Email Drives Leads for Saturn | Article

at symbolOne of the biggest complaints from shoppers on the Internet is that companies never respond to their queries. They might as well be emailing Mars. Saturn Corporation, the automobile manufacturer based in Spring Hill, Tennessee, was determined its leads would never fall into cyberspace’s black hole.

Consumers visiting Internet automobile buying sites see a Saturn car they like. They can either phone a toll free number or send an email from the site. When they hit send, the portal dispatches an email to the manufacturer.

The emails park themselves in the mailbox of James B. Worrel, team leader for Saturn Prospect Consulting Team. One of the members of his 7 person team identifies the closest retail facility to the prospect (using zip codes) and then forwards the email to the dealership. Then they follow up to make sure the dealer isn’t putting a brake on the sales process.

The dealer’s response is intended to rev up interest and get the prospect behind the wheel for a test drive.

Last year Worrel, who is responsible for maintaining Saturn’s alliances with four Internet automobile buying services, wanted to create a consistent means of email communication for Saturn’s retail network. Worrel says Saturn wanted to outsource its email function because that process does not drive its business. “We sell cars and they do email,” Worrel says succinctly.

The Email Must Always Arrive

Saturn looked carefully at the prospective providers’ uptime service level agreements (SLA). “We needed an email provider that can deliver the mail all the time,” says Worrel.

Security was also an issue for Saturn. Many of the emails not only contained names, addresses and phone numbers, but also sensitive financial information for those who wanted to finance their purchase.

Tech support was another standard feature Saturn couldn’t do without. The automaker ruled out free email services like Yahoo or hotmail because its tech support wasn’t in high gear.

After doing research on the Net, Saturn turned its headlights on USA.NET, a Colorado Springs, Colorado email outsourcing provider. (This was the only provider it considered.) An important part of the negotiations was a special request. Saturn’s legacy email system sent a return receipt confirmation whenever the retailer opened one of its email leads. This was an important ingredient for Saturn because the automaker didn’t want any consumer interest stalling because no one answered their email.

Worrel worked with USA.NET’s technical staff to gain this functionality. Worrel says this clinched the outsourcing deal. The two parties signed a contract in just 60 days.

USA.NET had its work cut out for it. First, there was the technology roadblock. Many of Saturn’s 438 U.S. dealers were not equipped to recieve email. The dealers who were technologically savvy used both Windows-based programs and Macs. Saturn realized the only way to make the email program work was to go to a Web-based email provider. “Then it didn’t matter what software they used,” explains Worrel.

Also, the implementation was on a fast track. Saturn had promised its dealers its new email program — using the domain name — would be operational on December 6, 1999. Saturn originally outsourced the search for an outsourcing provider to a consultant. This process took longer than the automaker expected. To speed up the process, Worrel took the process in-house and selected USA.NET. Saturn’s search had lost precious time that now USA.NET had to make up.

Just 30 Days to Implement

The provider had just 30 days to go live. The accelerated implementation worked. Saturn was ready when the green light went on.

Once the system was up and running, the company found it was useful for more than communicating leads. Now Saturn uses email to broadcast company bulletins. Typically the message contains an HTML attachment. “This saves us money because we don’t have to fax or use the mail,” says Worrel.

Worrel says his provider has been helpful in making changes to the application to make his life easier. For example, the outsourcing provider allows the manufacturer to set up or delete email accounts on its own. If a new dealership opens, Worrel’s staff simply adds a new email box.

USA.NET also added forwarding and paging capabilities. When a lead hits a retailer’s email box, the system can page the salesman. If the salesperson uses another email address more frequently, the system can forward the email there.

Unlocking the password protection was another plus. Worrel’s team calls every dealer if it doesn’t receive a return receipt in four hours. However, the team wants to make sure the email arrived before making the call. To do this, the team had to maintain a list of every dealer’s password so they could check the email queue. USA.NET tweaked the system so Worrel’s team can access these accounts without knowing the password. “This is a huge savings on our part,” says Worrel.

‘This is a Partnership’

To date, the two outsourcing partners haven’t had a collision of interests. USA.NET assigned an account manager with whom Worrel works closely. The two email and chat. “Seldom do we have major issues,” says Worrel. “This is a partnership.”

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • If you have a drop dead implementation date, be careful managing the outsourcing provider search. Leave enough time for proper implementation.
  • Select a provider that is interested in changing things to make your life easier.
  • Outsourcing relationships work when both buyer and supplier view the arrangement as “a partnership.”

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