Marketing 101: Inside Sales

FRAMINGHAM (05/01/2000) - Lori Thompson is frustrated with contact management software. It's not that Thompson, the senior vice president of sales at the Keds division of Stride Rite Corp., doesn't recognize the importance of organizing sales calls and client data. It's just this: The fact that her IT department made it available shows its lack of understanding about what salespeople and marketers really need to do their jobs.

Her beef with the software? It's designed for someone who sits at a desk and makes phone calls--the last thing she wants her salespeople to do. "I want my salespeople sitting in front of another person making a sale," she says. And they can't use a laptop-based contact manager to do that. So Thompson gets a bit antsy when she hears rumblings from the IT department about how much more efficient her sales folks could be if they put the software to work.

Thompson's reproach may seem small by itself, but it's symbolic of a common discord between sales and marketing and IT that can put a company at a competitive disadvantage. To add value to and support what marketing departments are trying to do, CIOs need to be able to speak their lingo, have some insight into their key issues and realize where the culture of IT and the culture of sales and marketing diverge.

SHOW ME THE NUMBERS So what do marketing people want, anyway? The short answer: data, and lots of it. "Every marketer's first order of business is cultivating customers, which needs to be understood philosophically by the technology side," says Jonathan Ward, chairman and chief marketing officer of Business Communication Research Institute, a marketing think tank based in Denver. But sales and marketing people themselves don't always know how best to measure this customer cultivation or analyze the data they're collecting. "Because most marketing people aren't adept at managing data at a technical level, they desperately need help from IT," says Ward. In some companies, he adds, marketers fail to gain support from other departments when they speak in generalities rather than hard numbers. Ward says it is essential for the IT department to ask about and be involved in a company's fundamental sales and marketing philosophies so that it can help guide technology decisions. By missing out on this planning step, IT may get stuck continually retrofitting measurement and data collection systems.

The customer is king. Sales and marketing's focus is the customer experience--what they see and hear and respond to--so tracking customers' behavior and movements from their initial contact with the company all the way through to completing a sale is paramount. IT staffers, used to concentrating on the internal customer, should turn their gaze outward and see things through the marketing lens.

"The core topics for sales and marketers are delivering outstanding customer service, promoting customer service and generating profits," says Ginger Conlon, managing editor of Sales & Marketing Management magazine in New York City. And although these topics seem as if they're firmly planted in marketing's corner, IT departments play a crucial role in designing and implementing systems that can turn these core concerns into concrete numbers.

Improving customer service might mean paying particular attention to call center technology or planning customer relationship management setups.

Marketers know what they're looking for, but without the CIO's team on their side they don't always get it.

ROI. Measuring return on investment is as important to sales and marketing as it is to just about every other part of a business. To track and measure customers' ongoing buying patterns, marketers may require sales data, foot or website traffic figures, average order size and data on how those numbers change over time and with advertising expenditures. Lori Thompson of Keds, for example, requires measurements of a full range of pricing, styles, advertising promotions and market timing to determine how her marketing investments are paying off.

For e-retailers, measuring ROI can involve tracking where site visitors come from and how they navigate through a site. "We have to be able to see how often people are visiting, follow what they're doing and how they make purchases," says Dionn Schaffner, vice president of marketing at Garden.com, an online gardening store and resource based in Austin, Texas. "One specific marketing campaign may not pay for itself, but if we acquire and retain a customer, we can count that as a success."

Marketing channels. Because the venues through which a company sells its products change depending on the target customer, marketers have to develop strategies for each channel. Robin Bayless, the advertising and promotions manager at Heavenly Ham, the 188-store franchise owned by Roswell, Ga.-based Paradise Foods, has to keep an eye on regular newspaper advertising, radio and TV promotions, and coupons given to repeat customers so that she can track who is responding to each type of offer, where the responses are coming from and where the company might be wasting its marketing dollars.

