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Internet Marketing Boosts Direct Selling

Introduction

This Newsletter is written particularly for Business-to-Business marketing (B2B) for Manufacturing and Service Industries. However the same principles apply to many other markets.

This topic might well have been covered in the October 2003 issue of the Journal put out by Accenture. The Journal is called Accenture Outlook. The Journal has as its main slogan 'High Performance. Delivered.' It often has very thought-provoking articles.

That issue had in its section on 'Sales Force Performance' an article entitled, "Timing the Handoff". It was on its own terms an excellent article. It said that the direct selling force got involved in handling raw sales leads much too early. It proposed some prior steps should be handled by other resources, without getting too specific about which resources these might be. It suggested the following systemic approach:

  • Lead generation
  • Lead qualification
  • Lead enhancement
  • Lead distribution
  • Lead follow-up
  • Lead analysis and reporting

The direct sales force came into the picture at that 'Lead distribution stage'. The article suggested that this was the right Timing for the Handoff.

It suggested that the traditional early selling steps should be done with different resources. Perhaps inside sales representatives or telemarketing representatives could handle the first tasks. It seemed to be dealing with what traditionally might be called 'Push Selling'. Its message was useful but overlooked an important change that has occurred in recent years.

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Old Selling Methods Don't Work

The important change is caused by the information explosion. As people try to run harder to handle their jobs, they are inundated with information from a multitude of sources. Some of it is unasked for and is found objectionable. It may be direct mail packages, telemarketing sales representatives, or unwanted e-mail (spam). A tiny fraction of this may be useful but the vast majority is an unwelcome intrusion.

Direct Selling Is Shut Out

Even prior to this information explosion, direct selling had been getting tougher. As markets become more international, another group of sales agents came into the market place. Many companies use Manufacturers' Representatives to be their selling force in new markets. There are few barriers to entry to such Representatives entering markets so the numbers can rise quickly. As the number of agents involved in 'Push Selling' increases, the resistance against 'Push Selling' has risen almost exponentially.

It is not surprising that busy people began to set limits on the time they will see new suppliers. Perhaps it would be Tuesday afternoon between 2:00 pm and 3:30 pm. In many cases, even such a tight window was eventually closed. Fax solicitations were frowned on. Direct mail shots were often immediately consigned to the waste paper basket.

Direct selling agents were thus largely shut out. Cold calling was often diverted to a voice box and then ignored.

The Permission Marketing Age

Seth Godin in 1999 described what he saw in his book, "Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers". He argued that businesses could no longer rely solely on traditional forms of "interruption advertising" in magazines, mailings, or radio and television commercials. If you want to grab someone's attention, you first need to get his or her permission with some kind of lure. Once a customer accepts the lure, then you're given permission to try to establish a possible relationship and perhaps make a sale.

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Wait For The Call

So Seth Godin was suggesting that selling is largely like fishing. You set out your lures and hope that a prospect will nibble. You could of course use the time-honoured methods of cold calling and try to get an appointment. Seth Godin believed that your action would cause an immediate and adverse reaction. However ads in the Yellow Pages and waiting for the call hardly seems an appropriate or even a responsible selling program.

Purchasers Are In Control

The new element was that the sales person no longer was in control of the process. The purchaser decided if and when a potential supplier might be contacted. How could a sales person take back control? Well as it turned out, that was the wrong question. The sales person did not need to fight to regain control: that was a battle often already lost. A new phenomenon was coming into play. Welcome to the Internet.

Purchasers Search For Suppliers

The Information Explosion meant that more information was available. A potential purchaser could search this huge body of information and learn about some of the likely stronger suppliers. It was much easier to develop a short list of potential suppliers and contact them for more information.

Traditional Marketing Methods Are Getting Weaker

Although there was much more information around, the traditional information sources were not necessarily improving and in some cases were declining in quality. Let's explore some of the more well known.

- Print Directories, Yellow Pages, Industry Catalogues

At one time these were the only printed sources of knowledge. They usually required paid subscriptions by suppliers. As readership of the printed versions has declined or as prices of insertions have risen, many suppliers have decided to no longer pay for entries. In turn, this reduces the value of the directory. This could be a declining spiral that accelerates.

- Trade Shows

Trade Shows were always costly in cash terms and in staff involvement. Then with the increased cost of air travel and the heightened security concerns since 9/11, attendances in general are in decline. Even the biggest and best are vulnerable. COMDEX� Las Vegas 2004 has been postponed from its scheduled opening date of November 14, 2004. A COMDEX Advisory Board representing the IT industry's foremost companies is now determining how COMDEX� can best meet the future needs of the industry.

- Associations

When businesses were run on a more regional or even national basis, associations were often a useful meeting ground for purchasers and suppliers. As so many markets are becoming international and global in scope, coupled with the developing aversion to travel, it may be more difficult to find an association where useful contacts can be made.

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Internet Marketing Finds Potential Purchasers

If 'Push Selling' is becoming less and less effective, then perhaps it's time to switch to what might be called 'Pull Purchasing'. Purchasers are out there looking for suppliers. How can we make sure that our company will appear on their radar screens? That's where Internet Marketing comes in.

