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Carolyn

One of the founders of SureToMeet. Active community organizer to empower people.

Homepage: http://suretomeet.com

SureToMeet is a technology company with decades of experience in the events and one-to-one marketing fields.  We have married those two areas of expertise in a new product design — but due to the death of our founding CEO, are struggling to find a new home for this innovative system that can make a real difference in the business networking niche.  

SureToMeet includes three innovative, experienced R&D designers:  Chris Allen is an Academy Award winning systems programmer and designer.  Carolyn Allen is a longtime marketing communications and Internet marketer.  David Hylton is an international communications and business strategist.  

Our founder, Cliff Allen, was a systems designer and marketer who wrote some of the early books on Internet marketing, who created one of the first event registration systems as well as a sales and marketing unification system much like Salesforce.com.  

Together we have designed, patented, and put together the implementation plan for the MatchUp system. MatchUp is a complete system for event organizers, attendees and sponsors to bring together compatible people face-to-face at events.  

It takes humility to know when you need to ask for help.  After struggling for almost five years to complete the patent application process and receive the patent, and developing the business plan, marketing strategy and detailed technology wireframe — we realize that the system we’ve designed needs a bigger company than ours to bring it to the marketplace.

So we are looking for a home for our child.  The ideal candidate will be an established events management or events services company who has a relationship with event organizers and sponsors.  They will also have in-house tech resources to rapidly develop the system.

Why would they do this?  Because the revenue potential is even greater than the valuable contribution they would be able to provide their clients by cutting the cost and inefficiencies of networking the old fashioned way.  This system provides a smooth pathway to development of both a Minimum Viable Product and future enhancements.  And the adopting company will have three dedicated founders to help with rapid development and implementation.

We have heart — as well as the desire to make a valuable contribution to business and the careers of people who rely on business networking.  In this day and age of social media and crowd sourcing, we are asking for your help so we can help others.  We would appreciate any assistance you can provide in finding a home for this innovative solution to business networking.

Carolyn Allen
CEO, SureToMeet

Slow cooking is catching on!  We’re realizing that it takes time to make something really good.  The same often holds for innovation.  It takes time to fully recognize the need and flesh out the details of a workable solution. 

Twenty years ago my husband and I owned a high tech marketing agency and the need for productive networking was palpable, but the technology wasn’t there yet.  We helped entrepreneurs connect with the support team they needed — investors, partners, clients and even some employees and vendors.  Matching people was difficult.  The frustration inspired us to think of solutions and we often discussed how matchmaking was a time honored tradition that was needed in business. 

So the history of MatchUp, our matching system, really started about 25 years ago.  But the technology wasn’t there.  We witnessed several generations of solutions being tried with gadgets, with online websites and leads clubs.  None of them were very efficient.

Seven years ago we recognized that the smartphone plus our own software platform would make an effective matching system possible. The additional ingredient was the event organizer who could tailor the matching criteria to their attendees’ needs and offers.  We began the process of designing a system that would optimize this human-technology team.  We soon added sponsors to the mix because finding good suppliers is as important to every company.

My husband died in 2012, just as we were applying for our utility patent.  We were ahead of the curve, but the R&D process slowed as my son and I took over the business and R&D process.  

We’re now seeing the emergence of networking apps that begin to meet the need I saw throughout my marketing and design career — but none of the services available handle the depth or breadth of the need we found in American businesses.

My family has pursued a solution to this problem for decades, and we have a solution at our fingertips — MatchUp.  But we need the right partner to make this valuable contribution to business networking a reality. 

If you know a company looking for a networking solution — let me know — or tell them that we’re looking for a quality events company who will be able to deliver a significant boost to business networking at events.

Carolyn Allen,
CEO, SureToMeet

 

As a communications strategist, I recognized a big problem among our entrepreneurial clients — they needed a matchmaker to help them find the right partners, investors, clients and staff members.  My husband and I owned a high tech marketing agency and the need for productive networking was palpable, but the technology wasn’t there yet.  This is the time for smartphone enabled business networking

Our MatchUp (TM) solution that combines the Event Organizer with the Smart Phone & Computer System helps Attendees match with each other at the event.  We help sort out compatibilities with the algorithm.  The Organizer narrows the search with parameters… and the Attendee can fine tune their profiles to find the match they need today!

But the human factor is so important.  You can be matched with the perfectly compatible person, but if you do not engage in a meaningful conversation and then followup, your experience is useless.

Based on our experiences at networking and event organizing over the years, we’ve learned these tips for networking at events:

  1.  Know who you want to meet
  2.  Ask for referrals from people who know you…
  3.  Follow up, follow up, follow up

Know who you want to meet

Who do you need today to make progress in your job or your career?  Do you need a partner, an investor, clients or staff members?  Do you need someone part-time or full-time?  Know what you are looking for — the function in your life — and who the most likely candidates are.  That profile shapes YOUR profile!

