Infusionsoft Spotlight, Part Two: Bite-Size Marketing Campaigns for Small Businesses

This is the second post in a two-part series featuring my conversation with Terry Hicks, Chief Operating Officer at Infusionsoft. We chatted at ICON17, Infusionsoft’s annual user conference. In this post, we talk about Infusionsoft Propel, Infusionsoft’s new solution, which allows small businesses to set up bite-size automated marketing campaigns in just a few minutes. In the first post, we discuss Infusionsoft’s vision to help small businesses win and keep new customers with its customer engagement and marketing solution, and new capabilities that Infusionsoft is adding to it’s core product.

Laurie:  Tell me about Infusionsoft Propel, the new solution that is in alpha or beta now. It sounds like it’s for people who need even more of a marketing shortcut.

Terry:  The background is that with our core products there have always been two parts that customers had to learn. First, they had to decide whether they were trying to follow-up or get repeat engagement from their customers. So, they need a marketing strategy or marketing campaign concept first, and implement it and in our core product. We refer to our core Infusionsoft product as our builder series, because the customers that use it want to build this, and they want customization.

But there are many other small businesses that want an easier starting place, they are willing to stand on the shoulders of others. They don’t want to be the builder, they want to deliver the campaign and see results. They’d like to see results in about three seconds after the campaign is launched.

So, we’ve tried to do a couple of things with Infusionsoft Propel. Number one, build a very simple experience to get yourself set up. Of course you have to say who you are and what your website is, all things that small businesses already know about themselves. No trick questions! Then, we incorporate their branding to customize them for who you are and what product you’re selling. But then you just decide what part of your business are you trying to improve. Are you trying to get new customers, trying to get repeat customers, or trying to get referrals? As soon as they decide on that goal, in just a few clicks, they can launch a campaign to achieve that goal. With really good, base language that can be tweaked, really professionally designed landing pages, emails or whatever components are part of the campaign.  And within 3-5 minutes, it’s on its way.

Laurie:  Which is great, not only because they don’t have to spend a lot of time learning how to use software but they can do it in little bite-sized pieces and as they see the outcomes and they get the results, they can build on that.

Terry:  Right. And when I say they are standing on the shoulders of experts who have done this before, who have thought through these details, those are the experts in our partner ecosystem where most of the campaigns are going to come from. Some have industry specializations, some are really good at getting referrals and recommendations. The small business owner can have the confidence that these have been tested in the marketplace. These campaigns are from the folks whose campaigns and wisdom has been tested.

Laurie:  Tried and true. And if they want to keep going, they can find a great partner to help them.

Terry:  Exactly. It’s a great opportunity for partners because they are always looking for ways to leverage their expertise. Also, sometimes our partners get a little bit anxious about customers that want to tweak campaigns, which may have the effect of making the campaign less effective than their partner imagined. One benefit to our partners is they can reach more customers and spread their knowledge a little bit more broadly, get more clients as a result. Another benefit is that they can put some guard rails on the customer so that customer ultimately gets to success.

Laurie:  I’ve been seeing for years now that the cloud and the SaaS model have really taken the technical barriers off of the small business back to use a solution but nothing is really taken off that lack of business process expertise off their backs. It looks like maybe this is going to be a start, which is kind of cool.

Terry:  Remember we talked about multiple follow ups produce better results, so they are going to get initial nudge and then follow-up with them again. Or if I leave a voice mail, I’ll get a little suggestion on things to highlight in the voice mail. All of it is gently guiding the small business owners so that they don’t forget to do these things. And you know, they know it’s the right thing to do, but people get busy so this helps them get to get to succeed.

Laurie:  When will Infusionsoft Propel be available for general release?

Terry:  We have limited availability right now, a few hundred customers. Folks are signing on here at ICON and they’ll be getting their invitations back and coming online. Probably general release will be by the end of June. It may happen sooner than that. We are testing to make sure we the right strategies in, and enough strategies so we have good product out of the gate. Also, there are always ways to perfect the on boarding experience, so that customers get launched, see the outcomes they want, and then are happily referring Propel to other businesses that could really benefit from it.

Laurie: It sounds like you’re going to start with freemium model?

