Management Perspectives: Marketing Loyalty
Jul 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Sabrina Mehra
It's sad when independent integrators cling to marketing myths. The most costly of these misguided notions is the idea that being an effective marketer requires a pocketful of cash. Most systems integrators don't have budgets big enough to warrant spending huge sums of money on flashy marketing schemes, but many pin all their hopes on expensive efforts just the same. Those same integrators end up sitting by the phone waiting for new clients to call, and when no one does, they can't figure out what went wrong. This entirely preventable situation is downright depressing.
WORD OF MOUTH
Although it's true that you can cast a wide net with radio spots, billboards, and all the other shiny marketing efforts money can buy, you can be just as effective without spending much money at all. In fact, there's nothing else as valuable or as effective at reeling in new clients as the honest-to-goodness loyalty of your existing clientele.
Of course, new customers are a crucial part of your business. The purported goal of the majority of marketing efforts is to appeal to as many new customers as possible. Radio spots and billboards are intended to reach potential customers, after all — not the ones you already have. But here's another money-wasting myth: the only clients who matter are the ones you don't have yet. The truth is, if you inspire brand loyalty in your existing clientele, they'll be walking billboards for your business.
During the past century, customer care has advanced little. It has suffered for the sake of convenience and quantity, and the supersize nature of many industries makes it seem next to impossible to cater to anyone on a personal level. Gone is a sense of community. Think of how refreshing it would be if the cashier at the grocery store, the woman at the post office, and the man behind the deli counter — everyone you encountered in your daily consumer activities — remembered your name and asked how you're doing whenever you walked into their store. That sense of customer appreciation barely exists outside of small towns, but when it does happen, it makes an impact.
When clients are made to feel like they matter, they offer the ultimate business prize: customer loyalty. Those loyal customers can become ambassadors for your business.
For example, if you were in the market for a new car and a salesperson pointed to an automobile on the lot and said, “That's the car for you,” it would be difficult to take the recommendation seriously. At the back of your mind is the suspicion that the salesperson probably doesn't have your best interests at heart. He or she doesn't know you personally, and a tidy commission check is waiting at the end of the sale. That pervading sense of suspicion disappears when the person issuing the recommendation is a friend. The credibility that comes with the recommendation will not be questioned (especially if the friend has nothing to gain), and that kind of credibility cannot be bought. You have to make sure you're the one they recommend.
Inspiring loyalty in your customers is not as involved as it seems. Independent integrators are already at an advantage over larger corporate entities, because they can provide a personal level of service that big-box stores and supersize retailers simply cannot. The key is to figure out how you'd like your clients to describe you to their friends — dedicated, affordable, creative, flexible, and so on — and always conduct yourself with those descriptions in mind.
You can also actively include your existing customers in your marketing efforts. There's no cost associated with including quotes and photos from satisfied customers in your marketing literature. If the relationship is particularly strong, ask if it would be convenient for select prospective clients to occasionally tour the installation (and it doesn't cost a thing to ask). Referral programs are also relatively simple to establish. With a referral program, you provide discounts on products, upgrades, or services when existing customers refer new business. It's cost-effective because you've kept your old business working for you, and if you've treated your customers well, they're more than likely to send their friends your way. What is the cost of treating customers well? Consider the cost of treating them poorly. In this competitive industry, that's a price you just can't afford.
If referral programs and installation tours seem too time-consuming to arrange, don't neglect the power of just asking your clients for referrals. You don't have to be formal and prepare a complicated presentation; even a simple, “If you know anyone who requires my services, please give them my card,” can be an effective marketing effort. If that doesn't sound like marketing to you, remember that when you're marketing, you're planting seeds, and from some of those seeds, new business is expected to grow. That is why ongoing customer care is important, because if you haven't done your best to make your customers feel like they've received your best, they're not too likely to send any new business your way.
However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't spend money on marketing — sometimes you simply have to. Yet your loyal customers can be a great way to augment and expand your business through handy referrals. It's in your power to treat your customers well and inspire customer loyalty. If you don't think of your existing clients when seeking new ones, the cost can be greater than if you don't do any marketing at all.
Sabrina Mehrais president of InkSpill Media Services, an editorial firm based in Vancouver, Canada. She can be reached through e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.