Ask for Referrals 

If you don’t have a networking system available, use the old-fashioned one — ask for referrals.  But be specific and ask for the most common two or three attributes you need to find.  Your referrer needs to ask the right questions and give a bit of your information to help make a human match.

Follow up!

Following up is about making a business friendship.  It’s about learning more about each other and learning to trust one another’s judgment.  And it’s a long process to develop a really good contact.  Try to meet again soon.  Go for coffee together or meet at the next group meeting you have in common.  Send email.  Connect in social media and send short messages that might be of value to your contact.

Don’t overwhelm your new business contact, but connecting 3 or 4 times in the first month of your relationship can solidify your interest in them and flesh out the value that you bring to their life — and vice versa!

Make your business friendship friendly.  Don’t fall into gripes about your industry or colleagues.  Do promote positive ideas about how to make life better for both of you.  And share tidbits of helpful knowledge.  This is how trust is born and nurtured.

Successful networking!
Carolyn

Do you know all the key players (companies) in your industry niche, in your city or region?  If not, you are NOT ready to look for a new job!

Part of “You, Inc.” is knowing your assets (talents, skills, connections and experience).  But another part is knowing which buyers are best for you.

With the Web at your fingertips, there’s no excuse for not knowing each of your potential employers better than you know the attributes of your favorite movie or sports star.  Here are some features of each company you should know… and can find off of the Web (their company website, directories, associations, etc.)

  1. Name and kind of company (Sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S, C or other corporation), and size (number of employees, divisions, or locations).  Where their headquarters is located — and how close you will be to it.  Remember — location, location, location!
  2. Number of employees, and what the name of your relevant department(s) would be.
  3. Key customers (Find in directories or association membership listings)
  4. Where the hub of your industry is.  Entertainment is not centered in Sante Fe, New Mexico — but the art world is!
  5. Key products and services … and where the money comes from!  Follow the money!  The departments that have the greatest impact on revenue get the most attention, resources and often, highest salaries.  Money talks in business.
  6. Job requirements.  Search for job descriptions on job websites to get a prioritized list of qualification they will look for.  Know how each term is defined, and relate it to your own training and experience.  Tell your story of qualification, successful experiences and networks that can help get the job done.
  7. Who do you know who works for the company?  Call, email or text them for insights about the company, industry trends, and the job or department.  Recognize that one personal opinion isn’t always complete or accurate.
  8. Check social media for relevant conversations about the industry and the company.  But DON’T make derogatory or inappropriate comments.  (And check your own social media postings and clean them up as much as possible.)  
  9. Visit a trade show booth or other public exhibit and check out the literature.  Annual reports tell a lot about the inner workings of a company.  Read it for at least two years, if possible.  Annual reports for public companies listed in the stock market are often posted on their website or linked to from Finance.Yahoo.com
  10. Drive by all the facilities within driving distance — check out their look and feel.  Are they clean or unkempt?  Are their parking lots full or sparsely filled. Are they heavily armoured against crime, or open to the public?  You can tell a lot about a person (or company) by how they dress!

Getting to know the best companies in your niche can mean up to millions of dollars over a lifetime of work — so it is important to know where the best companies are, who their key people are, their trends and best products.  It’s like getting to know a person with many fascinating personality traits!  Have fun, but open your eyes to the attributes that matter most!

You have a supply chain inside your own company

and many of us have a supply chain outside the company.  We’ll discuss how to network within your company first.

A supply chain is a group of people whose job it is to get results and give aid to fellow employees working to achieve results.  

Some network members are in your own department, such as your supervisor and your contracts administrator.  Some are in departments before and after your role.  For example, if you are in sales — you need to know about inventory (before your department) and shipping (after your department), as well as others, such as order entry and order payments??.  

If you know these people by name, share some stories, and let each other know how your work optimally, you can get your work done much faster and smoother.  That process of getting acquainted personally and business-wise is productive internal business networking.

Step 1:  Write down the flow chart of your function… and the people/positions that come before you and after you in the flow of achieving your assigned results.  Well, maybe first, you need to identify what results really matter in your job!

Step 2. Identify the people at your own job level… and the people above and below your level. Meet them and offer them a token of your respect (information, cup of coffee, department ad specialties, etc.)  Be helpful to them by asking for their job goal and their wisdom and showing how you hope to support their goals.

Step 3: Add notes to your calendar to follow-up at least monthly.  Share helpful information (not trade secrets!) and ask for their input on what’s happening in the company or industry.  Ask how you can work together better.

Step 4.  Follow through.  Do what you said you would do.  It’s that simple.

Step 5.  Buy a box of “Thank You” cards and use them after every significant piece of shared information, referral, insight or connection your team provides you.  Be appreciative, but don’t gush.  Be sure to invite key members of your supply chain to a dinner or party at least once a year.  This is for their benefit to network with your trusted network!

This white paper describes the benefits and challenges of using e-mail marketing as part of a sales and marketing program for “considered purchases,” such as found in the sales cycles for business and industrial products.

