ONLINE BUSINESS

Turning Sales Into Science

It's a question almost as old as commerce itself: Is selling an art or a science? For years, technology companies have been trying to transform the former into the latter. And for years, the results have largely been disappointing.
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Think of those days as Sales 1.0. We're now in the era of Sales 2.0. Your bottom line may never be the same.

Remember the bad old days of sales-oriented technology? Customer relationship management systems that cost a fortune to install and crashed easily. Downloadable lists of sales leads filled with old or bogus data. E-mail marketing tools that targeted the wrong consumers. And on and on.

Fortunately, software firms that target small companies with sales tools have been getting smarter and smarter. Following pioneers such as Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) and NetSuite, a new generation of companies is offering easy-to-use, cheap (indeed, often free) technology that can supercharge the performance of your sales force--with minimal training and virtually none of the heavy-duty installation associated with the CRM systems of the past. With lead-generation and networking services, e-mail marketing products, relationship managing tools, and other bells and whistles, it's now possible to turn a sales operation into a gleaming high-tech machine. Here's a quick tutorial on some of the new tools and a nine-step guide to launching your sales force into the future.

1. Build a bigger Rolodex

The Products
Jigsaw, Ziggs, ZoomInfo, Spoke

How They Work
It's said that a salesperson is only as good as his or her Rolodex. Fortunately, it's now easy to have a much, much bigger Rolodex. There are a number of websites that invite businesspeople to upload and share their contacts with one another. The most popular is probably Jigsaw, which boasts 4.3 million contacts from professionals in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Subscribers can pay $25 per month to download 25 new contacts; you also can upload contacts from your own Rolodex in exchange for Jigsaw points, which can be accumulated and used for more downloads. Once you're signed up, most contacts come with direct phone lines and e-mail addresses; if a contact turns out to have bad information, Jigsaw awards points to users who report the problem and docks the user who uploaded the info. Two other online services, Ziggs and ZoomInfo, allow users to pay to download contacts or add their own profile. ZoomInfo also provides sales data and listings of competitors within industries, a neat tool.

Other services are taking the kinds of lists traditionally offered by Hoover's and InfoUSA (NASDAQ:IUSA) and putting them on a dose of steroids. Spoke takes big lists from providers like InfoUSA, enhances them by combining these lists with Web search data and user-validated list data, and adds it all together to create better lists. Spoke also makes it easy to slice and dice them by industry, geography, company, or revenue level. Ziggs is free; ZoomInfo is free for basic service, but advanced searches can cost as much as $12,000 a year.

Case In Point
As the director of inside sales at Bay Area e-mail security provider PostX, John Fales has long used the Web to prospect sales leads. But using Google can be time-consuming and cumbersome. And the lists provided by major providers were often filled with incomplete or outdated information. Then Fales heard about Jigsaw. The service made it a cinch to find multiple decision makers inside large companies and organizations. Fales says use of Jigsaw has sliced more than 50 percent off the PostX sales cycle. "We've been able to get into accounts very quickly as well as find a variety of potential players in a position to buy the product through the service," he says. "It's been consistently helpful. It would be very difficult to go back to the old way."

2. Network more efficiently

The Products
LinkedIn, Ryze, BranchIt, CompanyClick

How They Work
The kids have MySpace and Facebook, and it's hard not to be envious. In a matter of hours online, they're building vast networks of connections--the kinds of networks that take businesspeople years of mixers and rubber-chicken dinners to create.

Unless you're selling something like video games or skateboarding gear, you're probably not going to have much luck marketing on MySpace. Fortunately, a number of social networking services geared toward small business have emerged. They promise to change the way we network forever. Palo Alto, California-based LinkedIn, for example, is often described as MySpace for businesspeople. You won't find videos, MP3s, or other flashy media on the site's bare-bones profile pages. What you will find are resumés, people's professional affiliations, special interests--and lots of them. LinkedIn has nearly eight million registered users from more than 100 countries spanning 130 separate industries, including thousands of top executives.

