Marketing Experts-as-a-Service

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Susan Marshall of Torchlite
Susan Marshall of Torchlite

This isn't just another article about just another a digital marketing platform, which will help you target your customers and execute campaigns.

Don't get me wrong, marketers need that kind of technology, and watching it evolve and develop is fascinating. But Torchlite, an Indianapolis start-up, offers an unusual service on top of that: it's a marketing -- or better, marketing ops -- skills marketplace. After all, buying some shiny marketing tech toys is one thing: Having a team to operate them, especially for small to medium-sized businesses, is another.

Founder and CEO Susan Marshall knows marketing platforms. She spent over five years in product marketing at Salesforce as ExactTarget morphed into the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. In her experience, she told me, marketers were very frustrated with the technologies they acquired. "I have five, six, seven apps, and I still can't get done what I need to get done. Marketing got so technical and complex; it's gotten to be like software development."

Marketing experts on demand

Marshall's idea: Establish a network of digital marketing experts to help in-house marketers "get it all done." Rather than buying new tools, marketers should know how to get value out of what they have.

Fortunately, there's a workforce out there which is readily available. "More and more people want to be freelancers," she said. She recruits experts -- with certifications in Salesforce, Pardot, Marketo, and so on -- and makes them available on-demand. They're known as "Torchliters." Think of fiverr.com or indeed.com, where anyone can crowdsource freelance help: But the Torchliters are carefully managed. There are currently around 250 on the team, and "we vet them," said Marshall.

The on-demand aspect makes it possible for businesses to staff marketing services and ops appropriately for peak and trough seasons. "We do really well with growing midmarket companies, with at least five people on the marketing team, trying to get a lot done," said Marshall.

One such business is NAPA Balkamp, the automative and industrial parts distributor, and a Torchlite client. I spoke with eCommerce manager John O'Haver about his experience with the Torchlite marketplace. "I actually love it," he said. "I've had outstanding luck with the Torchliters that we've used."

Late to the digital marketing game

Balkamp was late to the digital marketing game, O'Haver said. When he arrived in 2012, "we really weren't doing anything. Balkamp didn't have a website." For 90 years, the focus had been its stores. Although it continues to sponsor racing teams, its focus is now on digital-- the objectives, a mix of acquisition and retention: "Return business is pretty much our bread-and-butter," said O'Haver.

Although he was faced with building out a digital operation pretty much from scratch, O'Haver quickly tired of approaches from vendors. He was referred to Torchlite by a supplier, but was reluctant to listen to yet another sales pitch. "It was getting horrible. I really wasn't looking forward to that meeting."  What he found, however, was "awesome: an extension of what we were trying to build." The on-demand aspect also helped circumvent the risk of hiring someone for a specific task, then figuring out what to with them if the vision or approach changed.

Torchlite does have a collaborative platform offering, Torchlite Action, where clients can visualize the entirety of their marketing plan, and work with Torchliter experts. It doesn't currently execute campaigns: "We're not integrated on the delivery side," said Marshall. "But that would be interesting."

Using Torchlite, O'Haver developed a B2B eCommerce channel for Balkamp, selling excess inventory direct to stores, running thousands of promotions. For his general eCommerce needs, he has weaved together the services of various Torchliters. For the B2B project, he's mainly been sticking with the same on-demand team. "You can rely on them," he said. He did recall one Torchliter who didn't work out on the social media side. "We found another in a couple of hours."

What would he do without Torchlite? "I feel like I'd need an extra ten people on staff." There was a long pause. "Actually it would take years to build a staff to that. It would be complex."

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