Learning a 200 Million Dollar Lesson from Sears


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Learning a 200 Million Dollar Lesson from Sears

  1. 1. Frictionless Marketing © 1998 Cooler Connections updated 2005 The purpose of this article is to discuss the importance of minimizing the amount of friction in the customer acquisition process as a strategic goal for reducing sales and marketing costs and increasing ROI. For our purposes, the word friction refers to anything that makes the sales and marketing process more costly and cumbersome, lengthens the selling cycle, or prevents the sale. It is hoped that some of the observations that are shared in this article will stimulate ideas and help you to refine your current sales and marketing business model and implement agreements, procedures and technologies for achieving these goals. Learning a 200 Million Dollar Lesson from Sears In 1985 Sears announced that they were going to launch an all-purpose credit card to compete with Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Sears was very confident about the venture because of the years of experience they had with their private label Sears Card and the fact that they had in-house credit information on 50% of the adult population of this country. Having very deep pockets wouldn’t hurt their chances either. At the first regional sales meeting, Mr. Raymond A. Kennedy, President of the new division made the following statement: “We have allocated 200 Million dollars for this start up. If that doesn’t do it we’ll put another 200 Million into it... If you have concerns about our resolve in making this business venture successful, let me assure you, this project is to big, to high profile and to important for us to fail, our reputation is on the line here, failure is not an option!” Despite the confidence and optimism displayed from the corporate management of Sears, virtually all of the industry experts predicted the demise of the new Discover Card subsidiary before it began. With the average consumer already carrying more than 3 ½ credit or charge cards, the contention of industry experts was that the all purpose credit card industry was too saturated and too competitive for any more newcomers. People seemed more interested in reducing cards rather than increasing them. On the merchant side, businesses did not want the added confusion, cost and work of accepting yet another credit card, particularly if it was not compatible with the credit card terminal for which they had just spent up to $2,000.00. The deep pockets of Citibank and all their years of credit and marketing expertise had not been enough to make the Choice Card successful. Diners Club, one of the oldest specialty players in the industry was still struggling to become profitable with less than 2 million card members after 30 years of trying. (Compared to 25 MILLION American Express Cards, 70 MILLION MasterCards and 100 MILLION Visa’s.) Discover got off to a slow start. Their entry into the marketplace was characterized by the old “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” dilemma. The merchant sales force was trying to convince merchants to accept a credit card that didn’t exist yet. The card services side of the company was trying to entice consumers to sign up for a card that was not accepted by any merchants!
  2. 2. 2 To make matters worse, electronic credit card terminals were now being offered to merchants by banks and the banks were not letting Discover Card process through their terminals. Signing up merchants before the first plastic card had been punched; embossed and encoded was a formidable challenge. The Discover Card sales force had to become experts at selling the invisible! Make the Service Agreement as Frictionless as Possible One of the biggest obstacles in the selling process was the contractual agreement that merchants were required to physically sign. This story illustrates the point. As a sales rep for Discover, one of my first memories was pitching the owner of a shoe store about accepting Discover at his place of business. After what I considered to be a pretty good sales presentation, he said; “Sure, how do I get set up?” When I handed him the multi-page legal size contract full of legalese and requiring signatures on each page and a voided business check, he turned white. “I need to consult my attorney before I sign this contract,” he declared. The business owner immediately picked up the phone and called his attorney. After about 30 minutes of listening to his attorney talk him out of the deal I found myself walking down the road… talking to myself. It was clear that the Discover Card proposition had too much friction in the selling process. Much of it was created by the merchant services agreement. Discover needed some kind of marketing miracle. The first few years were a struggle, but the stage was set for a contractual innovation that would be the foundation of one of the greatest business success stories of that decade. Eventually an idea was presented that would drastically change the way Discover Card did business. Someone suggested that the merchant services agreement be modified into a simple, one page document and be renamed a “debit ratification form.” Most importantly, the new document did not require physical signatures and we were allowed to write down the checking account number instead of obtaining a voided check. The agreement became legally binding when the first Discover Card transaction was processed. The concept was brilliant. Over night merchant acquisition became a screaming success. Millions of merchants were acquired in a relatively short period of time. The very component of the selling process that had been one of the greatest obstacles was now one of the keys to a successful sales campaign. One of the most memorable experiences I had with the debit ratification form took place in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jackson is a tourist trap and I was making sales calls during the busiest time of the season. I remember asking a retail storeowner if he would be interested in accepting Discover Card at his place of business. He was extremely busy at the time working the cash register with about four customers in line. He informed me that he was very busy and invited me to come back some other time. I told him that all I needed was his business card with his SS number and checking account number on the back of it. He looked at me in very surprise and after a short pause, he said ok. He pulled out a business card and scratched the numbers on the 2
