by Marcia Hoeck
I’ve felt for some time that traditional marketing communications and design firms were missing some critical understanding when it came to reaching clients online—our years of offline training didn’t prepare us for the invisible online client and the new ways in which he’d purchase services. So I felt it was my duty to learn what successful online marketers knew that I didn’t—and I found some major differences between online and offline approaches.
But by far the biggest thing I came away with is the major similarity—and that’s the importance of relationships. Offline and online, marketing is built on relationships. There are different ways of building relationships with people you’ll probably never meet in person, but the bottom line is that people buy products and services from people and companies they like and trust, and ignore those they don’t.
Here are three simple rules for building those important relationships.
1. Know who you need to talk to.
You can have the best service in the world, but if you’re building relationships with the wrong market or aren’t specific about who you’re talking to, you won’t make sales. Is your web copy niched to a narrow client profile? Are you networking with your target market instead of your peers? Identify your ideal client first, then you can start building relationships.
2. Be top of mind with your clients—all the time.
Building relationships is a long-term proposition, it doesn’t happen overnight. Do you try to build relationships with tactics and programs that are difficult to sustain, and then abandon them? Regular phone check-ins with clients sound like a great idea in January, but dwindle off as the year progresses. Direct mail programs are suspended because it’s hard to tell if they’re working (did you get through to them, even if they didn’t respond?) And online programs like e-newsletters and blogs are produced sporadically, fit in around your “real” work. It’s not easy to be consistent, but listen to this: one online study found the most stated reason for purchasing a product or service was “it was what we needed at the time.” This means you have to be there, in front of the prospect, all the time—because if clients don’t see you when they need you, they’ll choose someone they do see.
3. Make it easy for your customers to work with you.
Here’s an interesting way to look at making things easy for your clients, relayed by marketing guru Bill Glazer. He says that the old story of “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you’ll feed him for life”—doesn’t apply when it comes to clients. Clients, he says, don’t want to learn how to fish—they don’t want to think that your product or service will add work for them in any way. Busy clients “just want the damn fish.” Tell them exactly what you’ll do for them, how it will help them, and exactly what they need to do (hopefully not much), in order to get them to act. Just give them the damn fish.
Bill Glazer, marketing guru, says the old story of “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you’ll feed him for life”—doesn’t apply to clients. Clients just want things to be easy. They want to know what you’re going to do for them and how it will help. In other words, they just want the damn fish.
1. Clients searching online don’t have the benefit of getting vital in-person cues from you, even when you get to the point of having a relationship building phone conversation. You may have heard the much-debated statistic that 93% of communication is non-verbal, from the 1972 study by Albert Mehrabian. The study says 55% of your meaning is conveyed through your body language, and 38% from your tone of voice. Only 7% of the effectiveness of your communication comes across through your words. While this theory has been criticized and analyzed with varying conclusions, keep in mind that impressions are made very differently online than they are offline—and these impressions greatly affect your ability to build relationships.
2. Clients are people first and companies second, and it’s the same with you. And these client/people like to buy from and build relationships with people—not companies. Resist the urge to present yourself too much as a “company” in order to look “professional.”
1. For an interesting study of the economic power of high-quality customer relationships, check out Fred Reichheld’s The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth. The book is based on evaluating a company’s ability to have long-term profitable growth by asking just one relationship-based question: “How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?”
2. Learn tips from Marcia Hoeck on how to strengthen your business.