E-mail has become a business tool that is almost as important as the telephone because it overcomes many of the communications problems of other media. It’s frequently faster to communicate with someone via e-mail than with voicemail and fax.

Email Provides Flexibility

Business marketers have found that e-mail has the flexibility to deliver a wide variety of messages, and it has the impact of a personal message. Of course, e-mail marketing cannot totally replace other forms of marketing and selling, but it can augment traditional sales and marketing techniques by increasing the frequency of exposure, delivering a high-impact message, and reducing sales and marketing costs.

E-mail marketing is proving its power to support both online and offline sales and marketing campaigns. Forrester Research recently interviewed companies about their results in using e-mail marketing techniques and found that the companies interviewed will triple their e-mail marketing budgets by 2004. It was somewhat surprising that these companies will spend half of their online marketing budget on e-mail marketing, but Forrester found that e-mail marketing is both effective and efficient. Their study reported that sending e-mail to in-house lists cost about $5 per thousand messages sent and that clickthrough rates average 10 percent. This means that e-mail marketing is much more efficient than practically all other forms of online or offline marketing.

While e-mail marketing has proven its value, it does present several challenges to marketers regarding implementation, such as:

  • Who should receive e-mail?
  • What content should e-mails contain?
  • How often should e-mail be sent?
  • How should an e-mail hosting company be selected?
  • What follow-up is effective for sales?

Permission Marketing

Regardless of how targeted, relevant, and informative you think your message is, unless the recipient specifically agreed to receive the information you send, you risk alienating a significant portion of your audience.

You’ve probably noticed that the unwanted e-mail you receive doesn’t come from large, recognizable companies who want to maintain their reputation. But large, well-known companies do send a great deal of e-mail promoting their products and services. So how do they obtain lists of interested prospects without becoming spammers? The answer is to send e-mail only to an in-house list of people who have asked for — or at least agreed to receive — e-mail newsletters and promotions from a company.

One of the easiest ways to implement a permission marketing e-mail program is to allow Web visitors to subscribe to a company’s newsletter. At the same time, visitors can be asked if they are interested in receiving promotions (sometimes called “solo mailings”) from the same company. In addition, a variety of offline techniques can be used to obtain approval to send e-mail newsletters and promotional campaign messages. Salespeople frequently obtain e-mail addresses from their prospects and customers. Other offline sources of e-mail addresses are trade shows, product registration cards, call centers, and other “touch points” where a company’s employees come in contact with prospects and customers.

One thing to keep in mind about permission marketing is that each individual’s permission only covers the type of e-mail explicitly mentioned when asking for permission. For example, if you change the format of your e-mail newsletter to resemble a solo ad or special offer, expect a large portion of people to unsubscribe from your list.

Frequency of Contact

Most marketing and sales executives know it’s important to contact prospects and customers frequently to create “top of mind” awareness. What’s not always clear is exactly why this is true and how to accomplish it.

In general, exposure to a message is cumulative, and each exposure to a message helps a person move above a “threshold of acceptance” where they will take action. However, impressions have a certain “decay rate,” which means that if not reinforced with additional exposures, awareness will fade away over time.

This means that it’s not just the number of exposures — it’s the number of times a person is exposed to a message during a certain time period.

Marketing research indicates that prospects need more exposures before they cross the threshold, while customers — who presumable are directly exposed to the product’s benefits — seem to require less frequent sales and marketing messages for them to remain loyal over time.

This means that it’s important to keep in frequent contact with both prospects and customers. The challenge, of course, is doing it inexpensively. In addition, it’s important to know when to increase the level of contact from primarily e-mail to a more intensive contact, such as a call from a salesperson. Fortunately, e-mail marketing techniques can meet both challenges at the same time.

As potential customers look for ways to meet specific needs, they move from initial awareness of their need through several stages of information gathering, and, hopefully, to product evaluation and selection. Traditional business marketing has called for mailing brochures and catalogs, sending direct mail pieces, and other expensive and time-consuming techniques to hopefully make the prospect receptive to a call from a salesperson. With sales cycles taking from 6 to 24 months, it can be expensive to have salespeople maintain frequent contact while waiting for prospects to become ready for sales calls.

A more efficient approach is to combine an e-mail newsletter and an e-mail promotional campaign with less frequent sales calls. Today, e-mail marketing can deliver a company’s marketing message more quickly and less expensively than many other customer contact methods. In addition, e-mail can accurately track when prospects are ready to hear from a salesperson.

Planning an E-mail Marketing Program

Creating a e-mail marketing program starts with determining the target market and objectives. In other words, who you want to contact, how do you want to help them, and what you want them to do next.

While e-mail marketing can be used to support offline marketing activities (such as calling your 800 number), its best use is to bring people to your Web site by including links to specific pages on the site. This can be done with a short synopsis of an article or a product description next to a link that takes readers directly to a Web page. Clicking the link in an e-mail, called a “clickthrough,” can update each reader’s profile to indicate interest in the article or product.

No other marketing medium compares with e-mail for immediate response to a promotion and the ability to track results.

