Pick Your Customers Wisely (or Prepare to Pay the Price)

marketing ideas 101 pick your clients

Chris Lema, VP of Software Engineering at Emphasys Software is a WordPress advocate. He maintains an informative, engaging blog at chrislema.com where he regularly discusses the in’s and out’s of WordPress development, best practices and client engagement. In his post Two Kinds of Customers, he describes two common scenarios in the web development world:

Customer #1: The Savvy

They’re clear about the tasks they want to assign you and have reasonable estimates about how long it should take. They want to know about your availability and cost to see if they can afford you. […] they want a web site, they know they want WordPress used as their CMS. They know that some themes are better than others, so they’re ready to pay for one of the more popular and well-coded ones. […] You get off the phone, having enjoyed your time and no more than a minute goes by before it rings again.

Customer #2: The Neophyte

This customer sounds like they don’t know a thing about what they want. […] They’re not clear on the tasks or why you might be the right answer. They don’t know anything about technology […] And they’re hoping you have time and aren’t too expensive to help them. […] They have no sense of budget and can’t grasp what aspects of the project could be done in minutes verses days. […] All they know is that they need something – and of course, they’ll know it when they see it.

Chris’ big question:

If you could only pick one customer, which do you pick?

pick your customers

At first blush, Customer #2 is the kind of customer I think we all cut our teeth on and eventually strive to get away from. Of course, there are always exceptions to every stereotype. Some of these Customer #2 types turn into fast friends, great advocates and long-time clients, while Customer #1 projects can fall prey to phenomena like bad technical karma, long response times and “design by committee”.

Still, stereotypes exist for a reason and Chris has held up these two for us to consider.

We who have been in business long enough to have been knocked around by customers who think we wave magic wands that materialize websites (widgets, whachamahoozits, whatever.. you name it..) eventually begin to gravitate toward more savvy clients. Why? Less heartache, higher-profile projects and “professional grade” budgets and attitudes.

Yes, margins can be wider for that lower-hanging, Customer #1 fruit. If a customer just needs to migrate to a WordPress platform (as many do), an outsourced migration can offer a wonderful return. We’ll do those too, so long as the prospect answers an extensive questionnaire designed to solidify their vision. If they don’t survive the questionnaire process, we figure they weren’t serious about their project and we have managed to keep our attention on the folks that matter most; those who already know us, like us and rely on us for web and marketing services.

My recommendation: Develop a questionnaire to help you address the price-comparing tirekickers. Include all the questions you typically need to answer in order to develop a proposal. Include questions about their budget, timeline, goals, audience, tone, and competitors. All of this will assist you in bringing together a project that fits the client and it will serve to separate the chaff from the wheat.

P.S.- We recently ‘fired’ a prospect who said he didn’t have time to answer our web design questionnaire (a 7-page Word document.) He wanted an overhaul to his ecommerce site, but resisted updating the look and feel to accommodate a new cart (WooCommerce). When he said he couldn’t find the cart on the example we gave him (it’s located prominently in the horizontal navigation bar) we knew disaster lay ahead. In our eyes, that project was not worth the $5,000 he said he was willing to invest. We have ZERO interest in doing work for folks who don’t have time to invest in their own projects, resist change for the new and better, and have problems navigating websites based on common user interface standards.

Once upon a time–when we were hungry for work–we may have taken this client under our wing. In this case however, I let them know we would not be a fit for what he was looking for and I respectfully referred him to some other web designers in town.

What would you have done?

In support of your efforts,
Matt

Six No-Hype Copywriting Techniques: How to Be Lively, Appealing and Truthful in Sales Writing

marketing ideas copywriting

by Marcia Yudkin

A lot of my clients shrink from using hype in their marketing messages. Hype is a style of overexcited, exaggerated writing that can fire up the eager reader, but at the cost of trust or credibility in the eyes of someone who is temperamentally or professionally skeptical.

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For instance, here is a hype-y headline of the sort found all around the Internet: “If You Can Write Your Name, You Can Write and Publish a Book in 7 Days – Guaranteed!” Having been a writing teacher, I know that the only way such a claim could be valid would be to play games with the accepted meanings of the words “write” or “book.” People who can write their name cannot necessarily write a coherent sentence or paragraph – much less have enough ideas in their head to fill a book of average length. Because of its implausibility, such a headline is all the more appealing to those who feel impatient for results.

