Delving Inside the World of BTB

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The articulate observer Don Libey, a direct marketing investment banker, commented, "Today's relevant direct marketing organization is not a direct marketing company in the classic sense of the term. Rather, it is an organization that employs direct marketing techniques as part of its totality of multiple-channel sales and marketing."

This describes business-to-business direct marketing perfectly. BTB direct marketing is everywhere, but it is often hard to spot. Other than mail-order catalogs like Viking Office Products and Hello Direct, there is no such thing as a BTB direct marketing company, per se. But direct marketing is being conducted all over the BTB world. It is just called something else.

It may be called sales support, or customer service, or pre-sales, or marketing communications, or contact management, or demand generation or customer relationship management. It may live in a sales organization, or in corporate communications, or in field sales services, or - gasp - in marketing. Wherever it is done, it is rarely practiced by people who consider themselves direct marketers.

Let's review how direct marketing plays in the BTB world. We can divide the universe into two rough categories: direct marketing tools and direct marketing techniques or applications.

Direct Marketing Tools

The following are the fundamental elements of the BTB direct marketing tool kit:

• Databases. Business customer data is worth a lot because universes tend to be small, but accounts tend to represent a high potential value. Most business marketers understand the importance of gathering and maintaining customer information. So they are likely to invest in regular outbound contact with customers to keep the data fresh and usable. Some business marketers go so far as to analyze the data, using it to segment their marketplaces by value, by channel preference or by product affinity, allowing better sales coverage and more efficient customer service.

• Catalogs. Business marketers are figuring out that, even if they are not in the mail-order business, a catalog can be a very effective marketing tool. Catalogs can offload from an expensive sales representative a quick sale of, say, a replacement part. Catalogs can display far broader SKU depth than is manageable at retail. And catalogs make attractive sales collateral for field sales or at trade shows.

• Call centers. Now often known as contact centers, the call center is the workhorse of BTB marketing. Handling everything from sales territory coverage over the phone, to post-sales customer support, the inbound and outbound contact center is applied at just about every stage of the buying and selling process.

• Direct response communications. There is little need for classic awareness communications in BTB. Business marketing is about sales, and every business communication needs to support that objective. As Bob Bly, a well-known direct marketing copywriter, said, "All business-to-business marketing communications are direct marketing, whether we think of them that way or not." Business marketing communications are designed to move customers along the buying cycle, and close business.

• Internet. Business buyers were early to the Net and are regular users today. Business buyers expect to find what they want on the Internet. And the Net can be applied at nearly every stage of the buying process. Whether it is e-commerce, response management via e-mail or downloadable sales collateral, the Internet is responsive, measurable and targeted. In short, it is the greatest direct marketing tool ever.

Direct Marketing Techniques

These direct marketing tools are applied to business-to-business marketing in a number of key ways:

• Lead generation. If a database is the basic BTB direct marketing tool, then lead generation is the most visible application. Database marketing techniques are used to analyze prospect universes, and direct marketing campaigns drive prospects to raise their hands and express interest in seeing a sales representative. Direct marketing's contribution to lead generation can shorten the sales cycle and make the face-to-face sales function much more productive.

• Response management. As leads are generated by direct marketing campaigns, response management processes receive the inquiries, qualify them, nurture the unqualified and hand off to sales the most qualified leads for closing. E-mail and telephone are the most popular response management media today. Once a sales rep accepts a lead, the marketers keep track of it so they can measure campaign results and continue to test and fine-tune their programs.

• E-commerce/mail order. Some product categories lend themselves nicely to mail order via catalog and its modern cousin, e-commerce. But most business marketers operate in a complex multichannel environment, so they need to be wary of channel conflict. Typical BTB mail-order applications are spare parts or low-end products that more value-added sales channels don't want to be bothered with anyway.

• Loyalty programs. Business marketers have been focused on maintaining customer loyalty since time immemorial because their customers tend to be few and the relationships long-standing. Business marketers focus on customer share, seeking to penetrate an account and get the largest possible portion of the customer's budget. They apply such aftermarketing techniques as upselling, cross-selling and special service levels to extend the relationship.

• Channel support. Direct marketers are very active in providing support to distribution channels, like resellers and retailers.

This can be in the form of lead generation and other co-marketing programs, or in managing and developing end-user customer data. Even when the end-user is a consumer, direct marketing supports the channel with pull-through programs to drive traffic and generate sales.

So don't be surprised if you don't run across many self-identified direct marketers in BTB. If you look, you will still find plenty of direct marketing.

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