E-Nurturing, the IBM Way

Years ago, Karen worked at IBM’s sales department as a college intern. She remembers the staff as the most professional, pleasant people she’s known in over 20 years in business. So, when she spoke to Kyle Miller of IBM Canada about the “e-nurturing” strategy IBM uses for its WebSphere software solutions, it felt like old-home week. Miller, a strategist for IBM’s Worldwide Direct Marketing of WebSphere, described his team’s high-value approach to intelligently moving prospects through the sales cycle.

Registration: Value Exchange for Customers’ Time

Miller is first to admit WebSphere’s online registration is hardly painless. New visitors face nine detailed questions designed to help IBM determine the prospect’s role, intentions, and requirements and the timelines involved in making a software purchasing decision. Subsequent visits to the Web site are much more efficient.

Miller believes the offer must provide an attractive “value exchange” and make the prospect’s time investment worthwhile. Rather than offering the traditional, company-written paper, WebSphere’s team can create a complete business information kit that includes a product spec sheet, a customer case study, a demo, and a research paper from a well-regarded IT advisory firm.

This multiple-solution approach broadens the offer’s appeal to all parties involved in a software decision. A high-level decision maker may review a research brief, while an IT professional in charge of implementing a solution might scan the WebSphere spec sheet. The business information kit extends the life span of the offer, as prospects tend to save the email and return to it. The actual business information kit content is updated dynamically on the site to keep it current.

Miller’s WebSphere team feels this value exchange offers equal and significant benefit to both the prospect and IBM. The prospect receives research, in which IBM invests thousands of dollars, for free. IBM gains qualified leads from highly interested prospects who invested time in completing the registration process.

Next: Invitation to a Webcast Series

Moving the prospect along, the next marketing touch could be an invitation to a Webcast series, centered on the customer’s needs-based segmentation. Note the word “series.” As with the business information kit above, the WebSphere team packages a number of related Webcasts together to create a more valuable offering.

The Webcasts, typically featuring an IBM expert, an independent research analyst, and an IBM customer, are grouped by topic, such as “Business Integration in the Insurance Industry.” Again, a Webcast series tends to have a longer lifespan than single live Webcasts, as prospects can view the material at their convenience, rather than at a specified time and date.

Third Touch: Interactive ROI Assessment

At this point, the prospect wonders how to cost-justify the purchase. So in the third touch, an email provides an interactive return-on-investment (ROI) assessment tool to help make a business case for WebSphere.

E-Nurturing: Key Learning

Miller reports e-nurturing strategy results are uniformly good. His email has an opt-out rate that’s virtually zero and a strong, double-digit CTR. He finds the following creative and marketing tactics most successful:

  • Subject lines should be action or disclosure oriented. Tell recipients what to do or what they’ll get, rather than just making a general statement. Miller believes a subject line such as “New IBM Webcast Series on Application Integration” tells recipients what to expect in the email and allows them to instantly decide on the message’s relevance. It also keeps prospects from opting out, even if they choose not to respond to that particular offer. Conversely, he feels statements such as “E-commerce growing by 50%. Get your piece of the pie” don’t do the job.

  • A seven-day marketing touch cycle works best. Intuitively, Miller finds if a prospect responds to an email on a Tuesday, that indicates it’s possibly the best day of the week for subsequent contacts.
  • For registration, Miller rephrased the traditional budget, authorization, needs, timetable formula (BANT) to ask questions that encourage more truthful responses. Using an old BANT formula, asking prospects if they planed to buy an e-commerce solution might elicit a “no,” just to avoid the inevitable sales rep call. A more innocuous question, such as “Are you interested in application integration?” doesn’t put prospects on guard, so it tends to be answered more honestly.

Miller’s WebSphere team also experienced success with e-newsletters. IBM’s horizontally focused “Software News Alert” has a strong following. Readers select topics that most interest them and receive a customized version. Vertical publications, especially ones focused on software portals and Web services (this year’s hot software applications) also produce good results. He tries to rein in newsletter proliferation by limiting publications to a manageable number.

Like most marketers, Miller is beginning to feel the inevitable effect of email clutter, which is why he uses creative devices such as business information kits and Webcast Series to add more value to the offers in his subject lines.

Stay tuned for more case studies from top business-to-business (B2B) marketers. Next, email marketing tips from a creative team for a major telecommunications account.

Have a good story to share with your fellow ClickZ readers? E-mail Karen.

Meet Karen at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in New York City on May 19 and 20.

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