A Web-Based Approach to Alliance Marketing
By Paul Laster (Issue 3 1999)
This article provides both a general and technical overview of the Dell Direct Effect Alliance program. The program utilizes a Web-based approach to manage alliances between Dell and enterprise-level independent software vendors (ISVs). The program, which began in October 1998, has grown from an initial 38 to over 140 alliance members today.
Dell's growth has created the need for a company-wide alliance brand. Until recently, the alliance marketing program had been based on Dell's internal segmentation, with alliance programs available for many of the various product groups, including workstations, servers, and desktops. Although this method worked well internally, it was not adequate for customers who needed cross-line of business (LOB) solutions—those solutions incorporating multiple hardware platforms. So a new program was begun.
Figure 1. Dell Direct Effect Program
The Dell Direct Effect Program was designed as a cross-LOB program that would address the need for a company-wide alliance position (see Figure 1 ). The primary project goal was to create an online solution for prospective enterprise alliance members-one that would give them a sense of involvement in the program, while maximizing existing Dell resources.
The resulting online Direct Effect program allows Dell to enter alliances with many companies. This online process enables alliance members to effectively maintain their own company and product information on the Dell Web site and ensure that their information is completely up to date. The online application process also ensures that Dell includes companies in the alliance program that support Dell's business goals.
The Direct Effect Alliance Program
The Dell Direct Effect Alliance Program employs an entirely Web-based system to manage most of the alliances with third-party companies. The program merges Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) and Microsoft SQL Server to create an online application that can handle many relationships.
Potential alliance members can apply online for membership into the program. Program benefits are available to alliance members immediately upon their acceptance. Some of these benefits include:
- The option to purchase Dell hardware at discounted prices, which can help members get their software certified on Dell hardware
- Member products and services featured in the Direct Effect Online Catalog
- Each member receives Direct Effect marketing materials
- A customized option for membership in the Dell Direct Effect Affiliates
An Online Perspective
The Dell Direct Effect program has three primary Web-based applications elements: the Online Application for membership into the Direct Effect Alliance Program, the Direct Effect Online Catalog, and the Direct Effect Secured Alliances area.
All of these applications are built with Microsoft ASP, which references the program information in a Microsoft SQL Server database. Other aspects of the program are supported by HTML.
Figure 2. Application by New Alliance Member
Online Application for Membership
Potential alliance members can complete an application for membership into the program on the Internet via a form built with Microsoft ASP. When the potential alliance member fills out the form and presses "submit," the system sends an e-mail to the Direct Effect program administrator and the application staging database (see Figure 2).
This e-mail contains basic information about the potential member. This information allows the program administrator to make an informed judgment about the potential member's status, and also provides basic company information for the staging database.
Once the company information has been reviewed and the company has been accepted for membership in the program, an e-mail is sent from the program administrator to the alliance contact specified in the application. This e-mail includes the login and password information for the Direct Effect Secured Alliances Area. The company's basic information is then moved from the staging to the production database, where it can be viewed from the Direct Effect Online Catalog.
If the company is rejected, the alliance contact receives an e-mail indicating the rejection and listing the possible reasons for that rejection. This ensures that the company understands the reasons for the rejection so it can possibly re-apply at a later date.
The Direct Effect Online Catalog
The Direct Effect Online Catalog is also a Microsoft ASP-based application that allows users to search for Dell Direct Effect Alliance members based upon the following criteria:
- Company name
- Product name
The search functionality for the Online Catalog is currently being expanded to include wildcard searches. This will allow more specific inquiries into Direct Effect Alliance members' company and product information.
Figure 3. The Online Catalog
When users select one or more of the above criteria, a query is sent to the SQL Server database and an ASP page is created. The users view a list of possible company options (see Figure 3 ), then choose a particular company that meets their criteria. Then the page representing that alliance member is displayed.
Contents. The Online Catalog displays information about all Direct Effect Alliance members, including basic company information, product lists, links to their products on DellWare®, links to their other Dell Alliance Web pages (if applicable), and their company contact information.
Using the Direct Effect Online Catalog, alliance members and customers can view their own catalog information, as well as the catalog information from other companies.
Navigation. Microsoft ASP enables us to create individual pages for each step of the catalog process within the www.dell.com visual identity, thereby providing consistency among the application pages. Users can reach any portion of the Direct Effect Alliance Program from anywhere within the program.
Left-hand navigation is available throughout the site, regardless of which page the user is viewing. Each page on the Direct Effect site allows users to reach the Direct Effect Online Catalog, Strategic Alliances page, the Secured Alliances Area, information on how to join the alliance, benefits of the program, and a contact link to reach the Direct Effect program administrator.
This ensures that any potential alliance members who visit the site will have ample opportunity to learn about the program, and then apply online.
The Direct Effect Secured Alliances Area
The final application area of the Dell Direct Effect Program is the Direct Effect Secured Alliances. Dell Premier Pages is a secured area of the Dell Web site where companies with ongoing relationships with Dell can go online and order equipment through a Web interface custom built for their company. Using this secure functionality, a subset of Premier was designed to specifically handle the needs of Dell Direct Effect Alliance Area members.
This secured area allows alliance members to receive valuable Direct Effect program news, access back issues of the Dell Direct Effect Alliances newsletter Alliance Bulletin , download marketing materials and Direct Effect logos, and most importantly, update their Direct Effect Online Catalog page.
Figure 4. Alliance Member Catalog Update
Because so much of the program is online, alliance members can actively participate in their relationship with Dell. When alliance members update their catalog information (see Figure 4 ), e-mail is sent to the Direct Effect program administrator indicating that a change has been made to the company's catalog entry on the development database.
Then, using an ASP tool, the administrator can access the Microsoft SQL Server database and approve the change for production if the change is not large enough to warrant a legal review. In that case, the alliance member would receive another e-mail indicating that the catalog change might take a few additional days. A final e-mail is sent to the alliance member once the change has moved from staging to production. This informs the member that the change will appear live on the online catalog.
Encouraging Member Feedback
One concern at the beginning of the program was the amount of actual customer contact since the majority of the application process is online. Our first interest is to provide a good customer experience for our alliance members. Feedback from members, however, has allowed us to address specific member concerns about different aspects of the program.
We encourage members to make suggestions and we use those suggestions to add new functionality and features to the program.
Online Alliance Marketing Continues to Grow
This Web-based approach to alliance marketing has benefits for both customers and Dell. Members can maintain their own information in the public catalog and receive support from Dell in many areas. Dell can easily maintain the program online and also reach many more potential alliance members. Dell also uses member feedback for improving the service.
The results speak for themselves: the program has grown from 38 to over 140 members, and it is still growing.
For more information about the Dell Direct Effect Alliance Program, or to become a Dell Direct Effect Alliance member, please visit our Web site at www.dell.com/directeffect/.
Paul Laster (email@example.com) is the Web developer for Dell ESG Server Global Alliances. He has been with the Alliances team at Dell for two years, managing both internal and external Web sites, while attending college full-time at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the primary technical contact for the Dell Direct Effect Alliance Program.