February 24, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Digital Customer Acquisition, Retention and Conquest Services
ChannelNet is a leader and a pioneer in delivering digital customer acquisition, retention and conquest services that are designed to create a seamless multi-channel sales environment online and off. The hybrid tech and marketing company specializes in digital marketing, sales and service solutions for corporations with brick and mortar sales channels (dealers, agents, retailers, franchises, brokers, call centers). Using software-as-a-service (SAAS), its experts connect leading automotive, financial services, home improvement and retail companies with their customers to sell products and services through local channels, including personalized microsites. Privately held, its headquarters is in Dearborn, Michigan. It has a Western U.S. office in Sausalito, California. For more information, visit www.channelnet.com.
In 1986, the
company launched what likely were the first interactive digital marketing
campaigns in the world for
BMW is still a client today.
Ms. Tompkins began her career working in sales and marketing at 3M, General Electric, and several technology start-ups. Among other achievements, she was instrumental in the design and marketing of early personal computers, including the Actrix and Grid, the first true portable computers. She also invented Skytray, an interactive electronic advertising medium targeted to airline passengers, for Altus Corporation.
Tompkins’ early foray into interactive selling fueled her belief that the personal computer was a persuasive communication platform for selling and buying. Since founding ChannelNet (formerly The SoftAd Group) in 1985, she has led the company to create multichannel marketing, sales service solutions based on the best available technologies — from early iterations of multimedia, through CD-ROM and client/server technology, and on to the Internet.
As an expert
in using technology to improve marketing, sales and service processes,
Tompkins is a much sought-after resource for journalists and authors, and as
a conference panelist and keynote speaker. She has appeared on television in
Tom Peters' "Thriving on Chaos" and PBS' "The Nightly Business Report," as
well as on National Public Radio's "Money Talks." Tompkins has lectured at
Columbia University's School of Business, the University of California at
Berkeley's Haas School of Business, Stanford University and Marshall
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – February 24, 2014
CEOCFO: Ms.Tompkins, what is ChannelNet?
Ms. Tompkins: ChannelNet specializes in digital marketing, sales and service solutions for enterprises with brick and mortar sales channels (dealers, retailers, agents, franchises, brokers, call centers). We are a technology-based company that help enterprises lower costs and optimize customer engagement online. We also improve their sales channel partners’ business operations by getting more customers into local sales and service centers. Finally, we ensure our clients retain customers to enable cross selling and an ongoing relationship.
CEOCFO: What do you know now about the process that might be different than it was in the beginning?
Ms. Tompkins: I started the company in 1985 when the technology was much more rudimentary. Digital today is about customer engagement and interaction. In 1985, what we delivered was very similar to what a customer experiences today, only we had to pack our software onto a 3 ½-inch diskette or 5 ¼-inch diskette. Because there was no Internet, we used direct mail to send the disk to the customer’s home or office. The Internet is the biggest single factor that has dramatically changed how we market and sell products and services online today. Customers, or potential customers, can actually perform transactions today online with the click of a button. A call to action back in 1985 was, “Please pick up the phone and call us” or “Print this and take this to your dealer or retailer.” Today’s calls to action are; apply for credit now, calculate your payment, or make an appointment.
Now, our Internet based systems instantaneously send qualified leads to a local retailer, dealer, agent or broker responsible for selling the product based on business rules, established by our clients. In real time, our clients literally see who is looking at their information, where the customers are located, and where they are in the sales funnel.
CEOCFO: How do you approach a situation that might be different from others and where does the streamlining come into play?
Ms. Tompkins: Until recently, most companies put up websites that were more like brochures with a focus on imagery and content. Goals were limited and focused on positioning the enterprise, not gaining efficiency to make it easier for customers to engage with the organization. We take a different approach and look at streamlining customer engagement, with a focus on business processes and analyzing customer pain points. For example, an automotive finance company needed to address outdated processes that cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually in labor, phone calls and mailings. Dealers needed to know how much money is available to purchase more products from the manufacturer. We focused on making all the critical information available online and now everyone wins. The finance company saves money; the manufacturer moves more product into the sales channel, and the customer has push-button, real-time information on his buying power. If you think about it, a typical inquiry to a call center today costs about $6.25. If you are going to mail a statement, a financial report, or even a simple letter, it typically costs 60 to 75 cents. To enable this type of information and self-service online there is a reasonable one time, set up cost to establish the functionality. Once up and running, ongoing maintenance cost is extremely low. That means the transactional cost becomes pennies, or less, on the dollar. The ROI is immediately proven. In addition, customers are more satisfied because they have the information they need at their fingertips when they want it, whether it is 8am or 12am. The call center volume decreases and the enterprises eliminate mailing and production costs. Figuring out ways to make transactional self-service accessible online, and doing it in a way that it really drives process change is at the heart of almost everything we do.
CEOCFO: How does your patented SiteBuilder™ technology work?