Measuring Success

While the cost of actually distributing e-mail messages is very low compared to other marketing activities, it’s still important to test e-mail marketing campaigns and track results so you can measure and refine e-mail marketing activities. Even recipients of requested e-mail will only accept a limited number of messages from a company before becoming frustrated — so it is critical to track results to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.

Most activities related to e-mail and Web marketing can be tracked, and it’s this feedback that makes it possible to determine what works and what doesn’t.

When using an in-house list, be sure to track mailings to customers separately from mailings to non-customers who subscribe to your newsletter. For e-mail newsletters we’ve seen the clickthrough rate for customers can be twice that of non-customers.

Until recently, e-mail messages were delivered in text format only, but that is changing. HTML messages heighten the visual impact of a message by using special formatting and images in newsletters, and many subscribers are choosing to receive HTML newsletters instead of text format. This not only makes newsletters easier to read, it also increases the clickthrough rate.

Relationship Marketing via E-Mail

One benefit e-mail marketing has over Web marketing is the power to deliver each message with personality. Most Web sites are written in “brochure style.” It’s appropriate to establish the size and stability of the company because it reduces concerns about dealing with the company. However, once those initial concerns have been reduced, it’s time to put some personality into marketing and sales activities.

Successful field and telephone salespeople let their personalities demonstrate that they are real human beings. It’s important to do the same in e-mail marketing because recipients are accustomed to receiving e-mail from individuals — friends, family and people with whom they work.

Traditional catalog companies learned many years ago that adding a brief personal message from the president increased response. Create the same impact in direct e-mail marketing by including a message from the newsletter editor, a top executive, or an enthusiastic product manager.

In addition to the choice of writing style, relationships with customers can be enhanced through using “personalization” software. By using profile data about each subscriber, the actual text of each message can be tailored to match the interests of each recipient.

For example, Providence College, Providence, R.I., uses both Web and e-mail personalization in marketing the school to high school students. Profile information supplied by students visiting the Web site, such as their high school and a potential major, is used to provide information on the Web and in e-mails about events near their home. The e-mail newsletter also automatically includes messages from faculty and student volunteers based on each individual’s profile information.

The relationship-building techniques used in the Providence e-mail newsletter are part of an integrated, personalized marketing effort by the school to help potential applicants learn about the people they will meet on campus. This familiarity with the people at Providence makes prospective applicants more comfortable in making a decision about applying.

E-mail marketing techniques can increase Web traffic, gain awareness, and generate revenue at a very attractive return on the investment.

Getting Started with E-mail Marketing

It’s relatively easy to begin using e-mail marketing through the use of an e-mail hosting service. One of the first steps is to select a hosting service that matches your service needs and budget (see sidebar). Then, design a subscription form for use with your Web site that collects names and e-mail addresses. The form will likely be hosted at your e-mail hosting service but will use the graphics and design of your existing site. This maintains your corporate image without having to involve your IT department to add a database or the other technical functions handled by an e-mail hosting service.

In addition to collecting subscriptions on your Web site, you should also involve your salespeople to collect e-mail addresses from existing customers and ask prospects if they can be added to the newsletter list, too.

Then, it’s a matter of developing short articles that show prospects how they can benefit from using your products and articles aimed at customers that show how to obtain greater benefits from products already purchased.

With the help of your e-mail hosting service, you’ll be able to contact prospects and customers more frequently and more efficiently. In addition, you’ll be able to track how well your e-mail marketing helps turn leads into qualified prospects, and how it helps your salespeople turn prospects into customers.


Case Study: Personalization Delivers Personality for Providence College

Selecting a college can be one of the most challenging tasks a high school student faces. From the time a college-bound student begins to think about higher education, brochures and catalogs fill the family mailbox.

When one college library starts looking like all the other libraries, it’s time for a little personal attention to prioritize the options. For Providence College, Providence, RI, personalized e-mail helps them tailor the message to their target audience — students seeking a New England liberal arts experience.

Their personalized Web site collects profile data about a student’s interests, potential major, and other aspects of college life. Then, e-mail messages tailored to each student’s profile help build a relationship as students gather information and make a decision about applying to colleges.

“Our e-mail and Web experience lets us tell our story over time to help them with their application and selection process,” says Brian Williams, Associate Dean of Admission.

When it comes to collecting e-mail addresses, Providence combines the Web with traditional direct mail. “If a student shares an e-mail address on our Web site we send out a personalized welcome e-mail message and encourage the student to sign up for our newsletter and create a personalized profile on our Web site,” says Williams. In addition, e-mail addresses are part of the information provided by outside agencies. Providence uses traditional postal mail to send a form requesting permission to send e-mail to that account.

Since moving to personalized Web and e-mail, Providence has seen the number and quality of applicants increase dramatically. They use the Web and e-mail software in an integrated Web and e-mail environment. “We use a Web-based content management system for the creation, editing, and delivery of our Web and e-mail communications,” said Williams. “Our goal is to allow our entire campus community to participate in creating our newsletter. This lets readers see themselves as a student here and decide if they would be happy here for four years. And, the system makes creation and delivery of this personalized experience an easy, fast process for our admissions team.”


