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internet as a selling strategy

By amroso Apr 14, 2014 2032 Words
Introduction
The Internet is very useful for communication and finding information out and in terms of business – it’s tremendous. Internet has transformed the way in we are doing the business today dramatically. The boom in computer, telecommunications, information, transportation, and other technologies has created exciting new ways to learn about and track customers, and to create products and services tailored to individual customer needs.

Currently, I am working as a Client Manager for Gulf Business Machines (GBM) based in Dubai, GBM is a general marketing and services representative to IBM, the world technology leader.

GBM, founded 1990, has several branches covering the gulf territory (GCC) and is the leading IT solutions provider in the region fulfilling the IT requirements of local, regional and international organizations across the GCC. How does your business currently utilize the Internet to maximize sales? While competition is very tough, especially in the Information Technology industry where many players are expanding and investing in our region to cater the demand and satisfy the market needs across all sectors due to the new initiatives announced by Dubai leaders such as smart government and smart city directions. Being in Dubai market focusing on the government sector for the last 7 years, GBM’s model is not utilizing the Internet as a direct selling channel to its customers.

Beside using the internet as a traditional internal collaboration system, such as the e-mails where we share and exchange information internally and with our customers, we are basically facing our customers directly and on a daily basis, understanding their pain and business challenges and translating them into a technology cost effective solution that address their objectives and budgets.

Nevertheless, our marketing team is indirectly participating and building the awareness through the social media websites and our website as well. And this has helped a lot our SMB sales team rather than my team that is covering the government sector since we are 20+ years old company in the region.

Taking the government sector specifically, we have different business model to target our customers. For instance, we are part of couple of tender portals; i.e. http://www.esupply.dubai.gov.ae, that is an e-procurement system we use to participate in official tenders and request for proposals (RFP) using the internet. This portal provides a full fledge engagement and communication with customers from the date of tender release until the award. This portal helped us as a sales team to develop more business and foresee many opportunities that we might not be aware of in the market and hence maximize sales revenue within this sector.

On the other, we also use salesforce.com as a CRM web based portal for managing opportunities through the entire sales cycle which give us and the management a holistic view on the current deals and pipelines per quarter or even per month to make sure numbers are met regularly.

Without internet utilization in this century, we will not have the market coverage that we have today using the above tools though we do not have an ecommerce platform or direct selling strategy on our website. Therefore, it is beneficial in our business to utilize the internet the way we do now as we focus on engaging our customers, sharing our experience with them and adding value to their business to achieve their goals through our direct selling strategy rather than selling on our website. What share of your served market have been captured by internet selling sales and how has this been achieved? In this part, I will share the Dubai branch where I belong. In 2013, we have achieved revenue of $142M, out of which the government team achieved $29M. Taking into considerations the government procurement process that using their e-procurement portal for any tender, means that using this model allowed GBM to achieve $29M using the internet; i.e. around 20%. This is not an accurate assumption since we also use the Internet for indirect selling model by our marketing team that complements the business across other sectors as well (banking, SMB & Enterprise). So, the internet share as a business channel is definitely more than 20% of GBM business which I believe should be increased by the coming years.

Our internal CRM system has a significant share in our sales cycle by giving the right status on each opportunity and make sure the opportunity owner takes an immediate action to close it in the time frame committed which expedite the sales cycle. Traditional companies’ inevitable face legacy issues when they try and address the Internet. How has your business dealt with the potential barriers to realizing the full potential of the Internet? Let me start addressing this question by exploring what are the challenges that GBM as a traditional organization face while utilizing the Internet in promoting its business:

Security - is a one of the most common barrier for any organization using the Internet, containing spy programs and hackers that they are dedicating their time to gather information on individuals and organizations. As we are a subsidiary of IBM, we were forced to follow certain procedures to apply maximum standards of security and log into a secured VPN to access the network (IBM Intranet) from office and/or home. All machines logged into the system are monitored and secured to avoid any virus comes into the corporate network.

Mobility and working from home - As we get an access to our email server from our smartphones or through home VPN, Home environment is not always easy to work and requires discipline, organization, and time which are very difficult to balance when working from home. This is an option to outdoor sales employees at GBM. However, management has put a performance measurement system in place and tools to assess the productivity of sales team such as using a cloud based opportunity management system where we can upload our ongoing deals with the exact status and when can be closed.

Knowledge & internal capability - The level of Information Technology (IT) expertise within the organization is considered to play a major role in the decision to adopt eBusiness system (Fink 1998; Mehrtens et al. 2001; Iacovou et al. 1995). As we are leaders in the IT industry, we have managed to address this challenge and overcome this as a common barrier due to our long experience and awareness of technology. Through hiring the right skill set and create a qualified help desk team that is responsible for all the branches across the GCC to achieve cost reduction connecting all branches using the latest technology.

