Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Account Profiling -- Best Use of Telemarketing for B2B

Telemarketing has such a bad rap that B2B marketers often overlook some of its most powerful applications. The term itself prompts a mental image of fat ladies in stretch pants interrupting your dinner robotically reading irrelevant scripts with outlandish offers.

But for B2B marketers the telephone can be an amazing and unparalleled intelligence gathering tool.


Because the phone creates a magical connection between people which, when you call someone at the right moment, encourages complete strangers to share information and intimacies. The right tone, timbre and phrasing from an unseen, disembodied voice can unleash all kinds of emotions and transactions. The trick is finding and training the right people to make the calls and carefully targeting the calls to solicit discrete bits of information which are then assembled into a mosaic of information.

At Impole Corporation in Waltham, MA ( they call this effort
“account based intelligence marketing”. I think of it as account profiling. They deploy a team of highly trained techies to make dozens of phone calls to targeted titles and named individuals at companies targeted by their clients. The goal is to develop a comprehensive understanding of a particular account so that client sales and marketing people can efficiently tailor messages and offers that are likely to get them in the door, into consideration and into contracts faster with lower costs per sale.

Typically a complex sale cycle takes 6-9 months, involves as many as a dozen people and yields a buy north of $250,000 and/or multi-year contract. An account profiling program is designed to identify the key players, flesh out the organizational issues, surface the BANT (budget, authority, need and timing) qualifying parameters and give marketers and salespeople a feel for the interplay of policies, personalities and politics within each targeted account.

Calls are usually targeted at C level, VP and Director level people though often junior players and administrative people are more likely to tell who does what and who hates whom and suggest who else is likely to be open to a call. There is nothing secretive or furtive about the process. Callers reveal their identities and on whose behalf they are calling. Often one call checks and validates information developed on previous calls. Like news reporters, data is not considered valid unless it is confirmed by two sources.

After a dozen or so individuals are contacted the information is integrated with data found in offline and online public sources to develop a robust picture of what is going on in the targeted company, what they need, what and whom they are considering, how much they have to spend, when they are likely to buy and who will make the final decision. This information is current and much more useful than data culled from lists and an array of other sources. Plus you get current names, titles, phone numbers and e-mail addresses to insure you get through.

Marketers and salespeople then use this information to craft personalized, relevant messages to connect directly with prospects in ways that fit the context, sensibilities and business processes of their prospective customers. Having a robust account profile accelerates the buying process because it cues the most impactful marketing tactics and gives a sales team an incredible leg up in understanding and engaging with prospects’ concerns and decision processes.

Maybe if we use the term “Account Profiling” to separate this intelligence gathering function from the usual perception of telemarketing more B2B marketers will use his valuable tool.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Buying Loyalty -- The Barnes & Noble Approach

Loyalty marketing has become a game of bribes, rebates, points and promises which forces marketers to sell the perceived value of the reward harder than the original product or brand experience. In a world where only air miles and iPods are universally perceived as useful currency, you have to work really hard to convince skeptical customers that your formula or your bauble is worth a repeat or an upsized purchase.

Enter Barnes & Noble. They don’t give me anything. They sell me, and anyone else interested, a membership card for $25 that entitles me to a 10 percent discount on every purchase and every product in every channel for a year. They get twenty-five bucks. I get as much benefit as I’m willing to purchase.

But the unadvertisized multiplier lies in the way they administer the program. Your membership card is keyed to your phone number. You don’t have to present the card, which my daughter lost in her first 30 days of membership. Instead you give them the phone number at the point of purchase. The computer validates your membership and presto! Your purchase is discounted by 10%.

We gave Allison a membership because she and her pals hang out at Barnes & Noble haunting the graphic novel and young adult sections. In the course of a year she’ll buy 20 manga books at an average price of $15 and another 20 books with words and type at an average price of $18 and she’s good for three $25 gift cards as birthday gifts for friends or cousins and an occasional CD, DVD or snack

The net present value of this 15-year old “heavy user” is roughly $750. B&N gets this purchase level for a marketing investment of fifty bucks (the ten percent membership discount of $75 minus $25) or net 7% of her total revenues. God only knows what the margin on her purchases is.

Yet because of the way the program is loosely administered and because my wife and I and her mother all end up meeting her or fetching her at the store, Barnes & Noble harvests another $500 per year in impulse, gift and gratuitous purchases. So the membership value of a family using this card is $1250 which costs B&N the same seven percent.

This loyalty benefit rings up to the chain regardless of the experience we have in the store, our perceptions of the brand, the competitive set or any added promotional activity or usage stimulation marketing they undertake. Although these factors could increase or decrease the frequency of our purchases.

For $25 bucks they initiate a steady stream of purchases and we walk away feeling good.

Do the math. Multiply our family by 100 or 200 or 500 per store and the membership program becomes a baseline annuity which throws off not only profit but prompts continuous repeat behavior.

I’m not sure it’s replicable, though I suspect that a similar plan might appeal to heavy users of a wide range of products or services. But selling memberships is certainly a cost effective way to buy “loyalty” and a revenue stream simultaneously.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Making Newsletters Work Harder

Every business seems to have a newsletter. Few have any news. And fewer still contribute to business growth. Most aren’t opened or read..


Most firms exert too little effort and have too little valuable content. Too much of the writing, design and strategy is done by rote. And while a monthly or quarterly e-mail “ping” might momentarily spark brand recognition or awareness it rarely provokes inquiries or engagement.

The premise behind creating a newsletter is still valid. A well crafted newsletter can establish a brand’s positioning; educate customers and convey thought leadership. It can also prompt and qualify leads, if and only if, best practices are applied.