Many copywriting experts hold that if a headline or marketing pitch sells and is not downright illegal for some reason, it’s the right way to write. However, I support my clients’ instinctive recoil from hype and help them with more truthful yet still lively and appealing persuasive techniques. You can create vivid, powerfully persuasive copy without crossing the line into hype by learning these techniques.

No-hype Technique #1: Create rapport with the reader

Think your way into the mind of your ideal customer and express what they’re thinking and feeling. Then build on that. This wins over readers by connecting with where they are and showing them the next logical step. For example:

Wishing that your book in progress could just finish itself already? Writing a book can be an exercise in procrastination, frustration and roadblocks. But when you use the “Two-a-Day” Method, your book gets completed easily, steadily and finally.

No-hype Technique #2: Use emotional words and phrases

Dry, matter-of-fact language isn’t as persuasive as wording that acknowledges and expresses what’s at stake in the customer’s situation and the feelings involved.

BEFORE: Our database offers detailed listings of more than $3.7 billion in available scholarship funding.

AFTER: Access to our members-only database of more than $3.7 billion in free, no-strings-attached scholarship money means you can attend the college of your dreams without enslaving yourself to future loan payments.

No-hype Technique #3: Add colorful details

For every general concept you want to mention, substitute or add specific, concrete details. Abstractions and generalities never hit home as well as statements containing numbers, names, places, stories and other specifics. Also, general statements have little impact because they sound like things we’ve all heard a zillion times. Copywriters call the technique of adding detail “dimensionalizing” because it turns a square little statement into a 3-D patterned shape that the reader has never quite encountered before.

In these two examples from Paul Lemberg’s home page, the section in parentheses dimensionalizes the claim just before it:

  • How to boost sales quickly; (50-100% year-over-year sales increase is not unusual among my clients.)
  • Escalate short-term profits and build long-term equity; (One client recently sold their company for three times what they had been led to expect by the so-called expert investment bankers…)

No-hype Technique #4: Pair problems with solutions

Listing problem after problem that a product solves or prevents can come across as unbelievable and even depressing. The opposite strategy, listing benefit after benefit from the product, can seem too good to be true. When you link the problem with the solution and at least hint at a reason for the positive result, customers feel they’re getting something solid and valuable when they buy.

To illustrate this, here are three bullet points from Susan C. Daffron’s description of her book “Happy Hound: Develop a Great Relationship With Your Adopted Dog or Puppy”:

  • The two main reasons dogs generally jump on people and four ways to convince the dog you really don’t need that type of greeting
  • Six safety instructions you must teach your children not to do to avoid dog bites and the four things they should always do if they encounter a dog they don’t know
  • Three keys for surviving “canine adolescence.” As with human children, adolescence is a time when dogs test limits and try your patience!

(By the way, the numbers in those bullets help dimensionalize the book’s content, exemplifying tip #3.)

No-hype Technique #5: Paint vivid scenarios

Feed the reader’s imagination with what can realistically happen after they buy your product or service. You’re not promising this will happen, but by putting the reader into the future, he or she pictures it happening and feels motivated to have the result.

Here, for instance, is how I fed the reader’s imagination in promotional copy for my report, “Marcia’s Makeovers: 24 Press Releases Transformed from So-So to Sizzling”:

I challenge you to cite a greater return on investment than that produced by a world-class media release that lands you on page 1 of a major newspaper, in a two-page spread in your top industry magazine or in the fluffy final segment of a network newscast. Just one major score like this, and you can milk the credibility payoff for your business practically forever. Inspire a feature story that gets picked up by the Associated Press, and enjoy people all over the world clamoring to get their hands on what you sell.

No-hype Technique #6: Incite curiosity

Reread the bullet points for tip #4, and if you have any interest at all in dog behavior, you’ll find you really, really want to know the techniques that are described there in an incomplete yet tempting fashion. Reference to the “Two-a-Day” Method has the same kind of effect – the reader wants to know “two of what?” Show a little while holding something back.

Like the other five techniques described here, enticing the reader is a truthful, effective, no-hype way to make the reader want to step forward and buy.