Organization Behavior – having all the staff connected to the Internet anytime from anywhere might result in misusing the Internet in no-business related browsing which can affect the efficiency and productivity of some resources. We, at GBM, believe in trusting our employees and do not limit this media to them for the sake of exploring and education. However, we use a proxy server to block some social media sites like Facebook and twitter within working time and open it within lunchtime.

Nevertheless, though Internet is a double-edged sword, we noticed significant benefits in GBM utilizing the Internet as a productive tool that led to enhanced consumer relationship, wider market reach, and operational efficiency. Going forward, how is your business expecting to maximize the potential opportunities of selling to customers through the Internet? As our management believes that the way forward is the cloud, which is based on the internet connectivity having your infrastructure hosted at a service provider premises, we adopted salesforce.com as a corporate strategy practice of growth. Each employee has credentials to access this system. This is being used currently as an opportunity management system and the whole objective is for the management to be able to have holistic view and insights on where are we going to in terms of numbers and revenues.

Moving forward, I suggest that salesforce.com must be a prerequisites for the whole supply chain process, for instance, before loading the order to the principles (IBM), an opportunity must be logged, assigned to a technical team for actions, shared with all stakeholders, getting pricing approvals through certain approval cycle within the system and finally link it to the principles and loading the order through it.

This will unify the process, facilitate the admin process and will make it much easier for all stakeholders to track and follow the procedures. Moreover, all orders and project details will be available on one interface and we can get the information easier and quicker.

On the other hand, customer data base and business intelligence (BI) module can be added on top as a further functionality to be able for us as Client Managers to assess and qualify the customer buying behavior during a certain period of time, how much they bought this year vs last year and what line of business was more active within a certain account. This BI reporting tool will give us visibility and insights on how can we better serve our customer and how can we acquire new ones. To what extent does your business see selling through the Internet as a threat or an opportunity, and why is this?

As explained above, GBM’s traditional selling way is not based directly on the Internet. However, we do use the Internet for marketing ourselves, announce key initiatives, advertise new products, etc.

There are many different components when it comes to marketing on the Internet. Each type has its own cost, level of performance and unique potential for success. We believe that the Internet use in our business is an opportunity rather than threats through we are facing both altogether.

Threats
Competitors, the biggest threat for GBM is the competitive rivalry that exists in the IT market in this region. The Internet has made everything easy and accessible. The industry became very dynamic and this reflects on sourcing low labor cost from anywhere. This emerging market is growing rapidly and due to the low labor cost since most of players source from Far East and India qualified engineers hence competition is becoming tougher.

Price, sometimes using the centralized e-procurement system we participate in public tenders where all prices are exposed to all bidders. Therefore, it is critical to bid in these tenders unless we are sure that our offer is competitive otherwise we lose trust and credibility with customers. Though, this is a threat but it gives us also the opportunity to know the methodology and pricing strategy of our competitors.

Opportunities
Despite the above threats being exposed on the Internet, the opportunity of growth is also there. By getting all the news about our rivals and their new products, research their price lists and explore what initiatives they are looking at to address specific segment in the market.

The Internet also is a very good tool to conduct trainings and improve the skill set of our staff without the need to have budget for training courses abroad to avoid extra expenses and save cost.

On the technical side, this is an amazing source to seek information on the latest standards and provide access to IBM labs around the world for our engineers who are looking for specific information to deliver an accurate design to our customers.

Positively, the Internet is a media where we are actually using to do better and improve using up to date information anywhere anytime. While threat is always there as rivals and market players, we strongly believe that Internet will complement our base to be in the race.

References:
1.Anjum et.al (2012), Social Media Marketing: A Paradigm Shift in Business, International Journal of Economics Business and Management Studies – IJEBMS, Vol. 1, No.3 (September, 2012) 96-103 2.GBM website Retrieved Mar 3, 2014 from http://www.gbm4ibm.com 3.Harvard Business Review on Increasing Customer Loyalty 2011 4.Del Aguila-Obra, A.R. and Padilla-Melendez, A. 2006, Organisational factors affecting internet technology adoption', vol. 16, no. 1 5.Duan, Y., Mullins, R., Hamblin, D., Stanek, S., Sroka, H., Machado, V. and Araujo, J. 2002, ‘Addressing ICTs skills challenges in SMEs: insights from three country investigations', Journal of European Industrial Training, vol. 26 6.Fink, D. 1998, ‘Guidelines for the successful adoption of information technology in small and medium enterprises', International Journal of Information Management, vol. 18, no. 4

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