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The Internet is giving marketers a new, fast and trackable way to distribute direct marketing-generated leads to their sales forces.

Led by companies such as Dell Computer Corp. and Cisco Systems, marketers are discovering that Internet-based lead management systems can drive sales force efficiencies and power sales gains.

At Dell, the Round Rock, Texas-based direct marketer of computer systems, sales in the workstation, server and notebook units were falling short of goals because, the company says, sales reps were too busy to call existing customers to gauge their needs.

To remedy the situation, Dell called on Harte-Hanks Response Management, Boston, to implement an Internet-based version of the company's Comprehensive Advanced Lead Management system.

Splitting duties

Under the system, Harte-Hanks telemarketers contact and qualify customers from Dell's database, and instantly e-mail the proper rep and post to a central Web site information about each customer.

With the Internet, Dell's sales reps and management have access to the information in real time, 24 hours a day.

CALM provides multilevel access for viewing new leads, referring leads to sales reps, providing sales feedback and analyzing lead quality.

The Web-based lead management system is being used by four Dell sales segments: enterprise, large-company accounts, preferred accounts, and federal accounts.

In the large-company account segment, Dell used an internally managed direct mail piece combined with the CALM system to increase revenue from notebook computer sales to existing customers by 71% over the last two quarters compared with the previous two quarters, says Shannon Oliver, notebook marketing manager.

Fits corporate goal

"One of Dell's corporate initiatives is to expand its use of the Internet to maximize its productivity. Here was a tool that fit our corporate goal. Also it puts us at a clear advantage in direct marketing and outbound telemarketing strategies in regard to our competition, which lags behind us. It is a way to differentiate us from the competition. This gives us a technological advantage," says Kim Francois, marketing communications manager for Dell's federal segment.

"It saves time and money and it creates efficiencies. The system enables us to get real-time leads. As soon as a contact has been made with a potential customer and they've been qualified, that information is transmitted to the sales rep. Right away. They can go online to the Internet and get the lead. The sales rep can call the potential customer right away and fill out a record online of that customer. The sales rep can track and monitor and manage the sales lead," Ms. Francois says.

Because Dell's vast marketing efforts yield many leads, managing and tracking prospects is critical.

"Dell had a need for outbound telemarketing to fill the pipeline with more qualified leads," says Greg Watts, account manager for Harte-Hanks Response Management.

"We call X amount of records and determine those most likely to qualify. We ask questions including how soon do you want to buy and how many PCs. The lead profile of the potential customer is posted on a Web site and also sent via e-mail to a sales rep" Mr. Watts says.

The system allows Dell managers to access relevant information.

"I can determine how effective my outbound telemarketing program is. I can access how many leads came in. If the leads aren't coming in, I can begin to determine if the script is wrong or if the database is wrong," Ms. Francois says.

"Before, if I spent $75,000 in outbound telemarketing -- I didn't know what I got from that. Now every time a sales rep makes a contact, everyone has access to it. Now I may know that for $75,000, I may make $2.5 million in incremental sales. I have metrics now," Ms. Francois says.

Ms. Francois can also determine whether the sales rep is following up or whether the lead needs to be rerouted to another rep. Brand managers and product managers can pull information and sort it by product.

"I reduced head count by one person by going to this system. I saved a fortune. The cost of this system is cheaper than a manual system. And there are less people touching information so it reduces the risk of human error," Ms. Francois says.

It also feeds the competitive nature of sales teams, which is a plus.

"Sales managers get a manager's report and they see the whole [picture] for their group and they see numbers for the overall group. They may see their team of 67 people responded to 57% of leads. They are so competitive, they tell their reps, `I want to see 100% response,' " Ms. Francois says.

Cisco doing similar thing

Cisco, which supplies much of the hardware that makes up the Internet, is beginning to take a similar approach.

Last month, the San Jose, Calif., networking giant chose Techmar Communications, Canton, Mass., to implement a state-of-the-art integrated response management system, says Matt Rausenberger, Cisco's manager of response management.

Techmar will build and maintain a marketing database, conduct inbound and outbound telemarketing programs, implement sales lead management programs and program analysis.

Techmar will provide Cisco employees with access via the Internet to sales leads and to the marketing database through its KARMA and netKARMA systems.

More than 25 employees from Techmar are dedicated to the Cisco business.

"When a prospect reads a publication with a Cisco ad and calls an 800 number, Techmar takes over. Techmar captures pertinent information, asking, `Are you the decisionmaker? What is your budget? What are your needs?' Profile information is captured and then becomes available on the Web site, accessed by authorization codes," says Tim Young, president of Techmar.

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