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Veteran copywriter and marketing consultant Marcia Yudkin is the author of Persuading on Paper, 6 Steps to Free Publicity and nine other books. She runs a one-on-one mentoring program that trains copywriters and marketing consultants in 10 weeks, providing neophytes with no-hype marketing writing skills and business savvy. For more information, go to http://www.yudkin.com/become.htm

Defining ‘Moments of Truth’ in a Business Customer’s Lifecycle

marketing ideas romancing the customer

by Joseph Fiochetta

There are several critical times during a customer’s relationship where a decision is made–by the customer–to continue or discontinue interacting with a company. This may be the first bill, a customer service call, a retail experience, a Web site…any event that helps clarify the relationship with a particular brand, product, or service.

We call these “moments of truth” and how a marketer interacts with the customers can significantly increase (or decrease) the long-term viability of that relationship. Identifying and anticipating those points of clarify is critical to maintain and grow a profitable customer relationship.

Staying Connected with Customers
For one telecommunications leader, economic and competitive pressures were making it increasingly difficult to attract and keep new customers in a highly competitive space.

New small-to-medium-sized business customers represent a substantial economic gain to this communications services provider because these customers generate a higher percentage of cross-sell opportunities and are one of the faster growth segments in business today. But new customers typically tend to be more vulnerable to competitors and generally churn at a higher rate during the first weeks and months of the business relationship.

Within the company, customer communications were siloed–in the same way that products often are siloed–and “touch points”–points of interaction–with small business customers were driven by regulatory and budget constraints. They were not based on each customer’s actual need. For example, within the company’s old business model, small business customers received multiple contacts from various channels (direct mail, e-mail, teleservices) across various products with no integration.

A customer’s first contact included an informational and legal document to confirm an order–traditionally a generic, off-brand direct mail piece with no offer.

This was followed by a number of different welcome kits from each product category that were sent up to three months after a new customer’s service activation. In addition, customer service was not integrated into the marketing mix so contact with the customer was conducted independent of other channels.

Senior management recognized that the more services a customer purchases from a telecom provider, the less likely customers will take their business elsewhere, but the move from a product focus to a customer focus was not an easy one and required a commitment from multiple stakeholders within the organization. The shift away from how the company was organized versus how customers engaged with the brand created an impact on the organization at strategic, tactical, and operational levels.

Developing a Plan to ‘Onboard’ New Customers
Critical to success was key stakeholder buy-in throughout the process. To combat the problem of new customer turnover, the telecom performed a number of qualitative and quantitative measures necessary to realign the new customer experience.

First, three guiding principles were established to focus the plan:

  1. All communications should generate a measurable response so that management may tell–at an individual level, as well as at the intervention level–what worked and what did not.
  2. Customer-centric communications must be frequent and consistent, targeted, timed, and delivered in a manner that is most appropriate for the individual customer. Tracking preferences and behavior is essential.
  3. Communications should be focused on increasing “stickiness”–which is the ability to keep a consumer coming back for more. Thus, each customer’s value over the time of the relationship is tracked.

The first step was to understand business priorities and analyze and document the telecom’s current state. Through customer focus groups, data analysis, contact mapping, impact analysis, and an environmental scan across multiple industries, a “best-practices approach” to prevent customer churn was developed.

As the company set out to develop best practices in developing new customer communications, it learned that:

  • The first 90 days are critical – there can be as much as a 15% to 20% “take rate” of additional products and services during this initial period.
  • The sooner one can engage a customer, the better.
  • Messages developed early in the relationship should be designed to set and validate customer expectations.
  • Personalization works!
  • Using multiple touch points across a variety of media are preferred by customers – because channel preference is situational.
  • Multiple response channels are essential.
  • Surveying and data gathering are critical components for gaining customer insight. Programs that are data gathering stimulate: customer interaction, transactions (revenue), stickiness (retention), and usage.
  • The velocity of customer communications and engagement should increase during “moments of truth.” Trigger-based programs, ones where offers and dialogue are built upon data-based business rules, can enhance an already effective new customer strategy.
  • Consultative selling is a key part of any customer program and can help avoid negative “moments of truth.” Right-sizing and proactive account management can effectively stem high attrition during choke points in the customer relationship.
  • A product-centric focus is not the key driver in new customer retention. Customer-centric programs that address the lifecycle of the customer through vulnerable periods are more profitable.

