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Translating Digital Body Language

Kim Hart

It used to be that when you were interested in buying, say, a computer, you'd go to the local electronic store and talk to a salesman. That salesman would be able to tailor his pitch based on your reactions to the merchandise. He'd be able to accurately gauge whether you were
intrigued, skeptical or disinterested, and then adjust his pitch accordingly.

Now that so many people do their browsing and buying online, there's not much a company can do to convince a person to purchase its brand over a competitor, or to offer better deals to on-the-fence customers. Body language is hard to read on the Internet.

I spoke with a company called Eloqua that recently relocated its headquarters from Toronto to McLean, Va. Eloqua helps online vendors read the "digital body language" of potential customers. Its software tracks how many times a consumer visits a Web site about a product, how much time they spend on the site and which aspects consumers are interested in researching the most.

That way, a vendor can focus its often small sales team toward buyers closest to sealing the deal. Automated messages may pop up on the site, offering to answer questions or provide additional information.

Tailoring marketing campaigns to customers isn't exactly new. Big online sellers, like Target.com and Amazon.com, use sophisticated technology to offer deals or other offers based on your shopping preferences. SalesForce.com, which works with Eloqua, has made a name for itself by turning electronic leads into deals. Eloqua mainly focuses on transactions between businesses -- for example, helping a small accounting firm buy insurance or computer security software.

But it also has some consumer-oriented clients. For example, Eloqua works with a prominent plastic surgeon to nurture the relationship with patients. After an initial visit, the surgeon sends out informational e-mails to anticipate concerns or questions a potential patient may have about a procedure. Weeding out people who clearly aren't interested, the doctor puts more effort into those leaning toward signing the dotted line. In much the same way, the company also helps a large wedding photographer sign clients.

"By the first consultation, they've closed more than 90 percent of the clients," said Eloqua CEO Joe Payne. "We help companies build relationships and build marketing campaigns around them."

At a time when more people are comparison shopping on the Internet to find the best bargain, giving consumers a reason to stick around is becoming increasingly important. Consumers were slightly more likely to abandon items in online shopping carts during the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period a year ago, according to recent research by MarketLive. And the number of shoppers who left an e-commerce site after viewing only one page rose about 19 percent during the same period.

A recent survey conducted by ComScore on behalf of PayPal showed that 16 percent of shoppers abandoned sales because they could not reach customer service to address questions. Twenty-seven percent wanted to comparison shop at other sites before buying.

Maybe we'll start to see more "personalized" marketing campaigns as we window shop on the Internet. If they get too personal, though, I can see some consumers getting either annoyed or a bit creeped out.

By Kim Hart  |  June 2, 2008; 10:46 AM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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