LinkedIn users build connections by asking friends and business associates who are already LinkedIn members to join their networks. You also can solicit others to join; indeed, a downloadable toolbar that runs in Microsoft Outlook makes inviting people to join your network a two-click affair. Once you've joined, it's easy to search for specific types of users--say, a network manager at a large company or a record producer in Los Angeles. The catch is that you can connect only with someone who is within three degrees of separation--in other words, a friend of a friend of a friend--and it must be done by asking a direct connection to pass on your message via an introduction. Contacting those you're not connected with can be done, but only for a fee. Memberships range from free to $200 a month. Other business-oriented social networking services, such as Ryze and CompanyClick, work in a similar fashion--though neither boasts as big a network as LinkedIn's.

Meanwhile, other new and intriguing sales tools figure out ways to harness the collective network of an entire company. So-called relationship mining software made by San Francisco-based BranchIt, for example, combs through all of the correspondences and files on a corporate network to create a map of each employee's external relationships--allowing individual salespeople to tap into the collective knowledge of their organizations.

Case In Point
Roy de Souza, CEO of Zedo, an online advertising company in San Francisco, was surfing through his LinkedIn network, which has 271 direct connections, when he noticed that one of his friends knew the COO of BitTorrent, a company that makes software that allows Internet users to download software, videos, and music faster. Zedo sent a lunch invitation to the COO through LinkedIn via his friend. "I only wanted to have lunch and talk about the company. He told me to talk to their head of advertising technology, as they were shopping for ad servers," says Souza. "We signed a contract a few weeks later." De Souza loves the way LinkedIn can essentially take cold calls and warm them up through shared friends and shared background information.

3. Find better sales leads

The Product
Spoke

How It Works
In years past, marketers approached lists of sales leads with extreme wariness. They'd take a deep breath and pray that the data was decent. Spoke removes at least some of the faith from the equation. The company takes existing list data and checks it against online information, even going so far as to send e-mails to individuals on lists asking them to validate their information. It then maps relationships between list leads and salespeople in a manner similar to what LinkedIn does, and allows users to search by such criteria as industry, location, and revenue. Checked against multiple sources of data, these new lists eliminate a lot of bad information. Spoke is free if you're willing to share your own data; otherwise it runs about $50 a month. It's not perfect. But it's far more likely than old-school lists of leads to contain sales gems.

Case In Point
Scott B. Marsh, vice president of sales at recruiting software company SonicRecruit, based in Emeryville, California, has never been a big fan of lead lists; in fact, after wasting hours trying to contact people who'd long since changed jobs, he'd sworn off them entirely.

Nonetheless, earlier this year, Marsh decided to try Spoke, which boasts 32 million personal profiles culled from nearly a million companies worldwide. Almost immediately the service began paying off, saving Marsh and his sales team precious time. He estimates that since his sales force started using Spoke, it has sliced a full 25 percent off the time required to find the right contact in a company. "I can't remember what it was like before we used it," he says.

4. Make the buyers come to you

The Products
Leads.com, Ingenio, eStara

How They Work
For businesses that primarily serve local customers, the promise of the Internet has long been tantalizing. However, the inability of search engines to match up customer queries with truly local ads has made collecting sales leads online difficult. That has begun to change, as Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), MSN, and AOL (NYSE:TWX) have ramped up their local search functions. Indeed, online local advertising is poised to jump 53 percent, to $2 billion in 2007, according to Web research shop eMarketer.com. Meanwhile, a number of start-ups targeting local advertisers are providing new vehicles for local online advertising.

Leads.com, for example, converts a customer's online queries into e-mails that are sent directly to an advertiser's in box. Then there are pay-to-call services such as eStara and Ingenio, which convert online ads into phone calls by posting a toll-free number in a Web ad. Clients are charged a certain amount per call, and, unlike with typical phone calls, businesses can track the origins of each lead--and, as a result, the efficacy of the ad campaign. Prices vary, depending on the nature of the campaign, ranging from $2 to as much as $30 per call. But studies suggest that it's worth the expense: According to one survey, pay-to-call has been found to have lead conversion rates three to five times higher than traditional Web text ads.

