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January 2014
Unlocking the Vault
By Jim Froneberger


“Hello, Mr. Williams. This is Roger Smith of Acme Widget Company. I sent you an email earlier today about our new product line, and I wanted to follow up to see if you had any questions and if we could find a time when I could stop by to visit.”


     Sales reps have been making cold calls for decades, and in many such exchanges, the potential client is more interested in terminating the call than getting more information. If the message were left on a voice mail system, the sales rep might never get a call back. But Roger Smith’s call is going to be different.

     Smith knows that his prospect has an interest in the new product line, because Mr. Williams clicked on a hyperlink in Acme Widget’s broadcast email to the company’s online product descriptions. He also knows which specific products Williams looked at, and he knows Williams downloaded a copy of the Acme Widget Engineering Department’s whitepaper on their newest line.

     Thanks to a high-quality local business database, Smith knows he’s contacting the right manager, and thanks to an online email lead generation system, he knows his prospect has a genuine interest in the products his company’s trying to sell.

     The systems that are helping Smith turn cold calls into warm calls are the refined prospecting tools offered by Business Wise, a 34-year-old business-to-business (B2B) sales and marketing intelligence firm.


Regional and Verified

     Business Wise is headquartered in Atlanta, but has set up regional operations in Charlotte and the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. Company CEO Debra Kline and her late husband, Lyle Leslie, founded the company in 1980. Charlotte operations are located in SouthPark.

     Business Wise provides sales and marketing professionals with an online web database that includes key data about the businesses in each local market. These data points include company name, address, and telephone number; estimated sales and number of employees; headquarters location; website; and most importantly, the names, titles and email addresses of the key contacts within each functional area of the company. The database allows a client’s sales reps to identify the right companies to target and who within each company to call.

     Business Wise focuses exclusively on the three markets they serve, and this intense local focus allows the company to provide higher quality data, something they say is the key driver of their company culture. Without quality data, companies are wasting both time and money trying to find the right prospects.

     “For over 30 years, our top priority has been to ensure the accuracy of our data in the markets we serve,” says Kline. “We’re not shy about saying it: We don’t research everywhere, or have the biggest database…and we don’t want to. We want to provide the best database—with the most trustworthy data—so B2B professionals in our three markets can more reliably generate leads and make sales.”

     The database includes information on about 165,000 companies with 315,000 contact names statewide in Georgia, another 120,000 companies and 230,000 contacts in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and about 50,000 companies with about 100,000 contacts in Charlotte metro. For Business Wise, the Charlotte region includes 13 counties in the Charlotte metropolitan area.

     The Business Wise research department verifies all company data by telephone on a regular basis. Each company in the database is reviewed at least annually and larger companies that might experience more frequent contact changes are reviewed more often. Business Wise’s local managers are also charged with knowing their markets and keeping the research department apprised of changes in their region. The database is updated nightly and available the next day.

     But it wasn’t always this way. The company was founded before the Internet age, so their first products were paper-based hardbound directories. As personal computers began to work their way into business by the early 1990s, the products evolved to personal computers with CD-based delivery. The paper directories were discontinued in 2001, and the company moved exclusively to online Internet access in 2007.

     While the basic information provided by Business Wise has not changed over the years, the online format offers new opportunities to identify top prospects more easily and effectively use the company’s proprietary software tools.

     Business Wise sells a variety of annual subscription packages at different price levels designed to serve different client needs. The higher tier packages include expanded data exporting capabilities, email marketing capabilities, as well as larger numbers of authorized users.

     “We work with clients on about three different levels,” explains Executive Vice President Lee Summey, a 10-year veteran of Business Wise. “Some clients just want to access the information for prospect identification. But other clients want a software tool that allows them to identify their target markets and send marketing emails on an ongoing basis. The third level is our latest marketing automation platform that introduces behavior-based marketing.”


Email Marketing to Marketing Automation

     In addition to prospect identification, the Business Wise basic packages allow clients to send “one-at-a-time” emails. This base-level capability simply allows a sales person to follow up a phone call with an email message to the desired contact.

     The next level of email marketing is what is often referred to as “batch and blast” emails, where multiple messages are sent over time to a list of prospects. But instead of blasting emails blindly into cyberspace, Business Wise applications allow precise targeting of the message, something they refer to as “drip marketing,” an analogy to drip irrigation systems that water plants with small amounts of water spread over a long period of time.

