On the first page of the foreword of the provocative celebration of the Web, The Cluetrain Manifesto*, you’ll find the following revelations: “”…that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human,”” and “”natural, human conversation is the true language of commerce.”” The book goes on to zone in specifically
on the honesty provided by the Web as a communication vehicle, and discusses its power to bring humans closer in touch. But these words also ring true in considering the widespread movement towards a personalized, one-to-one customer approach.
Fierce competition in the IT industry has put power firmly in the hands of customers. And those customers who are savvier than ever. Purchasing trends are also driving this relationship-focused movement. Resellers are likely noting the change that companies are becoming increasingly wary of making purchase commitments to complete solutions. From both a cost and a practical implementation perspective, customers are taking their time, and making their purchases ‘piece-by-piece’.
A substantial customer knowledge base and prolonged implementations can ultimately mean a boon to a reseller’s business. These trends are seeing vendors cultivating deeper, longer-term relationships with their customers in order to remain ahead of the ever-present competition and maximize the volume of business possible from their current clients.
Forward-thinking sellers are recognizing that there is opportunity to cross-market more products and services to their existing customers, but first they need to know what they need and want. To do that, they’re seeking to build open lines of personalized communication, and are working proactively to establish and maintain trust and loyalty. The face-to-face customer event is perhaps the most effective means of initiating this more open style of relationship, but it doesn’t stop there. Frequent gatherings with your customers and ongoing one-to-one communications will aid your business in developing and sustaining honest and valuable liaisons.
The Customer Event: a very effective tool
The first step in developing a valuable customer event is to identify your audience. This process should be data-driven, analyzing advances in industries, demographics and trends, and applications for your products or services. Review customer segment behavior, implementation schedules and buying patterns. These can illuminate how a particular group of customers will be likely to act next. Use this information to develop a list of your best customers — the kind of customers that represent growth via cross-selling opportunities, long-term annuities and referrals.
Develop your event for a smaller group. Camaraderie and loyalty propagate in a more intimate setting. Select customers with a similar interest in your offering. With like-minded people as your audience, you can customize content to demonstrate that you understand their unique needs.
Keep content to one key topic targeted to this particular group and develop a straightforward message that will resonate with everyone. Articulate to your team the company’s guiding principles and objectives for customer loyalty, and don’t forget to represent the consistent company brand. There is no requirement need to sacrifice brand in order to achieve a higher level of business with your customers.
When you’re getting together with your customers with the goal of deepening your relationship, it ‘s important to provide an event program geared to honest interaction – a holistic experience that will engage them on a human level. The sixteenth thesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto offers: “”Companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.”” So stop worrying about focusing on “”The Close”” and be yourself. . Get to know your customers’ needs. And remember Jack Nicholson’s counsel from the Overlook Hotel**: “”All work and no play…”” An element of fun goes a long way towards putting people at ease, helping to make the event a positive and memorable experience for your guests.
The customer event is an excellent environment for asking tough questions, listening and learning. Information shared is vital to bettering the your offering and building a stronger relationship. But in order to be really successful in retaining your customers and building loyalty however, you have to carry through with your walk, the post-event activities.
Publish your findings to the database and share conclusions across the organization. Make sure the service measures up to the promise. The key differentiator today is value to the customer. They want to know that you’re listening to them, that you understand their business, and that you’re giving them information they can use the straight goods. When you show your customers that you respect and appreciate them, they will respond with loyalty.
Peppers and Rogers***, pioneers of the customer relationship management movement, suggests “”One-to-one marketing is a two way street. Success requires engaging customers in a back and forth dialogue, then using valuable feedback to improve each relationship individually.”” The customer event is a great venue to kick off this progressive, human dialogue. Demonstrate to customers that your company is made up of people who care, and your business will see the reward.
Chris McCarten is president and CEO of Myriad Marketing Inc., an integrated marketing and corporate communications firm, specializing in Closed Loop Marketing strategies. For more information, please visit myriadinc.com or contact Chris McCarten at firstname.lastname@example.org
* The Cluetrain Manifestois written by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, and published by Perseus Books, first printing December 1999.
** The Overlook Hotel is a reference to Stephen King novel The Shining. Also, a 1979 film starring Jack Nicholson.
*** Visit Peppers + Rogers at www.1to1.com