Checklist for Selecting an E-Mail Hosting Service

Each e-mail hosting service has a different set of capabilities and fees, so it’s important to know which features you need to accomplish your marketing and sales goals. In evaluating e-mail hosting services, be sure to ask if they provide the following list of features and capabilities:

  • Maintain a database of subscription and interest data, not individual mailing lists
  • E-mail as many review copies of newsletters to editors as necessary prior to publication
  • Provide personalization based on each subscriber’s interest profile
  • Track clickthroughs in real time to monitor response to articles and offers
  • Provide Web and e-mail survey capability
  • Provide Web product registration capability
  • Enable Web-based management of the service and reports
  • Automatically handle unsubscribes and bounces
  • Provide for both newsletters and lead collection
  • Send both individual newsletters to subscribers and an ongoing campaign of messages to leads

Cliff Allen, cofounder of SureToMeet, president of Coravue

Web technology makes it very easy to quickly communicate with so many people that it’s easy to forget the overriding purpose of creating a powerful web site.

It’s cool to be able to interact with customers who come to a web site. We can share a great deal of information, gather more profile data than we think we can use, and provide an entertaining, informative, and educational environment.

It’s so cool that we sometimes lose sight of what we’re trying to accomplish with this technology. Sure, we want to sell products with e-commerce or generate leads for salespeople.

But how does this impact the audience? I mean, really impact them.

Many people involved in Internet marketing feel that they’re helping members of their audience improve their lives through the information and products provided on the web.

Some time back a series of TV spots ran for iVillage. They talked about women with real problems finding real help from people like themselves. Because many ailments are shared by very small groups of people, these groups are so small that local support organizations aren’t always available to help. The Internet provides access to those communities of people who share common interests and needs, and are willing to help.

Speaking of TV commercials, another company is advancing the concept of one-to-one marketing and mass customization. Xerox periodically runs a campaign with the theme, “keep the conversation going.” This campaign shows that providing personalized information to customers appeals to people – on paper, of course. Xerox makes a good case that profile data can be used to personalize more than just web sites and e-mails.

Influence Decisions

But all of these – from communities of like-minded people to personalized web, e-mail, social media, and, yes, paper-based communications – are done for one reason, and that’s to influence decisions.

Communication is a give and take. Whether it’s an online community where people share their experiences or an e-commerce site where merchants provide products (and get paid). We communicate when we want to influence those around us to be like us, respect us, and sometimes buy from us.

Internet Interaction

But how do we actually use the web to provide the kind of interaction that touches people and influences their decisions? The slogan used in the Xerox TV commercial has the answer: Keep the conversation going.

The conversation we use in everyday life is also aimed at influencing the decisions people around us make. We know that we need to speak the language of the person we’re trying to communicate with and understand what they’re feeling.

Have you watched a couple of Internet techies talk to each other? At first they ask a few questions to learn about the other person’s experience level and background. Then they shift into a very different level of talking that uses a language of their own, sometimes called “technospeak” (and sometimes called “technobabble”). They don’t care if the non-technical people around them don’t understand their TLAs (three letter acronyms), because those conversation shortcuts help them communicate better.

Building Relationships with Conversation

They can quickly form a bond of trust and understanding that frequently allows them to learn from each other. That respect can lead to learning something new that influences their decisions.

So how can we use conversational techniques on the web to influence visitors? Portions of the Xerox web site are written in a conversational style, but there’s more to making a site conversational than the style of writing.

A truly conversational site learns about visitors, saves that information in profiles, and then uses that knowledge to react to different interests.

Here’s a quick test to see if your web site is conversational:

  • Does the site ask questions aimed at learning about each person?
  • Can the site determine if someone is just starting to learn about products like yours or has researched the market and is about to make a purchase decision?
  • Does the text on the site change to match the interest and knowledge level of the visitor?

These are just a few of the ways that profiles about people can be used to make a Web site more conversational, but the real focus should be on getting in step with each visitor and matching what the site says with what people are thinking and feeling. The art of conversation is taught in books, classes, and seminars, so there is a procedure for doing it. Why not use the same procedure on the Web?

Intuitive navigation and great design help people find the right document. But taking advantage of meaningful profile data allows dynamic Web and e-mail to make an impact on members of the target market and influence their purchase decisions

Cliff Allen, cofounder of SureToMeet, president of Coravue

People visit Web sites for many reasons, but the quality and the depth of the content are the primary reasons people go to a company’s Web site.

Customers want to find out — whether through product descriptions at a consumer site or extensive product information at a business-to-business site — how products can satisfy their needs.

The quality and amount of content are major factors in the success of a site, because it’s the content — text, photos, and illustrations — that helps customers determine whether they want to do business with that company.

Can you imagine any commerce site being successful without describing the products it sells? Obviously not. Yet many sites have extremely limited product information. This leads to apprehension because customers don’t know if the product meets their needs or not.