Online retailers may have fewer sales channels than brick-and-mortar stores, but they have just as many marketing opportunities. Garden.com uses its own magazine and catalog, TV ads, radio spots, online banner ads, direct mail outreach and e-mail address swaps to drive traffic to its site. It has also begun partnering with other websites including Excite.com and iVillage to provide online gardening centers for them. Schaffner wants to be able to track as many of these outlets as possible and works with her site design team to capture where customers have come from, using cookies and site tagging for online data and customer questionnaires and surveys to gain feedback about offline advertising. For each of these channels the brand has to be consistent, so at Garden.com the website design team is part of marketing instead of IT.

"This helps us signify the importance of marketing to the rest of the company and makes it easier from an organizational point of view for us to express what we need," says Schaffner.

Sponsorships. CIOs don't always understand that to a marketer there's no point having a brand name if you can't find places to display it. Marketers have to make sure their technology cohorts are in the loop with large marketing sponsorships so that websites, retail systems and call centers can prepare for increased traffic. CarsDirect.com knows plenty about that. In March the Los Angeles-based online car retailer sponsored a Nascar auto race in Las Vegas and began shaping its plans with IT before the race was even announced. "We wanted our website to reflect the sponsorship and offer fans plenty of information about the upcoming race right on our site," says Donna Miller, director of marketing at CarsDirect.com. Miller's marketing group worked on teams with site designers to build a microsite on its main site just for the race. At the same time, the group determined what kind of site traffic increases they anticipated so that the CIO's team could have load balancing and bandwidth increases in place on race day.

MARKETING'S CHANGING FACE The wants and needs of sales and marketing are hardly static. And as companies continue to turn their focus toward e-commerce, marketing will bear the brunt of the responsibility for developing and implementing e-business strategies that don't alienate business partners. For such businesses as clothing manufacturers, electronics builders and automakers, keeping retail partners happy while building an online presence can be a daily tightrope walk. At Keds, Thompson's group is in charge of developing strategies to achieve a balance between offering goods straight to online consumers and to Keds' established brick-and-mortar partners, which don't want to lose sales to a website. CIOs need to be aware of this trouble spot so that they don't blindly push technology and strategy ("Let's sell all our goods ourselves online!") that will damage retail partnerships. CIOs can also help marketers formulate their online strategies by showing how other manufacturers use extranets to offer retail partners closer ties to the parent company.

And while customer relationship management may sound like a topic for the technologists, marketing departments look at CRM from a whole different angle.

For marketing people, the success of CRM projects doesn't hinge on how smoothly applications work but how they pay off in developing and retaining bonds with customers. Seth Godin, vice president of direct marketing at Yahoo and author of Permission Marketing, says CRM is how a company "turns strangers into friends." The data that CRM captures--customer profiles, sales history, life cycle, customer retention data and cross-selling stats--is crucial to making a technology spell success on the marketing side.

Who knows what acronym will hit the marketing department next, but you can bet IT and marketing will need to get together to make it work. "A few years ago, sales automation systems were the rage, but many of them flopped" because marketers didn't foresee how much they would have to change their tried-and-true methods, recalls Ward. "Sales automation sounded like a good new idea, so [the salespeople] asked to bring it in," he says. But once implementation began, salespeople balked at dumping their old ways.

NOW WHAT DO YOU WANT? So how do you help sales and marketing get what it needs?

Support issues make up one of the trickiest parts of the relationship. Just as CIOs need to set policies and guidelines for supporting each department, they need to be able to prioritize and understand requests.

And understanding when and why marketers want specific information is the key to giving them the right amount. When CarsDirect.com's Miller decided the website needed better tags to track site traffic patterns, she sat down early on with the IT department to make sure they understood online ad serving and why marketing needed to be able to follow a site visitor's movements. Now Miller's marketing team gets data about its banner ads, and it's her group's responsibility to help IT see how they can best optimize site information.

"The CIO should sit down with the head of marketing and ask, 'What do you really need, and in the end what do we as a company want to know?'" says Ward.

Such conversations may reveal the need for a more detailed communications strategy that weaves telephony, website and internal business systems together.

One conversation likely won't cover everything, so setting up cross-functional teams and business architects is a good way to address ongoing issues, says Garden.com's Schaffner.