  3. 3. 3 back of it and I was on my way… yes, I was walking down the road talking to myself but the conversation was much more delightful. Why Not Let Your Fingers do the Walking? As a result of the new merchant services agreement some of the more assertive and creative sales reps changed their sales strategy and greatly reduced the amount of in-person cold calling and face-to-face sales presentations they did. The sales reps simply contacted the merchants, gave them a brief pitch, completed the merchant profile, and closed the deal over the phone. The phone presentation seldom exceeded ten minutes. Direct Mail was also very successful since no contracts were sent. The business owner simply needed to fill out and return a simple questionnaire/registration form. New accounts were submitted electronically through laptops and the debit ratification forms were mailed to the merchants for their records. Instead of acquiring one or two new merchant accounts per day, the more progressive sales reps began signing 5-10! Essentially the merchants were accepting a contractual relationship with Discover Card and being booked into the merchant portfolio before seeing and reading the terms of the agreement. Remarkable! There was no risk to the merchant in accepting Discover Card services over the phone or through the mail since the agreement was not legally consummated until they accepted their first Discover Card transaction. This gave them plenty of time to review the terms of the agreement before their start up kit arrived and before they took their first transaction. Additionally, they had the right to quit the program at any time. Merchants seemed to like the process as much as the sales reps and stockholders! This sales strategy made the whole process significantly less intimidating to the merchant and much easier for the sales reps! The merchant services agreement had been changed from a “deal breaker” into a “deal maker.” TeleSales Professionals vs. Telemarketers My Personal Experience By the time the new Discover Card Merchant Services Agreement was introduced, I had already signed hundreds of merchants via personal sales presentations. Little did I know that I would be signing over 4,000 more over the phone and through the mail! During this process I had a paradigm shift regarding the ideal sales strategy. Selling by phone and mail made so much more sense than physical presentations. More sales in less time and greatly reduced sales expenses. The toughest part of the new process was in projecting confidence while asking for personal and sensitive credit and banking information over the phone. 3
  4. 4. 4 At first, it was not easy to ask for social security numbers, Federal Tax ID numbers and bank account numbers. Several merchants questioned the propriety of giving such information without ever meeting me in person. Some wanted to verify that I was really an authorized agent of Discover Card. I began to gain more confidence with each sales that I got. Apparently the real concern from merchants had been originating in me! Surprisingly, the more signings I got, the fewer concerns the merchants voiced. I probably had more objections from the first 100 merchants I signed than I did from the next 3,900! It is amazing what can take place over the phone if you communicate credibility and confidence. Obviously, there is always a portion of accounts, mostly larger ones that require personal contact. But even those are easier to close in person if you have previously given a tele-presentation and obtained a partial commitment over the phone. It became apparent to me that I was projecting my own confidence, knowledge and belief (or lack thereof) to the prospective client over the phone. Before long, concerns about giving credit and banking information became virtually non-existent with the merchants I contacted. Sales people often project their own concerns and expectations into their prospects and then try to alleviate the obstacles that they themselves have created. Over time, most of the Discover Card sales force became what I refer to as “TeleSales Professionals.” I make the distinction between TeleSales Professionals and Telemarketers because most traditional telemarketers are basically “cherry pickers.” They are “order takers” and/or “appointment setters” that are not seasoned enough to personally meet with the client to close the deal or manage the account when it becomes necessary. As a general rule, most TeleSales Professionals have significantly more product knowledge and professional sales experience than traditional telemarketers. Telemarketers can play an important role in a sales process but it is important to understand the difference between the two and when and how to use each of them in a sales campaign. You Don’t Understand it Unless you Can Teach it! After becoming proficient at the new selling process, I decided to augment my commissions through the process of duplication. I figured that if I could sit at my desk with a headset on and book merchants over the phone, why couldn’t I train others to do the same thing? After a little market research, I found a hungry and aggressive telemarketing company and contracted with them to sell for me. They were a small outfit with 4 telesales people in their boiler room. I spent a few days personally training their reps (mostly young college students) about the merchant services industry and how to sell the Discover Card service to 4
