Integrate Online and Offline in BTB

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During the past eight months, the hot topic has been business-to-consumer/business-to-business e-commerce. However, with the market correction in March, companies selling in BTB markets should remember the more traditional methods of marketing and selling to avoid the same fate that many BTC companies experienced. Too many allowed their pendulums to swing completely to the Internet side of marketing and selling and forgot their bricks-and-mortar roots.

It has been demonstrated that using the Internet as the only marketing and selling channel is insufficient. The importance of reinstating some of the more traditional methods is clear, but the trick lies in bridging the fundamental gap between the online world and the offline world of demand creation and fulfillment.

In BTB selling, companies deal with much higher transaction-value customers who are not buying discounted best sellers from a retail dot-com. Rather, they are ready to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on products and services. And they have already conducted extensive online research, spoken with call-center representatives and will close the transaction offline with the assistance of a sales or channel representative.

It is common for these buyers to fluctuate between the online and offline worlds, epitomizing the clicks-and-mortar culture, before making a purchase decision. Clearly, integrating your online and offline marketing and selling efforts is the key to success with BTB customers.

Getting Customers to Your Site

Many BTB companies are challenged with multiple internal marketing and sales organizations that want to communicate with and market to their customers and prospects. For example, corporate marketing wants to roll out a direct mail campaign, product marketing wants to offer price promotions to specific target segments, field marketing sends out regional offers to spur sales and the list goes on.

Simultaneously, sales is typically in the midst of negotiations and account penetration activities with many of the same customers. The result is a chaotic process that frustrates the customer, with the risk of jeopardizing sales' efforts, because of the bombardment of multiple and, in many cases, conflicting messages. BTC buyers are more willing to sift through multiple and confusing offers; for BTB buyers, it's just spam.

Because it is natural for a company's multiple functional entities to communicate with customers, companies should implement solutions that broker the number and types of offers and promotions that are sent to the customer/prospect. If your BTB buyer feels spammed, you risk losing a multimillion-dollar purchase. As a result, your e-mail marketing campaigns should respect customers' preferences, should be personalized and must allow the customer to have a voice in the marketing and selling processes.

Invite them to tell you how they want to be marketed and sold to. This requires you to go beyond the traditional opt-in/opt-out model, which has proven to be largely ineffective. Make it easy for your customers and prospects to have more say. For example, let them tell you which types of communication they want to receive and how often, if at all, they want to hear from you. By increasing the level of respectful dialogue with your customers, your acquisition and retention rates will increase as well.

Fulfilling the Demand

The next step toward a successful integration of your online and offline e-marketing processes, is turning the demand you create into qualified sales leads. With the explosion of the Web, more and more inquiries enter via Web sites. Fidelity Investments, for example, receives up to 1 million Web inquiries per day. How can companies separate the wheat from the chaff? This is critical in BTB, for leads originate on the Web.

The solution? An effective lead management initiative. You must have a process for capturing leads the instant they are submitted at your Web site for analyzing, prioritizing and enriching them, and for getting them to the appropriate selling channel instantly -- because sales leads, especially those that originate on the Web, die quickly. Remember, BTB opportunities typically start on the Web and move to the offline world for closure.

Another piece to the BTB e-marketing puzzle is to deploy a strategy in which the technology to create and fulfill demand is placed in the hands of those closest to the customer -- marketing and sales. Solutions that are difficult to use practically guarantee that information technology will get involved, which could dramatically slow down the speed with which you build, create and execute a campaign. And what if you have to rely on IT to make changes? Can they be executed in real time? Being able to react instantly to customer/prospect behavior is critical for BTB selling.

When dealing with the Web, it is imperative to be able to operate at Internet speed. You can be successful by creating demand on the Web and fulfilling that demand via your offline sales channels. BTB companies that can accomplish this will reap the benefits of a successful e-marketing strategy.

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