I watched the film ‘He’s just not that into you’ the other day. There’s a bit where Drew Barrymore complains to her friend about the pressure modern technology is adding to the dating process. With numerous communication channels to reach a person, she says she misses the days when you just had one phone number to ring. Now there’s SMS, email, tweets, voice mail and the like that ‘you have to keep checking just to be rejected by 7 different types of technology! It’s exhausting’.
It got me thinking that the same can be true of business. All too often we rely on technology to build our customer relationships, whether communicating via email, social networking, sending e-newsletters or building wiz websites. And yet, during the recession, a lot of the new business I saw being won in the service sector often resulted from a potential customer ‘trusting’ a supplier.
Think of the rise in attendance at networking events during this period. People were nervous about who they parted their money with. They gave business to those they’d met, knew and felt they could trust. They sought referrals and recommendations from their contacts about who they trusted. That ‘trust’ (so vital for developing customer relationships) invariably needed a degree of human, face to face contact to help it along.
Putting a face to a name
Technology makes things easy for us. That’s why we love it and often hide behind it. We can send out messages whenever we like and at a time that suits us. In doing so, we hope that the customer will access our communications at a time suitable to them. It all sounds so customer friendly unless that customer is experiencing information overload. When they are swamped with numerous emails, e-bulletins, texts, voicemails which ones do they prioritise? Which ones will they respond to? Probably the ones from the people they know; the people whose face they can put to a name.
So my thoughts are, whilst technology is important in the relationship building process it can’t be relied on exclusively to win a customer. You still need a degree of human interaction – phone conversations (not voicemail tag), video conferencing, skype calls and particularly meetings. This is especially true if your service or product represents an important investment to the customer. Also you need to be sure how much of a fan a customer is with the different technological channels you are using. Are they swamped with email and hate it, do they prefer the phone instead? Find this information out and you’ll build competitive advantage.
Getting in front of customers
So here are some thoughts on how to get a bit more face to face contact with potential and existing customers. You probably have other tips and ideas that you’ve put into practice. What face to face opportunities have you managed to engineer that have helped?
- Ring and invite the customer for a coffee (at your business or theirs, or in a more neutral and informal environment such as a coffee shop) – Perhaps you have some ideas to share with them? Perhaps you have a business opportunity to pass their way? Perhaps it’s just been a while and you would welcome an update on how things have been going for them?
- Send them a piece of research, ideally produced by your organisation and then offer to sit down with them to explain the implications for their business. You’ll find you get a really good response if the research benchmarks them against a competitor or discusses a trend in their industry.
- Go and network and make sure you follow up all the contacts you make – ideally arranging another time to get together.
- Call in favours from the people in your network to broker introductions to a specific customer and perhaps suggest that you all meet initially over a lunch or coffee. Make sure you have got favours to call in and, if not, build them up. You’ll need to give in order to get.
- Create an event, taster session, seminar or workshop around your product/service and invite the customer to take part. The more relevant and valuable they’ll feel it is to them, the greater your chances of them attending. Make sure whatever type of event you go for, you get some one-to-one time with the customer and build in a follow up session through your conversation.
And finally, when you do use technology to communicate, make sure the picture of you that appears on the like of LinkedIn, Xobni and Skype is a good professional one. You don’t want to put people off.
About the Author: Michelle Daniels is an experienced and effective business development and marketing strategist, Michelle has built a successful career increasing top line growth for service businesses and organisations. She helps her clients turn their marketing, business development and thought leadership plans into reality with her ‘hands on’ support and practical advice. A prolific writer, Michelle also combines creative flair with business nous to produce highly effective results. She has written (and ghost-written) for many professional and business publications and is a chartered marketer and member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Extended Thinking is a hands-on marketing and business development consultancy. Bringing together great minds and great ‘doers’, we help our clients devise and implement plans that achieve real business growth. Our clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, but invariably are those who are too busy or lack the resources to action their marketing and business development plans. We roll our sleeves up and muck in to free them up to do what they really want to do and are good at doing.