  5. 5. 5 businesses by phone. Before long, these college kids were booking a very significant number of merchants for me! It was a real eye opener to see how much business could be written so quickly and inexpensively over the phone. By this time, Discover Corporate had also begun contracting with major telemarketing firms to augment merchant acquisition on a national basis. Despite the tremendous success they had through outsourced telemarketing campaigns, they never discontinued their national field sales force even though they realized that over 80% of the sales from the sales force were generated over the phone. It may seem odd that they would continue paying their 250 outside sales reps between $80,000 and $120,000 per year each when most of them were sitting at home in their underwear signing new accounts over the phone… the reason for this gets back to the difference between TeleSales Professionals and Telemarketers. Discover Card needed the expertise of sales professionals who could put out fires, do damage control, general account management, establish long term relationships and take the selling process to the next level when necessary. One of the fascinating things I noticed is that each of the telemarketers I trained and managed was generating 2 to 3 times as many signings as the telemarketers that Discover Card Corporate had contracted with. The main difference was that my reps were being personally trained and coached by someone who had first hand knowledge of the product and selling requirements. A corporate marketing director from Discover Card that had very limited personal selling success with the product had trained the outsourced telemarketing teams. This difference suggests that for best performance, you shouldn’t expect a marketing director with limited selling experience or an outsourced telemarketing company to figure out how to sell your service for you. In many cases, they are paid for the time they spend on the phone, not solely based on the success of the campaign. Regardless of whether you choose to outsource or operate your own boiler room, have a sales professional develop a successful script through trial and error, then have him personally teach, train and motivate the phone crew. They will have much more confidence and much more success! Hopefully this paper will spark ideas about the sales process that you are currently using and give you some ideas and methodologies that will give you an advantage over your competitors. I would submit that with very few exceptions, you should not sell your service in person if it can be sold over the phone, through the mail, thru a website or via email. If you do, your competitors may eventually overtake you. We are evolving into a period when the general masses are becoming more comfortable with technology and it is now possible to take much of the friction out of the selling process. If you are in an industry that has traditionally sold the service in person, you might gain a significant advantage over your competitors by incorporating a different strategy! Consumers are much more educated now and have many more buying choices. There has been a power shift between business advertisers and consumers. 5
  6. 6. 6 View Your Service Agreement as a Sales Brochure... and Craft it Accordingly. In today’s marketplace, one of the things that separates the truly great marketing companies from those who are just average, is the way that they craft, package and integrate their sales and service agreements into their sales strategy. If you own or work for a company that sells a service to other businesses, you may want to review just how much friction is in your sales process from the legal point of view. Remember, friction is anything that makes the sales and marketing process more costly and cumbersome, lengthens the selling cycle, or prevents the sale. Perhaps one of the first places to look is at your service agreement. The service agreement is not only important for legal reasons, it is critically important in the selling process. An improperly crafted agreement can become the greatest single obstacle in the selling process. Some service agreements are enough to scare just about anyone out of benefiting from a much-needed service. The other day I needed to contract with a service to provided a managed server for me. After spending hours surfing the net and comparing services and prices, I found the company that had the level of service I wanted and an affordable price. I had already made the decision to contract with them. When I finally reviewed their service agreement I was shocked and horrified at some of the stuff they had put into the agreement. Among other things, they said that if I was late making my monthly payment they could take any intellectual property and databases that were residing on the server. Although the chances of missing a payment are slim to none, I felt that clause was very harsh and unjustified. I felt like it was a reflection of the character of the people I would be dealing with. It prompted me to check their consumer rating on alexa.com which turned out to be very poor. Needless to say, I kept