Uncover the Source of Internet Orders

Though the growing importance of Web sites is a blessing for business-to-business mailers, it carries a risk that must be managed if marketers are not to lose their ability to track orders to their true source.

Good order tracking has been fundamental to determining how well house and prospect lists and other media perform. Failure to get accurate source detail on Web orders means a growing proportion will be unsourced or, worse yet, arbitrarily assigned to the Web regardless of whether the Internet is responsible for the order.

BTB marketers already track fewer orders to a source than do business-to-consumer mailers. A growing volume of poorly attributed Web orders means even more lost control over what drives a business and will lead to increasingly inappropriate catalog and e-mail circulation decisions.

The tracking problem the Internet poses is that customers find a marketer’s site in one of several distinct, fundamentally different ways. For marketers to retain control over what drives someone to place an order with them, they need to measure each one.

Many Internet orders come from customers and prospects led to a site by the URL provided in traditional mail or space media. These buyers are using the site as an alternative order-placement medium. They would not have gone to your site had they not received traditional promotions.

Though it makes sense to send future e-mails to these buyers, catalogers who think Internet promotions diminish the need to send traditional vehicles to these customers risk losing future sales. And failure to track such orders to their real source means seriously underestimating list performance and making worse choices about which lists and media to use in the future.

A second group of Internet shoppers arrives at the site through searches, banner ads, promotions to rented e-mail lists and other proactive steps a marketer takes to promote its company and products on the Web. Here, too, marketers can’t afford to give up tabulating how important each source is in driving people to the site.

There will be names who refuse to provide source information and who arrive at the site simply by keying in its address. Some can’t be linked directly to a Web promotion. They may have heard about your company, been referred by a friend or come from some other unattributable source.

To reduce the number of unsourced orders and retain control over the efforts that drive Web orders, marketers should:

· Provide room on Web order forms for buyers to indicate whether they got a mail piece from you. If so, ask them to enter the source or key code from that piece. Though only a minority will comply with the latter request, attributing at least this portion of orders to a source is better than not.

· If your company typically makes special offers, require customers who order on the Web to enter a source code to get the deal.

· Assign unique suffixes to the URL appearing in mail and print promotions. Anyone using this suffix is known to have gotten to your site from such a promotion. These suffixes act like source codes.

· For visits generated by banner ads, mentions on other sites, search engines and other specific Web-based activities, use software to track these visits to their Internet “source.”

· Attribute only those Web orders tied to no traceable activity as a true “unsourced” order. For analytical purposes, allocate these orders across all traditional and Web-based media in proportion to sourced activity.

· To reduce unattributable orders and gain insight into them, run a post-match between these orders and recently mailed house and prospect lists to determine what percentage were mailed. Names not matching a mailed list are most likely true miscellaneous orders. Assume most that do match were driven to the site by traditional means.

· Don’t ignore the possibility that while Web engine searches, promotions, etc., drive customers to your site, some of these buyers will want to call rather than e-mail their order. This is especially true for complex or customized BTB products requiring substantial customer service support. To track this activity to its origin, create a unique phone number used only in Web ads; and if you have Web specials, let customers order by phone, but insist that they provide the source code appearing in the Web ad.

These steps outlined above will mitigate the loss of control caused by the growing use of the Internet as both a prospecting and an order-placement channel.

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