Electronic Systems Supports Customers' E-Commerce Needs with CNET Content Solutions's ChannelOnline™
Overivew: Since 1980, the $125-million company has built a solid reputation for expertise in IP telephony, security and intrusion analysis, storage systems, and asset lifecycle management. Customers in the healthcare, manufacturing, education and federal, state and local government sectors have come to depend on Electronic Systems for a personalized approach to IT procurement.
Challange: Electronic Systems needed to create an electronic storefront to accommodate its customers' growing need to automate IT purchasing, as well as to maintain preferred status among customers' e-commerce options.
Solution: Having tapped CNET Content Solutions's ChannelOnline to automate sales activities ranging from creating a robust online store to streamlining quote generation, Electronic Systems has reinforced its long-standing relationships with existing customers and earned new contracts based on its ability to respond to their e-commerce requirements.
Regional IT powerhouse Electronic Systems (ESI) is a leading technology reseller with 12 offices in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. Since 1980, the $125-million company has built a solid reputation for expertise in IP telephony, security and intrusion analysis, storage systems, and asset lifecycle management. Customers in the healthcare, manufacturing, education and federal, state and local government sectors have come to depend on ESI for a personalized approach to IT procurement.
Sales automation paves the way for productivity and customer loyalty
ESI's culture of commitment to customer relationships extends to the speed and detail with which the reseller responds to requests. "We want our customers to be able to find the precise answer they need, quickly, or to be able to ask any ESI employee and expect a fast, accurate response," says Randy Broadwell, e-commerce manager at ESI. "That's the kind of top-quality, professional service we want to distinguish the depth and breadth of products we offer."
Until 2000, the responsiveness Broadwell describes was backed by painstaking manual research. ESI's online presence was limited to a custom-designed Web storefront that had no automation and provided little in the way of detailed information. Instead, following a preliminary phone conversation, ESI personnel searched every product distributor to find out which ones offered the best prices. Next, staff investigated product's availability and proximity to the customer. Finally, a customized quote was prepared and faxed to the customer.
"That process became more time-consuming when call volume was high or when a new batch of prospective customers had been qualified, because dozens of customer 'shell' accounts had to be created in anticipation of a request for quote that might or might not materialize," adds Broadwell. ESI executives recognized that some form of sales automation was imperative in order to provide new, larger regional customers the kind of support they expected.
Broadwell cites a simultaneous trend that was emerging, making the need for a robust Web storefront more urgent: "Education and government customers were beginning to ask for a better channel for electronic commerce, so that they could automate their ordering process. To keep pace with their efforts to streamline purchasing, we stepped up our online storefront initiative."
ESI executives put together a requirements list for the firm's online presence and determined that a hosted solution would expedite the effort. Without dedicated staff or expertise in e-commerce, ESI sought a service provider that could establish a fully automated, comprehensive online sales channel for internal and external use, including a high-quality Web site supported by state-of-the-art technology. After narrowing the search to three providers, a combination of expertise, account personnel and its technology roadmap distinguished CNET Content Solutions and its ChannelOnline™ solution from the competitors.
The careful selection process was rewarded by a very simple and straightforward site launch. ESI staff found it easy to load its distributors' product and price data and customer data into the solution and create more than a dozen custom configurations according to customer profiles. "From the point that the store framework and data service were turned on for us, we configured it for our main customers by that evening, and then 'opened' the store for business with them by the next morning," says Broadwell. "We chose a subset of customers with whom to test the concept and they were uniformly pleased with the rich, tailored product and price information they received."
ESI's creation of two separate storefronts demonstrates the flexibility of the ChannelOnline solution. The company's E-commerce Division serves as the company's national online sales presence for customers that prefer self-service. Most of those orders are processed through this site. A second Web store supports ESI's customer relationships that are built on a history of tailored solution and price packages.
This more personalized support even includes creation of customer-specific online stores. One of these sites is dedicated to the largest city in Virginia, with which ESI has a five-year contract. CNET Content Solutions created a custom view of the ESI Web store to suit the city's specific ecommerce requirements. Three levels of secure access afford the city control over personnel's purchasing activities, without requiring extra effort on the part of ESI's IT department.
Partnership enhances competitive advantage
The advanced e-commerce capabilities were a condition of the city's decision to award the contract to ESI. "CNET Content Solutions has made it incredibly easy for ESI to offer our customers a very personalized service, enhancing our ability to win business while we focus on the work that we do best."
As a result, ESI is able to demonstrate responsiveness to its clients without undermining its margins. Within an hour of signing a contract, a new education customer can see its unique product bundles and price points. ChannelOnline further supports this custom view by enabling individuals within specific departments or job responsibilities to see and buy the software, hardware and installation options that they are approved to purchase. "That capability has put ESI and our sales reps head-and-shoulders above our competition," says Broadwell.
Using Channel Online, ESI's quote preparation and delivery has shrunk from hours to minutes-a 60% time savings-while the precision and completeness of these estimates, including product comparisons, has improved dramatically. The breadth and depth of information available electronically also has made for a compelling e-commerce solution that ESI's public sector customers required.
Future holds even greater commitment to meeting customer's needs
As it strives to increase its presence as a major regional IT reseller, ESI intends to take advantage of existing and new ChannelOnline capabilities in the service of accommodating customers' every ecommerce requirement, without sacrificing gains in sales personnel's productivity. One way ESI hopes to do this in the coming year is through integration with its customers' ERP systems, speeding customers' ability to obtain order status and shipping and tracking information. Broadwell says, "We try to find the most creative, useful things that we can do with the store-many times we can find certain things we can do that make it easy to accommodate our customers' wish lists."
About Electronic Systems
Electronic Systems is the region's largest full-service integrator/office automation company providing total-solutions packages for its customers. The company offers computers and network integration, digital copiers, certified technology training, service and supplies. Founded in 1980, Electronic Systems has grown to 400 employees, and over $100 million in sales. For more information call 757.497.8000.