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If you owned a store and noticed a customer in the store looking perplexed, wouldn't you go to the customer and ask if there was anything you could help them with? What would you ask at that point? What would you say back depending on what the customer responded? This, in effect, is a dialog. You are initiating a dialog to help the customer at that particular point in the customer's sales cycle, with the goal of moving the customer to the next step in the sales cycle.

In one to one marketing parlance, you are interacting with the customer so as to ascertain more about the customer's needs, to ascertain more about the value of the customer to your business. Based on what you learn, you then tailor the interaction that you provide to that customer so as to provide unique value to each customer relationship, which in effect is treating customers differently based on their needs and value to your firm.

If you noticed such a perplexed customer, would you do nothing and then wait a month or more, collect the names of customers who similarly looked perplexed, and only then contact them to ask why they were perplexed? Or, would you not even bother to do that and instead simply send some irrelevant (to their present needs) offer? I would not, yet that's what many companies do with their email marketing campaigns.

If a customer needs help, the time to offer assistance is then and there. This can be considered the event that requires action on your behalf. Use the event to interact and solicit more about their current needs and provide a solution to those needs. Then, use the opportunity to follow up to solicit feedback and to ascertain more about future needs and potential value to your firm.

What do you do have to do to create a dialog? I can show you by considering an example. I'll review the steps for preparing a dialog marketing campaign by considering a high tech company looking to automatically help customers move along the customer lifecycle, but these steps can be applied to any other industry:

1. Review your business and marketing goals: What are the most important business goals of your company, and what is your marketing strategy for accomplishing those goals? What has and hasn't worked from your existing or prior marketing strategy in accomplishing these goals? For instance, a high tech company may wish to increase the awareness of a particular line of components, and then increase sampling and use of its online simulation tool to increase the likelihood that design engineers will incorporate the component in their design.

2. Identify different segments of customers and their value: Individuals all have different needs, and some have more valuable (to you) needs than others. In this case, the company may choose to focus on interacting with segments of engineers that don't normally get exposed to sales reps (who are typically allocated to the highest revenue accounts).

3. Identify their needs, starting with the most valuable: Just as your company has its current business needs, so do your customers. What are those needs? You need to identify those customers that have needs that match those where your company can offer the most benefit. At the same time, you need to be aware of other needs to make sure you aren't missing profitable opportunities. For instance, engineers don't want fluff, but do want to quickly and easily find information on components, request and obtain samples, and test their designs.

4. Map out the customer lifecycle: How do customers become customers of your company? For this high tech example, design engineers conceptualize a design, research component performance information, order samples, test the samples, incorporate the sample in a mockup of the design, and test the design. If the design meets the design specifications, the design engineer can then incorporate the component into the design (design "in").

5. Consider why customers are getting stuck and look to offer assistance: For instance, you track that design engineers order datasheets or samples, but then note that they don't return to perform simulations and that no subsequent order for components occurs. Perhaps they are not aware of what more your company can do for them. Or, perhaps they need more help. No automatic follow up occurs after general awareness emails go out, or after engineers request samples, and this contributes to preventing engineers from proceeding further along the sales cycle.

6. Map out a dialog relationship to help move customers along the customer lifecycle: In this example, an electronic dialog can be created that automatically tracks the request for a sample (this becomes the event), and then automatically follows up in a timely manner to inform the design engineer about the benefits of your company's online simulation capabilities. A short time period later, you can follow up to solicit feedback on the experience or to inquire if the engineer faced any difficulties. You can also use this opportunity to inquire about the performance of the sample part, inquire about the designs the engineer is working on, to solicit if the engineer would like to have a technical resource call to assist them with their design, as well as ask what more can be done for the engineer. Depending on the stage of the customer lifecycle that the engineer is in and the way that the engineer responds to the questions posed in the email, the dialog can automatically continue with messages tailored to their needs.

7. Define metrics: Create metrics to track how the dialog is proceeding. Metrics to consider include email open rates, increases in open rates as the dialog progresses (showing that customers find the dialog to be anticipated and relevant to their needs), increases in simulations performed, increases in design ins, as well as valuable feedback on what is good and bad about the customer experience, what is good and bad about the sampled parts, information on the engineer's current and future designs, and number of leads passed along to technical sales specialists which can be further tracked to note conversions to sale.

In summary, creating a dialog relationship is a significant step above a batch and blast approach to interacting with your customers. By using dialog to ask questions, just as a salesperson would, you can automatically follow up with information at the moment that is relevant and anticipated. This enhances the value of the relationship to the customer, compresses the sales cycle, and positively impacts the ability to retain the customer and grow their business.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Tingas is an emarketing strategy consultant and one to one marketing evangelist. He can be reached at Tingas@relmktg.com