• September 1, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

The 2009 Elite - ShipServ Sets Sale

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When John Watton recently headed off on holiday to rural Italy-a fairly landlocked locale, considering he's the chief marketing officer for ShipServ, a B2B e-marketplace for the maritime industry-he may have been wary about the quality of his cellphone signal, but not about the quality of his company's leads. "I love that I'm vacationing and leads are getting nurtured," he says.

In the summer of 2007, amid significant growth in London-based ShipServ's business, Watton was brought on to overhaul the entire marketing strategy, with what he describes as "a full mandate to change everything." There was a lot to change. As with any start-up, ShipServ had been intensely focused on closing deals; with growth came the risk of becoming an impersonal enterprise. "I wanted to move from a broadcast relationship with the customer to more of a conversation," Watton says. That meant offloading much of the company's manual marketing operations.

ShipServ went overseas for Marketo, a California-based on-demand provider of marketing solutions, won over by its price points and, after a month long trial, its ease of use. "We're a small company and Marketo fit better," Watton says. Implementation took all of 15 minutes; training was a couple of hour-long conference calls. ShipServ now has eight subscriptions for a team focused primarily on lead management, and will soon be extending Marketo's Sales Insight to about 70 field and telesales employees.

"This is the first time in my career as a marketer I've gotten [salespeople] excited about the leads coming in."

With Marketo, ShipServ was able not only to automate marketing messages, but also to tailor content based on consumer behavior. Shortly after implementation, ShipServ launched its first campaign, and in the three-month period from July to September 2008, the company increased its contact-to-lead conversion rate by 150 percent, and its lead-to-opportunity rate by 50 percent. As a result, ShipServ now drives 275 percent more opportunities from the same lead-generation budget, resulting in 1,600 new opportunities per year.

Moreover, Watton estimates that he has saved 80 percent in resources and time previously devoted to campaign management and still saw a 100 percent return on investment. "This is the first time in my career as a marketer," he says, "I've gotten [salespeople] excited about the leads coming in."For a man whose career includes stints at Microsoft,Ariba,SAP, and Oracle, that's saying something.

Shipping isn't immune to the effects of the recession, Watton says, but his vision went beyond mere cost-cutting."I turned our company inside-out to give it a personal face," he says. "That's where social media came in."

Watton began using Google AdWords to identify keywords used in searches for solutions in ShipServ's market, as well as any relevant mentions on Twitter.He used Web aggregator Netvibes to find conversations about ShipServ's industry, which helped uncover niche maritime blogs. Watton wanted to join conversations where they were already happening. "Our objective as a small business is getting our name known," he says, admitting that, because of its size and specialized market,"no one talks about ShipServ....[We're] almost surprised by the mention of [our] company." The maritime industry may be slow to get its feet wet in social media, but Watton dove right in.

"We recognized that we can have a point of view, have a human face, and get involved in conversations," he says. Best of all? Social media is a low-cost effort that's paying off: The first quarter of 2009 saw a 70 percent increase in Web traffic and a 400 percent increase in sales-ready leads over 2008's final quarter. Social media engagement increased ShipServ's brand presence, and, with Marketo's lead nurturing and lead scoring, sales calls became significantly more productive. A salesperson armed with what ShipServ calls a marketing-qualified  prospect went from, on average, six calls to close a deal to just two.

Last year, an email campaign led to approximately 400 downloads of a white paper. Seven months later, after Marketo had automatically cleansed the list of those who had responded, Watton repurposed the same white paper for a second campaign. Sending to a larger pool, including those who didn't respond the first time, the second effort yielded another 600 downloads-a result 50 percent better, even without the low-hanging fruit of  the first responders."If you're small,"Watton says,"you don't want to spend time on data quality, you just want to sell."

Real Results: ShipServ

  • Increased contact-to-lead conversion by 150 percent.
  • Increased lead-to-opportunity conversion by 50 percent.
  • Decreased campaign management costs by 80 percent.
  • Via social marketing efforts, increased the number of sales-ready leads by 400 percent and Web traffic by 70 percent.
  • Generated over 1,000 downloads of a white paper with a two-phase marketing campaign.

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