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Web marketing boosts DIM sales - The World Wide Web is changing the way sales are generated

Advertising revenues were up 240% over last year, according to a new survey from the Internet Advertising Bureau (www.iab.net) in New York City. Internet advertising topped $906 million for 1997, with fourth-quarter totals topping $335 million. Given all the hype the Internet is getting, that statistic might be impressive to many, but not all that surprising.

What might be more surprising and one of the least heralded stories of 1997 is the way the Internet is starting to change how the document image management (DIM) industry does business. Over the past year, the World Wide Web has emerged as a primary source of business for high-end DIM vendors, VARs and systems integrators.

Of course, anyone who surfs the Web is familiar with Internet shopping. Mention Web advertising and what pops into mind for many people is an array of flashing banner ads, annoying pop-up Java windows and other inconveniences that itinerant Web surfers have learned to take in stride. Industry surveys show that most people associate Internet-based sales with commodities like tickets, watches, computer games, retail software and other items that can be purchased by credit card.

Yet, more and more, DIM vendors are starting to report big sales that originated through Internet leads from visitors to their Web sites. "Our initial motivation for setting up a Web page was simple," said Michael Berman, marketing director for IDP (www.idpco.com), a fast-growing imaging integrator with offices in Sudbury, MA. "We thought we had to have one because everyone else did--kind of like having an electronic brochure. We figured we'd save a lot of costs that otherwise would have gone into printing brochures, but we never thought of it as a major source of leads, which is what it now is."

Berman added, "We've had several significant sales of our COLD/imaging software product, Infotreve, from Web-based inquiries. We're planning on introducing a new product, a turnkey conversion system, at our Web site soon. It will include a scanner, a workstation with a Pentium-based 166-MHz PC, and a CD-ROM recorder/player for storage output."

Berman's experience is not unusual. What starts out being perceived solely as a cost center--a necessary evil, if you will--turns out to become a source of revenue. Or almost. No imaging vendors interviewed for this article reported that they actually transact cash business over the Web. They are not taking orders for DIM systems using Amex or Visa. But they do report that they get many qualified leads off their Web sites--leads that result in big sales.

That is the experience of Jim Cowen, new VP of business development of Creditron (www.us.sales@creditron.com), an Illinois-based supplier of turnkey remittance processing solutions. "I really didn't know what to expect when we put up our Web site, but I knew we had to have one in order to survive in today's marketplace. After a three-month ramp-up, we're getting high-quality leads from the site. Over the past two months, for example, I've succeeded in converting three leads into sales totaling over $150,000."

Cowen was surprised by how much product knowledge his Web-originated customers had acquired when he first talked with them. "They seemed very up-to-speed on their needs and what products they felt would meet them--they were definitely ready to buy," he said. "After we got to talking and they were convinced that Creditron's products filled the bill, they bought."

In general, high-tech customers who respond to Web advertising are well-informed and ready to buy. That was confirmed recently by an informal survey of Web site sponsors conducted by ISIT.com (www.isit.com), according to its founder, Rick Bushnell. The Web site is a free online reference library that specializes in information technology.

"Our sponsors, who are vendors and integrators, are constantly surprised at how well-informed the customers are who come to their sites from ours," said Bushnell. "The majority of the thousands of visitors who come to our site each month spend more than 10 minutes there, and they typically download a few articles while they're at it." The result, explained Bushnell, is a potential customer who is educated about the product or system he or she is evaluating.

Larry Klein, president of Imagination Software (www.imaginationsoftware.com), a vendor of component imaging toolkits, agreed with Bushnell. "Our experience is that more and more people are basing major procurement decisions on research conducted online," Klein said, "so by the time their curiosity turns into serious interest, they're incredibly well-informed and ready to buy."

Because of that, Klein is spending more on Internet advertising, in conjunction with advertising in print media. He said that Web customers are knowledgeable about products because the Web makes so much information available to them so fast. Better informed consumers tend to make their buying decisions more quickly, which leads to shorter sales cycles, which in turn reduces the costs of goods sold.

