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June 2010
The ROI of Creating Demand
By Zenda Douglas

     The majority of Technekes’ employees have been on board for a long time. It’s no wonder. The environment inside Technekes’ brand new offices on S.Tryon Street is relaxed. LEED-certified lighting, which shuts off when there is little movement below, banishes glare. Shirtsleeves and dress-casual is the code. The atmosphere is friendly. Good humored conversations can be heard through the winding offices and low-walled cubicles.

     Completely at home are dogs Roxxy and Lucy, belonging to Jack Ross, co-founder of Technekes, who attend meetings and run messages up and down the hallway. “We’re not a bunch of stuffed shirts,” says Preston Fay, the other principal and co-founder. “We let people do things in the way they want—within reason,” he adds. Don’t be misled. Low-key does not mean still. Technekes is an energetic, fast-paced company which adheres to a high standard of professionalism.

     “We will make contact with a few million people this year,” ventures Steve Amedio, Technekes COO. “Each of those conversations has the same ultimate purpose: to create demand.”

     Technekes is both a marketing strategy firm and direct marketing agency. Through B2B relationships, it works at each end of the sales and marketing spectrum for its clients, providing strategy; analysis; definition and segmentation of prospects and customers; customer and prospect qualification and inducement; customer service and support, and sales incentives and awards. In many ways, Technekes serves as an outsourced marketing division for its clients.

     Technekes bridges the gap between marketing and sales to bring buyers and sellers together. Utilizing a broad array of tools such as inbound and outbound calling programs, promotions, Web sites, micro sites, appointment setting, market research studies and direct mail, the company conceptualizes and executes multi-channel programs to drive sales for its clients’ products and services. “We aim to create a lot of handshakes,” summarizes Fay.

     Add creative services to that list of core competencies. While Technekes does not engage in developing television commercials or radio spots, it does create specialized campaigns with data and templating for specific purposes and tactics including software for event-driven marketing.

     Follow-up on results with the client is integrated into all of these activities. “Getting all that work produced takes a certain amount of engineering savvy,” says Amedio, understating the talent, skill and technology required to handle these online and offline activities with the quality the company insists upon.

     According to Ross, Technekes is focused on a good return on investment (ROI) for their clients. “Everything we do is measurable towards that return on a project or campaign. We are usually able to provide real time ROI data especially when the client has sales reporting ability.” Technekes’ technology can match up a client’s incremental sales with their records of communications and activities.


Owning Success

     The success of Technekes’ clients has become their own. Amedio revels in last year’s impressive $12 million performance. This milestone meets another as Technekes celebrates it 10th anniversary this year.

     The fact that Technekes is debt-free significantly enhances the company’s wealth. In the case of Technekes, the commitment to be debt-free comes straight out of its service philosophy.

     “If we can’t make the money off the services we provide,” Fay explains, “then something is very wrong. If we make money for our customers, then the money for the company takes care of itself.”

     “We get it done,” Fay continues. “Lots of companies can tell you who the prospects are; not many can go out and get them in a way that gives significant return on investment for their clients.”

     Technekes focuses primarily on clients involved in life sciences, including agriculture and healthcare, financial services and a smaller segment of retail. Interestingly, even though agriculture and financial services have different verticals, their channels are similar.

     “We are organized into practice groups so we can bring both market and industry experience to specific campaigns,” says Amedio. “But the majority of what we do is applicable across the board of clients and the work we do is quite similar from segment to segment of industry.”

     Fay, Ross and Amedio complement each other with a diversity of strengths and interests.

     “My comfort level—what I like to do—is to spend time with my customers; to create demand,” says Fay. He gives much more kudos for technology to Jack than himself. “Jack is as talented a technical person as I’ve ever known. I am much more of a marketer.”

     Fay explains that it would be difficult to try to run everything in the company and spend time with customers and work through marketing programs. “Marketing is a lot more appealing to me than sitting down with a 401K person or such,” admits Fay. That’s where Amedio comes in, with a firm grasp of operating the business and supplying it with talented human capital. While Fay and Ross are more philosophical about the profits, Amedio is in those details.


Hatching a Techneke

     Fay and Ross met initially as competitors in 1990, ending up at the same company in 1994. In 1995, Fay was sent by the company to the U.K. to head up a business venture there, and Ross, who had spearheaded database management for the company, followed nine months later. Fay returned to the U.S. in 1998 and Ross in early 2000.

