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An unforeseen benefit of this online strategy Dell used to increase brand awareness and remove some of the tarnish from their brand image was Word-of-Mouth (WOM) of the brand began to grow significantly as a result (Jarvis, 2008). Dell had not experienced WOM success of its brand awareness strategies in nearly a decade prior, and what the marketing managers attributed this to was the commitment to listen and respond to customers and talk openly about the strengths and weaknesses of products. In short Dell was able to redefine their brand through the use of augmented branding strategies based on listening to customers. They showed they cared when they listened and this engenders trust, which was critical for their brand to be seen as credible again. Information technologies were tertiary to this effort. Web-based portal applications made it possible for Dell to get their website DellIdeaStorm.com up and running within weeks. System integration at the Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) layer made it possible for Dell to get the website's comments routed in real time to each department they were relevant to. As is the case with brand awareness initiatives that are successfully orchestrated and completed, technology is more of the process-enabler than the primary catalyst of the initiative itself. Dell chose to use technology as a means to reach out and listen to customers and was successful in significantly increasing brand awareness through WOM strategies as a result (Jarvis, 2008). It was the processes that were re-aligned and made more efficient through information technology which made the entire brand awareness strategy work.
Selling processes have also undergone significant change over the last three years. The catalysts of these changes has been the economy and its tightening effect on spending, and in a broader context, the role of social networks acting as an arbiter of sales claims and experiences. As has been stated under the brand awareness section of this analysis, the customer is very much in control of how a brand is actually perceived, regardless of how much it spends on online and offline advertising (Bernoff, Li, 2008). This is making the sales process more accountable and has had the effect of having customers see buying as much more than a transaction; it is an experience (Pine, Gilmore, 2000). Add in the fact that companies are moving towards mass customization as a selling strategy to tailor products to the specific needs of customers, and it becomes clear that selling strategies based on build-to-order process workflows are gaining in momentum (Duray, 2004). The benefits of this selling strategy is the potential of creating strong customer loyalty very quickly based on the delivery of a product that precisely meets the preferences, requirements and needs of a customer. There is also the potential to understand trends in a customer base not visible when selling only made-to-stock or non-customizable product. Third, there is the opportunity to create a very powerful user experience (Pine, Gilmore, 2000) by partnering with suppliers to open up the variations in product design for customers (Miemczyk, Howard, 2008).
As was stated in the executive summary when a process becomes a core differentiator for a company is acts as a sales catalyst and a continual reinforcements of its brand as well. This is certainly the case with Dell (Duray, 2004). The build-to-order process now honed to deliver up to 50 inventory turns a year, a remarkable achievement in a manufacturing operation than large, which is still agile enough to deliver customized laptops, PCs and servers is a core aspect of the company's selling proposition as well (Duray, 2004). The mass customization of BMW, Range Rover and Toyota models as a selling strategy forces a much greater degree of interprocess integration, communication and coordination (Coffey, 2005). As the auto industry has been one of the hardest hit in the recession which began in 2007, this strategy of mass customization has been one that in previous recession and during previous periods of slow sales, has served to increase production efficiency (Duray, 2004) and sales (Coffey, 2005).
The selling process that encompasses mass customization is called build-to-order. Dell (Duray, 2004), auto manufacturers (Coffey, 2005) and printed circuit board manufacturers (Kumar, Wellbrock, 2009) span the spectrum of B2C and B2B market orientation, yet all have build-to-order strategies in place to win new business and keep existing customers by precisely meeting their unique requirements in product design and services. An example of this is the development of customized printed circuit boards by a $75M manufacturer serving the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) markets globally (Kumar, Wellbrock, 2009). The quote-to-order process for this manufacturer is based on getting the initial quote, pricing and delivery dates correct. This process however can take up to 21 days and as a result, the circuit board manufacturer can potentially lose much business (Kumar, Wellbrock, 2009). Time lost during the initial phases of the selling process can easily lead to a loss of sales, when multiplied over the entire series of sales cycles a company has. Please see Appendix A: Product Configuration Impact on Quote-to-Order Process, to see a diagram of this process for a circuit board designer before and after the use of information technologies to accelerate the process. As can be seen from the figure it is possible to gain a significant time savings by automating the process, which will in turn lead to greater sales.
The quote-to-order process is one that is continually being refined with the small circuit board manufacturer, through more effective integration with supply chain information systems, more effective pricing integration at the process level, and better communication with the factory as to commitment dates (Kumar, Wellbrock, 2009). This is happening at the process level and the gradual integration of information technologies is being introduced to add the greatest value over time. The focus is on process efficiency and performance over just putting technologies into the process to speed them up. As can be seen from the figure in Appendix A when a process-centric strategy is used first and information technologies allied subsequent to an efficient process being defined, significant gains can be made.
The functional and business roles of information systems in supporting sales and marketing processes has been shown through company-specific examples in this analysis. What is critically important for any organization based on this analysis is to focus first on the process itself and its streamlining. The efficiency gains of the quote-to-order process are a case in point. The examples of branding strategies increasing awareness and leading to repeat sales and loyalty are more of a factor of collaboratively-based, customer focused communication processes than about technology. Once the brand awareness and selling strategies' processes are in place, information technologies enable accuracy and efficiency,
Appendix A: Product Configuration Impact on Quote-to-Order Process
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