Customer Insight Leads to Sales

Customer Insight Leads to Sales Oakwood Worldwide provides corporate housing services to hundreds of prominent businesses, but the company relies on strong relationships, rather than on national advertising campaigns, to keep clients coming back for more. So Oakwood turned to Toronto-based Eloqua Corporation to design and deploy an email newsletter that would keep customers engaged, and give the sales force superior insight into the medium-term travel needs of their accounts. Oakwood doesn't compete with three-night hotel stays, but instead focuses on 30-day or more apartment-style living for long-term deployments, relocation visits, and the like. "It's a higher-ticket product, so you have to create a lot of relationships," says Todd Larsen, vice president of interactive sales and development at Oakwood Worldwide. "You're dealing with customers who are stressed out [by travel]--it takes a lot of hand-holding." Over the four decades Oakwood has been in business, it has increasingly focused on direct sales efforts rather than on broad ad campaigns, and the newsletter reflects an extension of that approach. Although a corporate print newsletter was eliminated due to high costs and dubious ROI, the company started an email newsletter two years ago that mails to known customers and self-identified prospects. Larsen added Eloqua to the mix in early 2002 to add professional database maintenance and far more sophisticated activity tracking. Oakwood sales staff can now see the links the more than 65,000 recipients follow in the bimonthly newsletter, and can identify which customers are likely to be interested in certain markets. They are then free to make just-in-time inquiries with customers to try to satisfy their needs promptly. "They might have called us, but might have called four other competitors, too," Larsen says. "I've been getting reports of being able to make a ten-apartment sale by calling someone at the right time" after seeing in the customer's Web traffic log a likely interest. Oakwood created the opt-in list by collecting email addresses from the HR decision-makers the company deals with directly, as well as from guests in move-in surveys, which adds more than 1,000 emails addresses per month. Although Larsen reports being satisfied with both the direct returns on his investment in terms of closed sales as well as the benefits of professionally outsourced email fulfillment and analysis, capitalizing on all the potential benefits will take time, he says. One challenge Oakwood has faced in the difficult travel market is staffing its contact center well enough to execute on more high-touch interactions made possible by the email campaigns. "We have run chat when staffing was higher," says Larsen, who has recently restarted proactive chatting on a smaller scale in the Los Angeles inside sales group. "Email is tricky, but it's all about timing," Larsen says. "It is there as a resource when the customer wants it, instead of being interrupted by a phone call."
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