Hi-Tech Products to Serve Consumers, Businesses

As hi-tech products have moved into the mainstream, marketers have seized the opportunity to expand their customer base. Hardware and software that were once strictly the domain of business users are now hot items for home consumers.

IBM's ViaVoice dictation software, for instance, which until recently was targeted strictly to the business-to-business market, is now advertised to the general public via infomercials. But with these new opportunities come new problems to solve.

When a product has equal appeal to engineers and soccer moms, how do you maintain a targeted marketing approach? On the flip side, when a product is clearly designed for one segment of the market, how do you avoid customer-service nightmares brought on by PC novices trying to use complex software — or business buyers who want to save a penny with consumer hardware not designed for office workloads? Here are some solutions:

Creative. If the product has both business and consumer applications, feature the product both at work and at home. Combine user-friendly copy or scripting with a clear listing of technical specifications. The old rule that hi-tech ads need to feature specs as well as benefits still applies. Your consumer purchasers will need extra assurance that their current set-up meets any recommended system requirements.

When a product is clearly intended for one segment of the market, show the product in that environment. Adjust the language to meet the technical level of the prospect. A budget-strapped office manager will be less likely to consider a consumer printer if the ad shows Mom and the kids making a calendar.

Offers. While the needs of many business and consumer users are becoming more similar, price-point sensitivity remains worlds apart. Use targeted media to vary the offers you make to your business and consumer prospects. When possible, add certain functionality or enhancements to differentiate the product for business and consumer users.

Don't forget the importance of premiums in boosting response. You may want to offer one premium in ads to business-oriented media, and an alternative premium to consumer-based media. Or, offer a choice of premiums to all your customers.

Upsells are a critical source of income for many direct response campaigns and should be customized for both business and consumer users. Many hi-tech marketers have capitalized on the rising number of consumer calls by offering instructional books or CD tutorials during an inbound call.

Inbound. When taking orders by phone, it is critical to identify quickly the technical expertise of the caller and how that caller will be using your product. Your call center should be able to provide dedicated phone lines for each of your advertising media, so the telesales consultant knows immediately if the call is likely to be from a business or consumer user.

If this is not possible, make sure to place identifying questions at the top of the sales script. If the caller knows his or her system configuration in detail and plans to use the product for advanced applications, you can be fairly sure you are speaking to a technically apt person. If not, be prepared to provide more user-friendly assistance. Even if all your calls come from BTB customers, there's a big difference between talking to an IS manager and an office manager.

Train your consultants to speak at the proper technical level with each caller — don't cause your technically oriented customers to lose faith, or your consumer customers to feel intimidated. In some cases, this may even require having two different scripts at hand, one for experienced or business users and one for beginner or consumer users.

In an inbound telesales situation, it is important to maintain control of the call in order to close the sale. A flurry of questions from the caller makes this difficult. If the customer is not ready to order at the beginning of the call, have the consultant cover all the key benefits, features and technical aspects of the product in a brief sales presentation. Anticipate questions before they are asked.

Internet inquiries. If you are generating leads from a Web site, the same rules apply to e-mail as inbound — customize your message for the audience. In some cases, you can track the banner ad that brought a customer to your site. More likely, you will need to ask the prospect some basic questions that should be part of their reply to you (i.e. what system do you have, how do plan to use the product).

If you want to clearly separate yourself from the competition, simply respond to your e-mail/Web site inquiries promptly. One study found that it took an average of 3 1/2 days to get a response to an Internet inquiry. Many inquiries never get a response.

Segment customers for future follow-up. During the order process, make sure to gain additional customer data that can help you segment your customer list and identify the likely future needs of each segment. Business users will be prime prospects for network solutions and multiple-site licenses. Consumers will have more basic needs, depending on the product.

Once you collect the data, use it. Create outbound phone and mail programs that meet the needs of each segment. Outbound telesales is a great way to build relationships with all of your customers. Armed with a good product, a solid offer and detailed information about a customer's operating situation, a skilled telesales consultant can deliver a custom sales presentation that is a valuable, attentive form of follow-up service. This will be greatly appreciated by most customers and will lead to substantial back-end sales immediately and down the road.

Paul Kerstetter is vice president of sales and marketing at the AfterMarket Company, a Phoenix-based telesales company specializing in inbound and outbound campaigns that require a high degree of salesmanship. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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