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Feb 02, 2006
Case Study

Can Virtual B-to-B Marketers Work Better Than an In-House Marketing Team? 3 Stealable Campaigns

SUMMARY: Jeanne Hopkins of Symmetricom had the budget for a full in-house marketing team. Instead she chose to hire half a dozen independent contractors. Did it work? The virtual team got out more than 100 marketing campaigns last year to one of the toughest business-to-business niche markets we know of. Here's the story (including samples, results data and useful vendor hotlinks) of three of their best campaigns. P.S. If you're interested in search marketing, email or landing pages, this Case Study is a definite read
The world of precision time instruments (think atomic clocks) is incredibly technical and niche. Products sell for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands. And, if they don't work *perfectly*, the tiniest flaw can cause customers to lose millions.

No amount of marketing hype, no matter how slick and glossy, is going to convince this marketplace to buy from you. Big booths, viral emails, iPod giveaways -- none of them will move the needle.

Plus, getting a qualified prospect list is super-tough. You've got to pinpoint just the right technical exec within massive organizations (such as the US Government or giant telecoms). Welcome to the world of Jeanne Hopkins, Symetricom's Director of Marketing Communications and Programs. She had to manage more than 100 high-impact marketing campaigns last year in one of the toughest marketplaces we know.

Although she had the budget to hire in-house, instead Hopkins decided to put together a "virtual marketing team" of more than half a dozen freelancers and small agencies. Hopkins acts as the account exec in the center of the hurricane, handing out tasks, coordinating projects and measuring results.

The team includes online PR experts, graphics people, a copywriter, a white paper writer, a search marketer and a case study specialist.

Why not hire them in-house? "Often when you hire people, you end up in this box job description," explains Hopkins. "It's easier and more efficient to outsource. My virtual team likes variety and they love their independence. A lot of their work overlaps, and they all work together as a team well."

She's also found virtual staff are less likely to mind the ups and downs of workflow: Putting in an 80-hour week for a particular project and then relaxing a bit. Plus, once they're on the team, they're less likely to quit their jobs. So the team is more stable than a typical marketing department might be. (One of Hopkins' writers has worked for her for 16 years now.)

Before adding newbies to the main team, Hopkins gives them a series of test tasks. "I don't have them do anything critical; if they drop the ball it should have little impact on my business."

When the team does an outstanding job, Hopkins sends unexpected rewards such as $250 gift certificates. "They were so shocked I would give something beyond the hourly rate. You have no idea how much this meant to them."

Here are three samples from the 100 plus campaigns Hopkins sicced her virtual team on last year (see link below for creative samples):

Campaign #1. Product Launch

Last November, Symmetricom launched a new NTP time server. The team worked together to craft a content-rich microsite to generate demand. The landing page featured:

- Keyword-rich technical content featuring lots of technical terms and information that would make prospects and search engines take the page seriously.

- A clear call to action "Request a Quote" form on the far left side of the page where normally a navigation bar would be.

However, Hopkins was dismayed to find due to a large number of .org, .gov and .edu Web sites on similar topics, (which search engines often prefer to commercial sites), her microsite showed up on page three of organic listings for keywords.

The team decided to test out a new link marketing tactic (see info below) that involved getting highly relevant sites to link to their microsite. This would not only drive traffic itself but hopefully convince search engine spiders that the content was higher-page rank-worthy.

Plus, they created a keyword-rich press release to be distributed through a wire service that also fed into search engine news (Google News, Yahoo News, etc.) Key: The release included multiple hotlinks, each using different keyterms in the hotlink so search spiders would follow the textual clues to the microsite.

Campaign #2. Distributor Email newsletters

Many of Symmetricom's sales are through the distributor channel, and each distributor owns their own contact database that they naturally don't want to share with anyone else.

The problem with this is the distributors' strength is in sales -- not marketing. "I ask them, when was the last time you sent an email out to your list?" says Hopkins. "They often say, 'Oh geez, it must have been about a year ago. I've been meaning to, but I have to update my Web site.'"

