IBM: Evolving Corporate Portal to E-Commerce Destination

IBM recently created an unit headed by general manager Doug Maine, to coordinate IBM's Web sites and worldwide call centers. The term TeleWeb (IBM's internal code name) has become, and is just now being announced outside the company.

What exactly is It's the integration of IBM's telephone-based marketing support services and sales with Web-based sales and support. In practical terms, IBM has created one channel that brings together 27 global call centers and its Web site, to encompass telesales, telecoverage, ShopIBM, Gold Service, Small Business Centers, and e-sites. It provides a 24x7 shopping and support channel in a self-service environment, where customers of all sizes place their own orders.

Admittedly, IBM is a bit late to the party. Dell and Gateway, for example, have already reduced their average number of calls to close a sale, by shifting some transactions to the Web. By doing so, they've reduced costs an important move to boost sales revenues. More Web sales represent a greater direct revenue stream, which is critical, as hardware becomes more of a commodity. Streamlining the distribution channels in this way makes really good sense.

An obvious goal for IBM is to speed up its sales cycle, reduce service turn-around time, and support easier online buying and support transactions. The site has been designed to complement existing sales teams and buying channels by moving simpler transactions to the Web, freeing up "face to face" channels for larger opportunities. In other words, there's room for all the players.

Externally, this is a move that customers have been waiting for—increasing integration between their online purchases and call center/telephone support. More and more they look for synchronized, single-channel solutions. IBM wants to exceed that expectation, and has a good reason to do so—because IBM endorses the use of e-business by its business-to-business clients, it's a great opportunity for Big Blue to practice what it preaches.

And the fact is, no matter how comprehensive each venue becomes—IBM's call centers and its Web site—neither can be looked on as a stand-alone solution, nor should they. Consider that most "online revenue" transactions in the industry are closed by call centers.

IBM is wise to follow the motto, "We use what we sell, and we sell what we use." It seems to be doing so in earnest. For one thing, it is supporting the launch with cross-branding efforts, and coordinating it with the Personal System Group's (PSG's) roll-out of small business and enterprise direct capabilities in the U.S. and U.K.—becoming part of its advertising and direct response campaigns.

By the end of 1Q 2000, IBM plans to assign "merchandising" teams to within each of IBM's centralized marketing organizations. (There's a critical interdependence there, because the new unit's success hinges, in part, on the brands' providing products that are Web ready, easy-to-configure, competitively-priced, easy-to-buy and with fast fulfillment.) In fact, PSG just introduced an innovative "Buy Today/Ship Today" fulfillment capability, along with aggressive pricing, and new Web functions such as "Call Me" buttons that let Web-browsing customers link with call center reps with a click of the mouse.

These are serious efforts by a company that believes in the e-commerce solutions it sells. Doug Maine says that, through, IBM seeks to build the "world's best e-relationships—online or on the phone." It's still early in the game, but IBM seems determined to become its own e-business success story. Who can argue with that?

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