One of the greatest challenges I've found with integrating e-mail into direct sales is maintaining control over the message and understanding the value of the response. Second, it is a challenge to maintain consistency. Do you remember the first word processing document you sent out? It probably looked like a ransom note with multiple fonts, colors, and styles. That's a great analogy for what it would be like to hand over an e-mail marketing engine to a sales group.
There are many contributing factors to consider from an e-mail marketing perspective -- segmented customer response, timing, frequency and testing, as well as how to maintain control, yet give your sales team the latitude to infuse it into their daily sales process. From a sales perspective, you have to consider that e-mails would need to move customers through the sales funnel, better qualify their interests, fulfill information requests, bring value to direct interactions, and cost-effectively influence purchase decisions.
I've seen many e-mail companies try to integrate with sales force applications like Siebel, Salesforce.com, and Salesnet, as well as CRM systems like ePiphany and Unica. But, these applications haven't had mass success in getting clients to invest. These are the core systems engrained in the daily activities of the sales organization and an enterprise infrastructure, and any changes have potentially large cost consequences. If you hope to infuse a new method of marketing through e-mail within your sales organization or channels, you must take into account the implementation process and the requirements necessary to support these models.
Below I've suggested a few vendors that offer interesting options to this model. Each is unique in their business models, pricing models, and capabilities. And interestingly enough, they all solve problems for sales organizations. As I've recommended before, make sure you do your due diligence before working with vendors; one size does not fit all, so make sure all their offerings fit your company's needs.
ExactTarget has an interesting platform. They joined the market with tiered approaches to selling their e-mail marketing service (ASP). Now they offer three versions of their product: a tiered sales version, e-mail marketing interface for organizations, and an agency version. Some other service providers offer the same dynamic content that ExactTarget does, but none offer the same seamless method of managing direct response and delivering field-level communication on the sales rep's behalf. ExactTarget also offers reporting at the individual and the aggregate level. They license the product in a seat capacity and have a unique method of proliferating this application through affiliate and channel partner organizations.
Silverpop offers a one-to-one messaging tool called Messenger. The tool offers a Web-based interface for marketers or more advanced sales people, and it provides an outlook plug that leverages COM objects to work seamlessly. This means you can click on a tab, select an HTML template, select associated documents (that are hosted in a library), craft and personalize your message, then select contacts from your own contact list in Outlook. The benefit is that you will receive a multi-part message in a one-to-one capacity, with links to documents and links you can track. In addition, it has a reporting system with built-in notification features. They also license the tool in a seat capacity and based on number of sends (CPM).
Xpedite/Premier have privately labeled a product that has an e-mail ASP and an Outlook Plug that works much like Silverpop's application, with a slightly different spin. The core technology provider has had the product out for years. It is sold in a seat capacity and in the same licensing capacity as above.
You may also want to consider the easy-to-use e-mail service offerings like Constant Contact and other specialty applications like Blue Sky Factory, both of which have unique rich media offerings. But remember the ransom note metaphor: the cheaper or more specialty services that you choose, the less control you will have over administrative features.
I'm sure there are vendors I've missed, but I'll follow this discussion up with another next month. In the meantime, remember that when you have a good fit, these services will help you create effective messaging that fits seamlessly into your customer experience. And no one will praise you more than a happy sales team.