Terry:  It’s a freemium model and there’ll be a couple different ways that folks will move from free to paid. It’ll be a fantastic freemium model with contact records built-in so you can see the history, that’s a basic piece of functionality that most small businesses need. There will be some prepackaged free campaigns, a couple of other transactional forms, and follow-up sequences that come out of the campaigns. Some customers will need more functionality, like grater sales pipe line management. So that would be a move from free to paid. There will be some campaigns as we progress with partners that will be for fee and over time, there will be add-ons like payments and the payment processing at an incremental cost.

Laurie:  They can get their feet wet and kick the tires for free.

Terry:  Yes. We are really hoping that the freemium model will get them small benefits they’ll see quickly, and then they’ll consume more strategies and the functionality they need that makes it right for their business.

Laurie:  Terry, this has been great. Thank you so much!

This post was sponsored by Infusionsoft.

Infusionsoft Spotlight, Part One: Simplifying Growth For Small Businesses

This is the first post in a two-part series featuring my conversation with Terry Hicks, Chief Operating Officer at Infusionsoft. We chatted at ICON17, Infusionsoft’s annual user conference. In this post, we discuss Infusionsoft’s vision to help small businesses win and keep new customers with its customer engagement and marketing solution, and new capabilities that Infusionsoft is adding to it’s core product. In the second post, we talk about Infusionsoft Propel, Infusionsoft’s new solution, which allows small businesses to set up bite-size automated marketing campaigns in just a few minutes.

Laurie:  Today I’m speaking with Terry Hicks, Terry, can you tell us a little bit about your role?

Terry:  Sure. I’m responsible for product development, sales and marketing, customer success, business development, basically all the operational parts of the business focused on building our products, serving our customers and growing the business. Obviously, there are lots of talented people in our team. We focus on Infusionsoft’s vision and strategy and solving problems for our customers and helping them to grow.

Laurie:  So, what is Infusionsoft’s mission and big picture vision?

Terry:  Our big picture vision is to simplify growth for millions of small businesses. Infusionsoft is a SaaS product that helps our customers connect with their prospects and customers, and increase the likelihood that the prospect will become a customer, and that customers will come back for more and will also refer new customers. We do that through customer engagement software that also includes contact management, information about who the customer is and what business they’ve done with the company. Then we automate the follow up that small businesses need to do to save them time.

Laurie:  There are some really interesting statistics that were shared earlier at the event about follow-up, and how critical it is.

IMG_7913Terry:  Right. We see that if you follow-up eight times, then you’re going to get about eighty percent of the opportunity. We are all busy and we get distracted and so while somebody in the moment might say, hey, I really need this service or I really need this product, but often things come up in life and they go to the next thing. If you don’t follow-up enough, you’re going to miss out on the sales opportunity. There’s a speed component and a number of times component to it. Both are important. That’s why product like ours that allows that follow-up to be automated and personalized really helps give the small business owner who is juggling so many things the ability to improve the performance of their business. That’s why I always talk about multiplying their time by automating follow up for them.

Laurie:  How does Infusionsoft define small business?

Terry:  For us, it’s less than 25 employees. There are very small businesses, one or two employees, that can be very sophisticated and have a high revenue, and there are some larger businesses like up to a hundred, that operate very much like a small business. But our sweet spot is 25 and fewer employees.

Laurie:  So truly focused on very small business, not really kind of stretching that definition.

Terry:  Right, because when you start having much larger business, the solution needs to consider other things, like specialized skill sets, departmental focus, things that really require that your tools adapt more to that expert. But with the small business, you’re dealing with people who are swapping hats on and off, all throughout the day. They are switching from one thing to the other. So that has implications on how the solutions work.

Laurie:  You made several key announcements here at ICON17. Can you jgive us your take on the highlights?

Terry:  Yes. First, when we talk about simplifying growth, the simplify part of it is really so critical and what we have been working on since last ICON is simplifying some of the capabilities that are most commonly used. A great example is the new landing page. The old landing pages’ feature was pretty robust but you had to start from scratch most of the time. But sometimes it’s easier to edit or tweak than it is to say, wow, that blank page is staring at me. So, you might say let me sit down to that later when I can really think that through.

IMG_7919But the new landing pages have a much more modernized UI that allows very easy drag and drop, and dozens of dozens of templates and little template widgets so you have a really great starting place to quickly get to the outcome you want to get to. The other thing that is really important is making sure landing pages on mobile devices look great. everything has to be mobile first, and 100% of our new landing pages are mobile responsive and optimized for mobile.

