Building and Engaging Customer Relationships A Character at a Time

Can you communicate with your customers in 140 characters? Kate Kaye reports in her post today on Clickz how more and more companies are using Twitter for engaging in customer service, branding, and corporate culture-building.

Kaye gives examples of a number of brands using Twitter but the most notable of the bunch is Zappos, the online shoe store.  Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, says “It’s not about marketing.  It’s about building relationships, and it’s about being real and transparent.”  Zappos has over 26,000 followers on Twitter, and over 400 staff members tweet, too.  See Hsieh’s, Beginner’s Quick Start Guide and Tutorial to Using Twitter.

Also worth noting is Marketing Executives Networking Group’s (MENG) November 2008 survey, which reports 85.4% of the executives cited customer engagement as the main benefit of social media marketing.

Olle Bälter a contributor to William Jones’ book Keeping Found Things Found: The Study and Practice of Personal Information Management, expands upon Guy Kawasaki’s post about effective emailing.  Bälter writes that it’s not uncommon for people to receive as many as 60 incoming email messages a day, and that recipients will most likely read and respond to short, clear messages. He suggests using the subject line effectively–possibly pose your question in the field, and avoid unnecessary text in the message.

With so much information vying for our attention, less is often more. For 2009, if you’re not already using Twitter, you might consider giving it a try.  See if you can gain the attention of your customers, and build stronger relationships with 140 character messages.  Experiment too with writing more concise email messages.  If you already have experiences you’d like to share, tell us about them.

Don't throw Direct Mail Marketing Out– Yet!

Sandra J. Blum writes in The December/January 2009 issue of Dynamic Graphics + Create magazine that direct mail is thriving.  According to Blum, “It’s measurable, tested and proven in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketing.”  Blum writes that the addition of online channels can make your direct mail marketing more targeted, and that those pieces will have a better chance to get noticed. “So direct marketing has not only been replaced by online media,” Blum says, “it has more than proven itself as a valuable partner to online media.”

Amongst several resources, Blum refers to one of our favorite sources, Marketing Sherpa. In survey results Marketing Sherpa published in August ’08, “Lead Nurturing Best Practices: New Data, Charts, Tips to Put More Punch in Your Cultivation Tactics”, they suggest that employing a solid “lead nurturing strategy” is especially important during tough economic times, and offers best practices and strategies which hold the potential to qualify and convert more Web leads.

Marketing Sherpa states that within the companies studied:
56.2% of companies are using additional targeted emails for those prospects
48.9% employ telemarketing to further qualify leads
In comparison, only 22.2% are using direct mail for nurturing beyond emails and telemarketing

Marketing Sherpa recommends using a combination of these media for a strong lead nurturing program.
1. Email Messages:
Send a special, welcome email when a prospect enters your lead nurturing program. If they register for a white paper or other marketing collateral, use a welcome email to thank them, and point out additional education resources available to them.

Also, use prospect emails to periodically alert prospects to new resources e.g. upcoming webinars,
appearances by company officials at events, new white papers

2. Telemarketing
Use specially-trained inside salespeople or outsourced telemarketing to offer additional resources that will help move prospects through the buying process.  In these conversations, collect additional qualifying information, e.g. potential time-frame for purchase decision, details about company size and business needs.

3. Direct Mail
Use targeted mailings, such as a simple postcard, to promote new white papers or upcoming webinars. Postal mail, sent along with an email invite, is a great way to attract additional registrations for your hottest marketing content when inbox overload might cause busy professionals to overlook your email offer.

Larger mailings can also have a big impact on some of your best prospects.  Consider sending them printed product brochures, personalized packages that include targeted content and a branded gift.

Integrate mailing with telemarketing calls. When a telemarketer has identified a more qualified prospect, assemble a customized package of printed materials that demonstrate how your company can help meet their business needs or particular pain points.

In summary, strategies which work for one prospect, simply may not work for another. Since the price of postage and printing has gone up substantially over the last few years, using a targeted direct mail program for your best qualified leads may be the best way to get through to a specific prospective customer.  Experiment. Be open to selective targeted strategies.

Don’t let a prospective or existing client slip through your database. Determine who/what/where/how/when, and continue to re-evaluate every quarter.

LinkedIn: New Generation of Customer Resource Management Tools

LinkedIn was amongst  ReadWriteWeb’s (RWW) impressive Top 10 Enterprise Web Products for 2008, the sixth in their series of top products of 2008 (following semantic web, international, consumer web, RSS and syndication, and mobile web.)

The list of top enterprise web products were intentionally lean (reflective of the times), and had three criteria of importance.  The products must be innovative, already have “major traction” in the market, and possess the ability to outlast the competition. Also, be sure to check out the other 9 picks which made their list for top enterprise web products (a couple of my personal favorites are on it e.g. WordPress, BaseCamp, and Googe Apps.)

