Cover Story: A Paradigm Shift
At Cisco, a dramatic shift is underway within the organization as it ventures into a new world of Web strategy, challenging its traditional tactics and integrating fresh principles to embrace an approach largely based on Web 2.0.
What implications does this have for online lead generation? And what affect does this new perspective have on Cisco’s ability to drive conversion? Although the San Jose, Calif.-based supplier of networking hardware, software and service offerings is not entirely abandoning the “old world,” its traditional approach is being redefined within the parameters of the “new world,” and some innovative solutions and tactics are emerging as a result.
Before exploring what Cisco currently is doing to gather, track, process and convert leads, it is useful to understand the principles on which this new strategy is founded.
At the heart of this approach is a shift from what Theresa Kushner, director of marketing, customer intelligence, calls a disruptive model—in which the organization primarily focuses on initiating contact with customers—to an engagement model in which Cisco focuses on being there for customers and prospects whenever needed. “We’re moving from a monologue, where we just send e-mails to people and they respond when they can, to a wave, where we are actually creating a dialogue with that customer,” she explains.
Providing customers and prospects with the resources and content necessary for them to self-propel through the buying cycle is a key aspect of this approach. “I think in the old world, the idea of a campaign was temporal in nature,” explains Michael Metz, senior director of integrated marketing communications,Web marketing and strategy. “In the new metaphor, the campaign is always on. And we recognize now that people are moving in and out of the buying cycle for any of our given products daily. And it’s not an opportunity to kind of hit them at one point in time and hope for the best. The idea here is that people will self-serve themselves into the buying experience as they need to, and so your readiness for the buying experience needs to always be there,” he details.
This thinking represents a marked departure from traditional demand-generated activity, as well as an opportunity to deploy resources in a more efficient way. “Rather than spending all of our time and energy out driving new customers to us, what we’re trying to do is be more responsive to customers when they’re leaning forward and coming to us,” says Metz.
Embracing the Wider Web
Part of this new-world thinking is the shift of Cisco’s focus on its Web site alone to the Web on a broader level. “We’re moving a little bit from just Cisco.com-centric stuff to the wider Web,” says Kushner. “Things happen on other people’s sites that are directly affecting Cisco, and we’re trying to take advantage of that as well.”
For example, Brian Ellefritz, manager of integrated marketing communications, emarketing, explains that identifying other sites on which a Cisco.com user spends time can help the company gain a deeper understanding of how to drive other users to Cisco. “Some of that will be simply watching … and understanding what the conversation is about Cisco in those places,” says Ellefritz. “And, in other places, we might find an opportunity to inject Cisco into the conversation or do something more traditional like a banner or serve up content and things of that nature.”
Data vs. Insight
The manner in which data is collected and managed in the new world sets it apart from the traditional approach. No longer merely data, now the information is perceived as insight, and it enables Cisco to understand behaviors and trends, consequently allowing for customer engagement on a deeper level. “Understanding and listening to your customers is an ‘old world’ phrase, and it means something different in the ‘new world,’” says Metz.
Deciphering this insight ultimately can foster more productive relationships with customers by providing the necessary tools to generate and convert leads. “I think most of the advances from a marketing perspective are not on more effectively driving leads,” says Metz. “We’re pretty good at that. But what do you do with the people when they come to your site? How much do you pay attention to them? How much do you understand about where they’re coming from, what their interests are, maybe even what they bought from you in the past [and] what their satisfaction level is?” he asks.
A remarkable degree of knowledge can be gained from the explicit information customers share. According to Metz, Cisco taps into its data stores to build useful profiles of customers. “We use that data to have targeted, customized interactions by putting up targeted content, by watching what they do, by offering something and looking at how they respond to it,” he says. “And what you’re doing is you’re building a deeper, more robust relationship with your visitor … you’re doing it on a scale that simply could never have been done before.”
Based on these new-world principles, Cisco is in the process of implementing new strategies and tactics for generating and converting online leads—particularly in terms of its value-added resellers (VARs) and third-party partners, which account for 98 percent of its business.
Gathering information on leads may be the first step, but, according to Metz, turning it into a usable manifestation on the Web to give customers a fully interactive, engaging experience from pre-sales to post-sales is key.
Alex Landucci, manager of integrated marketing communications, global demand generation, describes two possible scenarios for a customer’s information to be filtered through to sales once this lead has engaged Cisco. Using the traditional method of lead qualification, a prospective customer’s data—criteria such as project, time frame, budget, whether his company is working with a partner and if he wants to be contacted by a sales person with rich lead notes—is forwarded to the sales organization.
The other new-world scenario, however, involves analytics processes, such as a new program that went live in September called Marketing to Sales Linkage. The program ties marketing information to the sales team’s accounts and contacts. “If someone downloads a whitepaper off Cisco.com or views one of our broadcasts and registers—and we know the name of that individual—that individual tracks back to our global CRM Tools, [which] then brings up an alert with the salesperson who follows that particular account, notifying them that you are a new contact or an existing contact within their account that has had some kind of meaningful activity with marketing,” explains Landucci.
Filtering the IT domain also provides Cisco with other trackable information—particularly when it comes to anonymous users—that helps generate lead information such as geographic location, companies, past sites viewed and search terms. “The marketing information—as it happens—is passed along to sales, which gives the sales person the opportunity to make a warm call—to have a reason to call—as opposed to kind of doing their dialing-for-dollars approach,” says Landucci.