Case In Point
In January 2006, Kevin Couser, the CEO of Couser Supply, a construction supplies company in Woodlawn, Maryland, got an e-mail on his BlackBerry from a hotel engineer at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel, which was undergoing a renovation, was looking for someone to supply ceiling tiles. The engineer, it turned out, had found Couser Supply through an advertisement on the Web at Google's local pages--an ad placed for him by Leads.com. The Hyatt account ended up bringing in $23,000. And such results are hardly unusual.

Couser sets a fixed monthly online ad budget, picks keywords, and Leads.com does the rest, bidding on keyword auctions and plotting the most cost-effective balance of keywords and placements. Couser gets 40 to 50 sales requests a week, many delivered directly to his e-mail account. In fact, he now gets so much business online that he's pretty much stopped buying print ads. While he's spending a lot more for marketing--nearly $3,800 a month, or 20 percent more than in the past--he's getting a far greater return on his investment. The company's revenue has grown from $1.9 million in 2004 to more than $4 million in 2006. Says Couser, "When people go on the Internet locally they've already decided to buy. They are just looking for somewhere to buy it."

5. Focus on your best prospects

The Products
Eloqua, ExactTarget, VerticalResponse

How They Work
All sales leads are not created equal. The challenge is identifying the promising ones and giving them top priority. In the past, this involved syncing sales data with often pricey demographic information, a service that was well beyond the reach of most small businesses. But in a Sales 2.0 world, that's no longer the case. Software from companies like Eloqua and ExactTarget lets marketers sift through data contained in, say, an online sweepstakes entry, to more easily identify likely buyers. The software ranks your leads, based on a complex analysis of e-mail addresses, the tenor of a response, and other factors. That makes it easier to focus subsequent campaigns on better targets.

Case In Point Bella Pictures, a San Francisco-based wedding photography service that matches photographers with brides and grooms nationwide, was looking to beef up its customer database. So in conjunction with popular wedding sites the Knot and the Wedding Channel, the company launched a sweepstakes giving away photography services. Bella Pictures assumed interest would be heavy. But the company's sales staff found itself overwhelmed with nearly 5,000 entries a month. It was nearly impossible to keep up, let alone separate the strong leads from the weaker ones.

So Bella Pictures installed Eloqua Express, which is geared specifically to small companies. The software automatically filters each new entry through a rating system and ranks prospects on a scale of 1 to 100. In the 10 months since signing up with Eloqua, Bella Pictures has received about 40,000 sweepstakes entries. The software has enabled the company to screen out 35 percent instantly. "Typically, in marketing, people talk about sweepstakes and they say they give you lousy leads," says David Kreitzer, the company's director of inside sales. "We have found the opposite to be true--as long as you pick the right leads." At about $20,000 a year, Eloqua isn't cheap. But Kreitzer has no regrets. By focusing only on the strongest prospects, Bella Pictures has increased its number of face-to-face meetings some 75 percent. In addition to helping salespeople prioritize, the software led to valuable insights about the company's customers. Many respondents, for example, signed in from corporate e-mail accounts. Based on that information, the company is devising ways to target consumers in the workplace.

6. Warm up your cold calls

The Product
Before the Call

How It Works
So you've got your target list. Now it's time to start selling. Think a minute before you pick up the receiver. Do you know anything about the people you'll be calling? Do you know anything other than their phone numbers and job titles? The imperfect remedy for this vacuum of information has been a Google search. No longer. Services such as Before the Call automatically scour the Internet, data from providers like Hoover's and Factiva, and their own proprietary database for news articles. Before the Call can be integrated with CRM systems from Salesforce.com and Oracle OnDemand, making it easy to keep databases up-to-date and full of new and timely information. Before the Call charges about $75 to $125 per user per month.