looking for another service provider. A sales agreement often becomes the center of the sales presentation whether you want it to be or not. A poorly constructed agreement takes the focus off of the benefits of your service and onto the associated restrictions, requirements and legal liabilities. It forces the potential customer to analyze the agreement under a magnifying glass. It often results in committees to discuss and debate it, legal departments to review it and high level decision makers who would often prefer to "play it safe" by saying no rather than to risk making a bad decision. It usually isn't necessary to require lots of sobering commitments for most business models involving a business service if a quality service is being provided at a reasonable price. If your customer is not happy with the service, they often find a way out of it anyway. After all, most service contracts provide the right to discontinue the service at any time or upon 30 days written notice if the customer is not happy with it. Why not make the whole process less frightening for your customer? The best way to make a relationship “sticky” is to provide the best service! Why not make it easy for potential clients to try your service by crafting a win-win relationship? Find and Kill the Sales Prevention Departments 6
  7. 7. 7 There is an age-old truism that states, “If the sales people aren’t selling, no one else at the company will have a job.” This is as true in today’s business climate as it ever was in the past. For this reason it is important to make sure that non-sales people are not getting in the way of the selling process. In his book “How to Manage a National Sales Force” Mike Levitt, (who was the V.P. of Sales for Discover Card for the first ten years) has a chapter entitled, “Find and Kill the Sales Prevention Departments and all that Dwell Therein.” This chapter describes many of the different areas within a company that have a tendency to become sales prevention departments. The one suggestion it makes regarding the topic of this paper is that unrestrained legal departments, whether in-house or out, often become sales prevention departments when it comes to crafting service contracts. The Discover Card experience is a good example of why it makes more sense to have a sales or marketing person participates in the crafting and packaging of a service agreement instead of leaving it solely up to an attorney. The attorney should give counsel and suggestions regarding legal matters pertaining to the necessary clauses for inclusion and the ultimate legal protocol, but the sales and marketing departments must ultimately be responsible to make sure that the agreement promotes the salability of the product or service. Unless your attorney happens to be a marketing genius too, you are being very foolish to give him or her complete stewardship over the project and then blindly accept the finished product. If you do, you will probably end up with a document that will protect every interest you have except the most urgent one, getting your service into the market place and profitability. Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks One of the greatest challenges of implementing creative service agreements and sales strategies has to do with getting them approved by those who don’t understand sales and marketing or who are entrenched in the ways business used to be conducted. The rules for doing business have evolved significantly over the last 20 years. We live in a business climate that is changing at the speed of the internet. In today’s business climate, you may ultimately become a change agent, or the victim of one. Many attorneys and marketing people are not familiar with internet law and therefore do not avail themselves of opportunities that can greatly reduce the friction in the selling process. . Recently I did some work for a b2b online procurement exchange for higher education. They told me they needed to sign up 25 preferred regional suppliers and about 4 national suppliers in order to meet the vendor portion of the VC term sheet matrix that would qualify them for the next 1.7 Million in funding. They said it needed to be accomplished within two months, before they ran out of money. I suggested they use an agreement that did not require signatures. They informed me that initially, the investors required physical signatures. I told them I would put the vendor agreement online and bind the vendors to the online agreement through a simple registration form that could be signed and faxed back. I 7
  8. 8. 8 created a telemarketing script and had their two vendor sales reps acquire these accounts over the phone. Upper management warned me that these types of high profile business accounts would require personal visits. I understood the reasoning behind their concerns but instructed the sales reps to follow my telemarketing script and only set up physical appointments if they were not able to close the deal over the phone. In fourteen selling days our sales reps had signed four national accounts and 31 regional accounts without ever leaving their virtual offices. The time and money that was saved in travel expenses was significant since these vendors were spread out all over the country! Shortly after that, the V.P. of Channel Development resigned and they asked me to help with school acquisition. They had struggled on the school side of the exchange and needed a total of 25 colleges and universities to meet the school matrix portion of the term sheet. The company had only signed about 13 schools in 18 months. I told them I would sign schools the same way I had signed the vendors. Despite the success I had had with vendor signings, my strategy ignited the