ReadWriteWeb stated that their choice of LinkedIn was a “controversial pick”, and representative of contact networking which they believe will be part of next generation Customer Resource Management (CRM). What’s particularly interesting is how RWW  avoided the label of “social networking”–making the claim that enterprises don’t care about being social.  Enterprises according to Read Write Web, care about “managing contacts to make money…and [LinkedIn] has tackled two of the biggest issues for enterprise, acquiring customers and hiring employees.”

Many people I know have been using LinkedIn for their own personal networking. But if your company has made the shift to using LinkedIn for acquiring customers and hiring employees, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Do you relate to LinkedIn as a Customer Resource Managment tool, how has has it worked for your business?

Or, if your company isn’t quite there yet, and you have some success stories of how LinkedIn has worked for your own personal networking, tell us about those, too.

Brand Loyalty: Truth or Fable

What does it take to be loyal to a brand– a product, service or company? I’ve been thinking about writing this post about a company and product you may have heard of—Apple, and their new MacBook Pro, but initially I was afraid it might sound too–well, evangelical.

I could write about how beautiful the MacBook Pro is, if you also happen to find solid aluminum attractive.  Or the brilliant LED-backlit display.  The smooth glass multi-touch trackpad–not too shabby, either.  Or, how happy I am to have a computer which no longer crashes a few times a day.  These are all fine, and quite GOOD.

My loyalty however, comes from my customer experiences with Apple.  I should make it clear upfront that I’m one of those people who happens to like computers and learning new features, ways to do things, and in this case, a whole new operating system.  (My first Mac since the SE/30!)  Needless to say, I was a great candidate for the One to One personal training programs. A great concept, and well worth it, if you intend to follow through and use them. But that’s only part of it.

You see, what has spoken to me most, is the greeting I receive when I walk through the door of the Apple Store.  The friendliness of the staff, and their excitement and respect for the products they’re demoing for you.  But here’s where Apple really obtained my loyalty–follow-up.  After purchasing the laptop, I received an email within 24 hours thanking me for my purchase.  And, not to hesitate to contact them if I have any difficulty.

Then I went to my first One to One training.  The trainer was great, met me where I was at.  At the end, he made sure I signed up for the next training.  Less then 24 hours later,  I received another email from Apple, “Tell us about your session, we’d appreciate your feedback, let us know.”  The rest is history.  I’m a loyal fan.

Yesterday, while driving, I heard a very interesting interview on National Public Radio, with Martin Lindstrom, the author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About What We Buy.  I wasn’t too surprised when I heard Lindstrom use Apple as an example in his research of a brand which “inspires the same sense of devotion and loyalty in use, as provoked by faith or religion.” (I’ve added Buyology to my reading list–it sounds like a very interesting book.)

So when someone tells you “it’s all about the sale”—beware.  The sale is only a part of the equation.  The rest in my opinion, is how you treat the customer before and after the sale…that’s what makes a brand worthy of loyalty.

Oh, what’s that in my inbox?  Another email from concierge@apple.com reminding me of my next session.  Gotta go—but before I do, I’d love to hear what it takes for you to be loyal to a brand or product?  Or, what about your business or organization, what can they do to elicit devotion and loyalty?

The Blogging Bug

Rosemary D’Amour’s post today on The Editors Weblog about Arianna Huffington’s new book, The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, makes me want to purchase a copy right away. The book is described as a “blogging guide which offers tips on how to get started”, as well as Huffington’s point of view.  D’Amour quotes Huffington’s perspective of the blogger’s passion as “an asset that many mainstream journalists lack.”

I’ve run into many bloggers this past year, and can attest to the fact that many appear to have been bitten by the need-to-blog bug.  Since I started blogging, I feel as if I see the world through a wide-angle lens.  I see the effects of social media everywhere–from the discussions at the Thanksgiving table, to the pages of the daily newspaper, TV reports, YouTube videos, podcasts, and the countless number of posts I read on a regular basis.  I “hear” the conversations about blogging filling, what would otherwise be a large void, of “immediacy” information.

You’ve read too, about the effects blogging made on the 2008 Presidential Election, or the blogger-on-the-street reports from Mumbai, Iraq, Afghanistan, Washington, DC, and to the events in your own backyard.

Still, I’m often amazed by the viral conversations that spread across the internet like wildfire–from the positive, insightful comments to the—well, you know the other types I mean.  But the fact that people are talking all hours of the day across the world, about the broadest topics under the sun, is truly exciting.

Oh, what about the book?  Yes, Amazon has a very nice excerpt from Chapter 1, which will have to suffice until my copy arrives.