Monday, June 24, 2002

Know Your Customers - By Name!

You've been doing the tradeshows. You've been spending on a PR agency. You've been running the ads - both print and now online. You've been doing direct mail and now even direct e-mail. And yes, you've also been doing telemarketing. Some of these have been more successful, others less. But somehow you feel that you could do better.

You bet you could.

It is well known that people tend to buy from people they know. Think about your own personal experience with purchases you make. Marketing gurus have been calling it awareness, brand name recognition, and relationships marketing; the essence is the same - people tend to buy from people they know and trust.

I was at the local Barnes & Noble store, when a man was looking for help finding an American Girl book. Turned out the man had no intention of buying a book. He was looking for a place to buy an American Girl doll, and was hoping to find this information in one of the books. As the clerk realized what the man was looking for, she did not become angry or disengaged. On the contrary, she went out of her way to help the man get the information he was looking for, and sure enough, there was a phone number at the back of the book.

You don't have to be a marketing expert to figure out what this experience did to the likelihood of the man stepping into this Barnes & Noble store next time he is looking to purchase a book. Bookstores, realtors, and other local merchants have figured it out long ago: maintain relationships with your customers, provide them with valuable information, make them know you and trust you, and eventually they will buy from you.

Now turn this fact around and look at it from your point of view - the marketer. What does it mean for you? It means that before anybody buys from you, they'd have to know and trust you.

If you want your customers to know you, you should make an effort to know them. No, you cannot go out to lunch with each one of them. It also doesn't mean that you pry on their privacy and find out everything about them. You can start getting to know your customers by taking some very simple steps.

1. Build a target market database.

I assume you have already profiled your target market general demographics, such as SIC codes, geography, company size, etc. Based on these profiles, you can purchase an initial list of the companies in your target market. Knowing these companies by name is the first step.

2. Engage in a conversation.

Now that you have the names of the companies and maybe the names of some decision makers within these companies, you want to start a conversation. In most cases, the most effective way to communicate with these people is through e-mail, but you have to get their permission to use it.

How do you get permission? First, you ask for it. Surprisingly enough, the most cost effective way to do it is by calling the people in your target database. It will also help you clean up the database in the process. Then, offer valuable content so people want to get information from you (a newsletter is a great vehicle for establishing permission, provided it is educational and not just another sales pitch for your company).

Consistency is key here. You want to keep the conversation going, so you have to keep providing valuable content and find as many ways as possible to engage the readers in a dialog (again, a newsletter could be a great vehicle; more about newsletters in one of the upcoming issues).

3. Don't throw away the good leads.

You may say "of course not!", but I bet most of you do. Here's a common scenario that takes place in many companies I've seen: a lead is generated through your marketing campaign. Your sales person calls the lead (as you can see later in this newsletter, more often than not even this doesn't happen, but let's assume that's not your case...) She finds out that the lead is interested but not ready to buy yet. What are the chances the sales people will contact this lead again in 3 months? You get the picture...

It's up to you, the marketing person, to make sure these leads are kept at the top of the funnel, stay active and informed. You already know them, don't be a stranger! Remember, the chances that someone that already knows you will buy from you are much higher than for someone who is hearing about you for the first time!

4. Don't throw away the bad leads.

This is less obvious, but it will save you a lot of money down the road. Every one of these names that is absolutely not qualified and will never be your customer is one that you never want to spend another dollar on. But you have to know them by name in order to make sure you don't.

If you stay the course with these simple four steps, you are constantly qualifying and refining your target market database, and at the same time maintaining live dialogs with people you know. But you're doing more than this: you are turning your target market from an elusive mass into a growing body of people that have the highest probability of buying from you - people who know you and trust you.

This kind of target marketing is much more effective than sporadic initiatives, trying to always find "new" leads and restarting the process from scratch with every new marketing campaign. Not only will you get better results, but you can also save a lot of money that you currently spend on re-acquiring names of people you used to know and re-qualifying people you've already qualified.

If you haven't tried it yet, you owe it to yourself. We'll be happy to hear about your own target marketing experience or to chat with you before you get started.

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