Few industries are as fast-paced and dynamic as hi-tech. This is an industry once dominated by a fer well-trained, face-to-face direct selling armies marketing one-of-a-kind solutions to the fortunatew giants such as IBM, Texas Instruments and Amdahl. And thei few companies that could afford them.
Supporting the sales effort was easy and maintaining annuity revenue streams predictable — limited competition was fended off by proprietary system architectures creating captive customers for life — or so everyone thought.
Today's technology giants are simply those companies that maximize the
vast marketing and sales channels of distribution available to them and quickly adapt to changing customer requirements. The shift from proprietary to open systems environments, for instance, created frantic competition among companies striving to create differentiable value for customers, while margins continue to erode.
Companies that fail to provide real, sustainable value for their customers lose share to those who can. This is primarily why all but a few of the leading technology players have moved away from servicing customers with direct sales people alone and rely significantly on an indirect network of channels — business partners that can provide value in a way that the technology solution company cannot.
In most cases, corporate motivation for a hybrid marketing and sales environment is driven by three big advantages:
* Coverage (the quantity of customers and customer sites that can be serviced by indirect channels as a subset of those covered direct).
* Cost (the sales expense associated with indirect or hybrid resource account coverage relative to the sales cost of servicing those counts direct)
* Speed (as in, “speed in market” or a customer's access to your company).
There are, however, new challenges that emerge from a company's indirect or hybrid distribution strategy. Notwithstanding the obvious issues around anecdotal versus empirical channel conflict over account control, there is the issue of a technology company's total brand identity, sustainable and measurable long-term product awareness and demand generation, as well as the question of “Who owns the customer?” or better yet, “Who owns the communication with the customer, and how do I know it's happening?”
It is the complexity of the second question that begs a customer-focused approach to marketing and sales support in a hybrid marketing and sales environment.
One way a company can deal with these challenges is to create a utility to bridge customers with a hybrid environment that will integrate the selling effort and gain consistency in how it manages customer needs.
A corporate call center, for instance, is a high-impact, lower-cost model to service customer requirements in traditional areas of technical support, order management and customer service. When the call center is staffed with pre-sales telecoverage professionals and a demand-creation capability, a whole new opportunity emerges for servicing external selling resources in a consistent and measurable way.
If an appropriate infrastructure exists within the call center — technology enablement, skilled people and documented business processes — coverage, cost and speed can be achieved.
Digital Equipment Corp., for example, invested in such an infrastructure to help increase sales yields and provide demand for its business partners. Traditional direct marketing vehicles are used – mail, telemarketing, catalogs, Internet – to generate demand for products and services through a toll-free number. Customer responses are telequalified within the call center and then passed to the channel partner best equipped to manage the opportunity. Closed-loop processes ensure the customer is engaged quickly and sales-force-automation software in the call center enables exceptional contact management as well as a rich source file for database marketing.
Applying the features of this integrated capability to the marketing effort will help answer “Who owns the communication with the customer?” Offering these services proactively to your business partners will enable a broad-based communications strategy whereby you can manage and influence consistent content and support corporate brand identity. You will find that partners do not often have the time, resources or promotional dollars to do this themselves, and will take advantage of such services if they are easy to access and use.
Digital's Print on Demand capability offers these demand-creation services to partners to generate leads and increase partner revenue.
Available to any business partner, Print on Demand provides catalogs on Digital servers, PCs, storage and networking products. Partners can target a specific audience, market segment or event and customize a product catalog to showcase only those products that will bring them the highest reward.
Or they can print product briefs “on the fly” using the same Print on Demand systems by downloading to their laser printers — ideal for custom proposals. Accessible through Digital's intranet, partners can pick and choose the products, the images and the quantity they want using their PCs and have it sent direct to their customers.
Partners can point-and-click on the size of the catalog, page count, quantity and paper stock. Further customization allows for custom product layout, personalization using company name, logo and phone number, call-to-action, product prices or special offers on each page.
In essence, the partner controls the message content (products, pricing, and services) to best meet customer demands, while the product manufacturer controls the quality of content and message delivery. The partner can even divert the call to action to Digital's call center for demand management, so that they only see qualified leads.
Best of all, these custom-produced catalogs are delivered within seven days, can be produced in quantities as low as 1,000, and can cost between $3 and $5 dollars apiece. Partners can even subsidize the cost with their own co-op dollars, increasing the incentive to participate.
Built-in flexibility is an essential attribute for any program such as Print on Demand or other services designed to support a hybrid distribution model. Companies will look to these capabilities to achieve market differentiation and to maintain loyalty from their selling channels for ultimate competitive advantage in a complex marketing and sales environment.
Jay Gauthier is director of database marketing at Digital Equipment Corp., Littleton, MA