Ms. Tompkins: In our early years, we built digital marketing tools and systems from scratch. Over time, a pattern of requirements emerged. Based on that learning we built a technology platform founded on real world experience. Our platform enables our clients to provide a transparent flow of data from core business systems combined with content from disparate parts of the organization to streamline communications and transactions across the demand side of the enterprise. Done right, our interaction layer integrates social media and mobile devices, so a customer can quickly interact with a company from anywhere, at any time. Customers and channel partners experience a self-service mobile-friendly website that lets them conduct their business real time.
Using the agile methodology combined with our SiteBuilder platform, we can typically deliver solutions in 90 days. By comparison, it normally takes an IT department or consulting firm 18 months to two years to build a similar online solution. Speed to market in today’s competitive environment is essential to keeping our clients on the leading edge. We also believe it is important to help our clients learn to “walk, run and then ballet.”This approach avoids having a run-away, giant software project that spirals out of control and eventually fails.
CEOCFO: Your client list includes many recognizable names. How do you reach prospective clients?
Ms. Tompkins: We have a proven record of accomplishment in the customer engagement space. In 2013, our growth rate exceeded 50 percent. Over the past 29 years, we have worked with hundreds of corporations in over 24 different industries. Top executives recognize that they need expert outside help to drive change in the way they sell and service customers. That can be a business customer, a channel partner, or an end consumer. They put a premium on that that expertise and seek us out. As an example, I just met with a large utility company where the CEO and CFO have established a Customer Engagement Department to achieve a reduction of 1,000,000 calls per year to customer service and reduce duplicate and conflicting email and direct mail to their customers. Even the most conservative industries want to improve their reputation, interaction with their customers’ real time, and improve their customer self-serve options. They realize they must make it easier for customers to do business with them. We look for the people in the organization that are responsible for improving sales, service and marketing, which can be the CMO, CFO, CEO, VP Sales or CIO.
CEOCFO: Do you find, by and large, that your clients implement the solutions you suggest?
Ms. Tompkins: More and more they do. Because of our expertise in the customer engagement space, they really listen and take note. The Internet is no longer a nice to have; it is a basic requirement to do business and senior executives understand that. Today’s savvy business executive understands when a customer visits a website, has to hunt around to try to find the right button and gets confused, the game is over. You have lost an opportunity, hurt your brand and turned off a customer. No one can afford to do that today.
CEOCFO: How do you keep up with the trends and new technologies?
Ms. Tompkins: A technical trend like the one many people are talking about today, big data, is already playing a significant role for early adopters. In the past, it was called data warehousing. In other words, good ideas are not always new they just get different labels in the form of buzzwords. For example, a big trend in the 80’s and 90’s was process re-engineering. Much of what we do today is re-engineering the customer experience. What we do and how we do it has not really changed just evolved as the technologies have advanced. We look at trends and ask, how does this apply to our clients’ needs? Rushing out and building a huge social media presence without understanding, the real impact on the business is simply chasing the latest trend. My recommendation to ‘C’ level executives is to embrace vendor partners that help you stay on top of trends, look for business applicability, and introduce them as they become relevant.
CEOCFO: Where do you focus your attention as CEO?
Ms. Tompkins: My attention is focused on our clients and driving results for them. I have 29 years of experience and have experienced everything in digital marketing, sales and service over the years. That allows my company to bring a tremendous amount of intellectual capital to our clients. We find our clients are looking for vendor partners with our level of expertise.
I focus on ensuring that our clients realize results so that they continue in a long term and mutually beneficial relationship with ChannelNet. I feel strongly if you put great products and services in the marketplace that satisfy clients, good things will naturally follow, and that has proven to be true year after year.
CEOCFO: What are the intangibles that you look for in your people?
Ms. Tompkins: We select people that can wear many hats, have can-do attitudes and flourish in a fast paced and demanding environment. Our employees must be flexible and fully embrace agile software development methodologies. These methodologies enable us to accomplish our objectives very rapidly and demonstrate progress to our clients every two weeks. Other important qualities are collaborative teamwork and a real passion for what we do for our clients. We also seek people that understand and appreciate that our client relationships go on for many years and we need the type of employees that can help us cultivate these relationships. Finally, we are in a constant improvement mode for our clients, which is extremely important. We want people that always want to find a better way.
CEOCFO: Why should the business community pay attention to ChannelNet?
marketing, sales and service automation is our domain expertise. We have the
intellectual capital, patented technology and empowered employees to bring
value to our clients, their sales channels and customers. We truly
understand what it means to build a seamless omni-channel experience. We are
experts that can dramatically improve speed to market. We do not offshore.
Companies that have tried to offshore information technology are rethinking
those strategies. We are extremely experienced, do a great job of delivering
value for our clients very rapidly and at a very reasonable cost. These
results make CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and CMOs very happy and loyal.
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