How do you sell large corporations pricey products, which they don't absolutely need, during a recession?
When Ken Kornbluth founded MarketingPilot Software in January 2001, he knew there were two sales barriers. The first, obviously, was an economy that has not been easy for established brands to sell in, let alone unknown companies with $50,000 offerings.
The second was the fact that Kornbluth's offering is a nice-to-have product versus an absolute must-have product. He explains, "It's not like a general ledger application where there's no question that you couldn’t run your company without it. MarketingPilot is an application that automates a department; and you can do without tools like this that enhance your productivity." Even though they can save you money. CAMPAIGN
Kornbluth is a big believer in networking. So instead of stewing over the problem on his own, he picked up the phone and begged a meeting with one of the top marketing brains in his region.
Kornbluth says, "I'd read Don Schultz's columns in Direct Magazine for years. He's a famous marketing professor at the Medill School. I cold-called him and said what I'm doing and that I'd like to talk with him." Schultz agreed to a face-to-face meeting in October. "He was so nice and down to earth," Kornbluth says, "He was a real gentleman. He connected me up to a whole bunch of people - a fabulous set of relationships."
Schultz also agreed with Kornbluth that his main problem would be convincing clients to spend the money on a product with an intangible ROI. "Prospects will say, 'I really like this but how do I go to the CEO and get him to spend more money now? I can tell him it makes me more productive, and the CFO will go 'Yeah, right.'"
Inspired, Kornbluth met with his tech team to invent a tool prospects could use to determine a fact-based ROI that their CFO would be more likely to sign off on. The first draft of the ROI calculator was "really complicated," requiring prospects to fill in loads of very specific data factors about their company to get an answer. Knowing that prospects would not be likely to spend hours on such an intimidating questionnaire, Kornbluth asked his team to really look hard at each data factor required.
"We found there were a bunch of things that affected cost savings and productivity, but in the scheme of things they were very small," he explains. "Only a few functions affected ROI in a big way - Factor A was 50 times the ROI of Factor B." In the end, it turned out the ROI calculator only needed to ask half a dozen questions to give prospects a fairly accurate answer. "The rest was a rounding error."
After just ten hours of in-house work, the Kornbluth's team added the ROI calculator to the site in November 2001, just in time for a four-part launch campaign:
1. "Buzz" Direct Mail Campaign
Kornbluth believes that to create credibility and buzz around your product in the corporate marketplace, you have got to get the leading influencers, movers and shakers talking and thinking about you. So, he mailed a personal letter to a small hand-built list of 200-300 of the most influential marketing thinkers in America.
He explains, "They weren't press. They were the people who speak at conferences, heads of associations, people who write books, and who tend to get interviewed by the press a lot."
The short, polite letter, sent in a hand-typed #10 envelope on company letterhead, simply introduced the product briefly and gave both the Company URL and Kornbluth's personal phone line.
#2 Press release at product introduction
Instead of sending a me-too announcement on the wire services, Kornbluth sent his release to a handpicked list of both online and offline journalists who cover marketing-related technology on a regular basis.
#3 Mass direct mail campaign
At four pages, this postal mailed letter was much more detailed than the short buzz letter. However, Kornbluth stuck with his philosophy of no-glitz for the mailing, which was produced on simple company letterhead and mailed in a laser-addressed #10 business envelope. In fact, it looked as much like a "regular" business letter as possible.
Although the company's phone number was included, Kornbluth expected the vast majority of responses to arrive at a special Web page he had set up, which included a link to the ROI calculator. He explains, "People do not call anymore. They just don't. So if you're tracking response by phone enquiries, you’re missing the boat. People go to your Web site. That's the response vehicle these days. You have to try to find ways to track it if you can."
Because a lot of high-level executives in corporate America tend to hand off research to team members or assistants, Kornbluth knew the person who received the letter would often not be the person who ended up responding to it. So, when possible, he purchases the rights to add direct mail lists he rents to his database, not for multiple-mailings, but simply for look-up purposes so he can determine the originator of each inquiry.
#4 Mass email campaign
Kornbluth's broadcast email campaign to a rented opt-in list was also low on glitz. He says, "I was very worried about the appearance of spam. For my audience, HTML email is wasted. People see it and they go, 'Spam!' They just don't give you the time of day if you look like a consumer ad. You're better off sticking to tried-and-true text."
Like his direct mail campaign, Kornbluth included his personal phone number in the emailed letter, along with links for recipients to click through to a special Web page. The phone number gave the message more credibility as a "real" company, although Kornbluth expected few, if any, people to use it.
Contrary to expectations, the number of people who used the ROI calculator on the site was "incredibly disappointing." Of visitors who stayed on the site for more than a minute, just 10% chose to use the calculator.
However, Kornbluth says, "The whole adventure has been enormously valuable." In fact, the calculator has doubled the Company's sales team's close rate on new $50,000 accounts.
How? Kornbluth explains, "When you're selling an expensive product, there's a long sales cycle. After you've done the demo, you then lose any reason to engage prospects besides, 'Are you ready yet? Are you ready yet? Are you ready yet?' So we built in the calculator as a step we ask people to go through, after they've seen the product and decided they want a quote. We say, 'Stop, let's make sure there's ROI for you.' It's helped us increase our close rate substantially."
- The buzz campaign was very successful. In fact one of the letter recipients went on to voluntarily write a glowing product review for an influential trade journal.
- The direct mail campaign got a .9% response rate and after ten weeks out, this number continues to rise slowly, so Kornbluth expects it to go over 1%.
- The broadcast email campaign got a 52% open rate, of which almost 7% clicked through to the MarketingPilot site. Interestingly, the amount of clicks on the very first link in top paragraph of the letter were almost identical to the number of clicks on the very last link at the bottom of the letter. Links in the middle of the letter performed miserably in contrast.
Which goes to show, it is not only worth measuring your clicks by link placement, it is also worth putting links at the top and the bottom of your page.