Laurie:  It takes the burden off the back of business owner to say where do I start. It also offers best practice advice about what you should put on a landing page, right?

Terry: Exactly. And that’s absolutely necessary for a small business owner. I trust my bicycle shop repair guy to fix my bike. He does that all the time. He knows how to do it, he knows how to tune it, if I’m choosing a new bike, which one. But when it comes to marketing, not only he doesn’t know, he doesn’t want to know. He got passion about the bike shop and so we need to give them that simplified path to marketing success.

This post is sponsored by Infusionsoft.

Thinking About Going Global? Read This Book First

book-cover-2016-3This past week, I had the opportunity to talk to Steve Creskoff, a lawyer and a leading expert on international trade. And Steve has just published a new book called “What You Need to Know to Go Global: A Guide to International Transactions.” The best part about this is he’s written it specifically for small and medium businesses that want to explore their options in the international market.

Laurie: Steve, I’m excited to talk to you, because in our SMB Group surveys and the research we do, we see that only a small percentage of U.S. SMBs do business outside of the United States. So, first of all, why do you think this is?

Steve: Well, this is just what the case is today, and it’s unfortunate because small and medium businesses are very competitive internationally. They need to think more about their position in global markets. The statistics tell us that, in terms of trade and goods, only about 23% of U.S. GDP is in trade and goods, and about the same for trade and services, and this is very low. The lowest for any developed economy. So, our small businesses often are not aware of the international opportunities for them.

Laurie: That is very similar to what our data says. But I didn’t realize that the U.S. is the lowest.

Steve:  For a developed economy, we’re by far the lowest.

Laurie: So why should more small and medium businesses think about doing business beyond U.S. borders?

Steve: Well, first, let me talk about services. Our economy is about 80% services, and a lot of those services are tradeable, and we’re extremely competitive internationally with our services businesses. We export more services than any other country in the world by far and we have a very favorable surplus in trade and services, so this is important. The politicians don’t talk about that, but this is an area of international trade where we’ve been very successful. And then, of course, about 94 to 95 percent of world population is outside the U.S., so there are all sorts of opportunities for small businesses, whether it’s services providers or if they have a tangible product. So, there are great opportunities that should not be ignored.

Laurie: What are the risks to ignoring the potential?

Steve: First, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you’re not aware of how your product is situated internationally, an international competitor can come into the U.S. market and eat your lunch, so to speak. So, you have to be aware of… You have to evaluate your product or service for the international market and for the global economy, no matter how small you are. For instance, I’m a very small service provider, but most of my work is international, and that’s the case with a lot of businesses that I know.

Laurie: Yes, but many business owners don’t see a ready opportunity to extend their business overseas. Do you have a couple of examples you could share of creative ways that SMBs have gone into new markets.

stephen-profile-square-244Steve: Well, first of all, it’s like domestic business. It’s all about people. It’s about meeting people, developing a personal relationship, and telling them about your product or service. You can do this at international trade shows. You can do this through visits, as you do, of course, for domestic clients. And, of course, there are government resources, which are valuable. The U.S. Commerce Department and Small Business Administration have excellent resources. And last but maybe most important are the new internet platforms that have been developed that open up all sorts of potential for international business. Probably it’s an exception about my point about meeting the people, because now you can actually put up your goods or services on an Internet platform and start engaging with prospects in new countries through that.

Laurie: Right. The Internet definitely makes the world smaller. Do you have a favorite business story about a particular business that did something innovative in terms of going to market in another country?

Steve: Well, I’m legal counsel to the Trade Association of Fencing Manufacturers, and one of the members makes equipment to manufacture fencing. They’ve sold in more than 60 countries around the world. They’re located in Southern California. It’s a small business, and it’s not a new technology, but the services component is very important because they send people to their customers to train them on how to use the equipment, and that’s been very significant. So, there are many, many examples of small businesses that have been extremely successful.

Laurie: And you can differentiate yourself with customer service.

Steve: Yes. We think in terms of products and services being separate, but they’re not really. Maybe you’re selling a tangible product, but the services might be critical to that product. Conversely, you may be selling a service, but there may be certain tangible products that support that service

Laurie:  So, once a business owner says, “Hmm, I think I do have an opportunity to compete in this market. I can differentiate on either innovation, my product, or service, or whatever,” some of the key financial or regulatory or other kinds of considerations that a business really needs to understand to be successful?

