Blog : Email Marketing

The customer is always active

Welcome - the key is under the mat

With all of the digital tools at our fingertips, the field of Customer Relationship Management is exploding. Whether you’re talking about email marketing, social media, or cloud-based database systems, the value of relationships is sure to be at the forefront of the conversation.

I had two encounters recently, that clearly illustrate an interesting concept in relationship management. Both situations involved businesses that were very non-technical by nature; medical, in one instance, and brick-and-mortar retail in the other.

Situation A

Last year, I visited a local dental surgeon for an assessment about a fairly major (but optional) procedure. I was impressed with the home-like atmosphere of the clinic, the friendly faces, the smiles and comforting assurance.

After two visits, I was left with an armful of pamphlets, a medical insurance quote, and a major decision to make. I decided that, although the procedure was something I wanted to pursue someday, the timing wasn’t quite right.

During the last 12 months, the thought bubbled up from time to time. I read online forums, I spoke to others who have been in my spot. I’ve even mentioned it during several speaking engagements. For a big ticket purchase, I was exhibiting behaviour that I would imagine is typical for the buying cycle: I was taking my time.

Last week, I decided it was time to move ahead. This morning, I dialed the phone, feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement.

The receptionist took my name and paused. She broke a long silence with an unexpected response. We’ve marked your status as inactive – I’ll have to have someone dig up your record and get back to you later this week.

Situation B

I visited a local retail store five months ago, looking to make a fairly substantial purchase – not nearly on the scale of dental surgery in terms of cost or consequence; but still fairly expensive. The owner struck up a conversation, explaining the story of their family business. He gave me a card, took my name, and shook my hand. There were no comfy couches or crackling fireplaces, but the authenticity of the conversation achieved the same sense of comfort and familiarity I had felt in the aforementioned clinic.

I’m sure my name was never entered into a database.

I didn’t make a purchase that day, either. I chose something else, somewhere else and he never heard from me again.

Recently, I wandered back into the store. The conversation picked up where we had left off, many months ago. He knew my name, and he recognized that I had chosen to shop elsewhere after our first interaction. No problem – I’m so glad that gift worked out. I have a few things that I think you’ll love… let me show you.

Your customer owns the relationship

No matter how shiny or fancy your database might be, you never actually own any relationship. Any status you apply to a customer is ultimately just your best guess of their future actions; not a reflection of their true state.

It’s an odd juxtaposition: As technology has advanced for businesses to manage relationships, that same technology has put more power in the hands of the consumer; weakening any “ownership” that the business may have once had.

Your old signals might be broken

Once upon a time, a customer had to rely on the business for all information and consultation prior to taking the next step. Status was quite simple – the business owned the funnel, and could count the customers they had traipsing along the pipeline.

The game is different now, and the pipeline is full of holes. Your customer can look up any technical specs, access reviews, and comparison shop from the palm of their hand – on their own terms. Traditional signals of “inactivity” (aka: we haven’t heard from them in awhile) might not apply anymore.

Look for new signals

This is where our shiny new tools can come in handy. What’s the ROI of Facebook “Like”, Twitter Follow or Email subscriber? So often, people stumble here, debating dollar values. These asymmetrical, loose-tie relationships represent a juicy middle ground between the on-or-off customer status that businesses might have applied in the past. They symbolize I’m still here, just not quite ready. They allow you continue to educate. They also allow you to note new changes in a potential customer’s life; data that could very easily be factored back into a database system client status.

How are you equipping your potential customers to keep you on their radar? Do you have a communication plan for loose-tie connections, beyond “add them to email blasts?”. Be honest.

Open your arms for inactives

No one likes to walk into a room where no one knows their name. We like to fit in.

Perhaps, a less comfortable sensation is the thought that the room of people who once knew you might have forgotten you exist. We like to be memorable.

While Pareto might espouse the value of focusing on your top 20% of customers, you also need to pay close attention to those who might seem to be “inactive”. These represent relationships that are hanging on by a thread.

