A mentor of mine used to tell this story about an agency at which he used to work. Every time he’d leave for a pitch or presentation, his boss would exclaim “GTM!”, meaning “get the money.” And every time my mentor would reply with “BTR!”, or “build the relationship.”
The “GTM” sentiment grated him. In his opinion, the money follows the relationship. Or, as Robert Solomon writes in The Art of Client Service: great work might land the business, but great relationships keep it.
“Relationship marketing” is a little too buzzwordy for my taste, but the sentiment I agree with. Study after study after study has confirmed that it’s less expensive and more profitable to prioritize growing your existing business by nurturing your current customers rather than relying solely on the acquisition of new leads.
But there are additional, equally practical reasons to avoid leaving your current customers as an afterthought as you move into strategic planning for 2015.
Ignoring your customers annoys them
Quick story. Last year, after buying a new pair of shoes at my local running store (and giving up my email in the process), I began receiving emails about an upcoming training program they had for a half marathon. They hit me at the right time; I signed up. And while the training program was a great success, I’ll admit I was a little put off when I started receiving consistent emails throughout the training asking me if I wanted to sign up for a beginner’s couch-to-5K training program.
Call it petty, but realizing I was part of an obvious mass promotional email after I’d already converted annoyed me. And it’ll annoy your customers, too.
That might seem like the “well, duh” statement of the year, but it’s an easy mistake to make. It could be as innocent as sending an email to your master list promoting your upcoming webinar, thinking it could also serve as a reminder of the event for current registrants or that current registrants might feel compelled to forward the message on to a friend or colleague.
A simple mistake like this runs the risk of making your current customers feel disregarded or forgotten about. The good news is there’s a pretty simple fix. And it won’t require a huge chunk of next year’s marketing budget. But more on that later.
Nurturing your customers helps garner new leads
Research from McKinsey & Company reveals that a customer’s experience of a brand significantly influences the purchasing decisions of not only existing customers but also your prospects. That’s right. Nurturing your current customers is likely to help you land new business from prospects currently in your pipeline.
That’s because, whether you’re privy to it or not, your customers are talking about you. Through online reviews, through social media, through referrals, through off-handed comments on the golf course, they’re talking about you. And your prospects are listening. They’re listening closely, trusting what others say about your brand, and making purchasing decisions based on what they discover.
Although you’re not running the show here, building relationships with your current customers gives you an opportunity to indirectly influence this dialogue. Customers who feel connected to your brand will want to help it succeed. Which brings us to my next point…
Listening to your customers makes you better
Your current customers are a vital asset to your brand. They experience your services daily and have a front row seat to the things you do well and the things upon which you can improve. This puts them in a position to provide you invaluable feedback. So don’t hesitate to ask them for it. After all, if you’ve invested time in building a relationship with customers even after they initially sign on the dotted line, they’ll want to help you and your company be better.
And another added bonus? That kind of investment builds customer loyalty. Suddenly you and your company aren’t just 3rd party service providers. You’re a brand they’re helping to shape and influence and improve upon, and they’ll be proud to have been a part of it.
The Fix: Using your tools the right way
This all sounds great, right? But your marketing budget can only stretch so far and it’s not as if you can tell the sales department to forget about those aggressive lead acquisition quotas they’ve handed you for next year. Here’s the good news: becoming a better “relationship marketer” is simpler (read: cheaper) than you might think.
That’s because your fundamental digital marketing infrastructure (e.g., your website, marketing automation system, CRM, etc…) doesn’t actually have to change. The way you’re using it should. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you begin to better connect with your current customers:
- First things first, remember your customers when developing your content strategy. Odds are their key values have shifted along with their original lead status. Differentiate the needs and values of your customers from those of your prospects, and prioritize them. Develop and deliver content that’s specific to those values on a regular basis.
- Consider how different types of content might suit your customer persona. Would a survey help you improve your overall brand experience? Would a request for a referral help you land that prospect teetering on the edge? Remember, content deployed to your customers is about dialogue more than it is about promotion. That means the communications can and should flow both ways. Not to mention, asking for this feedback will help your customers feel more invested in your brand.
- If you haven’t already, create a segment of your master list for your current customers. Use it to suppress your customers from your promotional marketing emails.
- If you’re using a marketing automation platform for email communications, remember to establish “early exit conditions” when setting up drip campaigns. This will ensure that people who convert earlier than expected will not continue to receive promotional emails.
- Ease up on the heavily branded and templated emails with customers. Format more of your communications in a rich text format, so they appear to have come directly from your mailbox to theirs. This is actually a good best practice for any of your marketing communications, but it’s especially relevant for your customers.
- Use progressive profiling on your website’s forms. Do you already know a contact’s name and email address? Don’t ask for it again the next time they try to download a resource from your site. Progressive profiling will allow you to auto-fill the fields which you already know and ask different questions instead (e.g., Company, Title, Location, etc…). This not only helps your customers (or anyone who has previously converted) feel prioritized but also it helps you learn more about the people taking actions on your site.
- Consider developing “premier” content for your current customers. Perhaps a customer newsletter or monthly email with the latest and greatest from your brand. It’ll keep them dialed into the inner workings of your company, which will come in handy when they are presented with an opportunity to refer your services to a prospect.
- Lastly, and this is a big one, email your master list with care. There are few communications suitable for everyone.
I’m interested to learn of other ways you’re leveraging your existing digital marketing tools to build relationships with current customers without breaking the bank. What’s worked for you? What’s been a challenge? Let’s continue the dialogue in the comments below.