we will say no—more often than not—on tools because we just don’t have the capacity. I would say the importance of CoSchedule for us and why CoSchedule has become a tool for us is we got cross-functional team that rely on each other and we were doing a pretty average job of communicating. What CoSchedule has done for us is [...] visibility to projects. it’s brought visibility to the work that our communications team [...] and the work that we’re doing. Eric: If you’re like us, projects will pop out of nowhere. You get fire drills or some random request maybe comes from one of your different locations. Your process gets interrupted because of a fire or because of something. How do you handle those types of what I call pop-up projects and how do you make sure you work them into your system? Any advice on that? Ted: I would say that’s the story of our lives here. [...]. While I love the fact that we’re entrepreneur and I love the fact that our stores drive their business, one of our biggest challenges as a marketing team is the fact that our stores drive business and are entrepreneurial. The flow of ideas never ends. It’s important for my team to keep their eyes on the prize because you never know. You think you’re coming in to work on a Monday morning and you have a pretty solid plan. Your to-do list is in front of you and you know what the day looks like. Then all of a sudden you get this curve ball, this left hook that says, “Hey, we’re going to go down another path,” or, “Somebody has something else that needs to happen,” or, “Something popped up.” Those are challenges that we deal with everything a day, and to the extent that we can, we need to answer them. The pace of business dictates that. So, we do need to get after it. Now, there are times we just can’t do it, but for the most part, we’re able to answer it if we’re organized. Eric: How do you prioritize that then? How do you determine, “Okay, that’s good, but we’ll table that for later,” or, “You know what? We’ll do that.” Is that something that flows through you then, Ted, or does it come from potentially someone on your team and then they vet it through you? What’s the position process look like? I’m really curious to understand that. Ted: The way we’re organized is that we have we call them marketing business specialists. Their role really is to manage these various verticals we have from construction equipment, agricultural equipment, so on and so forth. They ultimately own the strategy for those areas. Then we have this marketing services group that they’re the front line, they receive every phone call from the stores asking them, “Hey, we need this, we need that, we need that banner, we need this for an upcoming event,” and they begin the projects. There are times we can quickly get them what they need because a lot of times other stores have done it or it’s something that we do often enough where we just quickly push a button and off it goes. But there are other times where something bubbles up, marketing business specialists get involved, it becomes more about strategy, and at that point we need to look at resources and we need to look at the strategic initiative of the organization, and make decisions based on, “Okay, this is where we’re going. This would be in alignment with one of our business goals. We’re to put the focus on that. We’re going to bump it up.” There are also times where we had to shake [...]. We just don’t have the resources or the ability to do what you’re asking, and I’m willing to make that call. But my marketing business specialists are talented enough. They know their business enough where they’re able to make that call as well. Eric: I love that. I think we all had to make those decisions like, “I would love to do this, but I do not have the budget, or the resources, or the capacity right now to do that,” and I think, “Yeah, I definitely can understand that.” The kicker is this. At CoSchedule we did some research and we talked to over 3000 marketers. One of the things that we heard unanimously was that marketers, at least, are feeling that they need to do more, but they feel that they have less time in order to achieve it, which goes back to capacity thing. “Oh, and by the way, we don’t have the ability to increase headcount, either. We want to achieve more, we want to get more done, we want to grow our company,” you’re the revenue person, “we want to increase revenue, but sometimes we have to achieve that with what we have.” What we find is that when marketers are able to actually work better, they spend less time coordinating their work and actually doing the work than in coordinating it, we find that marketers can be successful and find some lost time that might be in there. That’s the makeshift marketing mentality we talked about where you’re using spreadsheets to manage other spreadsheets and you’ve got all these single function tools, Ted. Obviously, we love you that you decided to go with CoSchedule, but when you’re evaluating marketing technology stacks, how do you go about choosing what’s the right technology to make you more productive or to accomplish? What are some of your qualifiers? Ted: It’s interesting that you mentioned we never seemingly have the resources, we have enough people or the time. I always say that I ask my team to do more than what’s possible. It’s like we do more than what’s humanly possible or we attempt to and sometimes, we just don’t get there. I think one of our biggest challenges have been when we look at just straight-up marketing management software—there’s a lot of tools out there—I didn’t want to find something that was so specific or so agency-based, because what we are and what our team is, is different. We’re set up differently, we’re set up in a way that makes sense for RDO Equipment Company. There’s really no cookie cutter tool out there that speaks to my team to the extent that it answers all of our challenges and all of our issues. At the same time, we have to communicate with people inside our organization in ways that are outside of whatever marketing tool we choose to use. You speak to the idea of a makeshift marketing and spreadsheets and multiple tools that you have across the team. That’s been a challenge and we’re not perfect there. I think for us, we need to define a tool that we could manage in a way that made sense for us. That we could, not necessarily modify but optimize in a way that made sense for our own workflow. We still use Microsoft Teams and frankly, spreadsheets