How do you welcome them back?

How do you ensure that they don’t feel like outsiders?

How do you make the next conversation feel like home?

Photo credit: alborzshawn

Say 20% Less

Did you know that Spanish contains 20% more words than English? I didn’t. Not until it was too late. Not until my translators let me know – with a slight hint of frustration in their (out of breath) voices.

I had just completed my first speech with simultaneous translation, at an incredible event in Mexico City. I thought it had gone pretty well (and it had), with the majority of the room giving all of the usual signs of being on board: heads nodding, eyes and mouths smiling, notes scribbling; all happening at the right times.

But for those who weren’t quite able to speak my language, I had presented them with a situation where they could have potentially missed one out of every five words. Lesson learned.

Say 20% Less

Think about how often you communicate with audiences who might not be fully fluent in your language. For marketers, this happens a lot. If you’re trying to teach someone about a new product or service – there’s always going to be elements of your communication that are foreign to them.

By saying 20% less, you give them more time to think about what you’re saying.

  • You give them more time to write things down.
  • You give them space to ask some questions.
  • You give them less information to process and remember before they ask you for more.
  • You give the conversation room to breathe.

I’m taking this into account for all of my future speaking and writing. How can you communicate more by saying less?

Photo Credit: Julius Mourlon

Bend the corners of your customers

Somewhere in my parents’ attic are boxes full of baseball cards. They sit there and they collect dust. Once upon a time, I put them behind hard plastic cases, shoved them in binders, and shielded them from sunlight, dust and fingerprints. In another box lie comic books, pressed against cardboard backings in carefully sealed plastic bags; some never even read. In my dark closet sit bottles of wine, that I look at and rotate, but never think of drinking.

These things all sit there because, by not interacting with them, I have been led to believe they will appreciate in value.

Your customers are not baseball cards

Somewhere in your organization are collections of your customers. They’re pressed into database tables like baseball cards. Like unread comic books, their stories remain untold. You don’t interact with them, because if you did; someone is afraid you might bend the corners or put a crease on the page.

By keeping them safe, perfect, untouched… you’ve been led to believe that they will remain valuable to you.

People don’t like being in collections

Give this a try. The next time you interact with a customer (or even a friend), ask them for their email address or phone number. Tell them “I’m going to add you to my marketing database, so I can extract value from this relationship when the time is right for me.”
That bristling sound you hear will be all of the proof that you need. People are not baseball cards. Confirmed.

Try bending the corners

Here’s an A/B test to run, and I hope someone gives it a shot.

Segment your database in half. Start a dialogue with half, via email, for example. Send them all a note asking what’s new in their jobs, what’s changed since you last saw each other, what challenges they’re facing these days. Ask them how you can help. Tell them you’re open to their suggestions as to how you can help them win.

Leave the other half to “collect value”, safely protected in their cozy database cells, and only bother them when you’re ready to cash them in.

Track the engagement of the two groups over time. Which group opens your emails? Which group engages with your offers? Which group buys more stuff? Recommends you to their friends? Who has the largest lifetime value?

As a customer, which group would you rather be in?

Photo Credit: Adam Glasgow

Broadcast media broke us

I’m not about to sit here and say that traditional media is dead. (It’s not.) I’m also not going to get into a discussion about the different ways that traditional broadcast media broken. (Though, It’s certainly due for reinvention)

What is more important than either of those discussions is understanding the way that traditional media broke us.

The break wasn’t violent, so we probably didn’t notice. It happened over time, and carried with it some wonderful side effects. Broadcast media allowed our messages to travel far and wide, with borrowed influence of respected publications.

We got starstruck. We got hooked. We forgot.

We are them

We became dependent on the ability of a few to tell our stories. We forgot that we could tell them ourselves. We forgot that every day people don’t read press releases, they read every day things. We forgot that we could speak directly to these every day people about those every day things. They link between us and them is not the press – the secret is that we are them, and our bonds are shared values and experiences.