Such teams have helped Miller explain to her CIO why she was requesting unusually timed profiles of website traffic. "We asked for hourly breakdowns for different times of the day," Miller explains, "and our request didn't make sense to [the IT group] initially." What was wrong with the daily quotes they had been getting all along? asked the IT group. After the team meeting, the IT department understood that seeing the site patterns throughout a normal business day allowed marketing to customize its ad campaigns.

WHEN INTROVERTS AND EXTROVERTS COLLIDE But even when IT and sales and marketing understand each other on a business level, some crucial personality differences can come into play.

Allowing for some generalization, sales and marketing people as a group are often more gregarious and louder than their cohorts on the IT side. Oh yes, and they want answers yesterday. "Marketers like to play with ideas, make things happen and talk to someone about it. They're information people who want to know what's going on, and they freak out when they're unconnected," says Ward.

"They shoot from the hip, they work fast and loose, and they're used to doing things themselves and taking care of crises."

Technologists are usually much more deliberate, sometimes frustratingly so for sales and marketers. Heavenly Ham's Bayless says she often senses this difference when she calls her help desk. "I just want to know what's wrong with my computer or how long the system will be down, and it seems like they always want to explain to me how a computer works. I just don't have time for that."

But despite their seeming confidence, many marketers confess a secret admiration for the work of their IT colleagues. "Marketers see IT people as respected priests who have amazing powers," says Ward.

Marketers also feel like they are sometimes the middlemen or the peacemakers between customers and the business, and that can be both a blessing and a curse. As president and COO at Heavenly Ham, Bucky Cook oversees the company's marketing programs and knows marketing's role from ribs to tail. "We have to be all things to lots of people and act almost as United Nations peacemakers sometimes," Cook says. When franchise stores have questions about anything from advertising promotions to store layout they call marketing. When customers have a complaint, marketing takes the call.

But as e-commerce becomes a bigger deal to many companies, customary boundaries between marketing and IT are starting to dissolve. "In traditional companies some marketing people don't even like to turn on their computers, but in e-commerce I think you're starting to see more of a blending of backgrounds, and cultural differences aren't quite as big," says CarsDirect's Miller.

Garden.com's Schaffner concurs. In fact, Schaffner says, Garden .com's chief marketing officer comes from a technology background, and Schaffner herself has a bachelor's degree in computer science, not marketing.

You don't have to make a sales call or start a marketing campaign to see how these folks operate. Just sit at their desks and walk a few steps in their shoes. Talk to them, and talk about the issues they deal with every day. The best way to understand sales and marketing, says Heavenly Hams' Cook, is to stay customer focused. "We spend most of our days thinking, 'How will this affect the customer?' By keeping this in mind you'll understand us."

Got a marketing horror or success story to share? Let Staff Writer Stewart Deck know at sdeck@cio.com.

MARKETING GLOSSARY Customer A website browser or store visitor; an identified prospect or a purchaser Sales Each single goods transaction or all transactions as a group Promotion All ads, flyers, banners, mailings--these can be lumped together ("The Spring Promotion") or separated into individual lines ("The Midwest Books Promotion") Channels Venues through which your product is sold: telemarketing, business sales forces, resellers, strategic alliances, and retail and online stores Customer yield The measurement of the number of visits it takes to turn a browser into a customer Campaign Direct mail, e-mail, store displays and any other periodic methods used to pump up interest in a product Activity-based costing Looking at how customers behave to figure out who are the most profitable NOW READ THIS INCREASE YOUR MARKETING KNOW-HOW Guerrilla Marketing: Secrets for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business By Jay Conrad Levinson, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998 Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation, and Control By Philip Kotler, Prentice Hall, 9th edition, 1999 The Marketing Paradigm: A Guide for General Managers By Paul M. Messinger, NTC Business Books, 1994 Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers By Seth Godin, Simon & Schuster, 1999 Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads By Roy H. Williams, Bard Press, 1999 The Strategy Process: Concepts, Context and Cases By Henry Mintzberg and James Brian Quinn, Prentice Hall, 1995.

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