The footwear company’s safeTstep slip-resistant work shoe brand is building out its market reach and sales with a three-pronged online strategy of CRM, marketing technology and e-commerce sites.

Payless ShoeSource has come a long way with its safeTstep brand since introducing it more than 15 years ago, when it hit the pavement and phones, ran direct-mail campaigns and trekked to trade shows to put it before customers and prospects.

“We started as a product with blood, sweat and tears,” says  Matt Lemke, who heads the safeTstep division and overall B2B sales and marketing at Payless ShoeSource.

To better integrate e-commerce, marketing and CRM technology, safeTstep is planning to launch early next year a new B2B website.
MattLemke_PaylessShoesource-SafeTstep

Matt Lemke, head of SafeTStep division,, Payless Shoesource

It also listened carefully to customers, in one celebrated case taking the suggestion of a manager at Braum’s Inc., an Oklahoma City-based chain of ice creams shops, for an improved slip-resistant work shoe to keep workers from falling on slippery floors. Payless soon afterward introduced a safeTstep shoe based on that suggestion. “We stay close to our customers,” Lemke says. “They know what we should be doing better than we do.”

SafeTstep, which graduated to a Payless division in 2005, has built a strong following among customers at restaurant chains, hospitals and nursing homes. But it’s now gearing up to take its growth to a new level, targeting automotive and other industries, through a mix of e-commerce, personalized digital marketing and cloud-based customer relationship management technology, Lemke says.

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Next big growth: online

Although safeTstep has grown steadily—averaging about 16% annual growth over the past decade and accounting for about 9% of Payless sales—it sees an opportunity through a coordinated digital strategy to reach new heights, says Jason Hannah, head of B2B marketing at Payless ShoeSource. “Our next big growth is online,” he says, adding: “Digital commerce is about 3.7% of overall sales, but it should be 20%.” (Payless is a privately held company and doesn’t release financial numbers.)

The key to that growth, Hannah and Lemke say, is a coordinated approach of managing interactions with customers through e-commerce, CRM and digital marketing on an integrated technology platform. “That’s key to all of this,” Hannah says. The strategy has already produced a fivefold increase in the number of customer leads since the beginning of this year, he notes.

Here’s how it stepped up the leads. In November 2015, safeTstep deployed Salesforce.com Inc.’s Sales Cloud CRM system, which provides its sales reps with such information as what marketing emails account customers have opened and what safeTstep web pages they’ve visited. The reps—who can also see where customers are under the terms of their contract—then have a better idea of which customers are ready to buy particular products, Hannah says.

Early this year, safeTstep deployed Marketo marketing technology, which integrates with the Salesforce CRM and the footwear brand’s website to send automated personalized email to customers based on their known interests and contracts. “We can communicate at scale with personalized messages for customers and leads,” Hannah says.

Smarter marketing

Jason Hannah, head of B2B marketing, Payless ShoeSource

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SafeTstep has also deployed Triblio, an online account-based marketing platform, which works alongside Marketo and Salesforce CRM to reach safeTstep customers and leads with targeted online ads. “Triblio helped us leapfrog into an ability to interact with new accounts we’d like to pursue or existing customers we want to grow with,” Hannah says. “It’s a more efficient media spend—only targeting prospects I’m interested in, and staying top of mind with existing clients.”

Triblio now also integrates with a marketing tool from Bombora Inc., which is designed to target customers based on their intent to purchase a particular product. “It will allow us to have a smarter outreach,” Hannah adds. (Salesforce.com itself earlier this year told B2BecNews how it used Bombora’s technology to produce a 200% return on ad spend.)

As would-be buyers view and click a Triblio-driven online ad for a safeTstep product and land on safeTstep’s e-commerce site, the footwear brand is able to serve up personalized landing-page content, Hannah says. “Because we know you’re a restaurant owner, you’ll see a personalized experience with pictures and content,” he says. If the visitor wants more product information, she can click to submit a form that uses Marketo to forward the request to safeTstep’s CRM system, building a base for ongoing communication with prospects, he adds.

For now, safeTstep is operating with two e-commerce sites: safeTstep.com, which provides product information and, for online purchasing, links to its products on the e-commerce site Payless.com. The footwear safety brand also operates a B2B ordering platform at safeTstep.biz, a site that provides customized portals with contract pricing and product catalogs for large customers like McDonald’s Corp. But the .biz site has limited functionality, such as for the extent of personalized pricing and product content SafeTstep can show each customer.

Taking e-commerce to a higher level

To bring its e-commerce operation to a higher level on a site designed to better work with its marketing and CRM technology, safeTstep is planning to launch early next year a B2B e-commerce site on Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Using the technology Salesforce acquired earlier this year from CloudCraze, Commerce Cloud is known for offering a more comprehensive set of B2B as well as retail e-commerce features as well as strong integration with Salesforce CRM and Marketo.

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“With Commerce Cloud, we’ll have more flexibility with the content and timeliness of product displays, pricing and showing available inventory levels” in customers’ customized portals, Hannah says.

Going forward, safeTstep expects its new mix of technology to not only help it reach and win over customers in new industries, but also to help it expand its brand into new products, Hannah says. “Our next step is to transform the brand beyond footwear. And we now have the ability to transform the brand.”

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