Product Review: Tools target online customers

Many companies, especially mid-size ones with little experience selling online, see electronic commerce as a cure-all for sagging sales. But this mistakenly downplays other aspects of online business that directly affect customers, such as sales, customer service, and marketing. Further, many vendors omit these traditional front-office functions from their e-commerce software offerings.

One exception is Entice, Version 1.0, from Multiactive Software, which offers 10 integrated modules that deliver sales, marketing, and e-commerce capabilities. Entice lets you track advertising effectiveness and provide online customer service, in addition to allowing you to build an online catalogue.

Products such as RightPoint's Marketing Suite better serve large companies already running front office software. But mid-size companies that need to automate the entire selling process should consider Entice. It integrates all the essential marketing features without carrying a six- or seven-figure price.

Entice employs two processes: the first involves attracting customers to your Web site, discovering their needs, and feeding qualified leads to your sales force; the second builds on this relationship via personalised offers and information.

To attract customers, Entice offers several modules that are easy to understand and easy to use. I used the Customer Prospector module, with which I could easily import targeted marketing lists from Multiactive's List Warehouse. List Warehouse is an added-cost service that gives you direct access to more than 100 million business listings; you can then easily search and download lists based on criteria you select.

Next, I used the Customer Profiler module to examine data for trends, such as the type of magazines read by different groups of people. Armed with this initial information, I then used the Campaign Manager module to create a promotion that consisted of trade magazine ads and automated e-mail messages and faxes that encouraged prospective customers to visit my Web site.

Entice's customised Web design module, One to One Designer, lets those users with little HTML or JavaScript experience create personalised Web experiences. Its drag-and-drop interface helped me establish paths for visitors to follow through my site. Designer also let me define actions, such as sending e-mail messages to the customer service department based on visitors' responses, and I was able to record customer data in the Account Manager database.

But despite the fact that I could record customer data, Entice does not have the capability to use customers' current Web behaviour or past history contained in the database to predict their future interests. One way to get this type of insight is to employ third-party analysis tools such as WebTrends' CommerceTrends.

Nevertheless, the Account Manager is valuable in other ways. For example, salespeople can quickly look up the last time someone met face to face with a customer. Also, I combined information from Account Manager and Campaign Manager to target specific groups of prospects and customers with very personalised e-mail messages. This step was easy to accomplish using filtering and other commands available in Campaign Manager.

The goal of all this relationship building is to generate and fill online orders, and this is where Entice's exceptional E-Store Manager module comes in. E-Store Manager's wizard-driven interface helps to significantly cut the time it takes to create an online catalogue that contains secure shopping-cart technology. Further, you can incorporate artificial intelligence into the order process; for example, I created a configurator that warned shoppers when they had ordered incompatible parts.

Multiactive's Entice makes customer interaction easier, and its e-commerce features are as good as many stand-alone e-commerce products. Further, its interactive marketing and prospecting features should lower the cost of acquiring new business and building personalised relationships with customers.

Mike Heck (mike_heck@infoworld.com) is a contributing editor and manager of electronic promotions at Unisys Corp., in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.

The bottom line: very good

Entice, Version 1.0

Summary: Entice combines customer management, automated marketing, personalised communications, and an online store for a complete mid-size solution.

Business Case: Easy to use and fairly affordable, Entice links sales, marketing, and customer service functions so that you can build personalised customer relationships. Its short deployment cycle requires little IS training.

Pros

+ Integrated front-office modules

+ Customised Web experience for each visitor+ Excellent E-Store Manager module+ Good reporting capabilitiesCons- Nominal real-time predictive and data mining functionsPlatforms: Server: Windows NT 4.0; Internet Information Server 4.0; SQL Server 7.0. Client: Win 95/98/NT; Internet Explorer 4.0 or later

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