Steve: It’s not really rocket science. There’s a great deal of uniformity around the world in terms of the regulations that apply to international trade and goods and services now, whether it’s a World Trade Organization agreement or a different type of international agreement. Because our businesses are so successful in the area of technology, export controls is one issue I would identify. Not that many goods and services are subject to export controls, but anything that is a so-called dual use item that might have a military application, the commerce department is responsible for that regulation here in the U.S. But businesses can very quickly find out whether there may be an issue or not. Only about 10% of exports are subject to export controls. As far as import controls and taxation and so forth, there are a lot of advisers that can be helpful, whether they’re freight forwarders, customs brokers, trade consultants. And, of course, the commerce department and the small business administration also provide advice. And my book–I’ll be shameless and promote my book!–has a great deal of detail and provides an overview of these various regulations so that a business can have an idea of when they should be talking to a consultant or a lawyer and when they’re probably okay.

Laurie: Absolutely. This has really been interesting, and starts to lessen some of intimidation about expanding a business internationally. But we’ve only just touched on just the tip of the iceberg. As you said, business owners that want to learn more can find a wealth of information about key considerations in your book, “What You Need to Know to Go Global,” which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both in paperback, and for Kindle and other ebook formats.

Steve: Thanks. Businesses can also check out my website. And I’m happy to say that the World Trade Organization in Geneva has taken an interest in my book, so my official book launch is going to be September 28th in Geneva. I’m very happy that they like the book and they’re going to be joining me in promoting it. The book isn’t t intimidating in terms of a lot of technical detail, and you can skip chapters if you’re not particularly interested in a given area. It’s like a travel manual. You read the parts that are of interest to you and relevant to your business and you can skip the other parts. So, I hope that many of your listeners will take a look at my book and start exploring their options.

Laurie: Thanks again, Steve, and best wishes for the book launch.

 

 

Using Sales Management Solutions to Boost Sales Productivity and Customer Satisfaction

SMB Group research consistently shows SMBs view attracting new customers, growing revenues, maintaining profitability, improving cash flow and improving customer experience and retention as their top business goals (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals

Slide1

With that in mind, I was interested in talking with Karen McCandless, market researcher at GetApp, a sales management software comparison and reviews site, on her latest study. The study shows that a majority of B2B sales professionals lack  confidence in their sales strategy. Karen, can you tell me a little about the study, and what you found?

Karen: For our study, we surveyed 250 B2B sales professionals in North America. We found that 67% think that their small business selling strategy needs improvement to help them generate leads. Digging deeper, it seems that they are more concerned about the quality of leads than the quantity of them.

Laurie: Yes, we hear the same thing. For lack of a better term, SMBs often take a shotgun approach that may bring in lots of leads, but fails to bring in quality leads that are a good fit for the business.

Karen: Exactly. In fact, we spoke with Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Tiffani Bova, for our study, and she explained that the biggest opportunity to improve lead performance was to, “incorporate personalization and intelligence into [the] sales process.” This missing element is backed up by our data as well: Just 10% of sales reps believe that their B2B customers are looking for any kind of personalized service when purchasing. These facts help paint a picture as to why that two-thirds of sales professionals think their sales strategy needs help.

If salespeople rarely think their customers want personalized service during the sales process, it leads to B2B customers focusing more on factors like ‘price’ when it comes to purchasing (which 64% of our customer sample cites as the most important purchase factor), forcing salespeople to fight over price.

Laurie: Sure, and the race to the bottom is one most SMBs can’t win against large companies. So, your survey also looked at how SMBs can use sales management software to help them to compete more effectively. What did you learn here?

Effect of sales software on revenue_GetApp 2016Karen: We found that 66% of SMB sales professionals currently use sales management software, while a third still doing things manually. Not surprisingly, among those using these solutions, 86% have seen an increase in revenue, and 93% reported a boost in productivity.

Laurie: We see very similar results in our studies. Technology is increasingly part of the business fabric, and SMBs that invest in technology to automate business processes can get a great return on their investment.

Karen: It can really help automate manual, time-consuming tasks, freeing reps up to focus more time on areas such as prospecting, nurturing and closing deals. These solutions also give sales reps more information about their leads and prospects so they can make better decisions. Together, this can help improve the sales process.

