Sandra Zoratti, vice-president of worldwide marketing of the soon-to-be-formed InfoPrint Solutions Company, a Ricoh/IBM joint venture, added interactive marketing to the InfoPrint Solutions Company marketing mix to multiply the reach of the sales force in pursuit of the coveted small and medium-sized business (SMB) market.

Here is an overview of Sandra's innovative marketing communications approach. She will present this case study in more detail, with hands-on demonstrations, at the upcoming Business Marketing Association's annual conference (

The SMB market has been defined many ways. IBM uses the most frequent qualifier of SMB—number of employees. The challenge, of course, is to find a relevant definition and segmentation so that online tools can appropriately filter and quickly direct qualified SMB companies to content that is most relevant to their needs.

Historically, IBM has had a strong presence in larger corporations. But industry experts now maintain that the growth rate for information technology investments in the SMB world exceeds that of larger businesses. A few years back, IBM made a strategic decision to capitalize on this opportunity.

A Tough Challenge

Though awareness of IBM's brand was strong, IBM worked to establish and boost brand consideration and brand preference in the SMB arena, via targeted efforts in three areas:

  1. Gaining the trust of potential SMB customers through deeper relationships with them

  2. Proving relevance—that IBM provides solutions and products that meet SMB customers' needs

  3. Demonstrating—for sales reps and customers alike—that IBM is easy to do business with

The business model for SMBs is very different from that of large enterprises. First, the customer needs—and thus the required solutions—are different. Second, the relationship requirements or sales coverage are different. Third, there are many more SMB companies than large enterprises.

Thus, to accomplish the three objectives outlined above, the challenge was how to implement a marketing model that helped to create stronger relationships, extended the reach of the sales teams, and was easily executable.

IBM's solution: Integrate traditional marketing approaches with online, interactive communications tools to enable the acquisition and retention of SMB customers.

Introducing Online Marketing Tools

The IBM team piloted several types of online marketing tools; two examples are given here, and the full portfolio will be demonstrated during Sandra's presentation at the BMA conference:

  1. Sales Rep Store: The sales rep store consists of a Web site where reps can provide unique customer offers and customizable messages for clients—for example, live assistance, time-sensitive offers, personalized content, and links for assistance. Sales rep photographs and contact information are included.

    By helping field reps customize their communications with clients, the sales rep store helps meet the division's goal of establishing the relevance of its products.

  2. Express customer store: With its rich media and interactive format, the Express customer store supports the goals of demonstrating that IBM is easy to do business with and gaining customers' trust. Through this microsite, SMB customers can learn more about the IBM solutions based on their unique needs.

    There is a guided tour of the site, a concierge service, and information tailored to self-select filters. Customers can also pose questions to sales reps, exchange messages with them through instant messaging/live assist, and check references before deciding to make a purchase.

"Selling" the New Tools

Sandra's group also worked to get the sales staff on board with the new online tools. To achieve sales adoption of the online tools, IBM embarked on an effort to systematically educate the sales force on the value of the tools with proof points of success and easy-to-use demonstrations.

This interactive marketing approach to SMBs has proven worthwhile on several fronts. For example, the online tools have helped sales reps become much more productive than before, as measured by their increased "face time" with customers and their greater speed in constructing presentations and other sales materials.

Customers have also been attracted to IBM's new Express store. For instance, the microsite has enjoyed open rates as high as 20%, which is the percentage of SMB owners who decide to visit the store after receiving a broadcast email inviting them to visit. In addition, customer participation at the site has proved extensive, as measured by average viewing time and click-through traffic.

Express has now been deployed in the United States, Canada, and several Latin America countries; the U.K. Italy, France, Germany, and Portugal; and China and Korea. It has won the Horizon Interactive Awards "Best of Category" award and the Web Marketing Association "Best B2B Microsite/Landing Page" award.

These results have helped win the attention and support of upper management, which has applauded the team's efforts and given it the green light to enhance the program. Whereas the project started with a pilot program, it now enjoys continued investment and commitment.

In developing these online tools, the SMB team adopted several marketing-champion tactics to manage all four directions of the "marketing compass." Sandra adopted a similar approach, gaining buy-in for online approaches by "managing North"—maintaining a steady focus on the company's high-level strategy for expansion and translating that into a complementary marketing approach. Doing so is a critical success factor, and Sandra "managed North" effectively.

She also "managed East" by building bridges to the division's sales force. She showed sales reps how the tools she was proposing would help them handle their jobs more productively. And she carefully cultivated supporters who could spread the word about the tools to more hesitant sales reps.

Sandra "managed South" by piloting the interactive marketing program to ensure that the marketing budget was managed carefully and ROI (return on investment) was positive—so that she could secure additional commitments.

And she "managed West" by analyzing how new opportunities provided by interactive technology could further help her align the soon-to-be-formed InfoPrint Solutions Company's marketing approach to the division's new strategy.

By managing the four points on the marketing "compass," Sandra was able to transform her ideas into actual programs and resources.

Those new online marketing tools will prove even more valuable now as the IBM Printing System Division transitions to the Ricoh/IBM InfoPrint Solutions Company, offering a perfectly timed opportunity to implement this strategy within the new organization.

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Roy Young is coauthor of Marketing Champions: Practical Strategies for Improving Marketing's Power, Influence and Business Impact.