While some businesses built their brands using storefronts, Avon Products Inc. did it with personal relationships, from one door to the next. It can be tricky transferring this one-on-one sensibility to the Internet.
“We want to make sure that we deliver a level of [online] service to the household that will be representative of the brand and of the local agent,” says Pattiann McAdams, Avon’s Executive Director of Ecommerce, North America. “We had to integrate our Internet marketing strategy with our offline efforts. That's different than simply duplicating marketing efforts.”
Still, McAdams knew the Internet presented the perfect opportunity to empower their 600,000 US reps with a streamlined back-end support system -- complementing various components of the evolving online stores they began setting up for their sales force five years ago. Based on multiple user-ability tests, she and her team decided the system needed to offer everything from customized emails to clients to personalized Web stores that let reps highlight the products they want to feature and copy that they write themselves.
Beyond that, she also wanted a system that assisted reps with invoices, tracking orders, price adjustments, a calendar and more. Here are three strategies she used to roll out the initiative:
-> Personalized Web stores
Last September, Avon began offering sales reps the ability to create personalized Web stores that make them available to customers all day, everyday. Each participating rep can have their photograph featured on the storefront next to a one-click email button so customers can easily contact them.
The service is prominently highlighted on the left-hand side of Avon’s home page. From there, visitors can choose a rep in their area by entering a ZIP Code or a city and state. Or, if they already use a specific rep or know of one, they can find the person by last name.
“We felt it was important to give our reps the earnings opportunity of being able to sell online and offline,” McAdams says. “And it gives our customers more choices in how they order, while still receiving service from our representatives.”
Within the personalized sites, customers have a choice as to how their online order is delivered -- whether they want the rep to hand-deliver it or have it mailed. The invoice is customized with the local agent’s information, giving the customer the sense that they are always connected to their salesperson.
On the individual store pages, reps are allowed to write their own copy, talking about products and how they use them, as well as choose which items they want to feature. If they don’t want to do this, they can select Avon’s standard copy and featured items.
“The individual Web pages gives our representatives the chance to speak directly to their customers -- to the people they are catering to,” McAdams says.
McAdams’ team also provided a set of tools so reps can create customized emails and a page that includes opportunity presentations and success stories. Here, reps can send special campaigns to clients or add special offers in their order confirmation emails. (See link below to story featuring Avon’s legendary email tactics.)
-> Back-end support
On the back end, McAdams wanted reps to be able to watch their business flow via a secure real-time Internet-based administrative management system. Through yourAvon.com, reps can log in and keep track of their customers’ orders, invoicing and customer reporting functions. It also tells them when a hand-delivery visit has been requested.
In addition, the system lets reps maintain a complete list of their contacts, including clients’ birthdays and anniversaries. An adjustment tool gives reps the ability to add or edit their customer discounts within the customer invoicing tool. An online calendar will track and publish events, such as beauty bashes and open houses.
Some of the features that reps are able to access in the yourAvon.com site include:
1. My Account page
This lets reps review account statements and invoices, access their order history and use business-building tools.
2. e-Z Returns
The e-Z Returns system gives access so reps can process credits and update their accounts, print return shipment paperwork, select shipping methods, print prepaid shipping labels and monitor and track return shipments.
When a rep sends a package, Avon sends an email confirmation once the carrier receives it. Another email goes out after the shipment is processed at Avon.
Avon also sends alerts regarding e-Z Returns if a rep receives credit for items but didn’t prepare a shipment or if Avon doesn’t receive notification from the carrier that they have received the shipment.
-> Communication with reps
McAdams also knew the yourAvon.com site provided an opportunity for her team to disseminate information to hundreds of thousands of reps flung across the country. Using the What’s New section, they can tell reps about new products, upcoming specials, extension times on sales and specific marketing tips.
A recent announcement about Avon’s new Fusion line read: “84% of women who tried Fusions in tests agreed, after one day of use, that Fusions ‘wraps skin in lasting moisture that doesn’t towel off.’ 88% agreed that after three days of use, Fusions ‘leaves skin feeling sensually soft and irresistible to the touch.’ … Oh, and don’t forget the great price: just $3.25 (half price) during the intro campaign.”
After months of hard work, McAdams is extremely happy with how the system was implemented. “This is a perfect example of how Internet technology can help our traditional direct sales.” Customers are just as pleased with the personalized stores. “We’ve gotten great feedback about the Web stores.”
Based on the success of the personalized rep stores, McAdams and her team are already looking at expanding the initiative to other countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada.Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Avon’s personalized Web store:
Avon’s Advanced Email Tactics (How to Keep Both Sales Reps and Customers Happy):
Manhattan Associates - provided technology for e-Z Returns:
Omniture - whose site analytics were used to optimize the eReps system: