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June 2001


Spanish Dresses

BY ERIK LOUNSBURY, Editorial Director
CUSTOMER [email protected] Solutions

While strolling down the narrow alleys under the orange trees of the Santa Cruz section of Seville, I came across a shop with a bright display of flamenco dresses hanging on the wall outside the shop. When the shopkeeper noticed my interest in the dresses, she sauntered out to size up my interest. Now, while this festive storefront display may work for the tiny shop, for most businesses such a passive display is hardly the way to get sales figures up.

Analogous to the shopkeeper noticing my interest in the dresses, software from NewChannel, Inc. allows agents to monitor the browsing of Web prospects and step in at the proper time to help the customer. As NewChannel president and CEO Alan Weisleder said, "It is important to approach the prospect at the right time." NewChannel puts a tag on HTML pages so that when the customer hits a page where he or she is most likely to need help or be most susceptible to a cross-sell or upsell, the session begins running on the NewChannel server. NewChannel then notifies the agent about the prospect -- where they are, how long they have been on the site and what pages they have visited. So, like a sales clerk in a shop, the agent can approach the online shopper armed with a history of what they have seen and an idea of what they want.

With NewChannel 3.0, NewChannel is providing several new features. NewChannel eSales Evaluation is an evaluation program for each new customer that begins with a strategy session to discuss business and sales practices. NewChannel then recommends a customized eSales Solution, designed around specific business needs and projected ROI.

The NewChannel application is made up of four services that allow sales teams to analyze, qualify and proactively interact with Web visitors. The NewChannel application includes the Lead Qualification Engine, which analyzes and qualifies Web site visitors based on a company's sales criteria and alerts sales reps when a visitor's behavior on the Web site qualifies them as a "hot prospect"; NewChannel Rep, which allows sales personnel to interact with Web visitors through access to predefined scripts and phrases, and also gives reps the ability to push pages, forms and supplemental information to the visitor's browser; NewChannel Manager, which gives supervisors management-level controls over the NewChannel Rep; and NewChannel eSales Tracker, which synchronizes data from Web site visitors with NewChannel's lead database to capture and attribute sales and revenue opportunities.

NewChannel CRM Link integrates Web site visitor data with a company's CRM system and offers comprehensive XML support. NewChannel partnered with Vignette to provide its customers with CRM Link.

NewChannel is offered as a hosted application that includes implementation, training, maintenance, upgrades and sales engagement strategies.

Alert And Respond
While NewChannel deals with customers already on your Web site, getting the word out to customers as to what's new with your company, software upgrades, special offers, etc., is the milieu of PAR3 Communications, Inc. PAR3's Intelligence Response Platform is an alert-and-response system, offered as a managed ASP model, that is designed to actively involve customers in the communications process by providing a means for a company to provide its customers with notifications via telephone, e-mail, pager, Internet, fax or wireless device. It also lets customers choose how, when and where they receive information. This notification system addresses a traditional bottleneck in business/customer communication for, as Ken Pawlak, senior vice president of Marketing and Sales at Par3 told me, "The biggest slowdown in business is deciding how to notify clients."

Through a Web interface, customers and contact center agents can set and change personalized preferences that drive how, when and where a business communicates with its customers. For example, customers can designate: which type of device to deliver to (phone, e-mail, fax or hand-held Web device); what day of the week to deliver alerts; the time of day to deliver alerts; and what kind of alert they want to receive.

The PAR3 platform is driven by the PAR3 XTAP Gateway, an open, XML-based technology component that integrates with enterprise data systems such as relational database systems, CRM systems, client/server systems, HTTP servers, mainframe systems and legacy systems. As PAR3 is an extension of a company's existing systems, it can mine detailed customer information and send timely, relevant alerts with detailed customer data from a company's existing systems.

When pre-defined conditions are met (for example, a flight is delayed, an account balance reaches a certain level or an item is back-ordered), highly detailed information is extracted from the data sources, assembled into a personalized alert and delivered to the customer how, when and where they prefer. Businesses can also improve their customer knowledge by analyzing customer responses so future communications between the company and its customers are related to the customers' needs and interests.

Using PAR3's XML technology, customers can connect back to the business to purchase products or talk to a contact center agent. The PAR3 platform also allows users to forward alerts to friends, family and colleagues with a personal endorsement. These potential new customers also have the ability to immediately connect back to the company's business systems to complete a transaction or request more information and be routed to such sales and service channels as automated transaction systems, service representatives and automated service systems.

Mining Business Intelligence
While I am on the subject of gathering information, I recently was introduced to a new technology for collecting competitive intelligence by Tom Pisello, president and CEO of Connotate Technologies, Inc.

Initially targeted for groups that live on business intelligence, such as financial analysts and marketers, Pisello said the Connotate product lets users virtually tag content on Web sites, using what Connotate calls vTag. To monitor and mine the content, vTag intelligently extracts the personalized content from any Web page, converts the content from HTML to XML, identifies when the content changes, and filters and formats the information to assure that only relevant content is mined. The extracted and personalized content is delivered proactively to a database or directly to users via e-mail (push), or on a demand basis to applications or wireless devices (pull).

Connotate's XML-by-example technology allows a user to define which content to monitor and mine on any Web page, and automatically creates extraction code to mine the dynamic content over time. The code is a script that can be run against the future versions of the Web site to extract the dynamic content, even if the content is updated and moved. The extraction script, when applied against a Web page, converts the unstructured HTML into structured XML. Once in XML, content can be exchanged between programs, imported into databases and displayed on any device.

A user can apply the XML-by-example application to build XML extraction scripts for any Web page and content, and have such rules work for all future instances of the underlying Web page -- provided that the Web page does not radically change its structure. The technology relies on identifying more than 30 families of visual and structural features to automatically classify and mine content. The user points and clicks at positive and negative examples of the content they want to extract, and the technology uses artificial intelligence to automatically build efficient and stable extraction rules, saved as an XSL script. When executed, the extraction script creates structured XML from the unstructured HTML, organizing the content with user-defined data labels, and maintaining the hierarchical relationships amongst the content's data elements. Because the data is structured XML, the content can be imported into databases and applications, as well as filtered and personalized using complex rule sets.

Connotate's Personalized Dynamic Content Mining (PDCM) is an automated process that: schedules the application of the HTML to XML extraction script against the Web page and content; extracts the content; determines if the content has changed and meets personalized filtering criteria; and formats and delivers the content on a proactive push basis to portals, databases and e-mail, or on a demand basis to applications and wireless devices.

XML-by-example and Personalized Dynamic Content Mining are API-enabled for integration into enterprise applications, and form the core for Connotate's vTag Business Intelligence software. An SDK kit is available.

So if the shop in Seville had a Web site and I was a competitor of theirs in the flamenco dress business, with Connotate's technology I could tag their pages (and those of any other flamenco dress outlets) and be alerted every time they had a sale and adjust my prices accordingly, dancing to their every move.

Lead Generation
Unlike the Spanish dress shop, where the proprietress is dependent upon whomsoever happens to stop into the shop, agents at LeadMasters in Stamford, Connecticut go in search of leads. Focusing on executive appointment setting for clients in the technology, financial consulting and insurance industries, the agents (or consultants as LeadMasters refers to them) specialize in contacting high-level executives for such well-known companies as Deloitte & Touche and Barnes&Noble.com.

Scott Brown, vice president of Operations at LeadMasters, explained that the average business experience for their consultants is 15 years, and all have sales and marketing backgrounds. This experience allows them to work in an unscripted environment on their calls. "When you hire people with business experience, it is not hard to generate leads," said Brown, adding, "but LeadMasters is striving for quality, not quantity in our calls."

LeadMasters works closely with its clients, having weekly contact with them. When developing a program, LeadMasters consults with the clients to set up the campaign, and then has the clients come in and train the agents whenever possible. LeadMasters provides clients with remote-monitoring capability so they can judge for themselves the quality of the calls as well as contribute suggestions as to how their campaign is conducted.

Initial training for new LeadMasters consultants is about three days, but they are provided with ongoing training. Most of the training is one-on-one and based on direct feedback. Agents are monitored and coached from the monitoring sessions. High-level reps can self-manage and also cross-train other reps, as LeadMasters has a collaborative work environment and tries to make competition between the agents good-natured. As Brown said, "Our focus is on people and the management of people."

According to Brown, as voice mail is their most difficult challenge, the LeadMasters consultants spend a lot of time and effort creating voice mail messages that will inform and intrigue.

Another challenge in appointment setting is getting through gatekeepers, which is why LeadMasters consultants call on tools like Hoovers to provide them with other contact names to ask for. Brown said the lead rate can range from 5 to 25 percent, with the quality of the list they are using playing a big factor in that rate. The consultants also take advantage of the call to gather more information about the contacts and add them to their proprietary database. LeadMasters takes security very seriously and maintains every list in its own password-protected database.

All LeadMasters consultants have a contact manager, voice mail, e-mail and an Internet connection on their desktop. According to Brown, e-mail has been one of the big changes of the last few years in lead generation, but now the consultants can send .pdf and Word files to their contacts. Brown emphasized that LeadMasters provides continuous training and management, that they are continuously refining what they do and are constantly evolving. As he said, "We will always be looking to keep technology that will produce results and increase efficiency."

So did I buy a dress from that shop in Seville? Not being in a dancing mood and speaking no Spanish, all I could manage was a clumsy, "no, gracias," and a photograph of the dresses, each hanging there, waiting for some seorita to try them on, take them home, then go out in them, swirling and stomping the night away to the rhythm of Spanish guitars.

The author may be contacted at elounsbury@tmcnet.com.

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