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Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

The business-to-business hi-tech world has taken off and BTB marketers are fast becoming the leaders in one-to-one marketing. Not surprising — this is the industry most likely to develop new applications and technologies.

It's not just upstart Microsoft wannabes that are creating winning BTB marketing efforts. Traditional firms like Federal Express, Dell Computer Corp. and IBM, spurred by growing confidence and ability in customer data collection and use, are building multi-channel market coverage.

The Direct Marketing Association predicts marketing expenditures for BTB will grow at 10.2 percent per year for the next three years. Where a sales call may cost up to $700 depending on the industry and a direct mail piece may cost more than $25 depending on the campaign, an online communication program can cost between 5 cents and $1.50 per contact. Expertise, data and technology enablers have grown, allowing firms to track and monitor responses and sales with an accuracy that was impossible in the past.

Forrester predicts that by 2002, 98 percent of large businesses and 45 percent of small firms will do business online. As a result, Internet BTB trade will grow to $327 billion by 2002.

Old line oil and gas firm Barton Instruments, City of Industry, CA, experienced the high costs associated with not being up to speed in its marketing efforts. The company wanted to launch its product Electronic Flow Meter/Remote Telemetry Unit to the marketplace. The product measures the flow of oil or gas and then remotely transmits the flow volumes by microwave or real-time online through direct connect telephone lines. While the product's benefits are clear — reduction of human meter readers and errors and an increase in cash flow with more accurate and frequent billings — Barton's handicaps were several: It had introduced the EFM/RTU after most of the competition; its databases were not unified; and its customer and prospect databases were not segmented so it was impossible to identify either.

During the year, many of Barton's customer firms had consolidated or merged. Barton sales representatives were the only ones who had these databases, which were stored in Goldmine ad contact management software and most of the data was years old. The database needed to be completely overhauled at a considerable expense.

To bring the company up to speed, Barton formed a team of marketing specialists to develop a fully integrated product launch. Prior research by Barton indicated there was much confusion among the buyers and engineers (influencers) about this new technology. The study concluded that local, varying seminars were the best way to reach the diverse marketplaces. In some, the focus would be on oil. In others, it had to be on gas and terrain. Installation methods varied from market to market, too.

The communications plan called for contacting all prospects in as many ways as possible. The goal was to get the prospects to a seminar near their offices. Communications included regional ads in trade journals, direct mail, broadcast fax, telemarketing and public relations in local publications. For direct mail, a mailing device that looked like a “confidential” BTB 9-inch by 12-inch interoffice folder got the prospects' attention. It included an overview of the seminar and a personalized faxback acceptance form that identified the dates and location (map personalized) of the seminar.

The results were beyond the projected expectations. The sale cycle was substantially reduced and Barton scooped the market with a more complete and better sell-in than its competitors. Barton's success proves that old dogs can learn new tricks. However, it takes a team approach, integrated marketing and communications, good data and a clever idea that gets the attention of the busy people who have seen it all.

How current must the data be in order to be valuable? And what price is right for freshness? The answer to these questions is changing as fast as the technology.

Robert McKim is chief operating officer at MS Database Marketing, Los Angeles, www.msdbm.com.

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