same concerns once again. I was assured that school sales were much more complex than vendor sales. I accepted their premise but suggested they modify their school agreement to a simplified one-page agreement instead of the conventional multi-page legal contract. I convinced them that several of their clauses were overly restrictive and unnecessary. The new agreement resulted in four signings within one month because their school reps did not experience as much friction in the selling process with the new, less restrictive agreement. One signing took place at a trade show! I became so intrigued by the challenge of signing schools by phone, fax, email and mail, that I approached management again and informed them that I would put the modified school agreement online and simply have the schools sign a registration form that binds them to an agreement. I told them that if they would give me $5,000.00, I would do a mailing to university purchasing directors and train the school reps to follow up by phone. I told them I would have their VC school matrix accomplished within two weeks. They refused to fund the project because they were still convinced that a physical sales presentation would still be required in signing colleges and universities. To satisfy my curiosity, I conducted a very small test of 100 schools. My strategy was very simple and straightforward. I called the Purchasing Directors and asked if I could fax them some information about our online procurement exchange. After faxing a brief marketing brochure and a registration form, I would make a follow up call to give them an online tour of our exchange. At the conclusion of the online tour, conducted over the phone, I would ask them to sign and fax back the registration form. In about two weeks, six colleges were signed using this approach. One of them even signed and faxed back the registration form before we could call them to give them a tour, address their questions and close the deal! 8
  9. 9. 9 It is often more effective to give an online tour over the phone than in person because that communication medium requires clients to focus more intently on what you are showing and telling them. Clients are also less likely to allow interruptions from peers during an online demonstration. Many internet related service providers could substantially increase their business by giving online tours over the phone! Using Email to Reduce Friction Another story relating to the topic of reducing friction in the marketing and sales process I want to share has to do with email marketing. A few years ago I suggested to one of my clients that we begin augmenting their telesales efforts with email marketing. We created an e-Newsletter and began sending a “special report” each month to approximately 70,000 of the clients and prospects that we had email addresses for. The results were quite impressive. After a few months new leads began to come. After about six months we were a little late sending the newsletter out and several of our subscribers subscribed again fearing that they had been deleted from our list! The original goal of the newsletter was to build brand recognition and credibility among real estate agents and mortgage originators. Although I never really felt the identifiable ROI would exceed break-even by very much I did feel that over time it would pay off and, what the heck, we were building brand awareness! Despite my low expectations I was pleasingly surprised at the results I got. There is a marketing cliché that says “the average new customer that you acquire generally needs about 9 marketing touches before making a buying decision.” I had no reason to disbelieve this statement but the point was really brought home when almost nine months to the day after I began sending the monthly newsletter I was informed by my sales people that they were getting inbound calls and taking orders as a direct result of the recent e-newsletter that had gone out. We took approximately $2,000 in sales as a direct result of that monthly newsletter. The next month we took in $3,000. The next time I checked a few months later it was $5,000. From there it went to $8,000 and the next email blast that we did brought in $15,000. The December email brought in $18,000! When we sent an email blast in conjunction with a postcard mailing promoting our year-end special, we did nearly $200,000.00 in a five-day period of time. Significantly better than the year before! One of the things we noticed is that integrated marketing creates a synergism. Not only is it important to get multiple marketing touches, it is important to use multiple marketing mediums. Email is perhaps one of the most powerful and cost effective ways to get a message out. I love the newsletter format because the average new customer needs to be contacted about nine times before they purchase. Email provides another way to make the contact without very much financial friction. Additionally, there is less time friction in making the contact and getting the ROI. An e-newsletter goes out consistently month after month making those marketing touches and keeping you in front of the customer on a consistent basis. People love special reports 9
