Get a Better Backend the Multichannel Way
Ellis agrees that vendor relationships are crucial to successful direct marketing. "You have to listen to your vendors and find out what's moving for your competitors. The reality is that sales reps are pretty much territorial, so odds are they have information as to what's selling." She suggests that even if they don't want to increase inventory, merchants can develop plans with vendors to drop-ship items in the event of a sudden surge in demand.
Then there are the customers themselves. John White keeps his finger on the pulse of the business by paying close attention to customer comments, reading feedback from BizRate and customer e-mails. "Any time a customer sends an e-mail to management, it goes to me personally. I look at it, review it, then send it to the person who can most efficiently handle it," White says.
Avoiding management of divisions and sales channels as separate silos can be a real challenge for larger enterprises, especially for multichannel merchants. The very technology that has allowed them to expand and operate in more than one channel has increased both the complexity of communications and added significantly to the costs of merging data management systems and databases. Those challenges, Kirk Etten says, demand "another level of integration and coordination across the company to ensure a good experience for the customer."
But the same challenges also provide opportunity. Etten describes an example of teamwork at Deluxe to develop a specific strategy—account management by a personal rep—for high-value customers. Development included 12 months of testing. "It really involved some discipline around here," Etten says, "because there was some uncertainty whether this would bring any value to the company." Etten's team eventually was able to show upper management a tangible 5 percent contribution from the highest-value customers. "You show that type of result, you start to get the systems in place then to support it," Etten says.