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Sykes’ Clearlink: Selling in the New Digital World

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Three watershed moments in online sales and support happened in November and went somewhat under the radar. At the beginning of the month, StatCounter reported that mobile surpassed desktop browsing for the first time at a global level. Then for the Singles Day in China, e-commerce retailers JD and Alibaba not only announced record sales, but the latter opened up the event internationally for the Taiwanese and Hong Kong markets. And after Black Friday, the National Retail Federation in the U.S. estimated more online than in-store shoppers for the first time.

While these events do not sound the death knell for physical stores or traditional websites, they confirm that when B2C brands identify their customers today, the thinking needs to be primarily in terms of digital customers. The challenges of such a shift become not just the ability to sell and support customers online, but discoverability and relevance.

Customer management outsourcers react: Sykes’ acquisition of Clearlink

2016 has been an active year for M&A in the customer experience outsourcing space, with several acquisitions driven by scale, market entry, analytics, and automation resources. Several have been pure additions of digital marketing and sales capabilities. The largest came from Sykes.

On 1st April, Sykes completed the acquisition of Clearlink for a cash consideration of $209.5m. The Salt Lake City, Utah-based Clearlink is a lead generation, inbound sales, and digital marketing company with ~1.5k employees (~1k inbound sales agents) in two centers in Utah and one in Arizona. Annual revenues are ~$123m (2015).

Clearlink supports B2C clients in the telecoms, satellite television, home security, and insurance sectors in the U.S. Its clients include AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Verizon, DISH, Liberty Mutual, MetLife, Windstream, HughesNet, Safeco, The General, Progressive, and Dairyland.

Merging online and contact center sales

Clearlink generates inbound calls from the digital marketing campaigns it runs on behalf of its clients. It designs, hosts, and manages websites, creates social media marketing content, organizes paid and organic search over Google and Bing, and runs display, social media, video, and text message ads. Clearlink has integrated digital marketing with its contact center operations using algorithms to automatically adjust search engine campaigns in near real-time against the availability and performance of the sales floor. It also optimizes contact center staffing based on the requirements of the online campaigns. At a granular level, it can prioritize marketing campaigns based on their profitability over the phone.

Over the last eight years, Clearlink has developed a proprietary contact management platform which tracks individual users from the web to the contact center. The company collects the search data, browsing history, device information, and journey path on the website, and attaches it to the call record when it is initiated in the system.

End-to-end new acquisitions

Typically, marketing and sales departments are separate from the customer service operation which runs the in-house contact centers, and often manages outsourced partnerships, creating a disconnect between marketing efforts, sales skills, and contact center management. For Clearlink, the combination of digital marketing and contact center skills translates into the end-to-end management of new customer acquisitions. For example, for Frontier Communications, Clearlink serves as the digital agency of record and sales campaign outsourcer for the client’s West region. It manages traffic generation such as branded paid search, SEO, display and remarketing, email campaigns, and online buy-flow as well as website management of West.Frontier.com, retail store pages, blogs and PR content. Customers can reach the sales team via inbound call, chat, email, and SMS, but also complete the purchase online on the dedicated page. 

For the majority of its engagements, Clearlink operates on an outcome-based model, being paid only for the new customers it acquires. This model transfers the initial investment costs and risk from the client’s marketing department to the vendor.

Results in the satellite industry

For a satellite TV provider, Clearlink has been a top 3 sales partner for the last 12 years. The engagement began with the client looking to market and sell satellite TV and installations through online channels and improve the brand perception through targeted sales. Clearlink runs or enhances the organic and paid search, display, email, and phone search, print directory, and partnership marketing.

Since 2003, Clearlink has acquired over 500k customers for the satellite TV provider, with 65% of the customers in the highest quality tier of service, with a network high installation completion rate of 84%. It has consistently exceeded targets by 5-8% for high value channel package sales.

Opportunities from Sykes’ CX market & opportunities from growth verticals

Historically, Clearlink expanded through entry into adjacent industries such as telecoms, satellite TV, and home security, and uses this complementary environment to cross-sell to the end user. Currently, Sykes is assessing the possibilities to extend the Clearlink capability to markets outside the U.S., but its primary focus is on developing a comprehensive offering that includes marketing, sales, and support management over the full customer lifecycle. With a couple of shared clients in the telecoms space, the opportunity is there and the company has begun working on such projects.

Another significant growth opportunity is the connected home. With a marquee client in this space, Sykes is actively engaging during this peak retail season. But it is also looking to capture the telecoms providers and emerging players investing in IoT.

In the small and medium sized enterprises, Sykes also identifies another opportunity. In telecoms, this segment is underserved, and Sykes wants to expand its current mid-office and front-office support to new acquisitions by simplifying the selection, purchase, and provisioning of services.

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