     Somewhere in between, both decided to team up to do the same things they had been doing. “No one can envision what things will be, but we are doing what we talked about doing,” says Ross. Fay echoes those sentiments and adds, “I had no grand vision in 1999 other than Jack and I implementing the capabilities that we’d spent our whole careers up to that point developing.”

     Primed in database management and marketing, Fay, who grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., and graduated first with a degree in agriculture and animal sciences, then a graduate degree in communications and direct marketing from the University of Tennessee, and Ross, originally from New York but who grew up in England and graduated with a degree in computer science engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, were ready to be in business for themselves.

     Fay had already been part of growing two other ventures from small to big during this dot-com era. “Everybody took in all this money and it just seemed crazy to us,” remembers Fay. “We were a service agency—we didn’t need outside money to do that. What we needed were some computers—and some customers.”

     By June of 2000, Technekes had two customers, numerous buy-out offers and their first real office space. But by April of 2001, both customers, both dot-coms, were gone. It would be months before the partners reeled in their first large agriculture client and longer before they got a paycheck.

     There was no looking back. In a little over a year, Technekes had reached its first million dollars in revenue. It was a period of furious activity. “Lots of things we are doing now germinated during that time,” says Ross.

     Steve Amedio, a native of Oswego, N.Y., and graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, had come on board as a consultant in 2001 and in 2003 Technekes moved into a 4,000-square-foot office space in the Cedar Street Design Center, where they would remain for the next seven years. Technekes went on to open its own customer support and call center in 2005 and its creative services department in 2006. In 2008, Amedio joined the firm full-time as its chief operating officer.

     Last year the company moved its customer care center into a 13,000-square-foot space at Perimeter Park in Morrisville, N.C. (just outside of Research Triangle Park), and renamed it the Market Interaction Center and in early 2010, settled into its new 10,000-square-foot office space in Charlotte’s south end where there is room to grow.


Phenomenal Growth

     Technekes has experienced phenomenal growth with existing and new clients. “We’ve had a very good two years,” reflects Amedio.

     The Market Interaction Center is a B2B customer support and service center which houses 125 seats in its calling center. Having no products of its own, what the center “sells” is customer focus; delivering to the customers of Technekes’ clients what they want—customized communications, according to Ross. Each inbound call goes through triage for level of action; each outbound call is completely branded to Technekes’ client.

     “We’re not a chop-shop,” says Ross. “We don’t do telemarketing.”

     Ross explains that what they do is high level service; doing work ahead of time so they know who to talk with. “We’re targeting and segmenting to define decision makers,” says Ross. “Callers can reach someone who knows what they are talking about. The person answering the phone might be a pharmaceutical rep, a farmer, an agronomist, a retailer or representatives of other segments of industry.

     “We’re looking to hire people with experience in the industry of the campaign we’re doing,” explains Ross.  “These folks make the perfect customer support people.” Technekes also works closely with a client’s internal sales force, something a lot of companies make the mistake of leaving out, according to Ross.

     Technekes is not a company to rest on its laurels. “If you are in the direct marketing business, you are not standing still; things are constantly moving, transforming and evolving,” says Amedio. “We are constantly adding capabilities and tactics to improve marketing support strategies.”

     Technekes and Xceleration, an Atlanta company, have recently embarked on a strategic venture to launch Ignite B2B. Xceleration has a framework for rewarding or incentivizing sales or distribution channels.

     “Ignite B2B is the brand name we have put on the collaboration,” says Fay. “We are the main creation component with our Ignition platform and have the skill sets and expertise to drive marketing while they have the experience in rewarding the behaviors that our clients are trying to achieve.” Ignition is the software platform that all of Technekes tactics are built upon. The two companies have begun to share some clients.

     “We’ve been developing this since day one,” says Ross. “This is 10 years of blood, sweat and tears in getting those capabilities up and running.”

     In other signs of growth, Technekes is increasing their analytic capacity by adding a business analytics practice group. “What we do produces great insights for our customers and we want to build on that,” says Ross. Also, hiring is underway for a new practice group leader in health care.

     Amedio forecasts significant growth in all practice areas in the next 24 to 36 months and advancements in technology in the market center in the next 12 to 18 months. Their new Web site tells the whole story.

     Nevertheless, Fay cautions: “People get too hung up on growth, the notion that we have to be a $50 million company in five years or such. The question I would ask is why. You could be a $50 million company and still lose money. I’d rather be a $30 million dollar company that makes money. If we’re profitable we can create an environment that is good for us, our staff and our customers.”

So far, so good.

Zenda Douglas is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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