Why are more businesses turning to mapping? The software is becoming easier to use and less expensive. Mapping software is designed to link information from a company’s back-end databases and to display data such as sales patterns, results of marketing campaigns, or concentrations of potential clients. Many programs are now meant for sales or marketing employees rather than techies. The Internet is also playing a role, allowing for more users at a lower cost.
Territory alignment has always been mapping’s most classic use. In their basic forms, mapping programs help managers decide the most effective deployment of their sales and service forces to balance account loads and achieve the biggest profits. They can also help managers recommend which accounts a salesperson should try to cover each day, ensure territories are geographically compact, and estimate driving time associated with servicing an account.
“When you think about it, the majority of all data that companies collect can be tied back to a physical address and can be displayed on a map,” says Jim Brown, vice president of TerrAlign, a Reston, Virginia-based company that specializes in sales and marketing consulting and mapping software. “So it isn’t surprising that mapping can be a powerful tool for understanding a business, its markets, and its customers.”
But before executives invest in a tool, they have to know how to choose the right one.
CLAIMING YOUR TERRITORY
Geerlings & Wade, a direct marketer of wine, needed to know the purchasing behaviors of its customers, such as if they only bought wine around the holidays or during special promotions, and what kinds of wine customers typically bought. So executives of the company, based in Canton, Massachusetts, decided to invest in a mapping application. They had to sort through all of the technology and product offerings to find out what they really needed, instead of buying just the coolest–or most costly–solution.
The company wanted something that was user-friendly, could provide graphical information, and could link with back-end databases. So, in the hunt for the right software, Geerlings & Wade searched for applications that not only filled these specifications, but were easily adapted to its current system.
Vince Ficcaglia, vice president of marketing, says they chose Lifetime RealTime Behavior Mapping by Boston-based Verbind Inc. because it allows marketers to view individuals’ buying behavior. Because it maps the behavior of customers on a one-to-one basis, Geerlings & Wade can send special offers at the right time, with relevant content.
“It was the only [application] that has the full breadth of capabilities” Ficcaglia says. “Marketers are nontechnical users, and this works for them.”
It all sounds simple enough (and some programs are), but it’s also easy to get lost in the technology. Howard Millman, a consultant at Databases Services in Croton, New York, suggests executives seriously consider the return on investment before picking one program, adding that the tool only has value to somebody willing to analyze the data. “A business can increase its competitiveness by adopting [a mapping program]” Millman says. “But there are a lot of variables.”
Brown agrees, adding that, “at times, people forget that the map is a tool and not a solution. Investors in mapping technology should ask themselves, `What business problem am I trying to solve?’ If the answer isn’t tied back to a fundamental business objective, it should raise a red flag.”
Of course one big variable is the cost associated with implementing a mapping program. Businesses can spend anywhere from $1,200 for basic versions to more than $20,000 for advanced programs. Brown says TerrAlign’s clients spend between $100 and $1,000 per salesperson. “It’s a bad idea to spend $2,000 with no projected benefit,” he says. “It’s a good idea to spend $2 million if it will increase profits by $20 million over the next year, whether that comes from increased sales, reduced expenses, or both.”
By taking the time to choose the right software, Geerlings & Wade is saving money on mailings. Since the mapping tool shows marketers who should be getting a special offer at what time, the company’s mail volume has gone down, Ficcaglia says, adding that the mapping application also indicates how and when individual customer behavior is changing. “We’re moving away from sending out the same offers at the same frequency,” he says. “Now we have a more tailored way of contacting individual customers.”
THE DIRECTION OF MAPPING
While there was a time when GIS systems were used primarily for carving up territories, the explosion in the industry isn’t so much about the map anymore. It’s about the demographic information sales and marketing forces can use to target customers.
Bruce Jenkins, vice president at Daratech, says because mapping software is widely available (some systems are sold prepackaged off the shelf instead of custom-built), it has helped to propel further uses of the systems. “The industry is exploding,” he says. “Over the last half decade the applications of GIS technology have broadened dramatically.”
Almost any company can use information that shows where hot markets are hiding, where a warehouse should be located, or how sales territories are best divided. York Group Inc., a $180 million supplier of metal and hardwood caskets and casket components, has found an advantage with mapping. Before implementing the system, me company didn’t know where new sales opportunities were located and used a paper-based market analysis system. Beyond those challenges, York was starting to use a combination of company-owned and independent distributors, creating unhealthy competition for the same customers.
“We needed to build distribution agreements and decide who would be accountable for what area,” says Fred Turner, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Mapping is a vehicle to communicate overlapping territories. It made the process so much clearer.”
York, which also uses BusinessMAP, extracted the Federal Government’s annual death statistics for every U.S. county, demographic information about 22,000 funeral homes, and created maps by plotting casket sales by county. Now executives can quickly target areas with higher than average death rates for sales growth and market penetration, which is important in a market that is expected to remain relatively flat until 2016, when Baby Boomers start entering their 70s.
The company also found it easier to realign independent distributors because of mapping technology, Turner says. “In Illinois we had a lot of overlapping–two sales organizations were passing each other on the road,” he says. “Because there are emotions involved, it’s easier to factually and visually show the traveling area. It decreases internal competition.”
While mapping has decreased internal strife for York, it has brought a new meaning to “scooping the competition” for Thomson Newspapers, based in Stamford, Connecticut, where it’s not just an expression used by ink-stained editors and reporters. The fever is running high outside the news room, in the offices where marketers and salespeople at the company’s 60 newspapers are trying to draw in more advertisers and readers and are using new mapping software to do it.
Warwick Brindle, senior vice president of marketing at Thomson, knew more than a year ago that Internet-based mapping held the answer to his problems. At that time, advertising reps were having difficulty putting together demographic information on their readers, such as income level, interests, and age, to present to potential advertisers. Most of Thomson’s papers had only one person trained in using mapping and the rest of the research was being done by using manuals and phone books that were sometimes outdated. The process was slow.
In only five months Thomson implemented Access Connections Live, an intranet program that opens up market research information based on geography to all departments within Thomson. Built by Orange, California-based Spatial Re-Engineering Consultants (SRC), which designs and builds demographic and market analysis tools, the application is in place at each Thomson newspaper in the U.S., incorporating subscriber and advertising information and matching it with third party statistics. Brindle says it allows more employees to access the data at a reduced cost. “Our plan is that within one year, nearly one thousand staff at [Thomson] will be able to use, access, or at least know what it available in the database,” he says.
Dean Stoecker, president of SRC, says Thomson is a good example of how mapping is evolving–most of the employees were trained to use it in a few hours and the cost of implementing GIS was substantially lower due to the use of the Internet. “Going to five hundred users with a custom Web-based application, the [single-user] cost is as low as a few hundred dollars each,” he says. “Thomson spent five times more than they were previously spending, but they are delivering results to 500 times the number of people.”
Using an intranet to access the mapping application and data has also allowed employees to make better decisions more rapidly, Brindle adds, such as assessing a new publication opportunity within a few hours, instead of weeks or months. “We need to see down to street level how we are performing, and a visual map not only does this, but creates a set of data that determines our tactical sales approach and planning cycles,” he says. “The benefits are being seen in all areas of the business–advertising, circulation, editorial, and marketing services.”
As more systems are Web-based, more companies will be able to put control in the hands of sales and marketing people. As the accessibility grows, so will the demand by a variety of industries. For Thomson, the tool is already proving a greater advantage because more people can use it whenever they need to. “Now hundreds more people are involved in looking at the data–no longer is it the domain of the data freak,” Brindle says. “People actually use this stuff at home in the evenings and on weekends.”