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Problem: Quantifying your site's effectiveness if you don't sell online.

Solution: Get an accurate picture of the role your site plays in your sales cycle, then craft your success metrics around that role.

This problem has been a decade in the making: Because the buzz of the Web's early days was around online transactions, the tendency has been for Web marketers, analytics vendors and other service providers to focus on that most quantifiable of metrics-the sale-while neglecting the more complex role the Web plays in sales cycles, particularly in the b-to-b market.

While that tendency is shifting, many b-to-b companies still struggle with how to prioritize and account for Web resources that don't produce a measurable sale. For some b-to-b companies, the site's lead generation capability works as an obvious "hard" metric because they can generally quantify what percentage of leads will convert to sales. In these cases, the performance of both online marketing and the site itself can be measured in terms of:

Lead conversion rate, measured as the ratio of site traffic to captured leads;

Final cost per lead (CPL) by marketing vehicle (e.g., keywords, banners);

Reduction in "negative attrition," or user drop-off in the click path to the lead form.

For many companies, though, lead capture doesn't tell the whole story. In highly specialized fields such as industrial engineering, for instance, the site may play a "quick hit" role for prospects initially vetting possible vendors, then provide long-term information and support during an extended sales cycle that involves multiple levels of decision-makers. Suffice it to say, that role can be tough to quantify. But marketers that fail to do so risk undervaluing the site in some area or overspending in others.

Our approach is often to use customer surveys combined with click-stream data to fully map the site's role in the sales cycle. We look for things like:

What titles in the organization are visiting the site?

How often and at what points in the sales cycle are they visiting?

What sections are they visiting and for what purpose?

What "proof points" or other info can the site provide to influence their decision?

Once we have answers to these questions, quantifying the site's role is easy: We can look at site visitation, increased usage of site resources that influence purchase, and "pre- and post-" brand impression or purchase intent data gleaned through surveys.

Eric Anderson is director of agency services for interactive agency White Horse (www.whitehorse.com).


 

Problem: Starting a newsletter program-with the idea that strong content will increase e-mail response rates-without extensive resources.

Solution: Content can dramatically improve your e-mail campaign results. Why? Because wrapping your promotional messages with some insights, tips, information or how-to counsel makes your e-mail more relevant. Relevancy drives open rates and response. In fact, research tell us (Return Path Holiday Survey, 2005) that what drives response is prior positive experience with the e-mail itself. So even if recipients love your brand and buy your products, the e-mail itself has to have value if you want a response.

Content does not have to be long and involved to be successful in your e-mail program. In fact, it often works better when it is short and sweet-as little as three or four sentences can work, if done well. Even the most strapped marketing team can handle that. Want IT folks to try your demo? Offer testimonials or five ways to make your organization more productive. The options are endless.

Think these simple things won't work? Think again. Using similar ideas, one of our clients improved forwarding rates by 600%, and another got more response from one issue than it had seen in the entire previous year.

Even occasionally adding some content to your promotion calendar can drive higher response. Try it on your next campaign.

Stephanie Miller is VP-strategic services for e-mail service provider Return Path (www.returnpath.net).


 

Problem: Generating online leads and tracking them to offline sales.

Solution: There are many available solutions today that allow marketers to correlate online leads to offline sales. One such method is reconciling submitted online lead forms-marked with dynamically generated unique code (a sequence of random numbers or letters)-with offline sales channels for fulfillment. Whatever the follow-up method, be it e-mail or phone, each online lead's unique code should remain intact. Should the lead convert, the unique code can be easily associated with its original source.

Depending on how you measure online marketing, you should be able to tie this unique code back to the particular keyword and referring source (such as search engine, banner, partner site link) that generated the lead. This also allows you to optimize your marketing initiatives to determine your most cost-effective lead channels.

Seamless communication and collaboration between various CRM channels can be challenging when dealing with unique coding. However, existing processes will require minimal change. As long as the unique code can be assigned to and follow each lead, you should be able to increase your confidence level of the value of an online lead.

This isn't the only method of correlating online leads to offline sales. Other methods include establishing unique phone numbers, unique printable coupons or rebates, or online surveys. There are, however, challenges to consider with each. For example, unique phone numbers require trained call center agents to ask the right questions to determine which engine generated the lead. With coupons, you are asking people to take an extra step in printing the coupon. And with online surveys, the challenge is obtaining an adequate volume and providing appropriate incentives to get people to take the time to complete surveys.

So, depending on your business and online marketing goals, each of these methods may have different appeal.

Erik Harbison is director of performance marketing for interactive agency Refinery (www.refinery.com).

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