Visitors are not interested merely in detailed product descriptions. They also want information about how people like themselves have used products successfully.

Here are several reasons why the quality and quantity of content have so much influence on the success of a site.

Content Builds Relationships

Many purchase decisions are “considered decisions” that are made over time as the customer weighs the alternatives before making a purchase. During the sales cycle, it’s important to continually provide additional content.

Some sites do this by continually providing new material, such as case studies and white papers. Another approach is to store the number of visits in the person’s data profile, then display new links to content each time the person returns to the site. This is especially effective when an e-mail campaign of messages is triggered by the number of visits to the site.

However new content is presented to returning visitors, the benefits become clear as the total number of sessions per person increases with the growth of the content.

Content Reduces Apprehension

Customers always want to feel good about the purchases they make. So any lingering questions about a product that go unanswered reduce the chances that customers will buy that product.

As they understand how they can use a product, and how it will help them, their anxiety about making the purchase is reduced.

So … the more questions you can answer, the more likely you will make the sale.

Content Creates Differentiation

You probably sell products that have a unique combination of features that make your products different from the competition’s. However, if your product descriptions are similar to those on other sites, customers can’t tell how you’re products are different from – or better than – the competition’s.

You can drive home your competitive advantages by making sure there is sufficient content on your site that appeals to people most likely to buy your products.

In other words, content should be meaningful to your potential customers. It should help readers solve problems, accomplish tasks, and, of course, help improve their lives.

A Content Case in Point

An example of how content differentiates two major competitors is the home-improvement market. The Home Depot and Lowe’s are similar in many respects. Both have large warehouse stores. Both sell everything from lumber to kitchen appliances. And, both have good prices. But when it comes to their Web sites, there is a significant difference.

The Home Depot home page leads off with products it wants to sell, but the top of the Lowe’s home page links to educational articles about how to use the products it sells.

In other words, the Lowe’s Web site is both a commerce site and an information resource.

While Lowe’s has a little less than half the revenue of Home Depot, the Lowe’s Web site receives about 85 percent as much traffic as Home Depot. If the amount of traffic to both Web sites is any indicator of future growth, it looks like Lowe’s is building a successful Web presence.

Every successful company has a continuous flow of new products and has new uses for existing products. Marketers can leverage such innovation to improve a company’s competitive position by continually expanding descriptive content about every aspect of its products.

The Content Management Challenge

Quickly creating Web pages that combine high-quality graphic design with compelling text requires exceptional teamwork and coordination. Combine that with the technology challenge of tailoring content based on profile data, and it becomes clear that new tools and production techniques are needed.

Coravue and other vendors have developed content management products that separate the design function from the authoring tasks. These content management products combine the text and graphics to automatically create Web pages and promotional e-mail messages.

Today’s content management tools help marketers take control of the workflow process of authoring, editing, approving, and scheduling content. This makes it easy for marketers to create the steady stream of quality content. But, more important, adding in-depth content to a site helps customers learn more about a company’s products and feel more comfortable making a purchase.

By Cliff Allen, cofounder of SurfeToMeet, President, Coravue, Inc.

i-biz-networking-skills

Customer loyalty is one of those elusive qualities that every company strives to achieve. While many companies have repeat customers, very few attain the goal of having customers that rave about their products and services.

One reason companies have a hard time achieving a high degree of customer loyalty is that they misunderstand why customers are loyal. And they use incentives and promotions in ways that don’t actually motivate customers to be loyal.

Loyalty Programs

Many times, marketers think loyalty programs and incentive programs are synonymous, but giving customers a discount or gift is just one way we can earn their loyalty. Understanding your customers’ various buying motives allows you to tailor a loyalty program so it’s a win-win.

Many marketers and salespeople are quick to cut prices to win customers because it’s quick and easy. Who wouldn’t like a price cut? However, savvy managers know it’s best to hold off lowering the price to ensure that a discount is actually required to motivate customers to make a purchase.

Salespeople have done this on a case-by-case basis since salesmanship was born. Retailers started using one of the best-known incentive programs in 1896 when S&H Green Stamps became available.

When American Airlines started the first frequent flyer program in the 1970s, the premise was “If you like flying for business, then you’ll love flying for fun.” Times have changed, and today it’s common for frequent flyers to be members of several programs.

So, how much loyalty do these frequent flyer programs generate if it takes a special web site or software just to manage the reward? It depends on how much traveling you do, which cities you frequent, and a number of other factors.

Incentive Programs

On the web, incentive programs such as MyPoints and Netcentives have become popular with some consumers because rewards can be earned quickly through multiple merchants. In addition, the S&H Green Points program will offer web merchants and consumers the familiar S&H Green Stamp brand of incentives.

But instead of offering incentives to every customer without regard to their profile, look at your marketing objectives and then use these tools to motivate customers to help you achieve your objectives.

