Sprint to success

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David Dickey, former director of direct, e-mail and SMS marketing for Sprint
David Dickey, former director of direct, e-mail and SMS marketing for Sprint

Sprint Nextel is pushing for a turnaround, and is hoping happier customers will help. The telecommunications company is renewing its focus on customer loy­alty and retention as it faces slumping revenues, and a churn rate of just under 2%. Creating ads with the kinder, gentler public face of CEO Daniel Hesse and introducing the iPhone-esque Samsung Instinct seem to have helped with individual con­sumers, but small, midsize and large businesses are also an important part of Sprint's consumer base.

Just as individuals do, these business-to-business clients demand meaningful contact from a company that recognizes their special needs. E-mails, phone calls and letters sent to busy executives who make decisions for their companies must stand out from the crowd. Follow-up on these exchanges must be relevant and in depth if a marketer wants to build a meaningful relationship with these important clients. Sprint, in tandem with its direct agency of record, Euro RSCG, has taken these basics into account when formulating its b-to-b CRM strategy.

“We placed a renewed focus on the business space starting in the early part of 2007,” explains David Dickey, most recently director of direct, e-mail and SMS marketing for Sprint, and now the company's director of pricing, analytics and profitability. “Our direct marketing comes down to doing the basics very well. At a greater level, our loyalty efforts come back to sales rep­resentatives and dedicated customer care representatives — they have the relationships with the decision mak­ers, and they do a great job of answer­ing questions, and helping maximize products and services.”

Mailer part of larger b-to-b effort

A recent direct mail campaign is a symbol of Sprint's renewed focus on building relationships in the business space. This spring, Sprint Nextel sent a “dimensional mailer” to pros­pects at key companies. The mailer, which offered a premium to custom­ers who agreed to meet with Sprint account managers, had a baseball theme — it was mailed with an actual baseball bat nestled inside.

Selling wireless services with baseball may seem a little off the wall, but these prospects were specifically targeted decision-makers, in com­panies that employed 1,000 people or more — so Sprint needed to cut through the usual mail clutter.

“The package is part of a larger campaign effort in the business space to talk in a relevant way about the products and services we are putting forward,” says Dickey. “It's also a way to get people's attention.”

Euro RSCG's direct campaigns for Sprint differ across the company's many specialized products. Campaigns are targeted to the particular compa­nies that may find that specific service relevant; for example, Direct Connect or GPS applications.

“We have such a wide variety of products and services, many of which most consumers have never even heard of. But they are relevant to a very niche audience,” Dickey points out. “Overall, our b-to-b strat­egy is really about identifying the right customer set and making sure that we put all of the relevant infor­mation in front of them.”

Sometimes, putting information in front of customers is the only goal of a campaign. Sprint reaches out to b-to-b clients quarterly, at a minimum, and often these touches are not urg­ing customers to buy anything new. Rather, the messages are educational and relevant to services the cus­tomer may already be using or may be interested in using in the future. The company constantly works to find instances where it would be beneficial to clients to add new prod­ucts and services. Sprint also looks to numerous data providers for new prospect lists, which are culled from an array of sources, including maga­zine subscriptions and the massive databases of major data companies.

Face-to-face meetings are crucial

Account managers are key to Sprint's b-to-b marketing and outreach efforts. Dickey says that when a customer or potential customer expresses interest in meeting with account managers, they set up face-to-face meetings to occur within two weeks.

“The sales team is critical in terms of both meeting with potential cus­tomers and identifying customer needs,” Dickey notes. “It also pro­vides additional data points that make our lists better and stronger.”

Meetings with sales teams play an especially important role in the enterprise space — where customers may need extra, personal guidance — because one decision-maker is choosing the services and tools for hundreds of employees at a time.

“The services we're talking about in the b-to-b space, when you move beyond the small office, can be com­plex,” Dickey explains. “They need to be tailored to individual businesses based on size, location and need. So the leads we generate are passed on to account managers who meet with the customer, sit down and have that conversation. When you think about the specialized nature of our products, and the customization that off-the-shelf products need, [they're] best [served] in a face-to-face meeting.”

Through careful deployment of sales and customer care representa­tives, Sprint is working hard to build meaningful relationships with key companies and the decision-makers within. Account managers maintain regular contact with their assigned clients, trying to improve the prod­ucts and services that companies are already working with, to better understand the needs of an organiza­tion and to build personal relation­ships with the individuals who buy and maintain Sprint products.

“For us, the core of driving loyalty in the b-to-b space is providing great service — [in both device function] and customer service,” Dickey says. “Our efforts in the direct and CRM space are designed to build those meaningful relationships and offer great products and service to new customers and prospects.”

B-to-b baseball campaign hits a home run

What: A “dimensional mailer” created by Euro RSCG, Sprint's agency of record.

The piece included a realwood baseball bat — as well as a premium offer for customers who set up a meeting with an account manager.

“We wanted to send [prospects] something with some heft that would make it through and actually get opened,” says Laura Luckman Kelber, account director at Euro RSCG.

When: Spring 2008

Target: Sent to potential enterprise clients — those making decisions for companies with more than 1,000 employees.

Goal: To break through the clutter and start a relationship between decision-makers and Sprint's sales team. “The b-to-b side is very much connected with the sales force; it's very much a relationship-driven program,” says Luckman Kelber.

Results: Sprint is still fielding calls about the pieces. Already, response is more than double the original benchmark, and that number is expected to rise as customers meet with account managers.

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