aren’t going away, but the goal is to reduce the headache and reduce the pain points. For us, it’s internal communication that really was the impetus for all of this, is to make sure we’re meeting deadlines that were faster, that we’re deploying our work faster, that we’re responding more quickly, and that we have exposure across the team to what everybody is doing. The other bit that’s important to me is we may have somebody that lives so solidly in this agricultural vertical that they never really know what they’re doing on the construction side. They may be doing something really, really cool on the construction side that’s valuable to them. Up until now, it’s been a challenge for that visibility across the board. It’s pretty cool what we could do today. Eric: I love to hear that. That’s great. I think that there’s a lot of marketers that are listening going, “Yup. I had those same issues.” It’s always great to hear about certain things, whether that’s CoSchedule or whatever tool stack they might be using or leveraging, but I think it’s important not to put enough emphasis on the importance of how you do your work as to the work that you actually execute on because I think marketers love to do to be creative or to measure the success of their campaigns. It’s not necessary fun to think about the tools you have to use in order to communicate together, to have visibility [...] projects. That’s what I want to be an evangelist in part of the series is, is that brings some focus. So, I appreciate you doing that, Ted. As marketers, we’re all on this journey and we learn a lot along the way. I wanted to talk to you a bit about your own experience in your role there. I have a couple of questions. First thing is if there was one thing that you wish you had known when you began your career, what would that be? Ted: If I would have known that the amount of change we would experience, as significant as it is, that would have been helpful, don’t you think? Eric: Yeah. No day is the same and technology shifts so quickly, it’s very true. Ted: I mean, you think about it. When I started or when I graduated college, email was just a thing, and to see where we’re at today? We have gone through a massive change. I feel like that’s understating it and that’s kind of like duh, but it would have been helpful to know that we would be experiencing more in our work life than really any other generation before us. That’s what it feels like. Eric: I completely agree with you there. Sometimes, we’re in paralysis of all the changes taking place and it’s either you adapt, move on, and find a way or you don’t, or you get left behind. That’s a huge skill set, especially in the marketing world as our audiences change. Not only are we looking at new tools but we’re also learning how our consumers and our buyers are using these tools and they’re doing research on our products and our services. Those are always changing and definitely a lot to [...]. Ted: Yes. For us, if you think of the buyer, the buyer in the industry that I serve has changed so dramatically that as marketers, we’re forced to understand more and more about that buyer in ways that we haven’t had to before. I would say that we’re in a climate where the buyer is driving it and we’re working hard to keep up. You think back to the traditional marketing days where everybody had a role. You were a graphic artist or you were a copywriter, you were a project manager. Well, today especially in my team, you have to be everything and you have to understand the CMS to how we publish socially. You have to understand so much about today’s buyer and the journey they’re on to be successful. That is challenging. Eric: Yeah, it is. It’s certainly mind-blowing, isn’t it? The next question is, along that journey in marketing, what are the best resources—maybe even people—that have helped you specifically along the way? Ted: I would say the first thing that comes to my mind is, I really liked an organization. It’s called CEB. It’s now Gartner for Marketers and I came to it because I’m a fan of the book, The Challenger Sale, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson’s great book. Their follow-up was The Challenger Customer. The theories, the thoughts, and the research behind those two books really has colored my idea of marketing and has certainly allowed me to be a better marketer in today’s buying climate. I would definitely say The Challenger Sales has been my go-to and I’m a fan over these guys who wrote the books and done the research. I totally am. Eric: That’s awesome. We’ll make sure we’ll link to them. I appreciate you sharing, though. That’s one I’ve never heard of, but I definitely will look into it. Again, I’ll include in that link in our write-up here for this podcast to make sure others can check that out, too. My last question has to be, if you could step into my shoes as host of the show, Ted, what would you have asked yourself that I did not? Ted: I would say, “Are you winning? Are you doing it?” Eric: Yeah, Ted. Are you doing it? Are you winning? Yeah. How’s it going? Let me know. Ted: I would say that my team is winning and that’s exciting, but I’ll also tell you that there are days that I feel like an absolute idiot. The fact that marketing changes so much and it’s so challenging, that there are moments where I’m like, “I don’t know if I have the skill set to do this. I don’t know if I know enough,” but I would say I have a team that comes together, that works together to figure it out. I have a team that’s excited about the journey. I have a team that has lots of different skill sets that they brought together and somehow we make it work. I would say yeah, we’re winning. Eric: I love it. I love to hear you winning. It’s always great when I hear about organizations like RDO, that have a local and near and dear to my heart here. I love to hear that, Ted. Thanks so much for coming on the show. Fantastic advice and thanks for just being candid about your challenges and wins there at RDO. You speak a lot of truth to what a lot of marketers are feeling. They struggle in certain areas and wonder if it’s enough. They’re hungry, they grow, they adapt, they learn, and they trust their team to bring their strengths, to make a good, well-rounded marketing department that, in your words, can certainly win. Good stuff, Ted. I appreciate it. Ted: You bet. I appreciate the opportunity. Subscribe to the Actionable Marketing Podcast
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