For instance, take two components of a customer’s profile: how often they purchase and the size of their order. It’s easy to identify customers who place small orders often and customers who make occasional large purchases. Both groups can be motivated to shift their purchases from a competitor to you by providing incentives based on their profile.

Trying to get customers who make frequent purchases to buy even more frequently is probably not possible. So, the objective for this group would be to increase the size of their orders.

Likewise, trying to get customers who make large purchases occasionally to increase the size of their orders would be out of the question. Instead, the objective would be to motivate them to buy more frequently.

A generic discount or points reward system is not necessarily the best way to achieve these objectives because it doesn’t reward the customer for taking the desired action.

It doesn’t take a complex personalization system to make this work. First, segment customers who should receive different incentives. Then, e-mail the different groups and track their click-through back to the site and their purchases.

For customers who make large but infrequent purchases, you might offer a discount on any size purchase made within, say, 60 days. Customers who make small purchases about once a month could be offered a discount on any order that amounts to several percentage points over their largest order.

While these promotions are aimed at most repeat customers, there is another group that deserves special attention. So, what do we do for those customers who make frequent and large purchases? Thank them!

Nurture Loyal Fans

It’s customers like these who buy frequently and bring up the average order size. And, it’s customers like these who you want to feel special about your company because they are your loyal fans.

These people will go out of their way to tell others about your products or services. Would an ordinary incentive program motivate these people to spend more? Yes, but there is more potential in recognizing that these customers may be more motivated by non-monetary rewards. Try including their testimonial on your web site or inviting them to be part of a customer advisory council.

These fans treat their relationship with the company in a special way. They demonstrate their loyalty with their money, their mouths, and their e-mail.

You’ve probably had the same experience that I had recently when a friend raved about a particular web site. During lunch he told me about how  wonderful greatSmarterKids.com is.

He mentioned their referral program, where by having their site send me a $10 discount coupon, he also received a $10 discount coupon. After lunch, I received a personalized e-mail he initiated on their site which included a special URL that would give me a discount, and I knew he would soon be making another purchase to save $10.

While this particular program isn’t aimed at specific customer segments, it does provide customers with a way to share their enthusiasm for the company and receive a benefit at the same time.

Many times marketers talk about one-to-one marketing as if it were just segmenting a market into very small groups, then tailoring the marketing communications to those groups.

True one-to-one marketing goes beyond that by recognizing that we’re building a relationship with individuals. These are people who deserve our loyalty by our listening to their needs and desires, then looking for special ways to treat these loyal customers.

One approach to developing personalized Web sites allows marketing and content personnel to manage the Web site with a minimum of programmer and other IT staff assistance so you can react instantly to your market.

  • Profile your customers
  • Create customized content
  • Integrate the Web into the enterprise
  • Understand customer buying motives
  • Improve customer service

Tailoring Content Based on Profiles  

Your customers are looking for personal attention, and personalization can tailor your Web site for each individual. Providing personalized Web content based on individual needs and preferences helps you create loyal customers by providing extra value for the time spent at your Web site.

The application server selects appropriate content that will appeal to your audience based on rules stored in HTML template files. The template files also determine how content will be formatted, which means that the design of your Web site can be separated from the content creation – making it easier to develop and maintain a personalized Web site.

There is a well defined procedure for creating a personalized Web site that leads to a successful implementation.

  • Create a profile database to store user preferences and other profile information
  • Develop “content objects” that will be used repetitively throughout the site
  • Create a “content database” of material, such as catalog information, that will use consistent formatting
  • Create HTML templates that will provide a consistent format to pages
  • Add personalization rules to HTML templates that select appropriate content for each individual

Profile Management

Creating the profile database for a personalized Web site can be a challenge – not because of technology, but because we may not know how to segment our market. Fortunately, the process can be simplified by starting with the questions your salespeople currently use when presenting to prospects.

For example, if your salespeople usually ask prospects questions about where they use products like yours, preferred quantity in an order, and similar questions, then you are on the road to knowing the types of preferences to store in your profile database. Then, as new questions or types of preferences arise, you can easily add them to the profile database, so that every page in your Web site has easy access to an individual’s entire profile. This means that any page can be personalized based on any answer – from the current Web session or any previous session.

In addition to including questions within content pages for explicit profiling, Web developers can incorporate behavior-based profiling into Web sites. This implicit profiling technique means that you are not limited to form-based responses, but good systems can also observe Web behavior and tailor content.

Whether you need only a few profile characteristics or hundreds of preference indicators, personalization makes it easy for you to create customized content – on any page – with a minimum of effort on the part of your Web developers.

Creating Personalized Content

It is easy for Web developers to create customized content because personalization systems work the same way that sales professionals tailor their presentations. Creating personalized content  is done by defining the conditions when content will be shown, then tags are used to specify those rules.

For instance, you may have a promotion aimed at golfers, and the profile database stores information about their hobbies. While this is a relatively simple personalization rule, it is used frequently by most Web developers because it provides an easy, precise way to tailor content to an individual’s profile.

