Have you ever been pursued by a company in a way that you can “feel” the rhythm of their contact with you in a way that feels natural, seamless, and you actually appreciate and/or enjoy? Perhaps you made it onto an e-mail newsletter that you now like or you get a regular ping from a salesperson of a particular company (that gives you some great market data or something else each time they call)?
For me, this situation is rare, but it does happen periodically and when it happens I notice. For example, I get a valuations report from one of the banks each month via e-mail that I particularly like, I get the Junta42 e-mail newsletter each Friday morning, I get the VersionOne e-mail newsletter regularly that I like a lot, I get whitepaper announcements from several companies at regular intervals that I find valuable and look forward to reading. I also get called on from several bankers interested in catching up on our portfolio companies and also offer their market perspective, catch me up on recent transactions, and offer their thoughts on the future. The longer they keep me interested, the higher the potential for them getting more business, either directly from me, from one of our portfolio companies, or from one of my network contacts that has an issue that they can resolve (and I mention the company as a possible solution). These are the good experiences, but only occur about 5% of the time.
The other 95% are bad experiences for me. The marketers/salespeople are generally trying too hard to push their product or otherwise “nurture” me with a pitch or approach that is not suitable for me. These interactions stink and I can’t wait to get off of the phone, delete the e-mail, or otherwise rid myself of the intrusion. (note: I can handle a first introduction via e-mail, but if the e-mail is not clear on what they want other than my time, I generally ignore it. If they are clear on what they want and why and I am not interested, I tell them via an e-mail response. The best people write back “thank you…let me know if I can help you in the future, and then leave it at that. The worst people keep trying and waste both their time and mine.)
Does my situation sound familiar? Hopefully, your company is one of the 5% that really do this well, but if not here are some thoughts on getting better at creating your relationship marketing program and its rhythm:
1. You need to think long-term if you want a great relationship marketing program. Short-term marketing programs are lead-finding and qualification oriented. Short-term programs are really important to sales today and can (and should) be incorporated into a relationship marketing program, but if you are only thinking short-term then you are probably throwing away 90% of your prospects every day (not qualified or closed-lost because they are not ready) rather than taking the opportunity to develop the relationship with these prospects over time and waiting for the prospect to be more ready for what you have to offer.
Relationship Marketing is a long term strategy, but the really nice thing about it is that you have the potential for accumulating relationships with a large portion of your target market segment over time. If only 1/4 of these prospects turn into sales opportunities over time because of your relationship marketing program, you could double your sales! Who doesn’t want that?
The problem is that most emerging companies are more comfortable with short-term strategies than long-term strategies, so they don’t use relationship marketing strategies. The Opportunity for you is that your competitors are probably not executing a relationship marketing strategy, so if you design and execute a great strategy and have a competitive offering, you may be able to own your market segment over time.
2. You need to design a great relationship marketing program starting point. You can think of your starting point as the beta release of your program and my best advice is to start really simple so that you can get the program started and learn from its results. Some of the issues that you need to address as part of this are:
- What is it exactly that you are trying to achieve and how will you measure your success?
- Who exactly is our target prospect? The more specific, the better.
- What can you do to create value for your target prospects, even if they won’t buy for a long period of time (hint: find out from your prospects what they are interested in, try Content Management Marketing techniques)?
- What are the best channels for directly communicating with your prospects (e.g., SMS, e-mail, telephone calls, in person visits)? Consider both the cost and quality of contact when you are considering this.
- What is the right sequence/channel of contacts (your contact model)? The best contact models are multi-channel, but the first iterations will be a lot easier to execute if they start with a single channel.
- Should you tier and/or segment the contact model so that different types of prospects have different contact models? (e.g., different types of prospects might want to be contacted differently or may value different conversations or content; when they say that they are ready to purchase, they do something that indicates that they are ready, or they tell you something that indicates that they are ready then they may be ready for a different tier of contact)?