Of course if you view your company website as an electronic version of your sales brochure, then you're missing most of the potential of the Internet. Your website can indeed function like an electronic sales brochure, if that's all you want. A potential customer is interested so instead of snail-mailing a package of brochures, you direct the prospect to look at your website. It can be much more effective than the printed sales brochure. It's modern and the prospect can select exactly what they want to see. What more could you ask?

To see exactly what's happening here, it should be noted that using your website as an electronic sales brochure is exactly like sending the client a CD of the website. The Internet was involved but only as the vehicle to get the content from your hosting site on to the prospect's computer. Let's explore how much you are missing by this near-sighted view of the Internet.

Internet Is The Window On The World

One fundamental aspect of the Internet is that it allows A and B, who were unaware of each other's existence, to become aware and make contact. That happens between individuals and between companies millions of times each day. It's not limited by geography. A Canadian supplier can become aware of a New Zealand prospect seeking a solution just as easily as learning about a prospect in the same city. This is a growing phenomenon. Dependent on the way you measure it, the growth is at least of the order of 10 - 20% per year or possibly more.

So it is increasingly important to be part of this process - "to be in the loop". Internet Marketing is the activity that ensures this. As prospects are looking for suppliers, your company must come up in their searches. This breaks down into a two-step process.

Firstly the company website must be highly visible on the Internet. One way is to ensure credible market authorities have links to the company website. So the company website should be listed in appropriate Internet trade directories. If there are prestigious Trade Shows, it may be appropriate to exhibit so that again website links are created. If there are Associations where suppliers can post links to their websites, this again can increase the company's Internet presence. All these different links from other websites are known as 'backlinks'. By one or other of these 'backlink' routes, some prospects will find the company website and start exploring the company's capabilities.

Other prospects will be following a different route. By tapping in appropriate keywords in a search engine such as Google, Yahoo! or MSN, they will hope to get a list of potential suppliers. If the company website has a good number of backlinks and has also been constructed to score well with these keywords, then the company website is likely to be listed early in this keyword listing. Such a keyword listing is usually known as a SERP (Search Engine Report Page).

In very competitive market sectors, it may prove difficult to get listed highly in the SERP's. It is also possible to buy ads on these SERP's by what is known as PPC campaigns. Payments for such ads are only determined by those searchers who click on the ads and view the underlying web page. So this is a highly targeted advertising expenditure. The Google Adwords programme and Overture are the two major players here.

This first step of getting prospects to the company web page is only part of the Internet Marketing activity. The website should be constructed so that as many as possible of the visitors "convert" and move forward on the buying process. This requires that the Usability of the website be high. In other words, visitors should find it easy to get the information they are looking for. They should not get frustrated or confused by what they see in the web page. The website should also be confirming the Credibility of the company. The aim is to have these prospects contact the company and start a purchasing process. They will only do this, if all the vibes they get from the website suggest they will be satisfied with their intended purchase.

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Measuring the effectiveness of Internet Marketing

With traditional marketing activities, effectiveness is difficult to measure. This is not at all the case with Internet Marketing. Every action on the part of an Internet visitor can be measured if one wishes. So it is possible to try alternate ways of presenting information and seeing which produces the best results. The only challenges are those of handling all the information that can be developed and then of analyzing it to learn what works.

Following up on the initial contact

So a prospect may have gone to check out the website. How do we build on that to strengthen the impression of the company? There are still further tasks that our Internet Marketing can do to help with that. You want to start a process of dialogue with the potential prospect. Perhaps you have some useful information that you can provide by e-mail in return for the prospect giving you some simple registration information. If appropriate, a quarterly Newsletter may help to build up a relationship of mutual respect. The prospect has needs, and you as the potential supplier have solutions.

Note that none of this as yet involves the higher-priced direct selling force. The Internet Marketing staff can be doing the functions that the Accenture article described. Only when the prospect has been "qualified" should this be passed on to the direct sales force.

The Handoff to Direct Selling

With this approach where the Internet Marketing program is developing and confirming the leads, only qualified leads are passed to the direct sales force. This is the best possible Timing for the Handoff as the Accenture article suggested.

The contact should by now be so well developed that e-mail messages will not be filtered out by spam filters but are eagerly awaited by the prospects. The direct selling force can now build on the goodwill developed by the Internet Marketing. Selling is best done between two human beings since this can ensure that the best solution is developed for both parties. In this approach, direct selling comes in to work with the prospect on that best solution and to "close the sale" .

Conclusion

The Accenture article suggested a two-part process of developing leads and turning them into sales. There was no clear guidance on the resources best suited to handle the first part. However all was involved in a 'Push Selling' process.

Here it has been suggested that the first part should be seen as a 'Pull Purchasing' activity. Internet Marketing is ideally suited for this. At the right point in time, the qualified lead can be handed on to the Direct Selling force to complete the 'Pull Purchasing' process and to make the sale.

SMM will be happy to assist you in developing your Internet marketing/Direct Selling strategic plan. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience, creativity and practical common sense can complement those of your company. So write us a Message today on what you're looking for without obligation.

Barry Welford

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