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Technology leads prospects to sales

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InterWorld Corp. decided it had missed the mark, so it invested in technology and people.

InterWorld is among a number of companies trying to market themselves out of the downturn by allocating dollars to marketing tools and sales manpower.

In November, a new version of the software company’s flagship InterWorld Commerce Suite had been released, but buyers did not understand the upgrade. Moreover, its salespeople were having difficulty explaining to customers the suite’s proprietary software code.

"Sales were in disarray, and marketing did not appear to be reaching the right audience,’’ said Larry McTavish, president-COO of the New York-based company. "We think buyers are tired of techno speak and want to deal with business issues."

So InterWorld hired 16 new sales representatives plucked from competitors who were laying people off, and it built marketing and sales-force analysis to track prospects from the first contact to a completed sale. In fact, it now offers that analysis software as an add-on to its commerce software.

According to McTavish: "Our technology and messaging is designed to invigorate the marketplace. Everything is designed to move clients from prospect to lead to in the pipeline.’’

There are other examples. Electronics components distributor Newark Electronics, Chicago, is beefing up its sales forecasting and marketing applications in an effort to gain competitive advantage. FrontRange Solutions Inc., Colorado Springs, Colo., a provider of customer service solutions, has purchased a high-end marketing automation system. And EchoMail Inc., Cambridge, Mass., a maker of e-mail response systems, is adding seasoned sales executives.

Struggling with decisions

In today’s economy, every decision is a struggle.

Undaunted, a handful of sales and marketing executives saw the current, dreary business climate as a good opportunity. That was prior to Sept. 11. But they have continued with their aggressive strategies in the aftermath of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

"Companies hunkering down and getting defensive are missing out,’’ said Lisa Lewis, worldwide " director-marketing operations, FrontRange Solutions. "In this economy, marketing is more challenging. But, it is also more interesting.’’

FrontRange is a developer of help desk software. Prior to Sept. 11, but before the economic downturn began, FrontRange had taken steps to develop Internet-based services, which are proving useful in today’s world, Lewis said.

To make itself more efficient in both international brand advertising and reseller relationships, FrontRange purchased an end-to-end marketing management system from Aprimo Inc., Indianapolis. Using Aprimo, FrontRange coordinates international marketing among about 60 marketing employees, and passes leads to about 1,500 channel partners worldwide.

By using the Internet, instead of air travel, to monitor how international marketing managers are developing and executing campaigns, FrontRange should cut its annual travel budget by $50,000 to $100,000, Lewis said.

Still, Lewis admits it was a fight to get executive management to buy Aprimo. FrontRange is a midsize company, and Aprimo is a big company solution. "It was a bit of a stretch for us to go with an enterprise tool,’’ Lewis said.

But two factors argued in favor of the marketing automation investment.

First, coordination across all of its international markets would allow FrontRange to begin to deliver regional efficiencies in media buying and production of marketing materials. Second, FrontRange is in the process of eliminating direct sales. An advanced marketing system is needed for FrontRange to support its 1,500 channel partners. For instance, the Aprimo software will deliver real-time marketing materials, support quick product introductions and coordinate promotional campaigns.

Changes in approaches

Newark Electronics CEO Mike Ruprich approved purchase and installation of a system from Siebel Systems Inc. after the electronic distribution company decided to switch from being branch-based to a multichannel company.

The idea was to support about 70 North American branches, but also new field sales representatives and channel partners. A common Web platform, based on Art Technology Group Inc.’s Dynamo software, was installed, as was hardware in the form of telephone switches from Lucent Technologies Inc.

"We’re in the process of becoming a multiple channel, customer relationship management-based organization that’s investing in technology,’’ Ruprich said.

Investments can be in people, as well as technology. EchoMail Inc., for instance, expanded its sales staff.

EchoMail president and founder V.A. Shiva developed one of the first e-mail management applications as an adjunct to his work in artificial intelligence. By 1995, that software became EchoMail.

Yet youthful enthusiasm was wearing thin, so EchoMail plucked five seasoned sales executives and made them regional vice presidents. It also added 12 sales representatives, when it had zero a year before. The idea is to convince corporate buyers that its line of e-mail software can provide b-to-b companies with competitive advantage, Shiva said.

"B-to-b companies are becoming more tactical,’’ Shiva said. "People are saying, ‘Show me the money.’ We’re hiring seasoned sales and marketing people who can get our message of return on investment across.’’

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