From this insight, the company set out to identify the critical milestones for each business customer through time-driven occurrences and data-driven activity. The customer’s “relationship” with the company was marked by five key lifestages: courting, honeymoon, newlywed, settling-in, and getting-the-itch. Within each lifestage, expectations were established and the metrics for success were developed to support the business case for this new change.

Implementing the New Approach
At the core of the company’s new strategy is a precise contact strategy that optimizes each customer interaction. Channel alignment, combined with predictive modeling and analytics as well as customer-centric messaging and creative, is the foundation of this evolving new customer onboarding process.

At each lifestage, the focus and intent of the communications change as a customer progresses from one stage to another. As a result, the telecom is able to identify each stage and allocate the right offer, message, and budget to that customer’s situation. This enables the telecom to communicate with customers when they are prone to churn.

Small business customers are contacted several times within the crucial first six-month period, not including billing and account information. Number of contacts, channel mix, message, and offer are determined by in which lifestage a customer resides. Further, each contact is treated as part of a continuity curriculum, where the conversation with the customer extends over a period of time versus the traditional single message approach.

For example, during the “honeymoon” period, a single welcome kit is sent within five to ten days from service activation (versus 12 weeks). This package establishes the one-to-one dialog with the new customer and thanks the customer for choosing the telecom, delivers product information, sets expectations for the customer experience, and validates the decision to interact with the brand.

While entering the “newlywed” stage, new customers receive messaging that acknowledges the products/services the customer currently has and offers additional solutions or offers based on how they migrate through the telecom’s solutions. The goal of this effort is to provide the customer with evolutionary products or services rather than the telecom’s focus product during that time period.

In the “settling in” period, customers can expect to receive loyalty-based packages with savings designed just for them–so the more detailed the information about the customer, the more dynamic the communication stream, and the more successful (and profitable) the customer interaction.

This right-message, right-time approach extends to other channels throughout the process. The sales and direct marketing channels work closely together to present a consistent and cohesive face to the customer.

Throughout the onboarding period–from service activation through month six, the telecom company is able to “right-size” a customer’s product and service mix through: account reviews, consultative-selling via inbound and outbound telemarketing, and rules-based triggers that can help identify and stem a potential churn event.

Of course, this new approach requires changes to infrastructure, budgets, and available resources that will be deployed over several phases. Although still in the first phase, early indicators point to the success of the new program. The telecom company was able to reduce customer churn, increase sales and revenue, and experience higher overall response rates as a result of the innovation.

By implementing customer-focused communication “best practices,” a marketer in the business-to-business space can optimize the profitability of new small business customers for the long term.

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Joseph Fiochetta is director of strategy for Harte-Hanks, a worldwide, direct and targeted marketing company that provides direct marketing services and shopper advertising opportunities to a wide range of local, regional, national and international consumer and business-to-business marketers. He can be reached at (215)750-6600 or at joe_fiochetta@harte-hanks.com.

Marketing Idea #9: Match Competitors’ Prices

marketing ideas match competitor prices

Offer to match your competition’s prices. Bargain shoppers thrive on being able to bring in your competition’s ads to have you beat the prices. There are a few things that work to your advantage here:

  • Your regular patrons will be less likely to be swayed away from you because of price.
  • The hunt for the lowest price is a process that engages the public and draws attention.
  • You never have to worry about keeping a tab on the competition’s price strategy (but you do have to worry about being able to maintain the same price strategy).

Caution: Make sure your margins allow for price wars. There is something to be said for positioning yourself as the premium product or service in the marketplace. For instance, Ruler or Sage brand archetypes may not want to battle at the low end of the pricing scale since those brands lend more to a moderate to high pricing strategy. In contrast, the Jester or Regular Guy/Girl brand archetypes would be better suited for this tactic, due to their broader mass appeal.

Marketing Idea #18: Start an Affiliate Program

marketing ideas affiliate programs

Create a referral or affiliate program. Otherwise known as making it worth other people’s time to help you reach new clients. The goal of a referral program is to create revenue or to provide some other incentive for those who help you reach more people.

Example: Dreamscape Multimedia offers a referral program with our web hosting service and makes it free to sign up using a simple one-page form. We call it our Prosperity program, as it pays a hefty 50 percent monthly commission* on web hosting accounts you refer to us.

*Giving back 50 percent of a revenue stream may not be possible for your company. Determine what a responsible return might look like, and proceed conservatively at first.