For years now, big business executives have hoped electronic networks and extranets would save them money in dealing with thousands of vendors, partners, and/or resellers.
But for the same reason that most of the much-trumpeted online exchanges and B-to-B marketplaces of 1999 died on the vine, this hope does not always flower into reality. Your hundreds or thousands of vendors, partners or resellers simply may not be comfortable doing business online.
When electronic payment network provider Clareon launched in late 2000, many of the big companies that were their sales prospects had already been there, done that, and gotten burned. In order to sell its services, Clareon had to do more than convince prospective clients how wonderful its technology was. Clareon had to take the marketing process another step, and promise to help it's clients convert their own vendors, partners and resellers in turn.
The promise worked. New clients, such as Fleet and Fairchild Semiconductor agreed to purchase an electronic payments hub of their own to process vendor bills through. But the contracts were often conditional on Clareon's being able to help them convert a significant percent of their vendors to the new system. (For example, Fairchild required that 50% of vendors be persuaded within a year - or the deal was off.)
Often these vendors were fairly small businesses with little technology infrastructure, such as a deli that provided catering to the client's home office. How do you convince a deli to change the way they have billed your company since the dawn of time? CAMPAIGN
Thomas Nightingale, Clareon's Direct Marketing Director, started out using a classic combination of direct (postal) mail letters and telemarketing. It was working ok, but he needed more traction. So he decided to add email to the mix.
Now when new clients sign on, Nightingale and Marketing Communications Director David Goldberg work together to create a four-step online/offline outreach campaign to these clients' vendors:
Step #1: Direct Mail
First Clareon sends a direct mail package to all of the vendors the client wants to include in the program. For maximum impact, the package appears to come from the client, including the client's logo, a note signed by the client's CEO on their letterhead, and a copy of the client's press release about the new payment system.
The direct mail package directs vendors to enroll for the program at a special Web site built by Clareon on behalf of the client. The site is also co-branded and bears the client's logo.
Step #2: Email Communication
A week after the direct mail package drops, Clareon sends a single emailed letter to all the vendors that the client has email addresses for. (Clients do not always have emails for every company they do business with. Goldberg says, "One credit card company had email addresses of only 200,000 of its four million merchant customers.")
Goldberg reports that the most important factor in the success of the email campaign lies in creating a subject line that is compelling enough for recipients to open rather than delete. He says, "It helps to use the client's name in the subject line. The client, say ABC, has leverage over Joe's Deli. So the subject line could say, 'ABC wants to pay you this way'."
The message itself looks very much like a formal business letter -- with the client's logo at the top left and Clareon's at the top right. Also along the top are buttons for:
- Learn More
- Company Info
- Try Our Demo
- Enroll Now
- Send to a Colleague
The rest of the message looks just like a formal, typed business letter, typically starting:
Last week, [client name] sent a letter requesting that your
company enroll in Clareon's PayMode to receive payments
electronically. They have asked me to follow-up, ensure you
received the letter, answer any questions, and expedite your
After listing four key vendor-side benefits to enrolling in the program ("Saves time and money"), the letter ends by asking recipients to click to view a brief demo or get more information on the Web site. Lastly, it sets the stage for the next step in the communication process by saying, "If I do not hear from you, I will call you shortly to follow-up."
The letter is signed by a representative of Clareon and includes a direct dial phone number and email address that recipients can reach their rep at.
Step #3: Telemarketing Follow-Up
A few days later, Clareon's telemarketing team start making calls to follow up with vendors. Again, they reference the Web site either while on the phone with vendors or in voicemail.
Step #4: Email or Postal Mail Follow-Up
Finally, Clareon's reps send out either postal mailed notes or emailed notes to respond to specific vendor questions or to keep them moving along through the enrollment process. This is not another mass campaign, but rather a personalized one-to-one communication between reps and vendors.
Again, emailed and postal mailed notes are on "letterhead" with the client's logo, which helps them look as official as possible.
Adding email to the communication mix increased Clareon's average enrollment rates by 27% while reducing the amount of time it took the average vendor to be enrolled by 18%. The program was so successful in the case of Fairchild Semiconductor it took Clareon just 11 weeks to enroll the required 50% of Fairchild's vendors into the system (instead of the expected year).
The email subject lines are definitely working, Nightingale says, "We're seeing open rates in the 60-80% area, depending on the level of recognition of the client name. Tremendous brand recognition gets opened quickly."
In addition, using email in the final stage of the process is also a winner. "We've found it's a dynamite way to follow-up on a phone conversation," reports Nightingale.
Clareon's email technology provider - http://www.mindarrow.com