Special Report: Tech Techniques

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It might seem strange for a mailing equipment manufacturer such as Pitney Bowes Inc. to craft its Web marketing strategy after that of a computer hardware company or an e-business network developer. After all, it’s selling very different products, targeting very different kinds of business buyers.

But, when VP-corporate marketing Meredith Fischer recently oversaw the launch of Pitney Bowes new b-to-b marketing site, the strategies she most wanted to emulate came from the high-tech sector. "We looked at companies like Dell; we looked at Cisco," Fischer said. "We looked for examples of [companies] who were very clearly tied to the end-user."

Indeed, many Fortune 500 companies, regardless of product or service, are now looking to the vertical industry of software, hardware and tech services for lessons in how to successfully market their b-to-b wares online. With their products and services so inherently intertwined with the Web, many companies in this vertical were, logically, pioneers of online marketing, registering successes and failures on the Internet long before most considered it a viable marketing venue.

And while the clients of, say, Merrill Lynch & Co., have strikingly different needs from those of a Hewlett-Packard Co., they are becoming equally bullish on online marketing. Increasingly, b-to-b buyers of everything from stocks to farming supplies are going online not only to research but also to buy. To get their business, the Fortune 500s are learning what the high-tech companies have known for a few years: Online marketing has to be the heart of any integrated sales plan.

In this special report, BtoB talked to top marketers at Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard and BroadVision Inc. to get an inside view on their online marketing strategies. As leading developers of b-to-b infrastructure, hardware or software, their case studies are useful to virtually any company looking to market products and services on the Web.

Marketer: Cisco Systems Inc.
Lesson: Online marketing first

Cisco Systems’ top executives ascribe their company’s status as the world’s leading supplier of Internet network routers and switches to exhaustive research and development. But routers and switches are commodities that several other companies build equally well. What separates Cisco—and makes its brand the Coca-Cola of b-to-b—are its ubiquitous online marketing programs. At the center of these programs is its Web site.

Cisco is the biggest Internet vendor in the world. A staggering 94% of its transactions go through its Web site. It is a telling statistic and indicative of the importance the San Jose, Calif.-based company places on Internet marketing as a way to drive online sales. "The importance of online marketing increases with your ability to use it as an online sales channel," said Peter Stanger, VP of The Boston Consulting Group Inc. "What Cisco’s been able to do is successfully provide a proposition to their customers that is better than the traditional interface."

Indeed, for an E*Trade Group Inc. or an Inc. to claim that 94% of its sales happen online is, of course, unremarkable. In fact, both companies’ percentages are higher than that. Both, however, have wee sales forces and their customers are PC-bound consumers.

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Cisco, on the other hand, has one of the largest technology sales forces in the world. Plus, it has heaps of Luddite clients such as Chevron Corp. and Volkswagen of America Inc. that are known for preferring to deal off-line. Convincing these clients to do their buying online comes from Cisco placing more emphasis on online marketing than on any other medium. It’s a top-down edict, said Keith Fox, Cisco’s VP-corporate marketing.

"We want our partners, customers and employees to experience Cisco online even better than if they were meeting [President-CEO] John Chambers or myself offline," Fox said. Twice annually, Cisco’s top executives—from marketers to sales managers to financiers—sit down with Chambers and tell him how they intend to be their industry’s leader on the Internet. Chambers’ tack, Fox said, is one that Fortune 500 CEOs should take. "It absolutely has to be driven from the top, the CEO," he said. "From there, every executive has to be held accountable."

This only happens when paycheck size is tied to online marketing success, Fox said. "You have to match compensation to results," he said. "And those results have to be monitored and measured."

Knowing that your wealth is fixed to how successfully you move your clients to the Internet is a powerful incentive. So to get customers online, Cisco’s executives aggressively pursue them offline.

The company holds CEO, CIO and CMO client summits where Cisco executives try to convince them to go online. Each Cisco leader focuses on his area of expertise. "I do keynotes on marketing to chief marketing officers, and [Senior VP-CFO] Larry Carter does keynotes on the role of the Internet and financial applications, and how speed and agility can help you in closing the books," Fox said.

Web appeal

The most important part of convincing clients that Cisco’s Web site is an appealing first destination, Fox said, is making it easy to use. This might seem elementary. But many b-to-b companies have sites that Amerigo Vespucci would have trouble navigating. Cisco’s site is straightforward, despite its large amount of content. And for users who do not want to hunt around manually, the company’s search engine is dead-on accurate.

