Staying Current is Good Business for R&R Marketing
In the rapidly developing world of technology, it is increasingly necessary to stay current. More than almost any other application an organization uses, its Business-to-business (B2B) and Business-to-customer (B2C) applications need to stay current in order to make them meaningful to business partner and customer relationships. To be current in the business needs of partners drives more effective business processes, and to be current with technology drives a superior user experience for both the richness of customer awareness and aesthetics. In the currency of business, being current is revenue, and having current information is as good as gold.
This story is about how R&R Marketing, LLC is using Microsoft’s Silverlight technology as a cornerstone of its business strategy. They have aggressively launched their new multi-functional partner portal based on Silverlight totally replacing the previous one launched in 2003.
R&R Marketing LLC, New Jersey's premier distributor of wines and spirits, has a thriving business with over 125 experienced Sales Marketing Consultants and many thousands of businesses as customers. R&R has provided Web capabilities to its customers and sales representatives since 2003, with some limited success.
Vice President Douglas Siegel leads R&R Marketing’s Operations teams and is responsible for the day-to-day management of the company’s business. Along with CFO Dennis Portsmore, they undertook careful analysis of their site. They decided it did not sufficiently promote greater awareness of the brands they represented, nor did it promote customer activity to the extent they wished. Aspects of that website were not conducive to ease of use, a fact they realized that could lead to customer frustration and abandonment. It was not the premium image R&R wanted to fulfill its stated goal to create brand awareness, to make the website an alternative selling tool and to provide value added content.
Their mission for version 2 of their web site was clear; a fresh approach focused on customers and business partners, to create a clear distinction of a revised and user-friendly website, one that is relevant to their customer’s business, develops loyalty and becomes a valuable tool and extension of their business model. At the core of their strategy was the need to enhance and personalize the customer experience at www.rrmarketing.com by providing up-to-date content, a user friendly environment, and value added tools for website users. All objectives were with the goal of making R&R Marketing the distributor of choice in New Jersey.
To fulfill the website mission, R&R Information Technology department undertook an analysis of technologies that could be capable of attaining the ambitious goals set by leadership. Because their ERP runs on an IBM i Power platform, the previous site was native to that platform running Apache and HTML extensions to the legacy application. The ERP contains valuable data; the user experience needs to make that data easy and accessible for the customers.
They concluded that a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach combined with Microsoft Silverlight as presented by Surround Technologies was the strategic direction for them. Although Surround Technologies did not develop the first ecommerce application, R&R was impressed by their ideas for improving the site.”The Surround and Silverlight combination was the exact right plan of attack to fulfill our vision” said Matt Portsmore, Information Technology Manager. “The other technologies we looked at would have made it difficult to “wow” the customer. Surround showed us how Silverlight could bolster our strategy though superior presentation and integration.” The two teams embarked on a multi-phased project to re-design and re-architect the R&R Marketing website.
‘An essential element of the redesign was to provide resources and transaction tools while creating an alternative channel for marketing and sales. We felt greater visibility, ease of use and more timely information was critical to drive greater adoption of our website. Enhancing, personalizing, and creating a friendly interface was necessary to help transform our e-commerce interface and maintain market relevance.” stated Siegel.
“We chose Surround because they demonstrated they were in tune with ease of use and customer interfaces more than anyone else we evaluated.” continued CIO Ray Ramos. “They consistently demonstrated they were part of our team, and their input has been invaluable. Their use of Microsoft technology to seamlessly integrate with our IBM technology exceeded our expectations.”
Derek Maciak, chief technology officer of Surround adds “Just as important as the re-design, is the re-architecture of the website. The website needs to show that it is current, and this is enhanced by deploying a modern Rich Internet Application (RIA) technology to enhance the user experience. The architecture ensures an easy to maintain application that can easily adapt as business needs change and as technology changes. Silverlight 4.0 was crucial to achieving the total technological vision.
“Website developers are always finding better ways to present data utilizing the latest technology; therefore, presentation flexibility is a necessity. The new website is architected to ensure that the presentation layer is separated from the business logic. Another certainty is that new functionality and information will need to be added to the website in the future. This new functionality can be integrated in an agile manner.”
R&R had so much confidence in the new site they launched it in October of 2010 during their busy season. They guessed correctly, the value added so much that usage almost doubled within weeks, and new enrollments are increasing dramatically even though the site promotion effort has not yet started. Customers are especially happy with the new search and navigation capabilities. “The new Silverlight site is faster than the old site, and it also works in all browsers.” says Matt. “The old HTML site was too expensive to maintain across all browsers so we had to limit access to Internet Explorer. Not only has Silverlight opened up the number of supported browsers, it helps make the user experience more intuitive and act more like an enterprise application than a website.
“Some of our large customers have heavily locked down systems with security restrictions” said Portsmore. ” and the Silverlight download is not an issue. The deployment process is easy.”
“Customers and management love it. An unexpected benefit is the daily increase of internal use as many users are drifting toward using Silverlight rather than the legacy ERP screens. We are getting more requests for more functionality and we see it as an internal labor savings in additional to a big customer satisfaction win.”
Siegel states, “But the huge contribution to the success of the website is that the customer uses it; therefore, the new approach which focuses on a customer-centric business model that will ensure the loyal return of a user to the website and leverage our marketing & technological prowess. It is very important that our website is an additional tool for selling, cross promoting and allows retailers to manage their business at times convenient for them. It also provides immediate information which transforms customer service into a 24/7 resource. Further it will reduce the demand on the back end office. It’s a win-win for customers and R&R.”
Matt adds “Amazingly the new site running on Windows is better integrated to the IBM servers than the old site which actually ran on the same server. This is largely because Surround worked with us to implement an SOA approach to this project, and as a result the platform is less relevant, allowing us to focus on the achieving the highest quality of the overall solution”
“The SOA employed by Surround’s Accelerator tool is the gift that keeps on giving. By unlocking our data and making it accessible via open protocols we are continuing to build new functionality adding value though pervasive self service including mobile technology.”
In the currency of the Internet world, being current is the cash king. A website has a limited shelf life and it is very important to constantly present a fresh face and strive to create a user interface that is intuitive and easy to use while presenting informational data in a clear, concise manner.
Every business relationship is defined by the transactions, information, and relationship details that need to be reflected in the personalization of the website interaction, and of the most current information available. “Surround Technologies understands the newest technologies and how to apply them to the modern business world.” Says _Dennis Portsmore_. “The ROI we get from using Silverlight and SOA helps keep us the leader in a very competitive market. They are our current and future business partner.”