Skip to main content

Corn Field Marketing: Will it Work in Wheat Fields?

Heartland Technology Solutions is an IT services provider in who take an aggressive approach to marketing to small businesses. It's been effective -- from their headquarters on a farm in a corn field in Iowa they have grown to 8 locations, 81 employees and $18M in sales.

During the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in July, I attended a presentation by their VP of Sales and Marketing, Larry Hedin, where he discussed marketing ideas that work for Heartland. Much of what they do leverage marketing development funds (MDF) from their various hardware and software partners. Here are some highlights:

#1: Hold Microsoft Across America Events

Microsoft Across America van

Microsoft Across America

Microsoft has seven large trailers which are filled with technology displays, which travel the country spreading the word about Microsoft. The trailers carry everything from digital home to enterprise servers. HTS works with local Chambers of Commerce and colleges to drive attendance to the events, which are often aligned with other activities (football games, fairs, etc.)

To date, HTS has run 13 events with 100 attendees each. Lest you think this is just 'awareness', Larry said each event also adds $100K to their sales pipeline.

#2: Hold Seminars in Cooperation with Vendors

Larry has leveraged partner MDF funds and vendor field sales teams to hold a series of educational events, all under the HTS banner. These include one day seminars, lunch and learn sessions and webinars. Larry said the key was to have the vendors attend both for technical expertise but also to see the energy and interest in the participants.

#3: Run Office Technology Makeover Contests

HTS advert

HTS advert

This idea is the one that's going to pay for my conference. It's pure gold. What HTS has done is run an annual $25,000 Technology Makeover contest, where local businesses write in to explain how a technology makeover will transform their business. The local Chamber of Commerce promoted the event over the three months that applications were accepted and the local media picked up the story too. The only restriction to applying? Your business had to have less than 50 employees.

The four finalists and eventual winner are announced on the local news (again, in conjuntion with another newsworthy event like the Microsoft Across America van or state fair.)

HTS winner announced

HTS winner announced

One year, the winner was a local chocolate shop, who received network equipment, wiring, notebooks and three months Managed Services from HTS. All the vendors turned out for photos on "Makeover Day".

HTS makeover install

HTS makeover install

So here's the gold:

  • Every application is a qualified lead! Customers write, in detail, exactly why they would value these technologies and services. HTS is averaging $250,000 in the sales pipeline with each event.

  • With the exception of HTS managed services, all the equipment is donated by the vendors, using partner marketing development funds.

  • The vast majority of promotion costs is covered by the Chamber of Commerce and the story is seen as newsworthy by the local media. Promotion is organic.

Bottom line, the program is nearly free and results in the best possible qualified leads for the HTS sales force.


Larry shared many more sales and marketing ideas which I'll share with you in future posts, but their event marketing efforts are really taking off. They are getting customers excited about possibilities and are leveraging partner marketing funds to the hilt. As their CEO Arlin Stephenson says, "Over $1 billion of partner marketing funds goes unclaimed every year." Claim it, get creative and grow!

HTS serves a market very similar to SaskTel -- smaller cities and a rural economy. How can these ideas translate to our market, our customers and our partners?