Here’s the list of newsletter best practices:

Have recipients determine frequency, medium and content preference.

Track readership and serve content based on reader preference.

Customize where possible. Abandon a one size fits all approach.

Offer incentives for pass-along. Solicit ideas and input.

Accentuate your point of view, key executives or products

Aggressively seek interaction. Make it clickable and easy to respond.

Be personable. Write in real rather than corporate nonspeak – blog style

Address industry r competitive issues head on.

Make it fun.

Include a call to action. Give readers something to do in response. Think of your newsletter as an element in an on-going converesation

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Handicapping SEO for 2006

Getting large numbers of likely-to-buy customers at low prices using search engine optimization techniques is becoming harder each day. Harvesting clicks with a high propensity to buy requires increasingly sophisticated strategies and dynamic, real-time tactics.

The market is flooded with keyword buyers that range from the most sophisticated SEO mavens managing thousands of keywords and variations with proprietary software to complete newbies with a land rush mentality eager to get in on the “ground floor” of the newest, best hyped medium. The result is higher prices, lower clickthru rates, less stable top rankings and efforts by the smart money players to find ways to separate clickers from buyers.

According to the Performics division of DoubleClick, ( , the average cost per click increased from $27 to $30 from July to September 2005. Similarly keyword costs jumped from an average of $20 to $26 in the same time period. This reflects, in the opinion of Performics search strategist, “the fact that campaigns are getting bigger and growing across the board.” More marketers are buying more keywords and their variations across more sites bidding up the prices and squeezing the available inventory.

Yet there might be a few bright spots according to Fathom Online ( who reports that keyword prices have declined 11 percent when you compare November 2004 with November 2005. Yet this data reflects only the generic terms (e.g. “shoes”) which most savvy marketers have already abandoned as too expensive and too broad in favor of multi-word customer segmented phrases (e.g. girls black patent leather party pumps). B2B marketers have made a similar migration abandoning the inflated prices of broad terms like “CRM” in favor of narrower technical phrases like “marketing automation and resource management tools.”

Search firms, eager to take in this bonanza, are making more inventory available as quickly as the can. Google separated Adwords from contextual ads, thereby increasing the number of and easy access to more sellable clicks and giving marketers some openings to test new tactics. Look for other leading search engines to follow suit as they slice the salami thinner and thinner in the quest to have more inventory to sell.

Then look for new opportunities to place targeted ads on blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts and web video. Search will remain hot for the foreseeable future and search engines will do everything they can to maximize selling opportunities and to encourage higher bidding.

Just to keep it interesting, Google also re-jiggered the ranking algorithms which make it harder to get into the top positions and harder to maintain top rankings since, on Google, the highest bid does not necessarily yield the top ranking. Others are likely to follow suit because the harder it is to rank number one, the more cash is thrown at the problem. Performics observed that the proportion of keywords that maintain the top rank for an entire month is steadily declining so you can bet that marketers are already husbanding dollars and planning A and B campaigns to insure they rank above the fold, at the top of the right hand paid column or in the beloved blue bar.

Two ideas are shaping the next wave in SEO experimentation and the race for competitive advantage. The first notion is to make clicks more personalized by tracking where prospects click, determining who they are and dynamically serving content or unique landing pages designed to improve the chances that they will convert to buyers. The idea is to match profiles, stored in cookies, to inbound clicks and use these profiles to trigger customized messages or offers.

This is the central idea behind Amazon’s recommendation engine, which has been widely accepted by consumers without too much outcry about privacy or Big Brotherism, and has been baked into their A9 search product. MSN is developing this targeting capability based on the millions of profiles it has amassed through Hotmail, MSN Mail and other MSN features and services though we haven’t seen any real life case studies yet.

In theory persistent MSN cookies, corresponding to customer segments, can trigger select messages aimed at distinct segments, maybe as discrete as segments of one, which will result in more buys per click. In practice, this kind of micro-targeting will reduce buyers’ remorse and holds out the promise of better efficiencies for well crafted SEO campaigns.

A variation would be for individual sites to use cookies to track repeat visitors and use stored data to trigger unique messages. So if you’ve looked around on a particular site, then you come back through a search engine, the site would recognize you as a repeat visitor, know what you looked at previously, and serve up content designed to continue the conversation. The cookie trigger would zero-in on what they inferred you are interested in and engage you in a way likely to either sell you something or convince you to identify yourself.

In theory this multi-channel tracking might mark you as a “hot” lead and/or allow marketers to find several ways to identify or engage you in the course of a complex (b2b) or high value sales cycle. The gating factor is the availability of low cost technology to cookie, track, and dynamically serve content based on a matrix of business rules and inference patterns.

The second idea that could impact search effectiveness is clustering the results to surface relevant results faster and thereby accelerate the awareness-consideration-purchase cycle among clickers. Grokker ( and Clusty ( use graphic devices to group and organize the results of a search engine inquiry. In theory a clustering engine acts as a surrogate for the person conducting a search. It gets you to the information you want faster, makes you happier and speeds you along toward buying.

In practice the clusters are still fairly big buckets of content that may or may not correspond to any individual’s interests and intentions. The technology still cannot read and sort everything with equal clarity so often some of the items in the clusters shouldn’t be there. There is no data with which to even guess at the value of this tool in moving people through a buying cycle. Clustering search engines are tertiary players in today’s SEO market.

Nonetheless look for personalization and clustering to be two highly touted SEO tactics in 2006 as marketers seek efficiencies and advantages and as agencies and search engines try to keep the merry-go-round turning and the dollars flowing.
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