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Jun 12, 2000

VerticalNet Marketers Reveal Market Research, Integrated Marketing and Storefront Success Tips

SUMMARY: If you are a B-to-B marketer, you'll definitely want to check out our quick interview with VerticalNet's Sharon O'Shea, VP Marketing and Tim Law, Director Research. VerticalNet won a Tenagra award in 1997.
This week we spoke with Sharon O’Shea, VP of Marketing, and Tim Law, Director of Research, at VerticalNet.

Q: You guys are the kings of launching new B-to-B sites. What’s your basic new-site launch plan?

VerticalNet: First we do a huge amount of pre-launch due diligence. You have to understand your customer base on both sides, what your visitors really want in terms of content and what your suppliers want, so the site itself is presented in a format that they feel comfortable and at home in.

We research in multiple ways - including focus groups; five-day, threaded online discussions; phone interviews and email surveys. We research our target visitors’ purchasing methods, functional responsibilities, departmental affiliations, pieces of content they already get, what they want to see migrated to the Web, etc. Then we also find out what the supply side of the marketplace wants.

Q: OK, so you’ve done the research and created a site the marketplace will adore - what’s next on your marketing plan and how much does it cost?

VerticalNet: It’s not so much the amount of money you’re spending, as it is the most effective way to leverage the relationships that are out there. We partner with trade associations, exchanging ads and sometimes content. We send editors to trade shows so people can put a face to the site. We’ve found that current customer testimonials work well for online and offline advertising. We drive some traffic through direct mail campaigns to lists our partners own. So you leverage existing customers, lists and marketplaces to attract new traffic.

We also strongly believe in integrated marketing campaigns. We coordinate PR, new media marketing and offline advertising, doing them in a way so they reinforce each other. Having that mix is important.

Q: MarketingSherpa's recent survey showed most business Web sites spent 80% or more of their marketing budget offline. Does that hold true for you?

VerticalNet: We’re not sure because so much of our marketing is through partnerships that show under “marketing” in the budget. But given the marketing efficiencies you can see online, we think you’ll definitely see that mix change from 80/20 in favor of offline marketing to 80/20 in favor of online marketing someday.

Q: How do you recommend that suppliers running storefronts at your sites maximize their sales?

VerticalNet: By updating their storefront frequently, as frequently as their offerings and products change. You can analogize it to a weekly supermarket circular - you need to keep your storefront interesting by changing it and offering different specials. You want the latest and greatest information there, because that’s what the visiting procurement engineers want to see. All the good rules of industrial B-to-B marketing still apply to marketing online.

Plus, we’re actively collecting data from focus groups that we’ll feed back to storefront owners so they can improve sales. Each storefront owner is also assigned an account manager to help the drive traffic and with premiums, promotions and direct marketing. This position is increasing in importance.

Q: We heard that 40% of your traffic comes from outside the U.S. Is that true, and how are you marketing internationally?

VerticalNet: Yes, it’s true, and that was before we really started marketing outside the U.S. We believe, from a marketing perspective (and everything online is considered to be marketing communications to some extent), you need to understand each individual culture. So to grow outside the U.S., we’ve been pursuing partnerships with organizations like British Telecom and Softbank, which are local to those other countries.

Q: In terms of hiring, what kinds of marketers are you looking for?

VerticalNet: Somebody who is very self-motivated, very creative, a good team player. They have to be comfortable with technology as we’re transitioning from a new media company to an ecommerce company with increasing technology - distributed catalogs, exchanges, auctions, reverse auctions, online RFPs, etc. There’s a very steep learning curve as you come on board here. Having a B-to-B background will only take you so far. You have to be able to think outside the box and be comfortable with an org chart that’s changing very quickly. Talent is more important than specific B-to-B experience - a talented person is a talented person. They’ll thrive anywhere.

MarketingSherpa Note: By the way, VerticalNet recently redesigned their corporate home page and we think it’s a huge improvement.
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