Case In Point
Andrew Creach had a hot sales lead--and a problem. A sales manager at Intervoice (NASDAQ:INTV), a Dallas-based provider of call center software, Creach was targeting a major financial services company. But his contact there was only authorized to make decisions for one department. Intervoice's systems are expensive and designed to run call centers for entire companies. A quick Before the Call search helped. Creach learned how Intervoice could work elsewhere in the company; he also came away with some good contact information. He crafted a new pitch, designed to appeal to multiple decision makers. The result? A six-figure opportunity for Intervoice. "It was invaluable for navigating a company this big," Creach says. Indeed, Creach estimates that since subscribing to Before the Call about a year ago, Intervoice's sales team has become 20 to 30 percent more efficient.

7. Get more out of your salespeople

The Products
Landslide, ShareMethods

How They Work
Managers have long sought to manage their salespeople. And salespeople, being an independent lot, have tended to dismiss such efforts as meddling. Indeed, that's been a huge problem with CRM systems, which require salespeople to spend too much time entering data into cumbersome and crash-prone systems. But new so-called guided selling is now adaptable enough to automate and provide a flexible script for the sales process while making the lives of salespeople easier. These guided selling programs incorporate elements of traditional CRM and contact management but also add some new tricks to make the sales process run more smoothly--giving sales staffers what they need, when they need it, to close a deal. Key players include Landslide, which runs $100 per user per month, and ShareMethods, which costs $25 per user per month.

Case In Point
Peter Seiff is a vice president of sales at Aethon, a Pittsburgh-based vendor of robotic devices designed to push carts around hospitals. Needless to say, the decision to lease a robot to roam hospital corridors is not undertaken lightly. Closing a deal means convincing a range of people--the directors of nursing, food service, maintenance, and technology, not to mention the financial executives who sign the $1,500 monthly lease checks. And each group requires a different sales pitch and process.

So you've got your target list. Now it's time to start selling. Think a minute before you pick up the receiver. Do you know anything about the people you'll be calling?

That's where automation comes in. Seiff turned to a sales process management system from Landslide. The system allows Seiff to create sales scripts, white papers, graphics, and other sales tools that reps in the field can access when speaking to different kinds of decision makers. "If the vice president of nursing is so excited that she wants a sales guy to talk to the CFO right now, he can easily pull up the proper documents showing what a CFO would want to know," Seiff says. But the really interesting part: Seiff can track how different salespeople progress through the process and identify things they are doing wrong or right. "I can figure out what works and what doesn't far more quickly and help improve sales performance on the fly," says Seiff, who says Landslide has cut sales training time for new hires from seven weeks to three and reduced the typical sales cycle from six months to four. Seiff has done this while expanding the sales force from six reps to 20 within a year.

8. Hold your (potential) customer's hand

The Products
ExactTarget, Silverpop, Epsilon Interactive, Constant Contact

How They Work E-mail marketing often has meant building as big a list as possible and hitting the Send button. However, smart marketers have realized that campaigns work better if you can customize an e-mail pitch to fit a particular customer's needs, rather than cramming a single sales pitch down everyone's throat. These systems also boast sophisticated tracking and analytic capabilities, which help marketers develop a better sense of which triggers will cause potential customers to hit the Buy button.

Case In Point
Andrew Ritter is founder of Lactagen, a 38-day program designed to reduce lactose intolerance through the use of specialized nutritional supplements. It's a big market--an estimated 50 million Americans are moderately to severely lactose intolerant. But potential customers always seemed skeptical.

Last year, Ritter purchased new e-mail marketing from ExactTarget. The Web-based system allowed Lactagen's sales team to craft carefully orchestrated campaigns designed to address potential clients who are interested but want more information. First, the company asks people to fill out an online survey. Depending on the answers, Lactagen will send the appropriate promotional materials. "If it's been eight weeks since the initial contact, we know that it's time to follow up and see if he or she has any more questions," Ritter says. In fact, ExactTarget will send a specifically tailored e-mail automatically. "If they've already purchased the program and are on Day 20, when we know they need encouragement, ExactTarget sends an e-mail offering encouragement," Ritter adds. "It's a gradual program that fits this type of product."