Laurie: Were there any other key findings from this study?

Karen: Yes. We heard very positive things on the value of sales training: 92% of respondents said that the additional training they have received has increased their selling abilities. We also found that sales people view one-to-one coaching, delivered on an ongoing basis, as the best type of sales training.

Subject matter is also important, such as equipping sales professionals with the right software training to help them to harness the soft skills they have developed. In addition, we found only 15% of salespeople use social media to generate leads and better engage potential B2B clients (compared to 27% for both phone and in person).

Laurie: Yes, this is a critical area that sales people need help with, because online reviews, ratings and social media increasingly shape buying decisions. But even though technology solutions offer great benefits, SMBs are often confused and challenged when it comes to deploying new tech solutions. In fact, in our 2015 SMB Group Routes to Market Study, respondents ranked “implementing new technology solutions” and “figuring out which technology solutions can best help my business” among their top three technology challenges. Your thoughts on this?

Karen: Well, if you’re a small business looking to implement a sales management or CRM for the first time, you need to take several considerations into account. This includes factors such as deployment speed, cost, training needs, features, integration with other software you are already using, can it grow with your business, and mobile capabilities. Cloud-based sales management software can help here, as having the software hosted generally means quicker setup (with less downtime), predictable cost with less to pay up front, the ability to add and remove users easily, simplified IT management, and more updates more often. Plus most cloud-based systems these days are intuitive and have mobile capabilities, which makes adoption easier.

Laurie: Yes, all of the above. In fact, we find ease of use often trumps price when SMBs are making software decisions, so its no wonder that cloud based CRM is becoming the norm. And while the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices. In our 2016 SMB Collaboration, Communication & Mobility Study, 67% of SMBs said that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. Any final insights?

Effect of sales software on customer satisfaction_GetApp 2016Karen: In addition to the increases in revenues and productivity, we found 78% of salespeople have seen an increase in customer satisfaction after adopting CRM solutions, which I think underscores the fact that these solutions free up salespeople to focus on creating a selling process that caters to the customer, thus allowing small business to have a leg up and compete with the big fish.

Laurie: Absolutely agree with that, Karen, and thanks for sharing these findings and your perspectives with me.

Missed Sales Machine? Attend the Encore Presentation!

I had an amazing time attending and being a panelist at #SalesMachine in NYC a couple of weeks ago. Maybe the best line up of inspiration, motivation and education I’ve seen at one event! Plus, there were so many great opportunities for networking.

SM16-Twitter-1025x512-EncoreStream

If you didn’t get a chance to attend, Salesforce and SalesHacker are presenting a 2-day Encore presentation of the entire Sales Machine event on July 6 and 7. Just use this link,www.salesmachinesummit.com/encore, if you’d like to attend!

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: Xactly Express Integration with Intuit QuickBooks

If you’re one of the four million small and medium businesses (SMBs) that uses Intuit QuickBooks and are wrestling with a clunky sales compensation process, I’m serving up this next tech tidbit for you.

Last week, I was briefed on Xactly’s new Express integration with QuickBooks. This sparked my interest because SMB Group survey respondents always cite “attracting new customers” and “growing revenues” among their top three business challenges in almost every study the SMB Group conducts. But, it can be very difficult for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to execute well in this area. Sales and finance are typically coming at this from different vantage points, and its unlikely that the SMB has a dedicated sales comp expert–or the time and money to set up an enterprise-grade comp system.

So, if you’re like the vast majority of SMBs, you probably manage compensation with a concoction of Excel spreadsheets, emails, paper documents and manual processing. Besides giving everyone a headache, it can de-motivate sales people or head them in a direction that doesn’t sync well with your company’s goals.

Xactly (which also has an enterprise solution, Xactly Incent), introduced Xactly Express in 2010 to give companies with fewer than 100 sales reps–and without dedicated sales compensation staff–a cloud-based, self-service solution to “Incent right = pay commissions accurately, on time, reward behavior.” Xactly built Express on Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform, but as it grew the business, Xactly realized that a good 35% to 45% of its Express customers were also Intuit QuickBooks users. For them, QuickBooks is often the primary system of record. So Xactly decided to create new out-of-the-box connectors between Express and QuickBooks. The solution, which was introduced this week, will be available from the Intuit App Center later this summer.

