Microsoft raises profile in direct

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Microsoft Business Solutions is gaining a significant presence as a direct marketing services provider to its small-business partners and resellers.

The turnkey program encompasses the entire direct marketing campaign cycle, including mailing list selection, creative, printing, mailing, fulfillment and even telemarketing follow-up to qualify leads. In November, e-mail list selection was added to the mix.

"We want to provide this service to our partners because a lot of [them] are smaller companies and they don’t have a marketing department," said Cheryl Strege, marketing manager of Microsoft’s Partner Co-Marketing Team. The ultimate goal, she said, is to provide partners with more, better-qualified leads to sell Microsoft products, and direct marketing is an effective way to accomplish that.

The program is cost-effective for the partners, which often don’t have the infrastructure to handle such work in-house and for which outsourcing the campaigns would be too expensive.

Partners are charged $1.50 per individual mailing for direct mail campaigns and $1 per e-mail. These prices cover the entire process from list selection to follow-up.

White papers popular

The direct marketing campaigns created under the program are typically solution-based messages designed to educate potential customers about ways Microsoft can help them improve their businesses. White papers are a popular vehicle.

"The offers tend to be educational, so it might be a white paper from Peppers & Rogers Group or a software selection guide," Strege said. "It pulls a better response than ‘Come to Microsoft and get a CD of our product.’ "

Value-added reseller partners, such as Cole Systems Associates, a New York-based systems integration software company, use the turnkey services to sell Microsoft’s products to clients. Cole Systems has signed up for the new e-mail service and plans to begin using it this month.

Microsoft was "in a holding pattern because of the whole spam issue," said Kendra Crook, marketing manager at Cole Systems.

Microsoft has always had strict double opt-in policies, Crook explained, and wanted to move carefully into the e-mail realm because of marketers’ concerns about spam. With federal spam legislation now in place, those concerns are expected to decrease.

"They wanted to first make sure they were using opt-in lists so they weren’t spamming," said Mac McIntosh, principal at Mac McIntosh Inc., a North Kingston, R.I.-based b-to-b sales and marketing consultancy. McIntosh consults with Microsoft on a number of sales generation initiatives, including this one.

Strege said another factor in deciding to offer e-mail lists was the evolution of such lists.

"The part that’s been challenging for us that we haven’t been able to do until now is the geographic-specific [online] marketing," Strege said, adding that e-mail lists are catching up to postal mail lists with the availability of geographic e-mail name selection, based on data such as ZIP codes. "There are few that can offer that, but hopefully if demand is there, the industry will follow," Strege said.

Cole Systems has signed up for 1,000 e-mail names to use in this month’s campaign, which is aimed at the nonprofit sector. "We signed up for nonprofit because it’s a strong vertical for us," Crook said.

4,000 partners in U.S.

"In the U.S., we have about 4,000 Microsoft Business Solutions partners that have access to the program," Strege said. The direct mail and e-mail campaigns Microsoft sends out on behalf of partners such as Cole are rolled out monthly, and each partner can decide whether to participate in that month’s campaign and how many prospects it wants to target.

Microsoft also allows partners to pick individual components from the campaign and execute them on their own.

Strege said the program, which was launched in April 2001, has become a model within Microsoft and that she is helping to develop similar capabilities for other divisions in conjunction with the Partner Co-Marketing Team. "We’re looking to roll that out around July, which is the start of our new fiscal year," Strege said.

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