Using ExactTarget, Ritter has cut his average customer sales cycle from 40 to 25 days. Sales have gone up by about 55 percent, while the employee head count has remained the same. ExactTarget also allows Ritter to monitor how small changes to offerings can boost sales. For example, he learned that offering discounts around holidays tended to work better, perhaps because potential customers were missing out on things they'd like to eat.

9. Turn new clients into repeat customers

The Products
Vontoo, VoiceShot

How They Work
If you've already won a client's trust, it ought to be relatively easy to sell him or her more stuff. Alas, in practice, the repeat sell can be tricky. How do you reapproach a client who already has written one big check? When is the best time to do so? While timely e-mails might work, a simple phone call is often more effective. Not that you can call all your customers, but now, for the first time, smaller businesses can afford to send automated phone messages to targeted clients. With these products (which cost about 10 cents a call), a salesperson or business owner calls a toll-free number and records a brief message with a sales pitch. The message is uploaded to the Internet and broadcast using a voice over Internet protocol system to anywhere from a dozen to thousands of customers.

Case In Point
Jerry Leath, owner of a Great Frame Up franchise in Douglasville, Georgia, had dozens of customers with unused store credits, credits they appeared to have forgotten about. Leath used Vontoo to turn those credits into a sales opportunity. He logged on to vontoo.com and recorded a single voice message reminding customers about their store credits. Vontoo simultaneously sent Leath's message to 90 customers he had culled from his store database. As a result of the reminder, a dozen customers came in with framing work, plunking down between $2,000 and $3,000 collectively. Although they all had coupons, most of them upgraded to higher-quality frames or molding, allowing Leath to maintain his margins. Total cost out of pocket to Leath was $9, or 10 cents a call, the flat rate that Vontoo charges for all calls under a minute. Says Leath: "If I had sent out a mailing, maybe two or three people would have come in."

Alex Salkever is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. He wrote about peer-to-peer lending in August.

Correction: We incorrectly listed Hoover's as one of the sources Before the Call uses to research sales contacts. Before the Call's partners include Factiva, IDExec, Google, ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and Harte-Hanks.

8. Hold your (potential) customer's hand

The Products
ExactTarget, Silverpop, Epsilon Interactive, Constant Contact

How They Work E-mail marketing often has meant building as big a list as possible and hitting the Send button. However, smart marketers have realized that campaigns work better if you can customize an e-mail pitch to fit a particular customer's needs, rather than cramming a single sales pitch down everyone's throat. These systems also boast sophisticated tracking and analytic capabilities, which help marketers develop a better sense of which triggers will cause potential customers to hit the Buy button.

Case In Point
Andrew Ritter is founder of Lactagen, a 38-day program designed to reduce lactose intolerance through the use of specialized nutritional supplements. It's a big market--an estimated 50 million Americans are moderately to severely lactose intolerant. But potential customers always seemed skeptical.

Last year, Ritter purchased new e-mail marketing from ExactTarget. The Web-based system allowed Lactagen's sales team to craft carefully orchestrated campaigns designed to address potential clients who are interested but want more information. First, the company asks people to fill out an online survey. Depending on the answers, Lactagen will send the appropriate promotional materials. "If it's been eight weeks since the initial contact, we know that it's time to follow up and see if he or she has any more questions," Ritter says. In fact, ExactTarget will send a specifically tailored e-mail automatically. "If they've already purchased the program and are on Day 20, when we know they need encouragement, ExactTarget sends an e-mail offering encouragement," Ritter adds. "It's a gradual program that fits this type of product."

Using ExactTarget, Ritter has cut his average customer sales cycle from 40 to 25 days. Sales have gone up by about 55 percent, while the employee head count has remained the same. ExactTarget also allows Ritter to monitor how small changes to offerings can boost sales. For example, he learned that offering discounts around holidays tended to work better, perhaps because potential customers were missing out on things they'd like to eat.

