We admit it, there are plenty of times when we call up big-name B-to-B Internet marketing experts and the interview’s … a total dud. Which is why meeting Pat Harpell, CEO of transactive marketing services firm Harpell, was rather a nice change.
She’s the real thing. Smart, knowledgeable, brutally honest, and openly willing to share her insights. Here’s Part I of our exclusive interview.
Q: First of all, what does your company specialize in?
Harpell: We help well-funded Internet companies such as Monster.com and Sprokets launch and then sustain that launch. We also take brick and mortars who are losing traction in their markets and provide them with an Internet strategy.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you see most B-to-B s doing in online?
Harpell: A lot of people think an ‘Internet strategy’ is to have a Web presence and that’s it! They look at it from the marketing perspective only. They don’t integrate it into the rest of the company -- into their entire supply chain. A strategy isn’t puting up Web site and launching marketing program. It’s using the new technology to help build brand loyalty, reduce operational costs, and build better efficiencies. Marketing and operations have to be absolutely, tightly integrated.
Q: But a lot of big traditional companies tell us moving everything onto the Web is enormously difficult because of their offline legacy systems.
Harpell: Any company that is in the range you’re speaking about, they have IT groups that can handle it. There is enough technology these days that hooks legacy into Web browser format. I find legacy systems to be a lame excuse. There’s always an obstacle to moving forward if you create one. That’s ridiculous!
Another mistake I see a lot of companies make -- especially the early adopters like large high tech companies and the financial industry -- is what they have actually built are legacy web sites. They have separate silos of web systems: a client extranet, their intranet, the customer service system, etc. And none of them are connected usually; or, they are connected in a poor fashion. They tend to have separate brands. Then you start multiplying that by the number of divisions and geographic locations -- it’s legacy web!
Often we go into these companies and we audit them. What you’ll find is they’re spending too much on technology. There’s too much overlap.
Many companies haven’t actually automated processes either. They’ve just put electronic versions of their paper forms online. (It goes right back to when word processing was introduced, people would do word processing, then print it out and file it.) That’s not an Intranet strategy. That’s just a cooler cabinet. You can’t share documents; you have to re-enter things; they’re not in a major database; there’s not cross-pollination of clients.
It’s almost: You guys are the early movers. It has grown organically. Now let’s sit still for just a minute and reverse engineer your web site. With the content and the customer intimacy programs you have to be developing to do one-to-one marketing, would you have developed the same system as you have today? Often they wouldn’t.
Q: People talk vaguely -- and wildly -- about “branding online” these days. What’s that mean to you?
Harpell: Let’s say a company has a new product come out of the chute and they brand it Hoopla 2000. Down the road they develop another product and they call it CatsMeow, etc. And all of the sudden they have seven brands running around in the market and not enough money to brand any of them. The problem comes up through pure enthusiasm!
The one thing about the web is that it’s open wide. Your brand will be seen wide open from all different angles.
People often times lose sight of how to transpose their brand onto the web. Your brand is not just your design! It’s not ‘the Web has the same logo as your brochure.’ It’s about open, friendly customer service. Nothing takes more importance than that visitors can find a person through your site within some specified amount of time. That’s the biggest part of your brand platform that should be carried onto the net.
Q: How should a B-to-B figure out how much of their marketing budget in order to support site traffic?
Harpell: Start at the end. It’s a very lame analogy but I’ll use it: how do you figure out how much to spend for a house? Well, how many bedrooms do you want and do you need a pool?
You have to know where you want to be. Do you need one-to-one programs; how many affinity groups; to reach analysts and press; what types of customers, prospect, employees and partners do you have. What do you want them to be able to do in each of their spaces at your site? How much exposure to do you want them to have one to the other? What are the corporate goals? Are you trying to create efficiencies; get your existing customers to focus on value-add services?
Also, why are you tying up a great sales person selling commodity products when a customer can go online to look at their account, history, check order status, etc. The Web puts them into control. Meanwhile a sales person can go out and sell more value-add services or go deeper into that organization.
So again it goes back to what’s your Internet strategy? A new marketing channel; distribution channels … why are you here?
Q: It’s confusing being in charge of Internet strategy at a big company these days because there are so many new vendors and varying prices out there. How do you suggest people shop for ecommerce and marketing service providers?
Harpell: People learn through being burned. Honestly we have companies come to us and say, ‘I know I can get a web site for $35,000.’ My response is ‘What are you actually getting? Are you getting something that relates to your brand?’ They say, ‘Yes the design will be on there.’ No, no, no! That’s NOT your brand!
Will your provider take your customers’ perspective? This one to me is a differentiator. A lot of companies never actually relate to how a consumer is going to relate to a site. Forrester calls it Transactive Content. When one of your constituents - a prospect, customer, analyst, partner - enters your Web site, What do you want them to do at the end of the experience? And given their disposition, psychographics and preconceived notions, how are you going to get them there? How do you develop content that leads them from a to b to c to your jackpot?
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