  10. 10. 10 because they want to know what the latest successful trend is and they often don’t perceive a newsletter to be a sales pitch. Another remarkable feature of html email marketing is that you get immediate, identifiable results that can be tracked. In fact, you can actually verify how many recipients opened the email and what links they clicked on. The service I use is Cooler Email and it has an incredible tracking feature that enables you to identify who the hot prospects are. We live in a time of incredible high tech communication. We enjoy access to the internet and as you are reading this article, new variations of high tech communications are being introduced into the market place. The Messaging Online report describes email as "the most successful communications technology since the television" and predicts that email will surpass TV in importance in a few years' time. Email is fast, cheap, easy to use, and it's already better than TV in the sense that it's not just a one-way channel information, the recipient and respond and interact with the sender. It also puts control of the flow of information into the hands of ordinary people. Fifteen years ago, there were less than 2 million email accounts in the world. Ten years later there were 98.6 million email accounts, and 85 percent of those were at-work accounts. At that time there were no webmail services such as Hotmail. When Hotmail and other similar webmail services came along they attracted millions of new email users. Now consumers own 60 percent of email accounts. The latest thing driving the growth of email is the spread of wireless devices” Around 69 percent of American email users have made purchases online after receiving permission-based email marketing, according to a recent DoubleClick survey. The study indicates that 59 percent of US consumers have purchased offline as a result of receiving a permission-based email, while 39 percent have bought from a catalog. Additionally, 34 percent of American consumers have purchased via a phone after receiving marketing emails, while 20 percent have purchased via postal mail. Nearly 70 percent of male respondents said they were more likely to open permission-based mails that contain news or compelling information in the subject line. Women were more likely to open email that cited discount offers in the subject line, with 64 percent stating that this would influence them to open emails. “ Email Marketing is the ideal marketing vehicle for small business to stay in front of their local consumers. Over 50% of the adult population have internet and email access. 83% of internet users access their email at least once a day. 74% have two or more email addresses. 96% of consumers who are registered at a website or with an online organization, have requested e- mail from businesses (primarily online newsletters, web sites, and discussion groups), with the average consumer receiving permission-based e-mail from approximately six businesses. Over 88% of online consumers have made a purchase as a result of receiving permission- based email. In fact, it's also reported that 33% had clicked through an email and purchased immediately. Email is the most popular online activity among Internet users. Despite the widespread acceptance of permission-based commercial e-mail, 78 percent of consumers surveyed believe they are receiving e-mail that they did not request from at least 10
  11. 11. 11 one online organization. Transient email addresses are another formidable challenge- It is difficult to hit a moving target! One of the most challenging things about customer email lists is that people have a tendency to change email addresses frequently1 Local Email Marketing- The Opportunity According to the Kelsey Group, the use of coupons and special offers in local Email Marketing campaigns by small and medium sized traditional businesses will grow from a 2.2 BILLION dollar industry by the end of 2005 to a 50 BILLION dollar industry by 2007. (Click here to see a summary of "Hitting the Target: Local E-Mail Marketing") This is because local email marketing is usually significantly less expensive and more effective than traditional advertising. The report states that retailers such as Victoria's Secret, JC Penney, Macy's, Sharper Image and Tower Records have successfully used e-mail marketing to drive traffic into local stores. Geographically targeted email marketing is in its infancy and is poised for explosive growth. Local email marketing is a huge growth industry. The use of audio and video messages in emails is another powerful trend because they are so much more compelling than plain text messages. According to the Forrester Group, within a few short years, "text based e-mail will seem as archaic as black and white TV" We often neglect to use existing resources such as direct mail, email, fax machines, teleconferencing, video conferencing and even the telephone in the selling process even though we use them to conduct other aspects of our business on a daily basis. Additionally, it is now possible to quickly and inexpensively add an audio sales presentation to a website or create a talking email. You can even Include a video very quickly and inexpensively without hiring a programmer! If you would be interested in additional information about using audio, video, html email response tracking technology, invitation based email™ or evaluating some innovative methods for growing your email subscriber base, contact Cooler Connections Cutting the cost, time and barrier friction out of the sales and marketing process is one of the keys of achieving success in the digital age, It is amazing how many sales organizations still think they need to get in a car or hop on a plane to sell something! Sometimes customer acquisition must be done in person. But sometimes… it doesn’t. 1 A recent study found that 41 percent of consumers have changed an e-mail address at least once in the last two years, with 15 percent of that group changing e-mail addresses two or more times in the last two years. Consumers reported that the leading cause of e-mail address changes were ISP switches, although many cited job changes or school graduations, and privacy concerns as other reasons for making a change. 11