A Web site-centric online marketing program such as Cisco’s, it should be noted, doesn’t come cheap. The company’s content-on-demand servers alone could fill a Boeing 747. Cisco has some 175 of them for employees, partners and customers to get at Webcasts after they are broadcast. "It’s our killer app," Fox said. "We build networks for people."

Marketer: Hewlett-Packard Co.
Lesson: Global savvy

When asked about the how they handle global online advertising, many technology executives speak in solemn tones about how their companies allow for lots of local autonomy. Marketers in Tokyo or Paris or Istanbul, they say, understand the local b-to-b audience better than anyone in headquarters. But in reality, nearly all the budgeting and planning that really matters happens in Silicon Valley. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard is unique in that its top online brand advertising executive lives and works outside the U.S.

Julia Mee, Hewlett-Packard’s Geneva-based brand advertising manager, said the company does not introduce a campaign unless its message can be understood globally. The company does plan general global themes, but it allows local offices almost total leeway in adapting them. "Each campaign is a worldwide campaign," Mee said. "But we allow each country to take a campaign and change it. Sometimes, we’re told that although a campaign might seem persuasive, that it won’t work in, for example, Japan."

International target

Hewlett-Packard’s is an apt message. At a time when most b-to-b marketers are forecasting flat U.S. growth, targeted online international advertising is more important than ever. This is especially so for Asia, which has shrugged off the hangover of its circa-1997 economic downturn and is expanding quicker than Europe.

The most important thing for U.S.-based online marketers to remember is that technological adaptation is slower in Europe and Asia than it is stateside, Mee said. Hewlett-Packard keeps the technological bar low when creating its online advertising so as not to aggravate potential clients, she said.

This is especially so in markets such as the U.K., where ISP service is pay-as-you go and a long download means a bigger bill at the end of the month. Or in China, where telecommunication glitches make getting booted off the Internet common. Or worse yet, in France, where many b-to-b clients have Trumpian (as in The Donald) budgets but Archie Bunker’s patience for Internet ads meant to get them to spend. "We don’t push online advertising beyond people’s technological abilities," Mee said. "This can lead to a frustrating experience, but not a rewarding one."

Still, Hewlett-Packard uses bandwidth-hungry rich media in most of its online advertising. It is simply careful to make sure such ads are easy to interact with. After all, for a technology company to forsake progressive online advertising for Jurassic-era banners could hurt its credibility, whether in the U.S., Europe or Asia. "It would be the antithesis of our branding efforts to run a traditional banner ad," Mee said.

Marketer: BroadVision Inc.
Lesson: Sales integration

For BroadVision, a leading developer of e-business software, online advertising is only effective if it is integrated into salespeople’s efforts. As with Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company encourages prospective clients to contact it over its Web site. But more so than those companies, BroadVision is keen on making sure its sales force is the recipient of those leads.

"When someone sends in a query from our Web site, it is automatically stored into our own sales-force automation system," said Gabriella Martino, director of online communications. "A salesperson is automatically told that a potential lead is there."

Simplicity is key

As with Hewlett-Packard, BroadVision uses advanced technologies in its online ads but is careful to keep the end product simple. "Technology for the sake of technology doesn’t work," said Rick Van Velden, online marketing programs manager. Accordingly, BroadVision’s online marketing program is not only integrated but also highly specific.

Specifically, BroadVision‘s online marketing program is client- and demographic-oriented. Many existing and prospective clients, as well as business partners, are given dedicated intranets. "BroadVision sees online marketing in a very audience-specific way," Martino said.

Certainly this is because the company, which is much smaller than Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, simply doesn’t have the budget for online marketing programs that blanket the globe. It is a strategy that midsize companies would do well to follow.

BroadVision is also intent on making sure that its business partners—which include PricewaterhouseCoopers L.L.P. and Intel Corp.—are privy to all its online marketing programs. The idea, Martino said, is to make sure partners have enough information so that they devise their online advertising with a similar message.

"We give partners online demo sheets, presentations, anything that we develop," Martino said. In an age when technology and manufacturing companies alike are striking marketing partnerships at a furious clip, the strategy makes a good deal of sense.

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