BtoB

Not your father's collateral

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For b-to-b marketers, there are a few certainties in life: death, taxes and sales collateral.

Every company needs brochures, sales sheets, product slicks, tri-folds, bi-folds and more. At AutoTrader.com, we have an 800-person sales force all over the country, so as you can imagine we have to create a ton of collateral. It gets pretty expensive to print and ship these materials to our reps, but we always thought it was the cost of doing business. You just gotta have your collateral.

Then one day, our world was rocked.

We were in a meeting and one of our top sales reps, a guy named John Ellis from Mississippi, said, "We're an online company. Why are we showing our products with printed materials?"

When he said that, it was like we were at a nightclub and the music abruptly stopped. What? No printed collateral? Are you kidding? John obviously doesn't know what he's talking about.

But wait. John is the guy we build the collateral for. And if he doesn't want it, why are we spending the time and money creating it?

As we thought about what John was saying, we realized he was right. We are an online company. It's very hard to show dynamic online products on paper. Even high-gloss, heavy stock paper. But, we weren't going to just shut down the b-to-b marketing team. After all, we need jobs. It’s tough out there.

We thought a lot about it, and we realized that John was not telling us to get rid of all collateral. He still needed collateral. He just wanted a different kind of collateral.

So we had an idea: Interactive collateral. Instead of our sales rep sitting down with a customer and pulling out a brochure, the rep can pull out a laptop or iPad and show a dynamic product demo with motion and sound.

We launched our first interactive collateral experiment two years ago to promote one of our display advertising products. We weren’t totally sure if anyone would actually use it so we tracked the activity. After the first week, the site got 1,500 visits. Wow. We only have 800 sales people. It seemed like we were on to something.

Then the kudos started flowing in from the field: “Amazing.” “The best sales tool we’ve ever had.” “I just made three sales thanks to this.” “We need more of these microsites.”

Now that we had dipped our toes into interactive collateral, the message from the sales force was clear: More! But the sales force had one additional request—build this interactive collateral so we can customize it for our customers.

Oy. That seemed to raise the degree of difficulty a bit. But we’re always up for a challenge, and we figured out a way to add this customization feature. So now a sales rep could build a demo and show the customer how his brand would actually look using our product.

Again, we saw huge adoption by the sales force, and we could even track the number of custom demos built. We also noticed that our sales reps were helping us promote our interactive collateral by putting the URLs for our microsites in their email signatures.

Then our friend John Ellis called me and said, “I love these microsites you guys are building. But what we really need is a tool that will let us build a custom demo for every single one of our products.”

All of our products? Are you kidding me? We have about 100+ different product options. After getting over the initial shock from this request, we sat back and said, “Why not?” Our team took about six months and built out a comprehensive website that gives a sales rep the ability to build a custom demo for all of our products and then email that demo directly to his or her customers.

It was a significant achievement for our team. When it launched, I think many were shocked that we actually pulled it off. Today, this site has become an important part of the way our sales force sells our products, and it has allowed us to be much more nimble as our product set evolves.

Don’t get me wrong, we still do a lot of printed collateral. There are some essential printed materials that you’ll probably always need. But, through this process, we learned that the Internet doesn’t just give marketers new ways to reach customers, it also creates new opportunities to enable your sales organization with dynamic tools that can help drive sales.

The best part, of course, is we all got to keep our jobs. Phew.

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