Closing the loop

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Seagram Spirits and Wine Group is one of a growing number of companies using technology to link sales and marketing.

In December, the beverage company announced it was using brand-management interaction software from CentrPort Inc., Westport, Conn., to reach consumers of Tequila Don Julio products, as well as people who sway beverage buying decisions, such as bartenders and liquor store distributors.

For years, executives have turned to technology as a way of closing the loop between their sales and marketing departments. Some have spent lavishly to build comprehensive customer relationship management platforms, which gather data about customers and prospects and allow sales and marketing to analyze the numbers once a campaign is under way. Others have used "point" solutions, such as Web-based systems for running sales promotions or enticing channel partners to promote products more aggressively.

While many organizations have developed solid CRM platforms and strategies, many fail to integrate sales and marketing properly, said Larry Goldman, VP-customer solutions at Braun Consulting Inc., Chicago. He said organizations that effectively train these two departments using a unified tool and strategy are the ones best positioned to decrease sales costs and reap increased marketing pull.

Meanwhile, the coming year will put new pressure on enterprise platforms and point solutions, as both will be challenged to demonstrate their worth, experts say.

Immediate benefits

Indeed, marketing organizations must make new sales force applications immediately useful to field-sales representatives, regional sales directors, distributors and other channel partners, said Jerry McLaughlin, CEO and co-founder of customer intelligence company Truis Corp., San Francisco.

One technology firm recently guaranteed its sales and marketing staff that it would increase the amount of customer references to the sales force by 50%," McLaughlin said. That's the type of specific benefit that will be successful in today's ultra-competitive economy, he added.

In fact, research firm Gartner Group Inc. in September issued a report that said 70% of customer relationship management projects fail, not because of technology but because marketing, information technology, sales and C-level executives fail to recognize human factors.

The Gartner report outlined a number of keys to successful CRM implementation. For starters, the report said, executives should add in costs for training and business process re-engineering, where appropriate. More than 50% of all CRM implementations underestimate costs by more than 40%, Gartner said.

A spirit of success

At Seagram, a critical piece of the CRM equation is the ability to create anonymous prospect profiles that can track demographic and transaction information.

Seagram is able to use the anonymous prospect management applications to measure the effectiveness of a campaign and chart the future of its direct-marketing initiatives, said Parnell Woodard, Seagram Spirits and Wine Group global director-interactive marketing.

Woodard said that Seagram has conducted terrific customer market research for more than 12 years, has in excess of 10 million customer records of people who buy liquor and has in recent years developed its own e-mail database lists. But he characterized the current sales and marketing effort as a quantum leap forward.

What Seagram has not done previously is compare a customer marketing record against transactional data. Through the new joint sales and marketing effort, plus the power of the Web as a two-way medium, Seagram should now begin to put together information from specific marketing campaigns and sales. That complete view will allow the company to be even more effective in marketing and sales, he said.

Closing the loop

"In general, and not necessarily related to what we are doing at Seagram, I think 2002 will show more marketing and sales organizations evaluating how they can show a stronger marriage of direct and database disciplines,’’Woodard said. That will be accomplished through interactive techniques that cull information from sales, and use it in marketing.

An effort to close the loop between sales and marketing is part of a larger trend, said Stephen Dorio, president of marketing and technology consultancy IMT Strategies, Stamford, Conn.

Vendors such as Siebel Systems Inc., E.piphany Inc., Oracle Corp. and SAP AG are providing, for the first time, true platforms for combining information from sales and marketing. The advantage of these systems is they allow companies that can afford those platforms a complete, 360-degree view in a single purchase, Dorio said.

For large enterprises, he said, it’s often advisable to use platforms that combine front-office sales, marketing and customer-care processes with the transactions usually counted and automated by the back office or financial departments.

We're now looking at the front office with hungry eyes,’’Dorio said. Top sales and marketing executives are seeking ways to combine hundreds of little software innovations that help analyze customers, answer e-mails, configure products and write reports," he said.

Not for everyone

Yet such enterprise platforms are not realistic for every company.

Brendan Neary, marketing director for the CRM consulting company Everse Corp., Los Angeles, said the most successful CRM projects begin with specific goals and objectives. Individual applications that address such goals as cost reduction, revenue production or sales efficiency are often a spectacular way for a company to spend sales and marketing resources, Neary said.

Along with point solutions, another clear trend among b-to-b marketers is a tendency to outsource their CRM deployment. This is often a better idea than building sales/marketing systems in house, according to some experts.

Take GRX Technologies, Providence, R.I., which offers data management services to risk managers, brokers and underwriters. GRX tapped Lexington, Mass.-based MarketSoft Corp.’s DemandMore Interactions brand of prospecting services to increase response rates to marketing campaigns and boost the ability of GRX sales people to close sales. GRX has used traditional direct marketing for years, but the medium can be costly and ineffective.

"When it comes to marketing automation, b-to-b companies want a solution that is on their networks and easy to use,’’MarketSoft VP and chief technology officer Chris Bergh said. "Many of them just don't have the time or the budget to hire creative staff to build the tools for the job.’’

Campaign customization

During the second quarter of 2001, GRX selected MarketSoft's system as a hosted solution that builds, delivers, coordinates and tracks Web, e-mail and newsletter customer interactions.

Campaigns are designed to allow the customer to customize incoming information from GRX, including such exacting details as what type of information to deliver and how often.

In a multi-tiered campaign, GRX contacted 565 prospects via the Internet and with a personalized, 6-inch by 9-inch direct mailer. The e-mail generated more than 165 responses--about a 30% response rate. A second campaign, tailored to insurance industry executives, was sent on the coattails of the first campaign.

Reaching about 1,000 executives, the customized marketing messages were translated in real time to sales prospects. Sales people were allowed to interact with the leads by posting daily progress reports on how sales efforts were coming. So far, 242 insurance industry leads have been converted to prospects, and 14 sales have been closed.

That’s the type of joint marketing/sales effort that more b-to-b companies will seek in 2002, experts predict.

"MarketSoft’s software allowed us to efficiently automate e-mail campaigns by using a rules-based program that permitted improved targeting,’’said Eric Dorsey, GRX marketing manager." "Most importantly, we no longer have to set up our messages for 20 different e-mail campaigns individually. The system does it for us."
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