It Takes Old Media to Sell New Technology

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I love a good irony. The latest one I've been mulling over is that new hi-tech products and services are exploding onto the marketplace in record numbers. But the most effective means to market these digital offerings is still through an analog approach - namely, telephone calls, direct mail and traditional advertising.


Think about it. Every other new company being introduced these days seems to have a dot-com attached to the name. And many of the nondot-com companies offer hi-tech solutions. Yet, the marketer must have an established relationship with the prospect to introduce the new product via the hi-tech delivery means of e-mail. If you send an unsolicited e-mail, you run the risk of being cited for spamming.


So what about other hi-tech media, say CD-ROM programs? I think they're great for certain applications. Interactive CD-ROM programs are expensive to produce. They generally provide the highest return on investment when they are used in large quantities or for high-ticket items. Of course, Web sites can be much less expensive to produce, and they can be very content-rich. But you'll see traffic at your site only after your prospects know it's there. The whole point of early marketing is to establish awareness and interest in the first place.


Little wonder, then, that the use of teleservices has played a key role in promoting new Internet ventures and other hi-tech solutions. So how can teleservices help provide a bridge between traditional sales and customer service methods and new technology products? Consider these approaches.


Outbound calls can be used to:


• Conduct market research that helps hi-tech marketers better identify their target market. And if one of the questions you ask is something along the lines of, "Would you be interested in receiving more information about solutions for the problem of (fill in your market niche here)?" and the prospect says, "Yes," suddenly that e-mail you're itching to send isn't unsolicited anymore.


• Contact prospects to let them know about your new product or service. Interested prospects can then be directed to the company Web site for more information, or an informational/promotional package can be sent out at the prospects' request.


• Contact current customers and ask for referrals of others who might also be interested in your product or service. Satisfied customers are usually willing to suggest others with similar needs. Those new customers can account for a considerable amount of revenue and can be a source for additional new customers.


Inbound calls can be used to:


• Provide personalized customer service. When customers have problems with high-technology products or services, they often feel tense, even desperate for help because it is not within their control to figure out a solution to the problem. They have to rely on the provider to lend technical assistance.


Having a calm, friendly voice answer the customer service toll-free number can go a long way in confirming to customers that they made the right decision to purchase from your company. After all, it's not just the product or service customers want, but also reliable follow-up after the sale.


• Upsell and cross-sell. Agents who are good listeners will often hear opportunities to provide additional products or services that customers truly need or want. For example, a customer calling in to order toner cartridges for a printer mentions that her company is going through more toner than ever before. A savvy agent might probe to see if additional printers would be a wise investment that will result in greater productivity. If the answer is yes, then ask if the caller is responsible for making that purchasing decision. If the decision maker is someone else, have a process in place for a follow-up.


• Capture information on prospective new customers. Customer service reps can be trained to identify which customers appear satisfied by the service they receive, and to ask for the names and phone numbers of others who might be interested in your product or service. Immediately following a positive experience is a great time to capitalize on that warm, fuzzy feeling that has been created. Act at the moment of opportunity.


Technology has done wonders for increasing convenience and lowering prices. But at the end of the day, many buying decisions still have an emotional component to them.


Which brings me to another irony - the more hi-tech the product and the steeper the price tag, the greater the need of customers to feel that there is a caring human available who will help navigate these new waters. Inbound and outbound calls are still an effective means for bridging that gap between old-tech, new-tech and hi-tech.


Sandra Herman is director of marketing at Transcom, Carmel, IN. Her e-mail address is sherman@transcomusa.com.

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