Bell Micro uses rich media to get results

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Bell Micro sells hard drives, servers and storage products to businesses via value-added reseller (VAR) partners. It’s a smaller company in a relatively large industry; its major competitors wield a lot of name recognition and have the market share to back it up.

Kirk Corliss, general manager of Bell Micro’s small-to-midsize VAR team, handles the company’s smallest customers. This, he said, makes it one of the toughest jobs in the company. “I’m the only organization in the company that does not have field sales support,” he said. “Myself and my boss run around and visit as many people as we can, but more than 90% of our transactions are done over the phone.”

This makes it difficult to connect with customers and prospects. All 15 of the Bell Micro inside sales team were using e-mail marketing in an effort to solve this problem and reach out to people, but it didn’t always work. In the small-business segment, VARs often have a singular focus; some might only sell specific components, while others might sell complete solutions. So while Corliss could create an e-mail that would be sent to all of Bell Micro’s customers, that one e-mail couldn’t address everyone’s needs.

“We were only getting a couple of percent open rate,” he said. “Plus, we were sending out messages about fiber channel to people who only build desktop computers. It doesn’t take too many e-mails that aren’t related to a person’s business before they opt out.”

In October 2007, the company segmented its list by solution and components, so it knew exactly who was selling what and could market to them appropriately. Still, the e-mail campaign wasn’t doing much better, achieving only a 5% to 7% open rate at best. “We needed an avenue to touch the VAR better, to get to the end-user and entice the suppliers,” he said. “We needed to create a personal connection.”

In May Corliss signed on with GoldMail, a service that enables users to send rich media messages that can include graphics, PowerPoint presentations, text and audio—typically voice-overs. The messages are created by the user and hosted on GoldMail’s servers. Bell Micro began sending rich media messages to those list segments that were most likely to open e-mails based on previous experiences. Instantly, Corliss and his team had a way to connect one-to-one with e-mail recipients. “We can use GoldMail instead of using WebEx for trainings and tutorials,” he said. “By doing this, we’ve enabled our salespeople to service and sell.”

Since implementing the GoldMail program, the company’s open rates have increased significantly, to between 18% and 25%. Sales are up 15% and gross profits are up 30%. “And we’re doing that with a much smaller staff—about half the number of people,” Corliss said.

Bell Micro is in the process of extending the GoldMail program to its own resellers. “I have VARs who are giving me thousands of end-users that we can market to. They give us the slide decks and we provide all the content,” Corliss said. “We’ll have more customers on the hook.”

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