We forgot that we’re the real experts. We forgot that we have the authentic perspectives and the true knowledge within our organizations. Journalists and reporters try to tell our stories from the outside looking in. If we all lived on Pandora, then we’re the ones wearing the big blue suits. Journalists are looking for stories, while we live them every day.

Don’t stop

Write your press releases, but then write more. Release your trailer, and then make the film. Tell the whole story. Often. And then tell another. Put them in high traffic spaces, let people share them.

People will come

Telling your own stories has a wonderfully addictive side effect of its own. People will come. People will talk about you, converse with you, and want to share your ideas with eachother.

Know what journalists are always drawn to, even more than a press release on a wire?
A crowd.

So go build one

Treating your customers like family

Did your mother ever insist you write hand-written thank you notes for gifts?

There’s a reason she didn’t encourage you to enter all of your closest friends and relatives into Salesforce and generate a template response with quick instant personalization.

By taking the time to put a pen on paper and craft a note, you demonstrated to the recipient that they had your full attention. It showed them that you cared.

A valuable resource

Getting someone’s full attention is an increasingly rare thing these days. Everyone is busy and under the influence of an increasing number of channels of information. Part of the selling points of social media is the ability to make things more personal. We fawn over the ability for an organization to send an @reply on Twitter, or to respond individually to a blog comment. We act as if technology somehow invented the personal touch.

A technology company that gets it

A welcome card from Blue Sky Factory I found it ironically awesome that I got a handwritten note in the mail today from of all places, an email marketing company. Blue Sky Factory understands how to build a community.

By stepping outside of the obvious social channels of “mass personalization” (which they also do very well), they distinguished themselves from the crowd.

Consider the impact. Your audience is being inundated with digital “social” requests. Follow us here! Subscribe to us there! Be our friend! Like us! How can you stand out as being genuine?

Remember how your mom taught you to send personal cards to your family? This kind of personal touch will build the same bonds between you and your customers.

Social media is a great way to personalize your customer relationships, but it’s not the only way.

How else can businesses be more personal in their interactions with you as a customer?

Deadlines don’t mean death

We live surrounded by deadlines. Everything has to be done by a certain date and time; packaged up and shipped out the door.

What’s your next action? Cross it off the list and move onto the next thing?

Shipping is important

Seth Godin has hammered the point home in Linchpin. Great artists ship. No matter what your product is, if you don’t get it out the door – no one can use it. It might as well not exist.

Some people get hung up here. Procrastination visits early, indecision settles in midway through, and doubt creeps in towards the end. Deadlines can slide as new features are added and the hopeless quest for perfection turns a great idea into a rusty anchor around your neck.

Perfection is important

If you’re building rocket ships or nuclear power plants. If your job involves crash test dummies, by all means, take your time. We’ll all wait.

If you’re in marketing… lives are not at risk. Give yourself the license to play and be creative. Challenge yourself to always do better.

Deadline doesn’t equal death

Software companies get this. Version one is never the final release. In fact, we’ve become accustomed to a nomenclature that infers progressive improvement. Version 1.0 -> 1.1 -> 1.2 … The dot means “to be continued”.

Think about how many of your deadlines are dictated by antiquated technologies, processes or ideas. How can you think more like a software company… how can your ideas “be continued”.

Your website is in beta

This is the most obvious example. That shiny new website you just rolled out? Slap an imaginary construction-worker graphic (circa 1997) on your pages, because you should always be under construction. Pay attention to analytics, pay attention to user feedback, pay attention to new ideas and test them. Websites are made to iterate.

Avoid last pages and final scenes

In the world of traditional media, there was little opportunity to make changes. Your brochures went to print. Your spot ran during the Super Bowl. Shipped. Over.

Why should a brochure ever end? Are you letting a printing schedule hold you back from telling great stories? Can you really say it all in one 30 second spot?

Think of ways to complement “traditional” media – the kind with hard deadlines and difficult revisions – with your new “to be continued” mentality.

