We've all heard stories of the three-martini lunch--those long luncheon affairs that would allow brick-and-mortar companies of yore to get to know their biggest customers. They were a personal touch that kept the successful business abreast of customer needs, preferences and the latest news. Your road warriors will tell you such techniques are still just as effective today, of course.
still, Internet-based business is also looking for a way to spread the warmth and intimacy of those face-to-face meetings across a broader customer base, one that could include a variety of touch points, from e-mail exchanges to trade exchanges.
Blue Martini Software's Customer Interaction System offers the tools to do just that. The San Mateo-based software developer's enterprise applications allow companies to understand, target and interact with their customers and partners. The integrated system's business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) applications enable direct interaction across all touch points, including the Web, call centers, wireless devices, WAP-enabled cellular phones and online marketplaces.
"We're an application, not just a toolkit or a platform or a point solution," says Paul Rosenblum, Blue Martini vice president of product marketing. "We are a comprehensive e-business application designed for people who sell things."
Retail, manufacturing, financial services, telecommunications, distribution and other Internet-based organizations that are just beginning their e-commerce efforts or are looking to revamp them can benefit from Blue Martini.
The Customer Interaction System is designed to work out of the box, says Rosenblum, to offer the e-business the boost it needs to engage customers and increase brand loyalty and revenues. The system includes a number of different modules that target merchandise, content and customer management, transaction execution, program tracking and analysis, customer targeting, and personalization and data mining.
The data mining and analysis pieces are especially important, says Rosenblum, and give Blue Martini an edge. "Inevitably," he says, other solutions "lack some of those pieces. They usually lack the analytical tools. We build analytical tools to help business managers do a better job."
The B2C edition features 18 modules divided into four subsystems: The management subsystem manages products, content and campaigns; the analysis and targeting subsystem gives businesses the tools to understand the consumer so the right product can be offered to the targeted customer at the appropriate time; the interaction subsystem guarantees customer contact along multiple touch points such as the Web, call center or wireless; and the integration subsystem allows the Customer Interaction System to integrate with third-party systems.
The B2B edition offers all the functionality of the B2C edition, but with a few added modules so it becomes effective in dealing with other businesses and channel partners. The B2B edition's management subsystem, for instance, includes account, quote and contract management modules. These additions let businesses track elements specific to individual customers, such as negotiated price lists, custom quotes, and contract terms like guaranteed service response times or special payment terms. The B2B edition also includes an order-processing module within the interaction subsystem that is capable of handling the entire order management process, from creation to tracking.
"These capabilities are designed to be easy to use," says Rosenblum. A graphically intuitive "Enterprise Desktop" allows users to easily handle the management and analysis and targeting subsystems, thus keeping the burden on the IT staff low. Users can work on site or over the Internet.
"We're helping people across different dimensions," says Rosenblum. "We're helping people decrease costs to serve customers while increasing customer satisfaction and sales and revenue."
Showing Their Colors
Club Colors is the perfect example of a flourishing brick-and-mortar company that successfully added Web-based support to its offerings. Since 1992, the Schaumburg, Ill.-based business has offered such specialty items as logo sportswear to corporations. Club Colors' inventory of 500,000-plus items, such as coffee mugs and sweatshirts, can be customized with corporate logos or sponsorship identification. Sun Microsystems, Motorola and 3Com are among Club Colors' clients.
In the beginning, Club Colors produced customized print catalogs for clients that highlighted individual items available for purchase. Each catalog took from six to eight weeks to design and print. In 1998, Club Colors added a Web site that allowed corporate clients to peruse offerings online.
The original Web site "was a good way for us to get our feet wet," says Club Colors Director of Marketing C.J. Ritterbusch. Nonetheless, "it had a number of shortcomings. It was difficult to manage, and we had to rely on the Web site vendor for changes that needed to be made. And when you're dependent on them, you're also dependent on their time frame."
Additionally, Club Colors' clients wanted to view their company merchandise on personalized Web sites. "We wanted to be able to create those customer-specific Web catalogs fairly quickly and inexpensively, and we needed to be able to do it with internal personnel," says Ritterbusch.
Blue Martini's out-of-the-box functionality and ease of use appealed to Club Colors right away, says Ritterbusch. At the same time, Blue Martini provided the tools to build a quality product, which was a priority for Club Colors and its clients.
"We have a number of customers that are technology based," he says, "and they tend to be fairly critical. We knew we had to have a first-class solution in terms of functionality and performance."
Club Colors' in-house personnel now use the Customer Interaction System B2B edition to craft and create Web-based catalogs that are specific to individual clients. The creators "are people in our marketing department," says Ritterbusch. "We call them Internet Merchandisers, and they're just people with decent computer skills. They're not developers. The Blue Martini interface makes it very easy to administer changes and create new catalogs."
New customer catalogs can be created online in as little as three days, he says. Since going live with Blue Martini in July, Club Colors has created 25 customer-specific sites and plans to add more.
"From July to mid-November, we received over 2,500 orders from our Web sites," says Ritterbusch. "That's over 600,000 sales. About 30 percent of our total order volume is on the Web, which is about 20 percent of our dollar volume."
While Club Colors still does the bulk of its business via phone or fax, the Web catalogs have nonetheless enhanced the organization's business offerings.
"It really enables us to compete and go get new business with Fortune 1000 companies," says Ritterbusch. "We've secured new clients primarily as a result of our Web site capability. One of those customers is 3Com. Being a technology-based company, they would not have considered us if we couldn't offer this tool. We're not their exclusive supplier-they chose three, but we were one of those three."
He adds, "We're still trying to accomplish that balance between online and offline business. We still have to answer phones and send faxes, but this gives us another sales channel ordering tool."