Of course, not every personalization rule is as simple as the golf promotion. Complex personalization rules are supported with minor variations in this example. In addition, many business rules lend themselves to being expressed in traditional SQL commands. That’s why some personalization systems support a full-range of SQL commands with their parameters. The SQL commands used most are:

  • Select – Choose records from a content database, an order processing database, or a database of special profile information
  • Update – Change existing records in any database permitted to the Web server
  • Insert – Add new records to databases of profile, content, accounting, or other information
  • Delete – Remove records based on a set of conditions, if system permissions allow

Content Management Options Provide Flexibility

The content on large Web sites has grown dramatically, causing a management problem that just keeps on growing. Material can appear on a single page or in a catalog of thousands of products, and all pages need to have a unified look and feel. Personalization systems can draw content from a number of sources, which means Web developers can choose the approaches that meet their needs.

Content may be stored in several ways:

  • Within the template file for use in that individual document
  • Stored in “content object” files that can be included in multiple documents
  • Database records of pure content that can be formatted by the template document

A variety of content management techniques are available, such as transferring content from traditional print-based tools.

In addition, database publishing techniques allow content developers to enter material via forms so they don’t have to use any HTML tags. This makes it easy for authorized people to add content that can be immediately available on the Web site.

Recognize Individuals Automatically

Most people appreciate being recognized, and Web users don’t like to remember IDs and passwords — they just want to be recognized and treated as individuals. Personalization turns static Web pages into dynamic content by automatically recognizing individuals as they move from page to page during a session, and when they return to your site in the future.

This is done by assigning each person a unique Coravue ID that is stored on their computer as a “cookie” and in every bookmark they save on your site. Since most people recognize the value of cookies, they can just enter your URL and Coravue will automatically sense who they are and use their profile to customize the site just for them.

For the people who do not allow cookies to be stored on their computer, their bookmark tells the system who they are, so the site is automatically customized for them, too.

Up-Selling in E-Commerce

There are many ways you can build a relationship with a customer when your site automatically recognizes an individual. For e-commerce sites that store product purchase history, customers who have purchased a popular product can see pages that promote related products, while new customers can be shown the popular product. This avoids the waste of promoting a product to a customer who already purchased the product, and it leads customers to products that complement existing purchases.

Serving Customers Like They’ve Never Been Served

The Web can reduce customer support costs – but only if the customer can find the support information they need.

As the number of products sold by a company increases, the number of customer support pages on the Web site increases – to the point where a customer can’t find the information they need. So, they return to the traditional approach of calling a support center and not only asking for help, but also complaining that the Web site was of little use.

The solution is to automatically recognize customers when the return to your Web site looking for help and display the support information only for products they have purchased. This reduces the time they spend searching for support information and reduces your call center expenses. It also provides you with an opportunity to sell related products to the customer by presenting them with “valued customer” specials based on their purchase history, interests, or Web behavior.

What better way to keep a customer than to solve their problem and offer a special on a product you know they can use!

Self-Paced Training Improves Productivity and Reduces Costs

As products become more complex, customers need more and more training so they can obtain the maximum value from your products. At the same time, your employees need additional training so they can sell and support customers.

A personalized Web site can provide self-paced training by storing in the profile database answers to questions about their understanding of the material that are included throughout the training material. This allows the Web site to adjust the level of training material “on the fly” as the student is learning, which provides instant feedback and direction.

Integrating with the Enterprise

While it’s important to treat your Web guests as individuals, it’s also important for your Web developers to have a personalization system that can be easily integrated with the existing enterprise computing environment. The Coravue Application Server uses industry-standard SQL database technology to store user profile data, as well as data for content, accounting, and control.

This not only means that personalized Web sites respond quickly, it also allows a Web site to be integrated with traditional SQL databases used throughout corporations. By extending existing database applications to the Web, corporations can now deliver applications to customers and employees around the world, and those applications can be automatically tailored in real-time to the needs and authorization of those individuals.

Compare Demographics to Web Activity

The ID is more than a way to personalize a Web site. It’s also a way to track each individual so you can learn how different profile characteristics affect Web behavior.

Personalization includes each person’s ID in a log that shows the date and time every page and every graphic was displayed. This means you can perform tabulations that have never been possible, such as:

  • How many men versus women saw each product?
  • Are different hobbies related to purchase behavior?
  • Is the person’s title related to the length of the sales cycle?
  • Do people with higher education use text links or graphic links more?

How to Get Started

With a good personalization system, it’s easy to take advantage of the benefits of Web personalization because you don’t need a dedicated staff of software programmers – you can begin by having your present Web developers use their favorite HTML tools to add tags to your existing Web pages.

This means there is no expensive re-design, no new dedicated server hardware, and no additional system administrative overhead.

What you do need is a desire to use one-to-one relationship marketing techniques to achieve higher customer loyalty and revenue, while you maintain control over your sales and support expenses.

As you can see, we’re more than a software company. We’re here to help you take advantage of today’s most powerful marketing technology by applying one-to-one relationship marketing techniques with Web personalization.

 

 

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