Backend support, databases key to top Net marketers

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The Internet's bandwidth problems are limiting what smart Net marketers can put on the front end of their Web sites, but that's not stopping them from getting their backend systems in place.

In fact, the less sexy but critical link between the Web and computer and general business systems is where the top companies in our NetMarketing 200 really make their mark. Shockwave, streamed media and other glitzy interface doodads will have to wait.

More than technology needed

But to crack into the top of the NetMarketing 200, you need more than good technology. You need to harness that technology to the marketing needs of your business and, as in most Net-related efforts, database management is crucial.

A good example of a company that has integrated its backend systems with its Web marketing effort is Consolidated Edison of New York, the New York-based utility company that earned an A- in the NetMarketing 200.

Bill payment and meter readings are already available on the site, and account start-ups and service scheduling are in the pipeline.

The company has also adopted push-based intranet technology, says spokesman Richard Mulieri.

"We have started sending daily e-mails to executives with links" to news stories on the Web and a personalized daily news briefing to managers, he says.

W.W. Grainger, Lincolnshire, Ill., the seventh-ranked company in the Top 10, is also dealing with mission-critical backend issues. To keep its massive, interactively organized online inventory of more than 200,000 products current entails a major database-management effort.

Updated information

The site is connected into a "very expensive," 350-branch logistics network, which is updated nightly with location-specific, product availability information, says Liz Olig, director of Internet commerce for Grainger

"This allows [customers] to see if the product is in stock and ready to ship or be picked up at a local branch," Ms. Olig says.

Segmenting the audience was important at Citrix Systems, one of the many technology companies to make the list.

Using Microsoft's Active Server Pages technology, Citrix can customize how a visitor moves through the site, seeing only pages that are relevant to him.

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