In a bid to light up its b-to-b marketing, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. has rolled out a wholesaler customer extranet.
Distributors can use the extranet to order such brands as Kool, Pall Mall, Belair and Lucky Strike cigarettes. It’s initially aimed at 1,200 small to midsize distributor clients of Louisville, Ky.-based Brown & Williamson and is seen as both a money-saving move and a marketing play. The idea is that the distributors will begin ordering online rather than by phone.
"We have a customer service department that takes a lot of phone calls to place orders, invoices and related information, and we’re trying to take advantage of the Internet to help them resolve business decisions they have," said Hector Cuadros, e-business program manager for Brown & Williamson.
Brown & Williamson began introducing the extranet to distributors last month, and will soon begin marketing it to its larger clients, including McLane Co. Inc., which supplies 7-Eleven stores, Cuadros said.
"There will be a major play to EDI [electronic data interchange] customers," he said. Brown & Williamson’s big clients have invested millions in electronic data interchange ordering platforms, and are reluctant to switch from them to a Web platform.
Brown & Williamson, a subsidiary of London-based British American Tobacco plc, is also keen on using its extranet as a real-time marketing platform. It will encourage distributors to go online to research planned promotions, Cuadros said.
"This allows Brown & Williamson to immediately publish information and have it go out to wholesale customers," said Kim Puchis, project manager at Genex, an Atlanta-based e-commerce software company that developed the extranet. A common gripe among some distributors, especially smaller ones, is that they don’t hear of sales soon enough to take advantage of them.
The extranet will also be accessible to Brown & Williamson’s sales reps, who will be able to order point-of-purchase marketing materials—say, a Kool banner—online. Brown & Williamson marketing execs also use the extranet to analyze sales reports submitted by distributors.
Cuadros said the extranet can cut in half the development time of some marketing initiatives.