- How do you create the sense of a regular rhythm in the minds of the target prospects? The more the prospects can anticipate the next contact and the more valuable the contact, the more they will be looking forward to it.
3. You need to execute your starting point. All young companies have management bandwidth constraints and this effort will not be executed without prioritizing the work and assigning a good manager to take the lead on creating the results. A lot of times these programs straddle sales and marketing, involve creating content or a broader content management marketing program, and may need a technical support system which make them more difficult for small companies to execute, so consider this before you try to execute.
Again, if you have the simplest starting point then you will have the best opportunity to execute and if you can get started without needing a new technical support system it will be a lot easier (since most of our portfolio companies use Salesforce.com, we have figured out some great ways to configure the product to support these efforts without the need for external systems in the early releases of some of the programs).
4. You need to iterate in order to get better. Your starting point iteration will have a lot of issues (even more if you look closely at it). The key to success is to check your results against your “measures of success”, reflect on the program goals and your results to date, review where you are against your goals, and then design and execute your next iteration (again, with the same considerations as the first design step). Keep repeating this step, as you will never be done.
A simple example
A really simple example is Junta42, which I have written about before. They have a web-based product and have a regular weekly newsletter that goes out to their subscribers each Friday morning. The newsletter is full of great ideas around content marketing (their area of focus and it speaks to their target audience), both ideas generated by them and ideas generated from others. I haven’t asked, but I suspect that they have a great following and I suspect that the readers have a really positive perspective on the company from this relationship marketing program. (as a side note, Joe would probably say that this is content management marketing, and I would agree with him. This case is using content management marketing as the vehicle for relationship marketing).
A more complex example
Our Strategic Consulting Services team, OpenView Labs, has helped several portfolio companies set up Relationship Marketing programs that are more telephone based, but also include e-mail components and could include full scale content management marketing programs. This works really well for companies with average selling prices that can support telephone based contacts and who have a really good view of who their target prospects are. The skeletal system starts by identifying the target prospects, who could be prospects that have already left their contact information with the company or could be based on industry research to find the best targets (using Hoovers or other products).
The contact model starts with an e-mail to the target that identifies the company, offers some links to useful information, and asks for the opportunity to speak over the phone. It is followed up with a telephone conversation to discuss the prospect’s needs and learn more about the prospect’s situation. In the instances where the prospect is a sales opportunity, the prospect is asked if it would be okay to have a salesperson follow up. In most instances, however, the prospect is unready or not yet interested in the product/solution, so the prospect is asked if it would be okay to follow up at a later point and/or if it would be okay to put them on the newsletter (that they can cancel at any time). At the later time, the prospect is called again, and the caller advances the conversation about the prospect issues and the company’s product, catches the prospect up on the advances in the company and/or asks the prospect about any changes in the prospect’s company.
Note that this sounds like sales 101 and in a lot of ways it is sales 101. However, the goal of the program is relationship development rather than trying to find the sales opportunity and close a sale and the people doing the work are not salespeople. This allows the salespeople to focus on the sales process with true sales opportunities and allows the relationship development team to build relationships and transfer real sales opportunities over to sales.
As a side note, these relationship development conversations are a great point to better understand the objections to your product, competitor strengths and weaknesses, perceptions of different market participants, including your perception, and they are also a great vehicle to transverse the organization and find other potential prospects (or the right prospects) to develop relationships with.
Many other examples
There are many, many sales and marketing tools that can be combined in various ways. The list of possible approaches for designing relationship marketing programs are essentially endless and can incorporate a lot of sophistication (including prospect attribute-based approaches, trigger based approaches and sophisticated scoring models that change contact models and content based on triggers and scores).
The overall point is that if you want your target prospects to feel that they have a relationship with your company in order to build your long-term business, consider building your relationship marketing and creating its rhythm! It is not right if you only have the resources or mindset to execute short term strategies or have limited management bandwidth, but is a great source of long term growth if you are interested and able to execute.