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IMN's e-communications platform is driving hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales for SAP partners—some from customer leads that were years old.
Here's the business proposition: Your company spends $2,000 a year and adds half a million to your sales pipeline in just six months. It sounds like something straight out of a late-night infomercial, but that's just what SAP partner Netsirk Technologies was able to do using the IMN e-communications platform.
The IMN (iMakeNews) platform combines a content management system with digital publishing technology, and allows VARs like Netsirk to deliver all sorts of digital marketing materials to customers: e-mail newsletters, mini-Web sites, blogs, mobile content feeds and RSS capabilities.
Making marketing and sales content delivery easy and consistent is key to generating new business, says Quincy Faison, president of Netsirk, since IMN puts his company's name, marketing and sales collateral, and product and service information in front of potential customers at least once a month.
"A newsletter isn't really going to drive the customers' buying vision, but it's going to give you that marketing edge," Faison says. "If we can stay front of mind, there's a higher probability that we'll be able to catch [customers] in their buying mode and then they'll reach out to us because of those newsletters asking for information, demos and the like."
Faison says Netsirk found that if three months go by without contact with a customer, there's almost no chance Netsirk will be called upon to deliver a solution. And after a year, forget it.
"If 12 or 18 months go by, you just never know if you'll be part of their buying cycle. Maybe there's a new buyer who's never heard of you, or maybe they just move on to another VAR," he says. But because of the IMN system, Faison says many times customers that haven't been touched by Netsirk in three or four months will call to specifically request demonstrations or further information about the solutions Netsirk offers.
"We are able to mine those leads so we know where they are at in the sales cycle," Faison says.
In the case of one SAP partner, however, customers that hadn't been contacted in years started calling after receiving a newsletter, says Jen Walsh, SAP's senior manager of SME Channel Marketing for North America.
"It sounds so absurd every time I say it, but that partner ended up getting a 4,509 percent return on their investment in the IMN system," Walsh says. She says the IMN system was piloted in an attempt to replace an existing manual, tedious newsletter process SAP was already using with some of its partners that was targeted toward Business All-in-One.
"We had a very manual process where partners uploaded lists every single month and then SAP deployed a newsletter every month. But there was no tracking, no quality of service. So when we heard about IMN, we just about fell out of our chairs because it was exactly what we needed," Walsh says.
The program was so successful that in 2008, Walsh says, the program has expanded to about 54 partners, touts about 80,000 newsletter subscribers and incorporates all product lines.
The success is due to the fact that the newsletters and campaigns include "calls to action" that are relevant to improving VARs and customers' businesses in general, above and beyond ERP-related solutions.
The marketing and sales challenges VARs are facing aren't just a sign that the economy is faltering, says Jeff Mesnik, founder and vice president of business development for IMN. Small businesses struggle with these tasks whether the economic forecast is bright or stormy.
"VARs tell us they have little time to do their own marketing whether it's an up or a down economy, frankly," Mesnik said. In an "up" economy, many VARs are stretched to the breaking point trying to serve as many customers as possible while adding new staff, products and capabilities, and often don't have to rely on marketing and sales tools that much. In a down market, sales and marketing staff are often the first to be laid off as energy and money are put into a company's core business competency.
"VARs still need to continue doing that customer outreach to let prospects know what they do and that they're still around," he says, regardless of market conditions. VARs can use IMN's platform to make sure they get more face time in front of customers, which can lead to increased face-to-face meetings and more business.
Customer prospects and potential customer information are gathered and uploaded into IMN's system along with Netsirk's newsletter content, Faison says. There are sections where Netsirk can add company information, news and specialized branding, as well as adding pertinent local information about services and products that can help solve the major business issues that customers face.
The IMN system also allows for detailed reporting and data mining, so VARs can determine success rates of marketing campaigns and gain visibility into tracking and metrics, Walsh says.
"They can track open rates, see specifically which prospects clicked on which articles, and then use that information to start a business dialogue with their customers," she says.
Of course, it's hard to track a marketing campaign if you don't have the time or staff to put one together in the first place. Generating, aggregating and delivering that content was one of Netsirk's biggest challenges, says Faison, since few of the 30 Netsirk employees had expertise in marketing or sales.
"The biggest bonus of the IMN system is it's turnkey, because with only 30 people, everyone wears multiple hats and there just weren't enough English majors and marketing experts to do what we needed to do," Faison says. IMN has brought in $500,000 for Netsirk in the last six months, a huge improvement over the six months before that, during which the system helped drive about $100,000, says Faison.
Along with Netsirk, SAP has rolled out the IMN technology to a significant portion of its VARs, says Mesnik, and IMN also has partnerships with industry heavyweights like Avnet. Mesnik says IMN is actively recruiting both new vendors and new VARs, looking to increase the scope of the IMN system's reach.
"Any VARs who are interested should contact us," says Mesnik. "Because even if we're not at their vendor of choice yet, we will be."
Another benefit to consider is that many of the vendors IMN works with, including SAP, will subsidize part of the costs of IMN's system under their channel program's MDF funds. So, says Mesnik, the cost to add IMN to a VAR's marketing and sales arsenal could be as little as $1,000.
Walsh says for net new lead generation and nurturing initiatives that result in license revenues, partners can put a percentage of those revenues into their MDF kitty, which can then be applied towards the IMN system, as well as other marketing initiatives.
A thousand dollars to drive up to a half million in business? That's a pretty big bang for any VAR's buck.