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8/9/2011
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An SMB Steps Up To Marketing Automation

Omnipress adapts its sales approach to changing business conditions by streamlining how it captures and manages leads on its website.

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It sounds redundant, but it's true: the world of industry associations is an industry unto itself. And like most others, its business has changed dramatically in the online era.

Take Omnipress, a 60-person company that creates content for association conferences, training, and publications. Chris Uschan, the company's director of marketing, can recall a time when much of the company's sales team was occupied by a two-pronged task: Working the phones and taking orders.

That's the before-Internet picture. Today, Omnipress' customers want more and more of their stuff online--publications, training materials, event communities, and the like. Moreover, they're grappling with slimmed-down budgets, minimal staff, and evolving technology impacts. (Sound familiar?) That has led to a more diverse product lineup for Omnipress, and more complex sales methods.

"Our reps just don't have time to do the cold calls," Uschan said in an interview. "They know they've got to be more consultative, and they rely on me to make them look good and bring them people who are interested in our business."

Uschan is essentially a one-man show charged with generating leads for the Omnipress sales team. He used to get by with Google Analytics, a basic Web form, and a fistful of manual processes that could easily consume a workweek. Now, he automates with Pardot, a cloud-based marketing platform. Pardot closed Uschan as an early customer by virtue of its own product: while Uschan was getting hounded by salespeople from other marketing automation vendors, his Pardot rep wasn't picking up the phone. Intrigued, Uschan eventually asked him why.

The answer: "Because you keep coming back to my website," Uschan said. "He showed me exactly what he's seeing about my digital body language." In fact, Uschan's behavior on the Pardot website scored him as such a hot prospect that his sales rep joked that he'd get fired if Omnipress didn't sign on as a customer.

The Omnipress use-case for marketing automation is rooted in the human side of its business-to-business sales cycle--they're not churning website transactions, but cultivating relationships with association decision-makers. As a result, Uschan can't simply tweak his search engine marketing (SEM) tactics or spend some extra ad dollars to goose revenue. A typical sales cycle runs anywhere from eight to 16 months, even in the digital age.

"There is no easy sale," Uschan said. "For us, it's about building relationships."

Uschan closed 2007 with 20 valuable leads. Now, he generates around 400 each year and is able to segment them by any number of criteria critical to his sales team. That team is able to track current and past lead behavior via a variety of sources, including a Tweetdeck-like monitoring dashboard. Uschan has regained countless hours of his own time, now free from having to collect, organize, and parcel out leads and marketing data on a daily basis. He also saved some money by dropping his previous email marketing tool.

Automation has had a spillover effect elsewhere, too. Uschan said he's been able to optimize his Google AdWords spending. While Google's data provides a baseline, Uschan said he gets much more granular data from Pardot that allows him to better monitor what an AdWords lead does post-click--meaning he's better able to assess their value.

"I have a better idea of [whether I] should ... spend more money on certain campaigns or back off," Uschan said. "It's tracking that life of the lead."

Omnipress' tech transformation will continue; Uschan said customer relationship monitoring integration is on deck, though that's a longer term project because it touches virtually everyone in the company. Consider Uschan a fan of cloud applications, though--it's likely that's where he'll focus his energy and budget going forward.

"Do I invest in the typewriter, or do I invest in the iPad? I'm going to put my money into the future," Uschan said.

You can't afford to keep operating without redundancy for critical systems--but business units must prioritize before IT begins implementation. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek SMB supplement: Avoid the direct-attached storage trap. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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