This built-in integration provides an automated data feed from QuickBooks to Xactly Express, as well as single sign-on. Users can access Xactly through their QuickBooks logon to plan and manage sales commissions, bonuses and SPIFFs. Likewise, when you enter a transaction into QuickBooks, commissions automatically get calculated and credited to the right members of your sales team. If you’re doing business outside of the U.S. Xactly’s solutions support over 150 currencies and it provides customer support worldwide, 24/7. Currently, however, English is the only language that Xactly officially supports.

On the sales side, reps and managers can track their performance real-time on Express dashboards via the Web or with a mobile device. They can see where they are in terms of quota or what their commission will be when they’re working on a quote, or figure out which deals will deliver the best commission returns.

Xactly provides a library of customizable sales compensation templates (prospector, hunter, farmer, specialist and captain) to help small businesses get started.  Xactly says that it takes about 6 to 10 hours to get up and running with the integrated Express and QuickBooks solution. Most of this time goes to verify that the data is feeding correctly between the two programs.

According to Xactly, even very small businesses can get value from the solution. Some of its 200 current customers start out with only one sales rep, but have plans to grow their sales teams, and want to get things automated from the get-go.

Pricing for Express is $30 per user/ month, and there is a onetime set up fee that ranges from $1500 to 5000, depending on the complexity of the implementation and set-up–perhaps a bit pricey for the lower end of the SMB market.But Xactly does offer a free 30-day trial so you can see if it will give you what you’re looking for.

The net-net is that if sales compensation is giving you a headache, Xactly Express and its new QuickBooks integration can provide  relief–with the added bonus of helping align and empower your sales team to meet the ever-present challenge of growing your business.

Smarter Commerce for the Midmarket: An Interview with IBM’s Ron Kline

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the third post in the series, which is a summarize transcript of the podcast series that Brent Leary of CRM Essentials and Sanjeev Aggarwal, of SMB Group recorded with Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s midmarket division, about IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions for SMBs. If you’d like to listen to the recorded podcast series, click here.

Brent Leary:  We’re really excited to talk to Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s midmarket division. Ron, before we jump into the Smarter Commerce Imitative, IBM has been doing so much around this whole idea of a Smarter Planet, can you talk a little bit about the big picture of the Smarter Planet initiative.

Ron Kline:  Sure. What we mean by Smarter Planet is that the world we live in is becoming smarter. Everything around us is becoming more and more instrumented, and that allows us to measure really almost anything.

Think about it: there are over a billion transistors for every person on the planet. Over 30 billion RFID tags are embedded across the supply chain around the world. Everything is becoming instrumented.  Supply chains, health care networks, even natural systems like our rivers.  As a result of being able to measure and instrument from various touch points, the world becomes much more inter-connected and intelligent. By measuring and connect this information, you can build a more intelligent planet – one that can respond much more quickly to change.

Take an example like in San Francisco where they’ve launched a parking system so you can see what parking spaces are available throughout the city and determine where there is an open place to park. I actually have this app on my iPhone now. With the next step, you’ll be able to pay for your parking using your smartphone as the payment device.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  Thanks Ron. So what is Smarter Commerce, and how does it fit into the bigger Smarter Planter picture?

Ron Kline:  Smarter Commerce is about how we deliver the customer experience using all of the insights that we are gaining about our clients and supply chain to provide a much better customer experience.

For example, you used to just go out and buy a car, or a company would just order parts from a supplier. But as consumers got more information at their fingertips, they could start to get price comparisons online and hear what other people had to say about a particular product before they go shop. Things have quickly moved on to include people sharing information and opinions on social networking sites and blogs.

Smarter Commerce helps you maximize the insight that you generate through customer interactions, whether in the store, over the web, from smart devices – what is being said out in social communities and taking that insight and pulling it together to improve the customer experience. Then you can tailor your offerings to what a customer is interested in.  You can improve profitability by targeting the right offerings to the right customer at the right time, or by reducing the cost of returns, restocking, and supply chain expense by having to handle reverse logistics because you just didn’t know what the customer was looking for. The bottom line is improving the overall customer experience and living up to customer expectations.

