Internet Presence Boosts IBM Lead Program Tenfold

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IBM Corp. reports that a seminar program designed to qualify leads for resellers has grown ten times in size -- with no need for new personnel -- since it went on the Internet in early 1998.

Under the program dubbed Seminar in a Box, IBM reps nominate resellers to host seminars on one of four e-business topics: firewall security, business intelligence, database access via the Web, and application development. IBM, Armonk, NY, launched the program in the second half of 1997 with two full-time employees managing between 50 and 70 seminars to help resellers identify and qualify sales leads among attendees.

"What we were trying to do was build a cooperative marketing program to help our business partners find new prospects and expand their business," said Robert Arfman, manager of worldwide business partner marketing, IBM, adding that the program's aim was to "relieve our partners of the burden of the direct marketing and administrative aspects of prospecting and executing a seminar-type marketing program."

The program was an instant hit with IBM's resellers, especially smaller ones.

"Because of the overhead of not only administrative processes, but of all of the efforts involved in putting on a seminar, [a seminar marketing program] may not have been worthwhile to them financially," said Arfman. "They'd be spending money on building a database, buying lists, building the creative for the direct mailing and telemarketing follow-up."

The Seminar-in-a-Box program allows smaller firms to operate like large ones with inhouse marketing departments, said Arfman

However, there was no central place to handle the administrative aspects of seminar planning, nor was there a way to easily follow up on leads. Prior to putting the program on the Internet, IBM nominated resellers and scheduled seminars using e-mail, and all the information had to be hand entered into various databases.

In early 1998, IBM turned the program over to San Antonio-based Harte-Hanks Response Management. Under the Web-based system, an IBM rep fills out an electronic form nominating a reseller to hold a seminar and sends it to Harte-Hanks Response Management. The system automatically verifies that the proposed seminar meets scheduling requirements and that the reseller is qualified to give it, then automatically sends an e-mail to an IBM seminar planner, confirms it with the nominating rep and updates a master schedule.

IBM then buys lists -- usually 3,000 to 5,000 names -- and supplies creative for a direct mail drop to prospective seminar attendees. Harte-Hanks telemarkets and processes registrations for the seminars, which generally draw between 30 and 50 people.

After seminars, Harte-Hanks receives evaluations and attendance information (walk-ins, no-shows, etc.) and posts it on the Business Partner Operational Profile System, a central password-protected database available to IBM's resellers 24 hours a day.

Harte-Hanks then begins follow-up telemarketing. Based on response, the firm identifies "A" leads and notifies appropriate sales reps via e-mail. When Harte-Hanks posts a lead to the BPOPS Web site, the lead automatically is written to a sales lead database. The lead stays open until a reseller goes into the system, views it and reports its status (provided a quote, made a sale, no sale, left a message, etc.). When a reseller makes an update, the information is instantly available to IBM online.

Under the Internet-based system, IBM in 1998 sponsored more than 500 seminars using one IBM and one Harte-Hanks employee.

Also, leads "tend to be better qualified walking in the door," said Arfman, adding that IBM has seen from 40 to 50 percent of seminar attendees rate some sort of follow-up action. Through surveys, IBM has found that Seminar-in-a-Box is consistently among the top three programs its resellers value most.

IBM plans this year to increase the program and add seminar topics.

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