9. Turn new clients into repeat customers

The Products
Vontoo, VoiceShot

How They Work
If you've already won a client's trust, it ought to be relatively easy to sell him or her more stuff. Alas, in practice, the repeat sell can be tricky. How do you reapproach a client who already has written one big check? When is the best time to do so? While timely e-mails might work, a simple phone call is often more effective. Not that you can call all your customers, but now, for the first time, smaller businesses can afford to send automated phone messages to targeted clients. With these products (which cost about 10 cents a call), a salesperson or business owner calls a toll-free number and records a brief message with a sales pitch. The message is uploaded to the Internet and broadcast using a voice over Internet protocol system to anywhere from a dozen to thousands of customers.

Case In Point
Jerry Leath, owner of a Great Frame Up franchise in Douglasville, Georgia, had dozens of customers with unused store credits, credits they appeared to have forgotten about. Leath used Vontoo to turn those credits into a sales opportunity. He logged on to vontoo.com and recorded a single voice message reminding customers about their store credits. Vontoo simultaneously sent Leath's message to 90 customers he had culled from his store database. As a result of the reminder, a dozen customers came in with framing work, plunking down between $2,000 and $3,000 collectively. Although they all had coupons, most of them upgraded to higher-quality frames or molding, allowing Leath to maintain his margins. Total cost out of pocket to Leath was $9, or 10 cents a call, the flat rate that Vontoo charges for all calls under a minute. Says Leath: "If I had sent out a mailing, maybe two or three people would have come in."

Alex Salkever is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. He wrote about peer-to-peer lending in August.

Correction: We incorrectly listed Hoover's as one of the sources Before the Call uses to research sales contacts. Before the Call's partners include Factiva, IDExec, Google, ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and Harte-Hanks.

8. Hold your (potential) customer's hand

The Products
ExactTarget, Silverpop, Epsilon Interactive, Constant Contact

How They Work E-mail marketing often has meant building as big a list as possible and hitting the Send button. However, smart marketers have realized that campaigns work better if you can customize an e-mail pitch to fit a particular customer's needs, rather than cramming a single sales pitch down everyone's throat. These systems also boast sophisticated tracking and analytic capabilities, which help marketers develop a better sense of which triggers will cause potential customers to hit the Buy button.

Case In Point
Andrew Ritter is founder of Lactagen, a 38-day program designed to reduce lactose intolerance through the use of specialized nutritional supplements. It's a big market--an estimated 50 million Americans are moderately to severely lactose intolerant. But potential customers always seemed skeptical.

Last year, Ritter purchased new e-mail marketing from ExactTarget. The Web-based system allowed Lactagen's sales team to craft carefully orchestrated campaigns designed to address potential clients who are interested but want more information. First, the company asks people to fill out an online survey. Depending on the answers, Lactagen will send the appropriate promotional materials. "If it's been eight weeks since the initial contact, we know that it's time to follow up and see if he or she has any more questions," Ritter says. In fact, ExactTarget will send a specifically tailored e-mail automatically. "If they've already purchased the program and are on Day 20, when we know they need encouragement, ExactTarget sends an e-mail offering encouragement," Ritter adds. "It's a gradual program that fits this type of product."

Using ExactTarget, Ritter has cut his average customer sales cycle from 40 to 25 days. Sales have gone up by about 55 percent, while the employee head count has remained the same. ExactTarget also allows Ritter to monitor how small changes to offerings can boost sales. For example, he learned that offering discounts around holidays tended to work better, perhaps because potential customers were missing out on things they'd like to eat.

9. Turn new clients into repeat customers

The Products
Vontoo, VoiceShot

How They Work
If you've already won a client's trust, it ought to be relatively easy to sell him or her more stuff. Alas, in practice, the repeat sell can be tricky. How do you reapproach a client who already has written one big check? When is the best time to do so? While timely e-mails might work, a simple phone call is often more effective. Not that you can call all your customers, but now, for the first time, smaller businesses can afford to send automated phone messages to targeted clients. With these products (which cost about 10 cents a call), a salesperson or business owner calls a toll-free number and records a brief message with a sales pitch. The message is uploaded to the Internet and broadcast using a voice over Internet protocol system to anywhere from a dozen to thousands of customers.

