The Direct Marketing Association this month will honor Neil Metviner, president of PB Direct, as its B-to-B Marketer of the Year.
Metviner, who will receive the award at the DMAâs Direct Marketing to Business conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is being recognized for his achievement and innovation in b-to-b marketing.
BtoB recently spoke with Metviner about the award, as well as his views on falling response rates, marketing online, and the growth of the small-business market.
BtoB: The DMA B-to-B Marketer of the Year award recognizes achievement in b-to-b marketing. What was your main achievement this past year?
Metviner: The most notable would be the continued growth of our Small Business Solutions business. I came to Pitney Bowes about 3Â½ years ago and started the process of rebuilding the small-business franchise. In 2003, we really hit our stride.
We were able to do a much better job of targeting our customers. We were able to refine our retention initiatives, and we have been able to do a much better job at cross-selling. We established partner programs with several companies, and we launched Priority magazine a year ago.
As of last month, PB Direct had 825,000 customers and 31 consecutive months of customer growth.
BtoB: How has your marketing strategy changed at PB Direct in the past year?
Metviner: Our strategy has remained relatively constant, but weâre always refining. The "do not call" list has put some pressure on our ability to telemarket. We comply with that, even though weâre b-to-b. Because media costs have gone up, we have not done direct response TV.
Weâve also done a lot more work on the Internet, and weâre getting many more customers coming to us through that channel. Weâve refined our direct mail techniques, and weâve reduced the cost per piece.
BtoB: What are your challenges as a b-to-b marketer?
Metviner: Direct response rates are challenged in both direct mail and telemarketing. Weâve seen our response rates go down. Weâve had to become Internet marketers. We have to make sure our value proposition is there and that we have good processes behind the sale.
With market saturation, depressed response rates and an educated customer, weâve been forced to become better marketers.
BtoB: How do you divvy up the marketing budget at PB Direct?
Metviner: Let me answer it this way: Outbound telemarketing generates more than half of our total new customers. The next largest channel is direct mail, and it generates about a third. Direct mail will often be in tandem with telephone and Internet, but the initial solicitation is through the mail, so we see that as a direct mail sale.
Ten percent to 15% of our sales are online. They either came directly to the site or through a search engine or an e-mail campaign. We do sell some of our products through retail chains like OfficeMax and Staples and Office Depot.
Our sales organization contributes a small but significant amount of sales.
BtoB: Has your online budget grown?
Metviner: We look at the Internet as an opportunistic channel. I donât have a set division of dollars for each channel. Weâll move our spending in a fluid manner throughout the year as we see opportunities arise through different channels.
Iâve never run away from a profitable opportunity, whether itâs in the budget or not.
BtoB: Whatâs your economic prognosis for b-to-b marketing?
Metviner: Sole proprietorships are growing at a much faster rate than small businesses that have employees.
I see continued growth in the small-business market because of the sustained high level of unemployment and the number of people who remain unemployed for longer periods of time.
BtoB: In what ways are you leveraging your customer base?
Metviner: Once we have a customer, we begin to cross-sell with many other products and services. Alliances we have with a number of organizations, such as Sprint, IBM and Administaff, allow us to provide discounts to our customers.
We also have a large supplies organization. We provide many other products to our customers, such as ink cartridges for printers. While our primary product is the postage meter, we believe itâs in our interest to expand the offering of products and services.