Gathering information is more straightforward when users register, however, and that information may be coupled with other data the company has in its data stores to enrich a customer’s or prospect’s experience. “If we’ve got registration information and we can make the association to the company that they work for, we can actually start to do things to show how effective what we do on the Web is,” says Kushner. “So we know whether those companies have actually purchased something or not, or whether they were there just in the beginning of the buying process and might be prospects for us, people that we’ve never seen before.”
To efficiently cover the expansive small- and medium-sized business (SBM) market, Cisco works with VARs and third-party sellers. Consequently, the company leverages these relationships in its marketing program, linking prospects to partners in real time. “We have hundreds of thousands of customers coming to Cisco.com every week, and as we enter into the SMB marketplace, we couldn’t possibly hire enough sales people to deal with that,” Metz highlights. “So we depend on this army of hundreds of thousands of partners worldwide to engage those customers.”
Software takes on the role of matchmaker, according to Metz, linking customers with partners who specialize in specific technologies or perhaps even those within specified geographic locations. “Our goal is to be able to manage those broker relationships—thousands per week, hundreds per day—so that we can scale our growth in the SMB marketplace,” says Metz.
While Cisco does employ traditional tactics that move customers and prospects through the demand-generation process, it now believes in empowering a customer to move through the process on his own. “We don’t tightly control all of the different stages of that process. We offer up content, we offer up relationship-building tactics and then we sort of trust the customer and the prospect to move through the process a little bit more under their own control—which they’re more inclined to do these days—and we also involve our partner community to a great extent,” says Ellefritz. “We really sell when we do demand-generation functions, predominantly through partner organizations, and increasingly what we try to do is give them the tools and the resources themselves to move people through that process.”
One tactic Cisco uses to support this self-navigation approach to serving leads is a click-to-chat feature. “I’d like to say that click to chat has enabled us to intelligently approach the right prospects on the Web site and, on the back end, intelligently route their inquiry to the best channel,” says Paul Martson, manager of marketing and strategy.
When click-to-chat technology initially was employed on Cisco’s site last year, it was as a reactive chat in which the customer initiated the interaction with a live representative by clicking a button. Although that worked, Martson points out that the proactive chat appears to be a better fit, enabling Cisco to pop open a window and engage a customer in dialogue with a call center agent based on a user’s behavior. This chat often can result in routing the lead in real time to an appropriate partner—something Martson says is very cutting-edge and produces more qualified leads. The goal is “to capitalize on the momentum of the chat and not let it turn into a lead that sits in the system for two weeks before someone calls back, but to forward it right then and there,” he explains.
How successful has this tactic been for Cisco? “Proactive click to chat has over a 40 percent lead conversion, which is argumentatively much higher than most standard marketing programs,” says Landucci. “An average outbound program typically generates between 3 percent and 10 percent lead conversion. And it’s a better customer experience as well, more importantly.”
While this application appears to be a front-runner, Martson adds that it requires the support of a call center force that’s well-versed on the firm’s technology and solutions. “We had to do work on the data side to be able to get that insight, to be able to do something as effective as click to chat,” Martson says. “We had to do a lot of work on the sales process to make sure that if we invoke something like [click to chat], we can responsively move people through that, and they would have a good, solid experience there. And then we’re having to do work on our Cisco.com properties.”
Another tactic in line with new-world principles is the use of video for marketing. It’s a significant part of Cisco’s overall Web strategy, with more than 300 short, embedded videos on Cisco’s site to present customers and prospects with product information. “They’ve become the single most popular item on the Web site,” says Metz. “On any page where there’s one of these video data sheets, they’re almost always the most popular and highest-clicked item on the page.”
Also interesting is the behavior Cisco has observed with regard to those visitors viewing the videos. “People who watch these videos go deeper into the Web site. They look at four or five times more pages,” says Metz. “They come back to the Web site with a higher frequency rate, they engage with partners at a higher frequency and they click to chat at a higher frequency, too.”
Implications of the ‘New World’
Two years ago, 13 percent of the leads sent to the sales team moved into sales forecasts and were expected to become a booking, according to Landucci. Now, that number has jumped to 75 percent, “… and we estimate that about 90 percent of those actually close into a real sale,” Landucci adds.
While Landucci mentions that Cisco’s lead volume has decreased, the numbers indicate lead quality has increased. “When you’re comparing 13 percent impact to 75 percent impact, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental pipeline globally that now, because of this, we’re impacting sales pipeline opportunities.”
Kushner sums up the significance this directional change holds for the marketing organization as a whole: “What that does for marketing is it builds a greater credibility for marketing with sales because now if 75 percent of them are really good leads, they’re not turning them down any longer because they don’t fit what sales needs to have.”
While the numbers generate optimism, the road ahead is long, and Kushner is cautious to suggest what the increased traffic and activity on the Web site may mean to Cisco’s overall business. “The biggest test that we’re having to undertake is how we can, as a marketing organization, align around this new way of doing things,” says Kushner. “So, that’s the task that we’re presently in the throes of trying to articulate to ourselves internally. Because it takes a new type of evangelist to do marketing this way versus doing marketing in the disruptive manner [we were] doing it before.”
Marissa Fabris is a freelance writer in West Chester, Pa. She last wrote for Target Marketing about online fulfillment in the November 2007 issue.