ACCOUNTABILITY: Put your livelihood on the line for customers

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Increasingly, companies are less willing to endure the conventional, long-term awareness-building process. More and more, they need measurable results from everything they do in marketing. For product launches especially, they need qualified leads that create immediate sales and an active database for two-way communication. They need to leverage every medium to support communication.

Making that happen is a multistage process that expands the advertising agency's accountability. Agencies have to become experts in integrating traditional and new media. And they have to stop sacrificing strategy or speed.

Show me the leads

In January, the marketing program manager for the switched enterprise division of 3Com Corp. faced a daunting task: Launch four new networking technologies in an expansion market segment dominated by a giant (Cisco Systems) and amass 2,000 measurable sales leads by the end of March. There was no way to meet that goal with traditional advertising tactics or timelines; the ramp-up time was gone.

But by the end of March, the division had pulled in 5,600 qualified sales leads -- 600 more than the overall corporate goal for the quarter -- with more than $5 million of sales in process.

For starters, as their agency, we took on more work than would be considered reasonable. The only way we could deliver was to put high-level people in a hands-on capacity on every aspect of the assignment, then court specialists whose partnerships would fill the gaps.

Our commitment to 3Com also required us to plan the media. Given the time frame, online direct marketing had to lay the foundation.

The key was perspective: Experienced marketing strategists who know new media--rather than new-media specialists--planned the campaign. To honor the full responsibility, traditional direct marketing also had to be used in conjunction with a print campaign for the resellers.

Right on target

Many new-media campaigns fail the waste test because planners don't sweat the right details. 3Com needed to attract only those information technology professionals who make public commitments to million-dollar systems.

Instead of offering a sports car or dream vacation, the daily banner ads on high-traffic sites linked to jump pages that offered white papers and other insights.

Predictably, only the people we were targeting filled out the registration form, so every lead was a viable sales prospect. What's more, each banner linked to a separate address for registration, so we could change messages according to daily results and ultimately track start-to-finish sales development.

Since our target audience was a small club, we couldn't risk offending it with spam. So direct e-mail passed through double qualification: Only those IT professionals who had requested information on new networking products were contacted by e-mail. Key prospects among that group also received direct-mail invitations to visit the networking solutions section of 3Com's Web site.

Another contributor was the field sales loop. For 3Com's technologies, the key was a tight system that fed live leads to the right salesperson. We don't do that, so we partnered with the best providers.

And then we took a stand for results. If we delivered the leads, we would continue as 3Com's agency; if we fell short, we'd be fired.

That's today's reality: Put your livelihood on the line for marketplace performance. Business won't have it any other way. Neither would I.

Tucker Greco is president of Greco Ethridge Group, a New York- and Boston-based technology marketing agency. Mr. Greco can be reached at [email protected].

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