Computerized Sales Tools Give Instant Information

The Woodlands, Texas, December 16, 1996 - Computer technology can bring information to customers more easily, quickly and cheaply. Delivered on single floppy disks that contain hundreds of pages of information, computer-powered sales tools are replacing large quantities of brochures and literature pieces that end up in stacks, file cabinets or bookshelves in offices across the country.

"Never before have we been able to incorporate so much information on a single computer disk as we can today," said Vic Cherubini, President of epic software group, inc., The Woodlands, Texas. The company creates interactive brochures and catalogs for such clients as Pennzoil, Shell, 3M and Raychem. "We can combine many different elements: technical data, company information, visuals, video animation and even engaging games to entertain an information-hungry customer."

With computerized sales tools, the advertiser benefits from the lower cost of producing expensive printed materials and using fewer natural resources. The customer gets more detail about technical products at his fingertips and immediate access to information, rather than having to wait for material to be mailed. In addition, a one-disk catalog provides that supplier with the ability to easily and continuously update technical data.

Many companies use computer technology to reduce the amount of time their sales people spend on the phone because customers' questions are answered more quickly by computer programs. Plus, users will spend more time on their computer than with a brochure or a video. According to leading industry source, users will spend 25-30 minutes interacting with a computer program vs. 10 min with a video and 5 min with a print medium. "I call this the Nintendo syndrome," said epic's Cherubini. "Computer programs are engaging, so you lose track of the time spent in front of a computer screen."

Even more striking is the amount of information retained by computer users. Users may retain up to 80% of the material from an interactive disk, while only 50% from a video and 10% from a print vehicle.

Many companies are realizing the benefits offered to them and their customers by computerized sales tools. The Adhesive and Sealant Business for Kraton Polymers of Shell Chemical Co. decided to computerize its technical data. "We needed an innovative and effective way to distribute the large amount of sales and technical data associated with Kraton Polymer products," said Bruce Toig, Manager, Adhesives & Sealants, Shell Chemical Company. "The computer turned out to be the perfect medium to bring together elements of our printed sales literature, video and presentation graphics." He added, "It also gave our customers another medium that doesn't take up as much space."

When Shell called epic's Cherubini to ask for his help in developing the Shell Adhesives Guide for Everyone (S.A.G.E.), the company wanted to computer program to do more than just promote the line of high-performance products, but to offer a variety of helpful tools for the adhesive chemist. The program includes a powerful adhesive design guide, typical properties, information on resins and plasticizers, starting point formulations for adhesive and sealant applications and a glossary of industry terms.

According to Toig, "With the predictive model available in the S.A.G.E. program, customers can now sit in front of their computer screens and test an adhesive formulation through an interactive formulary in seconds, versus a day or more in the lab."

The S.A.G.E. program entertains while it informs, incorporating graphics, sound and animation. For example, color photographs of Shell's adhesives customer service team members are provided, as well as the Kraton technical hotline representative. An explanation of monomers, polymers, hydorgenation, etc., is carefully provided through the use of animation.

The program incorporates frequently asked questions and answers, such as how to place an order and package weights of various products. In addition, it presents general information about Shell chemical Co., the Elastomers Business, a description of its raw materials plant in Beeper, Ohio, and a review of statistical process control (SPC).

Shell Chemical also included an informative game modeled after the popular television game show, Jeopardy! called the "S.A.G.E. Challenge." The game pits the skill of the user against the computer on a variety of questions about Kraton Polymers and adhesive processing conditions. The computer clocks and records the user's performance.

After a year of development, the S.A.G.E. program was completed this past winter and mailed to more than 400 shell customers. "To encourage customer feedback, we invited our customers to use S.A.G.E. and then send us their opinions and suggestions through a 'fax back' form built into the program," said Toig. "We are pleased with the software design, which allows us to add new product information without incurring outside programming cost."

Overall response to the program has been very positive from Shell's customers. Many have been impressed with the program's abilities and contents, and customers have commented that using S.A.G.E. is enjoyable. One customer wrote that the program is "exceptionally unique and well put together. The information and system of presentation allows for an interactive learning system that provides new and different mode." According to Cherubini and Toig, S.A.G.E. can be used with a keyboard or a mouse and offers a fax and print feature, making it user friendly.

Will there be more to come? "Definitely," say Cherubini. He expects that in the future, companies will purchase their own private bulletin boards and customers will get the latest brochure zapped to them by electronic modem. A jet fax system is already under way in which magazine subscribers get information free via their personal computers. They can access brochures, ads and any other information by calling a toll-free number to enter a computer database, and then select from a list of advertisers.

As for Shell, if the response to S.A.G.E. remains positive, the company is considering a second mailing of the program to graduates of polymer science programs and also to potential customers. A limited number of the S.A.G.E. program disks are available, but only to qualified adhesive manufacturers.