• December 10, 2004
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

The Promise of Guided Selling

It is getting harder to reach customers, despite today's technological advancements and a company's ability to collect massive amounts of information on them. Older consumers are often overwhelmed and turned off by the complexity of consumer electronics, and shy away from them. What's worse, younger consumers who embrace new technologies are being overwhelmed by the amount of marketing material shoved in their faces, and as a result, they're tuning it out. One only has to look at the success of products that bypass or block marketing--and at campaigns that avert marketing, such as TiVo for television commercials and TeleZapper for unwanted telemarketing calls--to recognize this. "We are saturating the market with advertising because we're meeting resistance, and the traditional marketer's approach to that is more marketing. But the result is that consumers stop spending," says Craig Wood, president of the MONITOR division of Yankelovich Partners. "So spending on marketing has gone up, but close rates have gone down." That's why Active Decisions has inked a deal with Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, to bring product recommendations to consumers online or at a retail location, at the most critical point of a consumer's information gathering stage. With its B2C guided selling solutions, Active Decisions aims to bring Consumer Reports product recommendations to consumers either online or at select retail stores via kiosks and hard-copy charts. The in-store kiosks and information online will also include buying advice, based on each customer's specific needs. It's all about needs satisfaction selling, according to Jeffrey Dunn, president and CEO of Active Decisions. "We engage customers, understand what they're looking for, educate them, make recommendations, and explain why we make those recommendations," Dunn says. "The trend in retail is that consumers do more research either online or through Consumer Reports magazine. Retailers have come to expect this to some degree. We thought to bring our guides, which are very consumer facing and allow the customers to indicate preferences in terms of their needs and explain [products] in terms they are familiar with, would help customers," says Craig Scott, director of product management at Active Decisions. Take digital cameras, for example. A consumer doesn't need to know what a megapixel is or how optical zoom works. Instead, Active Decisions' guided selling solutions ask questions like, How far away do you want to stand? And, How clear do you want the photos to be? Retailers can select guided selling capabilities for only the products it sells. "A retailer can provide consumers with information that's pertinent and relevant to their decision-making, which is backed by the [reliable] nature of Consumer Reports and its brand. It's the most trusted name in consumer comparison," Scott says. He adds that by helping consumers select the best product, it will enhance customer satisfaction and reduce return rates. Active Decisions' applications are not only for retailers: The company has customers in home appliance, computers, electronics, banking, and manufacturing. Results vary by industry, but Active Decisions' customers have seen conversion rates increase from 50 percent to more than 250 percent for patrons who use the shopping guides to identify preferred purchases. One national banking customer, for example, garnered an increase in the percentage of customers choosing to pay for checking, from 2 percent to 40 percent, thanks to the guided selling solutions. Currently, Target and A&B Sound are using Active Decisions' guided selling apps online. OfficeMax has the solutions in kiosks in Chicago-area OfficeMax stores. OfficeMax is one of the first retailers in the United States to take advantage of the guided selling capabilities of Active Advisor version 8.0. "We have a relentless focus on meeting our customers' needs. Equipping our sales associates with the knowledge and confidence to assess the needs of each shopper and finding exactly the right product delivers a positive experience for the customer," Ryan Vero, executive vice president of merchandising for OfficeMax, said in a statement. "The Active Advisor technology increases the effectiveness and productivity of all our sales associates." Active Decisions' executives expect to announce a significant product upgrade in the next 30 days. Scott says the upgrade will "continue our focus to bring best-of-breed decision guides to the in-store environment." Related article: Guided Selling Tools Boost Sales Results
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