Case In Point
Jerry Leath, owner of a Great Frame Up franchise in Douglasville, Georgia, had dozens of customers with unused store credits, credits they appeared to have forgotten about. Leath used Vontoo to turn those credits into a sales opportunity. He logged on to vontoo.com and recorded a single voice message reminding customers about their store credits. Vontoo simultaneously sent Leath's message to 90 customers he had culled from his store database. As a result of the reminder, a dozen customers came in with framing work, plunking down between $2,000 and $3,000 collectively. Although they all had coupons, most of them upgraded to higher-quality frames or molding, allowing Leath to maintain his margins. Total cost out of pocket to Leath was $9, or 10 cents a call, the flat rate that Vontoo charges for all calls under a minute. Says Leath: "If I had sent out a mailing, maybe two or three people would have come in."

Alex Salkever is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. He wrote about peer-to-peer lending in August.

Correction: We incorrectly listed Hoover's as one of the sources Before the Call uses to research sales contacts. Before the Call's partners include Factiva, IDExec, Google, ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and Harte-Hanks.

8. Hold your (potential) customer's hand

The Products
ExactTarget, Silverpop, Epsilon Interactive, Constant Contact

How They Work E-mail marketing often has meant building as big a list as possible and hitting the Send button. However, smart marketers have realized that campaigns work better if you can customize an e-mail pitch to fit a particular customer's needs, rather than cramming a single sales pitch down everyone's throat. These systems also boast sophisticated tracking and analytic capabilities, which help marketers develop a better sense of which triggers will cause potential customers to hit the Buy button.

Case In Point
Andrew Ritter is founder of Lactagen, a 38-day program designed to reduce lactose intolerance through the use of specialized nutritional supplements. It's a big market--an estimated 50 million Americans are moderately to severely lactose intolerant. But potential customers always seemed skeptical.

Last year, Ritter purchased new e-mail marketing from ExactTarget. The Web-based system allowed Lactagen's sales team to craft carefully orchestrated campaigns designed to address potential clients who are interested but want more information. First, the company asks people to fill out an online survey. Depending on the answers, Lactagen will send the appropriate promotional materials. "If it's been eight weeks since the initial contact, we know that it's time to follow up and see if he or she has any more questions," Ritter says. In fact, ExactTarget will send a specifically tailored e-mail automatically. "If they've already purchased the program and are on Day 20, when we know they need encouragement, ExactTarget sends an e-mail offering encouragement," Ritter adds. "It's a gradual program that fits this type of product."

Using ExactTarget, Ritter has cut his average customer sales cycle from 40 to 25 days. Sales have gone up by about 55 percent, while the employee head count has remained the same. ExactTarget also allows Ritter to monitor how small changes to offerings can boost sales. For example, he learned that offering discounts around holidays tended to work better, perhaps because potential customers were missing out on things they'd like to eat.

9. Turn new clients into repeat customers

The Products
Vontoo, VoiceShot

How They Work
If you've already won a client's trust, it ought to be relatively easy to sell him or her more stuff. Alas, in practice, the repeat sell can be tricky. How do you reapproach a client who already has written one big check? When is the best time to do so? While timely e-mails might work, a simple phone call is often more effective. Not that you can call all your customers, but now, for the first time, smaller businesses can afford to send automated phone messages to targeted clients. With these products (which cost about 10 cents a call), a salesperson or business owner calls a toll-free number and records a brief message with a sales pitch. The message is uploaded to the Internet and broadcast using a voice over Internet protocol system to anywhere from a dozen to thousands of customers.

Case In Point
Jerry Leath, owner of a Great Frame Up franchise in Douglasville, Georgia, had dozens of customers with unused store credits, credits they appeared to have forgotten about. Leath used Vontoo to turn those credits into a sales opportunity. He logged on to vontoo.com and recorded a single voice message reminding customers about their store credits. Vontoo simultaneously sent Leath's message to 90 customers he had culled from his store database. As a result of the reminder, a dozen customers came in with framing work, plunking down between $2,000 and $3,000 collectively. Although they all had coupons, most of them upgraded to higher-quality frames or molding, allowing Leath to maintain his margins. Total cost out of pocket to Leath was $9, or 10 cents a call, the flat rate that Vontoo charges for all calls under a minute. Says Leath: "If I had sent out a mailing, maybe two or three people would have come in."