Klein cited an example from the hospitality industry in which a large hotel chain needed to image-enable its document management procedures over 1,700 locations nationwide. A researcher from the chain perused Imagination's Web site and liked what he found there. He left an inquiry and an E-mail address at the site, which resulted in E-mail correspondence that lasted several months.

"By the time we were talking by phone," said Klein, "I felt as if I'd been out on a dozen sales call with the customer; he knew his needs and our product so well." The result: Imagination recently closed a contract to roll out document management software modules at all 1,700 locations, in a client-server environment that will eventually migrate to a Web-based one. "It doesn't take very many clients like that to convince a vendor of Web advertising's viability," said Klein.

Vendors should not take inquiries from customer staff members lightly, Klein cautioned. "Everyone likes to sell upline," he said, "but we're finding that often a company will put its definitive Internet search into the hands of a frontline staff member. Now that person ends up wielding a lot of power, because he or she is framing the argument, so to speak." Ingratiating the researcher is a way to ultimately influence key decision makers.

Another case involves a systems integration firm in Gaithersburg, MD, called Input Solutions (www.inputsolutions.com). John Solomon, president of the company, recounted how an inquiry left at his Web site resulted in the installation of an imaging system that, as its first project, will convert a million documents from paper to PDF for an offshore drilling company.

According to Solomon, the oil company got in touch with Input Solutions' Web site through links with the Adobe site, because of a large PDF (Adobe's file format) conversion project that Input Solutions did for the Office of Technology Assessment (OTAG). The oil company went to OTAG's Web site and witnessed for itself the million-page libraries of online PDF documents created by Input Solutions. Then the company visited Input Solution's Web site and left an inquiry there. An extensive E-mail correspondence ensued over the next four months.

Based largely on what staff learned from that correspondence, the oil company issued an RFP that Input Solutions ended up winning. "The result was a large intranet imaging systems sale from a client that we otherwise would never have heard from," said Solomon, "because we had no way of connecting with them in that country." The Web, of course, has unlimited global reach.

The image conversion system will use twelve 233-MHz Pentium workstations with 17-in. monitors running over an NT network. Two Fujitsu duplex scanners, two Ricoh 420 scanners and one Ricoh 430 will be employed to image the first million documents and record them onto CD-ROM discs using a JVC 4x read, 4x write recorder. Ten user licenses of Adobe Acrobat will be utilized, along with a million-page Adobe capture license.

Image capture operations will involve Adobe image-only, image-over-text, and PDF normal formats. Once the documents are recorded to CD, they will populate a corporate intranet that will be capable of supporting all of the oil company's document management requirements concerning its offshore operations and its onshore refineries. "We're talking about a system that will cost a little over a quarter million dollars," Solomon said.

There is no doubt that in addition to promoting commodity sales, Web advertising is becoming effective at marketing high-end, high-tech applications and products. Clearly, it opens up a new world of knowledge management that companies mustmaster. Web marketing advocates predict a rosy future.

Rick Bushnell certainly thinks so. He claims that Web advertising's appeal is completely different from that of print, radio, TV or any other media. "The best Web advertising," he said, "will take advantage of the Web's unique dynamic qualities and tools: animation that catches the eye; hyperlinks that lead to documents that define, enlighten and clarify buying propositions; and 'cookies' that can identify repeat visitors and make them feel at home through customized greetings." Because they're interactive, Web leads resemble the leads a salesperson would expect to get from a trade show, according to Bushnell. On the other hand, Internet advertising should not be viewed as a cure-all for bad marketing.

For years, DIM vendors, resellers and integrators have been searching for a way to shorten their sales cycle. At the same time, users have been looking for a vehicle that can educate them while avoiding the typical hype-driven and confusion-laden DIM sales process. Maybe the World Wide Web is the answer.

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