  • Revise digital brochure PDFs even after version 1.0 has gone to print. As long as specs and details are accurate, people are most likely not going to compare and complain about content differences.
  • Add regular email campaigns to continue the storylines you created in your product brochures.
  • Create a channel of videos to either replace or support major video marketing initiatives (think Old Spice)
  • Use applications (iPhone/iPad/Android/Kindle etc) to push the most relevant, new, important, interesting content directly to your consumer, avoiding the deadline death of printing processes altogether

When you infuse iterative culture into the process, deadlines stop signifying the death of a project – they simply become markers from which you can benchmark and measure your evolution.

A nice byproduct of the process is that deadlines might stop threatening to be the death of you as well; unrealistic expectations of perfection are lifted, replaced with the liberating feeling of creativity and endless possibility.

Conversation means blue skies for vendors

Imagine for a moment that you’ve just sat down in a very nice restaurant. You look around, and they’ve got everything just right. You’ve heard about this place from friends – it is totally the place to be.

You ask the waiter for some suggestions. He suggests the lobster; fresh, tasty and only $300.

“I’m sorry, $300…. for lobster?” You manage to exclaim…

“Yes, our lobster is the best in the province. Each is caught by hand by our chef, who dives to the bottom of the ocean each morning. They are then prepared with the most delicious spices, grown in our own Tibetan monastery and served with a selection of organic, free-range seasonal vegetables. While you eat you will be serenaded by a choir of actual angels.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that you only have $100 in your pocket…

“Wow. Uh. That all sounds amazing but… well… do you have anything more affordable?”

“Here? Nah – we only do the high end stuff. We’d love for you to eat here, but I’ll tell you what… head down the street and hang a left. There’s this fantastic little hole-in-the-wall place. Great lobster, really fun atmosphere. Great folks run the place – say hi for me. If you want, I can call for you, to see if they’ve got tables available?”

Imagine what a wonderful world that would be.

Blue skies as far as the eye can see

Last week, a good friend of mine required some help getting set up with an email marketing service provider. For months, I have been dying to check out Blue Sky Factory. I’ve heard many good things about them as they sponsor Marketing Over Coffee, and are mentioned on Twitter frequently. Their CEO, Greg Cangialosi is mentioned so many times in Trust Agents that it’s worthy of a drinking game unto itself. But it wasn’t until this week, that I realized why.

Every relationship has a story.

Unfortunately, Blue Sky Factory is not the right fit for my friend… for now. Their base service plan is more expensive than he’s looking for; and justifiably so. It offers far more complexity than he needs and is built for a more established email marketing plan – offering fantastic testing and measurement features along with consulting services that warrant the bigger spend. Its a Ferrari; I was more interested in a Toyota.

Many salespeople would take this opportunity to push for an up-sell or force their product to be the right fit for every situation. Without the sale, for most companies and most customers, the story would end here.

Make yourself part of the story

It wasn’t until I turned to Twitter to get a recommendation for a different service provider, that Blue Sky Factory demonstrated why they are well prepared to own this game.

Blue Sky Factory - Great Email Service Provider

DJ Waldow, BSF’s Director of Community, volunteered to help me find a more suitable email provider. He understood that they didn’t offer the exact solution that I needed, and went out of his way to make sure that my experience with Blue Sky Factory was positive… even if it meant sending business elsewhere.

On DJ’s recommendation, my friend will be using Mailchimp, but Blue Sky Factory is now a part of the story.

An established expert

They didn’t need a catchy slogan, a magazine spread or a celebrity testimonial to imprint that into my memory. I’ve never seen an actual advertisement for them, and couldn’t draw their logo from memory. And yet I know that Blue Sky Factory’s brand represents expertise in the email marketing field and superb customer service.

Good business shouldn’t begin with the sale, shouldn’t end with the sale, and as demonstrated here, shouldn’t require a sale at all. Good business is about the conversation.

If your business wants to have a conversation about email marketing, DJ Waldow would be more than happy to help.

What others businesses have won you over by recommending the right solution, instead of their solution?