Hopkins decided to offer her services as a turnkey email marketing agency to the distributors. Her virtual team would in effect become their virtual team.

Although each campaign would feature Symmetricom products, the creative featured the distributor's logo and even a full-body photo of the sales rep in person. Plus, clickthroughs would reach a landing page that looked just like the distributor's own site, with their logo and navigation, except it would feature Symmetricom's great content and a "Request a Quote" form to drive demands into the distributor's welcoming arms.

Also, Hopkins promised the distributors list security (Symmetricom would not touch it) as well as being able to edit content to their own satisfaction.

Campaign #3. 2005 leap second

December 31st, 2005, just before the clocks struck midnight in France, an extra "leap second" was added to the year. Instead of going from 11:59:59pm to 12:00am, extremely precise clocks went to 11:59:60.

The leap second affected every country on Earth at the same time. And, although you may not think an extra second is such a big deal, companies requiring extreme synchronization (consider cell phone towers acquiring signals from each other) stood to lose a big chunk of change if their clocks weren't on time.

The last time a leap second took place, Symmetricom customers around the world treated it as a major crisis. "Our head of tech said it was such a brouhaha that even though he has an unlisted home phone number, customers were calling him on it. How they get the number he doesn't know."

So, Hopkins decided to treat this past year's leap second as an exercise in PR crisis management. The goal was to instill trust across the entire client base before people started digging for unlisted numbers in full panic mode.

Working together, her team created another of their typical information-rich microsites. This time, however, the call to action was not a request for quote but rather a "Got a question?" form. (Worth noting, visitors did not have to click on a link to a contact form because the form was clearly present on the top left corner of every page of the microsite. This is a best practice.)

Once the microsite was up, the team worked to get the word out through every possible avenue, including:

- an informational email to every database in the entire company

- a paid search engine advertisement for the term "leap second" just in case someone in the prospect or customer world wasn't in one of the email databases or ignored the email

Then, on December 31st, customer service and tech support teams sat waiting in two facilities bracing themselves for the onslaught of nervous customer calls.

In the past fiscal year, Hopkins' division revenues rose by 15% (that's millions of dollars) while marketing costs as a percent of sales sank from 4.6% down to 4.4%. Notably, an average of 33% of the leads generated by various landing page "Request a Quote" forms wound up closing.

The guerrilla search marketing tactics the team used to promote the NTP launch had mixed results. The microsite climbed from the third page on Google to the first position on the very first page of search results for the term "NTP." On MSN search, the microsite reached the second position on page one. However, Yahoo remained "unresponsive."

After 18 months of personal campaigning, Hopkins has been able to persuade eight of the 11 North American distributors to let her be their email marketing agency. She landed the first two after five months of continual trust-building. Then, after they in turn presented results at the annual sales meeting, six more distributors signed on.

(Lesson: Sales execs trust other sales execs a lot more than they'll ever trust marketing. If you can gain the trust of even one influential exec, leverage it to shift the rest into your court.)

Hopkins notes once the email campaigns launch, they do fairly well. In fact, one single recent campaign to a distributor's list of 1,500 opt-in prospects led to a prospect calling in to purchase an item worth $162,000.

As for the leap second campaign, Hopkins' success lay in the total and complete lack of customer contacts on December 31st. She and the head of service estimated for a recent Board of Directors presentation that the pro-active crisis communications campaign saved Symmetricom $151,000 in service calls for a total campaign cost of only $2,576.45.

Biggest lesson learned -- don't count on email alone to reach customers about something critical. Symmetricom's paid search ads on the term "leap second" received 2,100 clicks at an average cost of just four cents each. Many of those clickers were customers and prospects who had not noticed the email campaign.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from Symmetricom:

SEO PR - the search marketing firm Symmetricom has on retainer to optimize all press releases distributed to Google and Yahoo News

Link Vault - a free text-link ad network Symmetricom uses that helps high quality niche sites get more links from related sites to improve their Google and MSN Search rankings (note: this is *not* a link farm.)

IMN Inc. - the email service provider Symmetricom uses to send out campaigns on behalf of itself and distributors


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