Alex Salkever is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. He wrote about peer-to-peer lending in August.

Correction: We incorrectly listed Hoover's as one of the sources Before the Call uses to research sales contacts. Before the Call's partners include Factiva, IDExec, Google, ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and Harte-Hanks.

8. Hold your (potential) customer's hand

The Products
ExactTarget, Silverpop, Epsilon Interactive, Constant Contact

How They Work E-mail marketing often has meant building as big a list as possible and hitting the Send button. However, smart marketers have realized that campaigns work better if you can customize an e-mail pitch to fit a particular customer's needs, rather than cramming a single sales pitch down everyone's throat. These systems also boast sophisticated tracking and analytic capabilities, which help marketers develop a better sense of which triggers will cause potential customers to hit the Buy button.

Case In Point
Andrew Ritter is founder of Lactagen, a 38-day program designed to reduce lactose intolerance through the use of specialized nutritional supplements. It's a big market--an estimated 50 million Americans are moderately to severely lactose intolerant. But potential customers always seemed skeptical.

Last year, Ritter purchased new e-mail marketing from ExactTarget. The Web-based system allowed Lactagen's sales team to craft carefully orchestrated campaigns designed to address potential clients who are interested but want more information. First, the company asks people to fill out an online survey. Depending on the answers, Lactagen will send the appropriate promotional materials. "If it's been eight weeks since the initial contact, we know that it's time to follow up and see if he or she has any more questions," Ritter says. In fact, ExactTarget will send a specifically tailored e-mail automatically. "If they've already purchased the program and are on Day 20, when we know they need encouragement, ExactTarget sends an e-mail offering encouragement," Ritter adds. "It's a gradual program that fits this type of product."

Using ExactTarget, Ritter has cut his average customer sales cycle from 40 to 25 days. Sales have gone up by about 55 percent, while the employee head count has remained the same. ExactTarget also allows Ritter to monitor how small changes to offerings can boost sales. For example, he learned that offering discounts around holidays tended to work better, perhaps because potential customers were missing out on things they'd like to eat.

9. Turn new clients into repeat customers

The Products
Vontoo, VoiceShot

How They Work
If you've already won a client's trust, it ought to be relatively easy to sell him or her more stuff. Alas, in practice, the repeat sell can be tricky. How do you reapproach a client who already has written one big check? When is the best time to do so? While timely e-mails might work, a simple phone call is often more effective. Not that you can call all your customers, but now, for the first time, smaller businesses can afford to send automated phone messages to targeted clients. With these products (which cost about 10 cents a call), a salesperson or business owner calls a toll-free number and records a brief message with a sales pitch. The message is uploaded to the Internet and broadcast using a voice over Internet protocol system to anywhere from a dozen to thousands of customers.

Case In Point
Jerry Leath, owner of a Great Frame Up franchise in Douglasville, Georgia, had dozens of customers with unused store credits, credits they appeared to have forgotten about. Leath used Vontoo to turn those credits into a sales opportunity. He logged on to vontoo.com and recorded a single voice message reminding customers about their store credits. Vontoo simultaneously sent Leath's message to 90 customers he had culled from his store database. As a result of the reminder, a dozen customers came in with framing work, plunking down between $2,000 and $3,000 collectively. Although they all had coupons, most of them upgraded to higher-quality frames or molding, allowing Leath to maintain his margins. Total cost out of pocket to Leath was $9, or 10 cents a call, the flat rate that Vontoo charges for all calls under a minute. Says Leath: "If I had sent out a mailing, maybe two or three people would have come in."

Alex Salkever is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. He wrote about peer-to-peer lending in August.

Correction: We incorrectly listed Hoover's as one of the sources Before the Call uses to research sales contacts. Before the Call's partners include Factiva, IDExec, Google, ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and Harte-Hanks.

IMAGE: Illustration by John Hersey
Last updated: Dec 1, 2006




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