     With drip marketing, a client identifies their target market based on such things as the industry, the size of the company, or the location. Whether the list is 5,000 or 20,000 email addresses, Business Wise and the client then work collaboratively to develop an integrated email marketing plan to approach these prospects on a regular basis with whatever message the client wants to deliver.

     While many clients opt for a once-a-month message, others might take a different approach, like sending three or four messages to promote a specific event, such as a seminar. It’s all up to the client, based on their target market and their marketing goals. The Business Wise application then allows the client to accurately measure the response to the messaging.

     “The client is able to see not just who opened the email, but who actually clicked on one of the links in the message, which links they clicked on, and what time they clicked,” says Vicky Ray Pace, the company’s area manager for the Charlotte region.

     “We tell our clients to log in to the system to see who clicked through and then make follow-up calls based on that list. It basically turns those cold calls into warm calls because they have already shown interest in what you are selling,” explains Pace.

     “Within the last three years we’ve probably executed more than 1,500 campaigns and sent somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 million emails across our client base,” adds Summey. “Our clients can monitor deliverability rates, activity and click-through, and they can make changes in their message and get real-time feedback.”

     The newest addition for Business Wise is an expanded “marketing automation” offering — a software platform that automates the often-repetitive tasks that comprise an email marketing strategy, such as the timing and targeting of emails. It takes online lead generation to the next level.

     While traditional email marketing solutions allow the client to track clicks on a hyperlink, once the client clicks on that link, where they go on the website after that is not tracked after the intial click. Did they just go to that one page and leave? Or did they then visit several other pages, indicating a greater level of interest?

     Marketing automation systems provide more information on what a prospect does while on a client website, allowing the sales process to be customized further.

     “Companies often refer to this behavior tracking as ‘a lead becoming sales ready,’” says Summey. “They look for certain behavioral things to happen before they consider a lead to be ready for a follow-up sales call.”

     Each client can define what “sales ready” means for them. The application uses a scoring system where each client creates scores for certain online behaviors. For example, the frequency with which a prospect returns to the client’s website could be given one score value. Looking at a particular white paper could be given another score value.

     Different values are assigned to each behavior, and a prospect whose total score exceeds a certain level, is considered to be sales ready. Once the prospective client is flagged as sales ready, a sales representative is automatically notified that it is time to follow up.

     “Repetition in your marketing efforts has always been a key to building name recognition and trust with your future clients,” explains Kline. “Email marketing has proven to be a successful method to touch a targeted audience on an ongoing basis.

     “However, most firms are not taking full advantage of email marketing because they don’t have a trustworthy source of email addresses beyond their own client list. This is where Business Wise fills the gap by providing the email addresses of their best prospects and the email systems to deliver their marketing message.”


Best Practices for Greater Success

     Marketing automation allows for some very sophisticated direct marketing plans, and can offer the small business owner as much marketing power as a large corporation. But these systems are just enablers. The client still needs to be able to execute those plans, and according to Summey, that is where many companies begin to struggle.

     “You’ve got to have great marketing content to go along with your plans, so we spend a lot of time sharing best practices with our clients,” he says. “With the millions of emails that pass through our system, we see what tends to work and what doesn’t, but the exact approach is going to be different in just about every case.”

     One of the “best practices” programs the company offers in each local market is the Business Wise Insiders, a series of local networking groups where Business Wise clients and prospects come together to share successful business development ideas.

     “It’s not like a typical networking event where you go in and swap business cards and talk or have breakfast,” explains Pace about the Insider events she hosts in Charlotte. “We actually share meaningful content. We’ll have a program and discussion each month on a sales and marketing topic that is of interest to our clients and prospects.”

     Pace says that each Business Wise client gets unlimited training, both with the initial purchase, and whenever they need to learn new features or purchase a more feature-rich package. Training is done in person and they also make extensive use of webinars. For larger clients with many users, Business Wise will also come to the client site.

     “For most of our clients it’s a crawl, walk, run, and soar process,” admits Summey. “Most clients ramp their way up into using these systems instead of going from zero to 100 mph all at once. There is value that can be gained with each incremental step. Do one thing first and get comfortable with that before moving into the next phase.”

     “A lot of things have changed in our business over the last 34 years, but there’s a lot that hasn’t changed, too,” Pace concludes. “Our core business is still producing that high quality data that sales and marketing professionals need to find their next client. There are other data providers out there in the world, but our clients choose to work with Business Wise because the quality of the data is what really matters.”




Jim Froneberger is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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