Use the Web to Stem Sales Decline

The failing economy and tragic events of 2001 created a “perfect storm” for many sales and marketing programs, forcing them into a very reactive, if not outright panic, mode.

Most companies adjusted their course this year, however, and we see new trends and practices in their sales and marketing programs. Most are doing more with less by relying on Web-based programs as well as brute-force approaches. An underlying theme for almost everybody is the commitment to build programs that rely on a systems approach to deliver predictable, long-term results. As direct marketers have preached for years, the programs need to be easily tested, measured, and refined.

Another theme is a decline in travel. Sept. 11 and the economy forced companies to travel less and use technology more. The trend is continuing. There is too much efficiency to be gained, and sales prospects enjoy the technology experience. In 2002 companies are increasing their use of online meetings, seminars, collaboration technology, virtual trade shows, and Web-based and e-mail-based rich media presentations. Here are some of the top trends:

Web-based lead generation programs. Companies are improving the value of the information on their Web sites — not by more HTML pages, but through more white papers and using better Web forms to deliver the white papers. The improved Web forms are friendlier, record contact data (name, address, phone number) and prompt users to comment on specific areas of pain. The forms also e-mail the information automatically to the requestor's e-mail address instead of allowing a direct download. The Web forms are rapidly becoming a primary response method for direct marketing campaigns.

Using rich media to tell the story. Rich media combines voice, images, and text that delivered together produce greater impact than any of these media types alone. Sales and marketing teams are using rich media presentations that can be e-mailed to prospects as Internet links, as openers to PowerPoint presentations, for trade shows, as part of must-win proposals and to describe highly-technical product benefits. For DM campaigns, Web-based rich media presentations have evolved as a very appealing offer.

Custom-built target lists. Companies that purchase lists for inside sales programs often find that the lists are too broad, too large and that there are too many inaccuracies. If sales reps or telesales staff spend time to verify and fix the lists, it reduces their efficiency by up to 40 percent. In 2002 companies are having researchers generate custom lists either internally or by using specialized outsourced services that guarantee 100% accuracy.

Contact database vigilance. It is not enough to generate good custom lists. The entire contact database must be cleansed and verified on an ongoing basis. The most important factor in CRM success is the quality of the contact database. On average, 15 percent of a contact database becomes inaccurate every year. Companies that have spent heavily on CRM are now resolved to do the necessary maintenance to prevent wasteful and costly campaign mailings, telesales, and other prospecting efforts.

Search engine optimization and Web analytic programs. Search engine optimization programs ensure top listings in major search engines. Even business-to-business companies now realize how much greater the return on investment can be from consistent top listings when compared with traditional advertising and marketing campaigns. Once visitors are directed to the Web site, companies want to know the tools visitors use on the company's Web site and even how they navigate from page to page. Using Web analytic programs to get this information, more companies are rating the customer experience to determine which Web initiatives should get highest priority to improve campaign management and visitor conversion rates.

Staff efficiency through specialization and outsourcing. Companies large and small have seen the value of staff specialization in sales and marketing programs. Businesses are refining specialization to mirror the sales funnel. Gone are the days when individual sales staff generated their own leads, scheduled their own product demonstrations and moved deals through the funnel to closure.

Teams of researchers generate lists of prospects, telesales teams schedule product demonstrations, special sales engineers do the demonstrations, perform follow-up and further qualify prospects, and closers get the final sale. Large and small companies are resolved to organize this way, even if they have to outsource roles to service providers.

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