We sort that into four big buckets, but it all comes down to customer experience. It’s the marketing, how do I target and personalize my marketing?  Yes, to get better yield out of my marketing dollar but really to have a better experience for my customers – so that I am providing relevant, targeted, offerings or information. Then, how do I manage that whole sales process, fulfillment across stores, the web, social sites. And customer service has to span all of the touch points. It’s not enough to have a customer service department anymore, customer service is something that a client experiences when he is buying a product or shopping for a product and when he is looking for additional service. On the internal side,  how do I control the procurement of goods and source the goods. I can have a smarter procurement process and a smarter supply chain process only if I know really more about my customer.

Brent Leary:  Talk a little bit about who should care about Smarter Commerce in an organization and why they should care about it.

Ron Kline:  Well, the customers care about it, so therefore, all of us as businesses need to care about it.  It’s something that any business of any size really needs to focus on.  It’s just as important for small and midsize businesses to deliver a superior customer experience as it is for a large enterprise.  In fact, Smarter Commerce and Smarter Planet can help level the playing field for midsize companies. In this environment, it’s all about building a more loyal customer, understanding that customer better, and then being able to deliver a better experience.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  Can you give us an example of how a midsize company is using Smarter Commerce today and what type of results they are achieving?

Ron Kline:  Sure. One example I find pretty interesting is Elie Tahari, a high fashion clothing designer and retailer. Nobody is more focused on appealing to the tastes and the emotions of their customers, but those tastes can change very quickly and a manufacturer who is caught with too much of yesterday’s style has got a lot of money tied up in inventory that is out of date.

Elie Tahari implemented an IBM Cognos solution that allows them to have a unified view of all of the information available from their different systems to make better decisions about what the market is saying and what specific customer needs are.

So now, instead of following what was a typical practice in the retailing industry–sending stores the same distribution of sizes based on historical information across the country–Elie Tahari has insight from their customer data for each particular store over a period of time. They can say, the distribution looks a little different over here, and distribute accordingly. It’s a better customer experience because the chances of being out of stock had been reduced. It saves money on costs of returns or discounting to try to move product that is not selling, either because you don’t have the right style in stock or you have to return it back to the parent company because you ordered too many of one size. This has enabled them to improve the customer experience, and on the supply chain side, they don’t end up with too much of the wrong type of thing.

Another example is BJU Press, a publisher in the United States that provides home schooling materials for kids in the K-12 age group.  They have developed a web store front end with an IBM partner, CrossView, using WebSphere Commerce, and Coremetrics, a web analytics application. Now they can provide customers with an easier online experience to search for products, continually improve that search experience.

In both cases, IBM and its patterns were able to not only improve the customer experience, but also the economics for the company as well.

Brent Leary:  Ron, those are some great examples, but how is IBM making Smarter Commerce accessible to the SMB market?

Ron Kline:  In fact, the examples that I gave you are midsize companies. They have the same pain points as larger companies; they just haven’t had the ability to address it in the past because a lot of the technology and solutions were out of reach.

IBM has bridged that gap in a of couple ways.  One way is to provide offerings that are built and designed for the midmarket.  We have a process in IBM to insure that the offerings that we bring to market for this customer segment are built and priced appropriately for midsize companies.  An example, Unica Email Optimization [OnDemand] Solution is $1,500 a month for running up to twenty-five events.  It’s very a very affordable solution with a lot of really great technology in it.  Unica Marketing Operations [OnDemand] is another one, marketing operations on demand is $6,000 per year for up to ten seats.  These are very much within the range of a midsize company, and provide the kind of analytics and insights that help a company deliver this Smarter Commerce experience.

We’ve also learned that customers are looking for local trusted advisors and that’s where IBM’s investment in a very large partner ecosystem has helped bring the IBM technology to these midsize companies through local business partners.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  How does an SMB that wants to learn more about this get started?

Ron Kline:  Absolutely, first of all, you can talk to your local business partner because they are the trusted advisor for you there locally.  At www.IBM.com/smartercommerce you can learn about what Smarted Commerce is and get a bigger picture view of what other customers are doing in this area and how they are benefiting, and of course, what our offerings are.

Brent Leary:  Ron thanks so much for your time today and explaining what Smarter Commerce is all about, thanks again.

Ron Kline:  My pleasure, thank you very much.

This is the third of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll talk about how Speedo International is serving smarter customers with Smarter Commerce solutions. In the meantime, please share with us the successes you’ve had and the challenges you face in adapting your business to better serve smarter customers.