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E-mail segmentation grows Sony's IT sales

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When Sony Electronics decided in October 2005 to shift from a combination of direct and channel sales to channel only, it needed a way to get the word out to its resellers as well as boost their loyalty. It also wanted to inform its customers and the industry as a whole of its decision, and to unify the look and feel of its communications. To accomplish these goals, it revamped its e-mail marketing program in conjunction with the relaunch of two of its Web sites: Sony.com/business and Sony.com/spcenter. The latter is specifically designed for the reseller community. Once the program was in place, the company started segmenting its then-3,500 name list into highly targeted, focused subcategories, said Beth A. Barone, senior manager of B2B Channel Marketing at Sony Electronics. The list was split into “at least 10 market categories and seven products,” Barone explained. “So we've got 60 to 80 different [segments], and we can segment even further based on who is signed up for specific programs. We don't focus on region. We focus on areas of interest—what product lines someone focuses on.” So while all resellers get a monthly newsletter, those that focus on storage products get a specific e-mail. There are also special e-mail newsletters for those signed up for Sony's Solution Provider Unified Program, a backend rebate program that rewards resellers if they sell across Sony's entire IT-related lineup. Content in each newsletter is unique to the segment it addresses. “We've been doing the segmentation for at least 18 months,” Barone said. “We're seeing a good response in terms of open and click rates. We trend toward the industry average, but many times it's well above [that].” Unsubscribe rates are “very low,” Barone said. “We're careful not to overcommunicate, and when we do communicate, we have a very specific reason,” she said. The content also helps, she said. That's why she watches which stories and features receive the most hits, as well as analyzes placement within the newsletters. “We recently redesigned the newsletter template so we have a navigation bar at the top so users can see a word or two and click through without having to scroll through the entire newsletter,” she said. Of course, the real proof is in the company's sales. To that end, IT channel sales grew approximately 24% year over year from 2006 to 2007, Barone said. A portion of both successes—the lift in open and click rates and the increased sales—can be attributed to the tight segmentation, she said. “We're constantly learning more about the customers and providing them with the tools they need to sell.” —Karen J. Bannan
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