Not Your Father’s Collateral

oldsmobileFor b2b marketers, there are a few certainties in life: death, taxes and sales collateral.

Every company needs brochures, sales sheets, product slicks, tri-folds, bi-folds and more. When worked in marketing at AutoTrader.com, we had an 800-person sales force all over the country, so as you can imagine we had to create a ton of collateral. It got pretty expensive to print and ship those materials to our reps, but we always thought it was the cost of doing business. You just gotta have your collateral.

Then one day, our world was rocked.

We were in a meeting and one of our top sales reps, a guy named John Ellis from Mississippi, said, “We’re an online company. Why are we showing our products with printed materials?”

When he said that, it was like we were at a nightclub and the music abruptly stopped. What? No printed collateral? Are you kidding? John obviously didn’t know what he was talking about.

But wait. John was the guy we built the collateral for.  And if he didn’t want it, why were we spending the time and money creating it?

As we thought about what John was saying, we realized he was right. We were an online company. It was very hard to show dynamic online products on paper. Even high-gloss, heavy stock paper. But, we weren’t going to just shut down the b2b marketing team. After all, we needed our jobs.  We had bills to pay.

We thought a lot about it, and we realized that John was not telling us to get rid of all collateral. He still needed collateral. He just wanted a different kind of collateral.

So we had an idea: “Interactive Collateral”. Instead of a sales rep sitting down with a customer and pulling out a brochure, the rep could pull out a laptop or iPad and show a dynamic product demo with motion and sound.

We launched our first interactive collateral experiment to promote one of our display advertising products. We weren’t totally sure if anyone would actually use it so we tracked the activity. After the first week, the site got 1,500 visits. Wow! We only had 800 sales people. It seemed like we were on to something.

AutoTrader.com Interactive Collateral

AutoTrader.com Interactive Collateral

Then the kudos started flowing in from the field:

“Amazing.”

“The best sales tool we’ve ever had.”

“I just made three sales thanks to this.”

“We need more of these microsites.”

Now that we had dipped our toes into interactive collateral, the message from the sales force was clear: More! But the sales force had one additional request—build this interactive collateral so they could customize it for customers.

Oy. That seemed to raise the degree of difficulty a bit. But we were always up for a challenge, and we figured out a way to add this customization feature. So now a sales rep could build a demo and show the customer how his brand would actually look using our product.

Again, we saw huge adoption by the sales force, and we could even track the number of custom demos built. We also noticed that our sales reps were promoting our interactive collateral by putting the URLs for our microsites in their email signatures.

Then our friend John Ellis called me and said, “I love these microsites you guys are building. But what we really need is a tool that will let us build a custom demo for every single one of our products.”

All of our products? Are you kidding me? We have about 100+ different product options. After getting over the initial shock from this request, we sat back and said, “Why not?” Our team took about six months and built out a comprehensive website that gave a sales rep the ability to build a custom demo for all of our products and then email that demo directly to his or her customers.

It was a significant achievement for our team. When it launched, I think many were shocked that we actually pulled it off.  I know I was.  The site became an important way the sales force would present our products, and it allowed our team to be much more nimble as our product set evolved.

Don’t get me wrong, we still did a lot of printed collateral. There was always some essential printed material that a rep would need.

But, through this process, we learned that the Internet doesn’t just give marketers new ways to reach customers, it also creates new opportunities to enable your sales organization with dynamic tools that can drive sales.

The best part, of course, was that we all got to keep our jobs. Phew.

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