Home People Spyro Kourtis is Boosting Direct Mail Performance with Proven Internet Strategies

Spyro Kourtis is Boosting Direct Mail Performance with Proven Internet Strategies

As the thirty-something president of The Hacker Group, Spyro Kourtis works hard to differentiate the firm, which under his tenure has grown to be one of the largest direct marketing firms in the West. The decision to aggressively integrate the Internet into the company’s campaigns has turned out to be a strategic windfall. The reasons are clear to Kourtis, who is front and center in the business of creating sales leads for companies like Washington Mutual, AT&T Wireless and Hilton Hotels, where he sees the same issue over and over again. “The disconnect between marketing and sales is the major reason why most direct marketing programs break down on the back end.” In fact, Kourtis often quotes a 2002 report by the Aberdeen Group that confirms, “Nearly 80% of marketing efforts to generate leads are ignored by sales.” This is a sad fact that Kourtis and his team are on a mission to change-one click at a time.

The Internet may seem an unlikely strategic weapon for a man of the mail like Kourtis; however, the pairing makes more sense when a bit of history is provided. Kourtis assumed the helm from company namesake and founder Bob Hacker in 2001. After taking the reins, Kourtis successfully steered the agency through turbulent economic times — the agency was among a very select number of marketing firms to post profitable growth during that time frame. The reason boils down to focus, Kourtis says. “We kept the agency’s sights on one thing-performance.” Kourtis explains, “The beauty of direct marketing is measurement, and when your marketing is being measured, you have to demonstrate results in terms of performance.”

With performance as the bottom line, Kourtis and his executive team drive the company with one foot in the past and the other firmly planted in the future. The past is the agency’s roots — direct marketing. The future is achieving a strategic balance by combining direct marketing with the Internet. Kourtis is the center point, carefully maneuvering the chasm between mail and the Internet and using the Web to lift campaign performance.

According to Kourtis, “Great direct mail requires that you avoid critical mistakes that even seasoned professionals fall into. Specifically, it requires that you adjust your lead flow and quality to the needs of your sales team. The number-one obstacle to moving leads through to the sales team is the perception by sales that the leads are not qualified or worth working.” The reason, explains Kourtis, is simple: “Sales doesn’t get paid to nurture leads. They get paid to close deals.” Therein lies the problem. However, “This can actually be an opportunity for direct mail,” says Kourtis. He adds, “The opportunity is a chance to move beyond simply having prospects raise their hands to show interest. It’s an opportunity to create a “lead valve” that can be adjusted to your sales department’s demands with a great deal of accuracy.” This is where the Internet plays a critical role.

The Hacker Group commonly uses the Internet to create a lead valve to manage and nurture leads. Kourtis explains, “After developing a stream of inquiries, we use the Internet to build a process to follow inquiries as they turn to prospects, and prospects as they become qualified leads.” Using microsites and its proprietary Internet-based Response Center, The Hacker Group bridges the chasm between mail and the Internet and between marketing and sales.

A microsite is a small, robust, fully functional and (most important) self-contained Web site that direct marketing mail recipients are directed to. Kourtis says, “A lot of direct marketing success is about control. If you can control prospect behavior, you can increase the odds of response. That’s why it’s extremely important that while you’re integrating your direct mail with online response and lead nurturing systems, you maintain control of the process. That’s what microsites are all about.” The other benefits are obvious. With microsites, visitors are easy to identify and track, plus the site is a closed system so visitors can’t accidentally leave. Kourtis adds, “We also like that microsites create a response channel that is open 24 x 7, and we typically find that prospects who respond to a microsite also tend to be more qualified, which translates into more sales.”

Likewise, The Hacker Group uses its Response Center to offer clients an organized way to collect, profile and manage sales inquiries and qualified leads. Inquiries can come from virtually any source-direct mail, opt-in email, advertising, affiliate programs, alliances or referrals. However, once online, the information is “trapped” by a source and item code, providing detailed, real-time program performance statistics. Automated rule-based programs are used to follow up with each inquiry. Based on how they respond to subsequent contacts, an inquiry’s profile changes which in turn, changes the ongoing contact strategy. In essence, Response Center provides the ability to market one-to-one or to create a “lead dialogue” on an ongoing basis.

According to Kourtis, “These Internet tools enable us to carefully integrate leads into the sales process when they are ready.” This creates an obvious payoff: An appropriate lead dialogue, which is skillfully executed and subsequently moves the lead smoothly through the sales process to the sale. No doubt, this skillful maneuvering between the mail and the Internet is what enables The Hacker Group to make their client’s campaigns really click. [24×7]

The Hacker Group is at www.hackergroup.com

Spyro Kourtis of The Hacker Group. “Before launching any lead generation program, you need to have your Lead Dialogue Strategy established and ready to begin. The Internet is our weapon of choice.”